Ben Koyack’s reputation as a player whose love for the game is in doubt will follow him from South Bend, Ind., to Mobile, Ala., and further on down the road as he prepares for upcoming workouts in Indianapolis and on the campus of Notre Dame.
“He likes the game; it doesn’t look like he loves the game,” said Greg Gabriel, a 30-year NFL scout and former director of college scouting for the Chicago Bears.
“It was a means to an end. It got him a free education. But is it the most important thing in his life? It doesn’t show.”
Koyack participated in last week’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., where he scored on a 10-yard scoring toss from former Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion in the second quarter of the North’s 34-13 victory over the South. It was one of two passes caught by Koyack for 19 yards.
Koyack put up solid measurables at 6-foot-4 ¾, 249 pounds with 10 ½-inch hands (as big as most offensive linemen in Mobile), 33 3/8-inch arms (again, comparable to most offensive linemen) and an 80 5/8-inch wingspan.
But the game performance and the week of drills were not enough to convince Gabriel that Koyack is more than a borderline prospect.
“In my eyes, he’s kind of a tweener in that he’s not exactly what you’re looking for to be that move tight end and play out on the perimeter, and he doesn’t have the power or burst to play in tight,” Gabriel said.
CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler called Koyack “a reliable possession target with fluid routes and an aggressive catching radius to attack the ball with his hands.”
Media draft analyst Lance Zierlein offered a more critical analysis.
“He came into the week with mixed reviews from scouts, and it’s hard to find many personnel men who have anything positive to say about his week of practice,” Zierlein wrote.
“While (Miami) tight end (Clive) Walford solidified his draft standing, Koyack appears to have hurt his stock. Koyack struggled in one-on-one blocking drills Thursday and looked stiff and slow in his routes, according to several scouts.”
Gabriel concurs and has been telling Irish Illustrated since prior to the start of the 2014 season that it was unlikely Koyack would follow in the long line of high Notre Dame draft picks at the tight end position.
“He doesn’t have a really top-notch developed body,” Gabriel said. “You can see that he could use more work in the weight room. He doesn’t look strong or explosive.
“Compare him to this kid Nick Boyle from Delaware. When Boyle trots across the stage, he’s 6-4½, 267 and he’s a man. Koyack doesn’t have as big a frame as this kid does, and there’s a big difference in how their bodies look.”
Gabriel’s opinion of Koyack hasn’t altered much from his original thoughts shared with Irish Illustrated during the fall and upon the conclusion of the 2014 regular season.
“Watching him play, he’s a decent athlete,” Gabriel said. “He’s not an explosive athlete. He’s not going to win any 100-meter dash titles. He might be a half a step faster than I gave him credit for, but I don’t think he breaks 4.7. He’s going to be training for the next month, so he could run in the high 4.6s. But he plays in that low 4.7 area.
“He runs pretty good routes. He’s got good hands. He caught the ball pretty well in practice (in Mobile). He’s just not a real physical guy. When it comes to blocking, he gives a good effort but he doesn’t have a lot of power and doesn’t have a lot of snap through his hips to generate movement or explosiveness on contact.”
Gabriel said Koyack would have to be a special teams contributor early in his career. That would require a level of toughness and aggressiveness that have not earmarked his career up to this point.
“I talked to some people and everybody comes away with the same thought: Does he really love football?” Gabriel said. “The coaches are being honest. He’s not a glass-eater and he never will be.
“Is he good enough to make it? Yeah. But I don’t ever see him as a starter unless he all of a sudden has a change of mind and falls in love with the money and says, ‘Wait a minute! I can make a lot of money here!’”
It’s rare for a football player – particularly at this stage of his career -- to change the color of his spots.
“You just have not seen at any time during his career and his week down at the Senior Bowl a guy that just can’t wait to get on the football field,” Gabriel said.
“Does he make a play here or there? Yeah, but you don’t see it down-in and down-out. I’ve never seen it.”
Other notable tight ends in the draft include Maxx Williams (Minnesota), Nick O’Leary (Florida State), Devin Funchess (Michigan), who played wide receiver for the Wolverines in ’14, Walford (Miami), Tyler Kroft (Rutgers), Boyle (Delaware), Jeff Heuerman (Ohio State), E.J. Bibbs (Iowa State), Jesse James (Penn State) and Pharaoh Brown (Oregon). Williams, Kroft and James are early-entries.