(Curious as to what NFL scouts think of basketball players trying out for the NFL? Subscribers should check out what long-time NFL scout Tom Marino says in the OBR Insider Blog).
Every year it seems, a college basketball player or two thinks they have what it takes to play in the National Football League.
In the case of Cleveland State's J'Nathan Bullock, NFL teams opened his eyes to an unexpected career path.
A few days after Bullock's college basketball career ended with the Vikings' second-round loss to Arizona in the NCAA Tournament, a few teams contacted Cleveland State coach Gary Waters to gauge Bullock's interest in being an NFL tight end.
"A couple NFL teams talked to me and let me know that I had a good shot at this," Bullock told Packer Report on Monday, a few days ahead of Friday's on-campus workout. Bullock said 13 or 14 teams are expected to attend, including the Browns.
For those who watched Bullock score 1,800 points during his collegiate career — including 21 in a first-round tournament shocker over Wake Forest — he's athletic and undeniably has an NFL-type body. Bullock was listed at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds in the Cleveland State media guide. Asked about his official height, Bullock joked: "I'll still say 6-5 until further notice."
Bullock says the NFL wasn't on his radar during his senior season. The Vikings were the preseason favorites to win their first Horizon League championship. While they fell short in the regular season, they upset Butler in the tournament championship game. Bullock finished third in the league in scoring (15.3 points per game) and rebounding (7.0) to earn first-team all-conference honors.
"Spur of the moment. It was spur of the moment," Bullock said when asked about the decision. "During the season, I was focusing on the season and I was focusing on that night's game and the goals that we had for the season. For that, you've got to put a lot of things on the back burner, so I wasn't thinking about my personal endeavors or anything like that. It was about Cleveland State and the goals we had."
Bullock isn't a football neophyte. He was an honorable mention on the all-state team at Flint (Mich.) Northern High School. He played practically every skill position on offense, piling up 865 rushing yards with a ridiculous 11.5-yard average, as well as 19 receptions and 11-of-17 passing. Bullock said he played tight end as a freshman and sophomore.
"J'Nathan was a very good (football) player in high school," Waters said. "A lot of schools recruited him out of high school to play football but he had a fondness for basketball. But after this, a fair amount of people were coming to him about football and he said he wanted to give it a try."
You can't think about basketball-playing tight ends without considering San Diego Chargers All-Pro Antonio Gates. And there's a small connection here, with Waters being the coach at Kent State when Gates transferred there from a junior college. Waters, however, moved on to Rutgers and never coached Gates.
Bullock said he's hoping to connect with Gates for his advice.
Of course, for every Gates or Marcus Pollard (who played college basketball at Bradley and has 349 catches in 14 NFL seasons), there are a bunch of other guys like Joe Werner, a basketball player from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse who got a look by the Packers in 2007.
Not only does Bullock have the size and athleticism to reach the NFL, he's got the intelligence and work ethic. Bullock is on course to graduate with honors in May with a degree in mechanical engineering. Waters said Bullock rates a "10" when it comes to work ethic.
Nonetheless, Bullock was honest when asked if he's ready for the physical challenge that awaits should he be drafted or signed as an undrafted free agent.
"No, I don't believe that I'm ready for that yet," he said. "You've got three, four months before that actually occurs, so I believe in that timeframe that I'll be able to get ready for that. I know there's going to be a lot of work ahead of me."
Bullock says he's talked to the Bills, Bears and 49ers, with several other teams talking to Waters. Asked about the nature of those conversations, Bullock says teams want to know if he's serious about his decision.
"I tell them I am. I'm not going to turn down no opportunity. I look at it as a door that God's opened up for me and I'm going to do it to the best of my ability."
Bullock called it "amazing" to go from 10-win seasons as a freshman and sophomore to the NIT as a junior to the second round of the NCAA Tournament as a senior. March Madness has rolled right into April for Bullock, who has a real chance at reaching the NFL from a school that doesn't even have a football program.
"I'm thinking I'm going to do better than people expect me to," Bullock said of Friday's workout. "Hopefully, it's good enough to spark some interest with some of the GMs around."