Mobile, AL -- It's a good thing that Clive Walford accepted his invitation to play in the Senior Bowl. He went into this week as a projected mid-round pick by most draftniks, but he'll likely leave it with a much higher grade.
Walford entered the Senior Bowl with a productive history. Despite suffering a knee injury, he caught 44 balls for 676 yards and 7 touchdowns playing for the Miami Hurricanes in 2014.
But for a player who recently had surgery, the question on everyone's mind was the condition of that knee. Is he healthy?
“Feeling great," he told me. "100%. Had surgery December 3rd. I’m a full go.”
As a former Hurricane, Walford is looking to follow in the footsteps of the legion of successful and highly productive NFL players who call the University of Miami their alma-mater. However, there's one tight end in particular he's tried to model is game after.
"Kellen Winslow, Jr.," he said. "Tight end U (laughs). A lot of great tight ends come through there. That’s just the tradition.”
Although Winslow Jr. developed a reputation in the NFL of being a malcontent, there's no denying that he had talent. And had it not been for a history replete with injury, he could have been something truly special in the NFL.
Right now, Walford is doing everything he can to flash and showcase his potential to the 32 teams of the NFL. The Senior Bowl is a great melting pot of collegiate talent from all across the fruited plain. And Walford is relishing the opportunity to compete with them.
"“There’s a lot of great talent out here," he said. "I just compare my talent to their talent and just try to match them and overcome them. I think I did a pretty good job today.”
Walford is right about that. He stole the show today; day two of the South Squad's practice for the game on Saturday. He made numerous plays in the passing game, showing great hands, athleticism and a knack for getting open.
For Broncos fans, they're used to seeing a tight end who can do those things. Julius Thomas has been doing them at a Pro Bowl level for the past two years, but he just finished his fourth season with the Denver Broncos and is set to become an unrestricted free agent.
Thomas had a great run in Denver, but the two weaknesses that ultimately compromised his potential to be a long-term answer at tight end for the Broncos were his inability to stay healthy and an almost stubborn refusal to improve as a blocker; both pass blocking and run blocking.
Because of this, the Broncos are willing to let Thomas hit the open market and see what kind of interest he can gin up. As for Walford, he understands what it takes to be a productive tight end in the NFL and believes he possesses the right qualities.
"“That’s the definition of a real tight end," he told me. "I block, pass block, run block, catch the ball, run with the ball and make tough catches.”
I can't disagree with him. Watching him practice over the last two days, he certainly excels in the passing game and has been surprisingly physical when called upon to block, although even deeper tutelage from NFL coaching could hone those abilities even more.
With all of the questions surrounding Thomas' abilities and factoring in that both he and Virgil Green are set to be unrestricted free agents, I couldn't help but ask Walford which teams have been in contact with him so far in Mobile.
"“Oakland. Arizona. and Chicago.”
I asked him point blank; what about the Broncos?
"Yeah," he said. "And the Broncos."
It's an interesting nugget. John Elway and the Broncos scouting department were present today at both the North and South practices. Although Elway and company certainly have their eye on a variety of players in Mobile this week, it doesn't shock me that they might have a particular interest in tight ends. And Clive Walford in particular.
It could mean nothing, but for a player who was the star of practice today for the South Squad, it could be very informative indeed.