MOBILE, Ala. — There doesn’t seem to be any question about the best tight end at the Senior Bowl.
What’s even more impressive is Walford underwent surgery on his right knee on Dec. 3 to repair a slight meniscus tear. Each time a reporter walks up to him, it’s always the first question and his answer is the same, “It feels great.”
He backed up that “feel-good” assurance Wednesday, as Walford humbled almost every South defender in one-on-one drills at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
When someone tried to jam the 6-foot-4, 263-pound target, he brushed aside those arms with a swim move and sped ahead into the open. If he needed to make a cut, it was precise. He released inside and outside with ease, again wide open.
On two occasions with defenders trying to catch up on deep passes, Walford showed his ability to react to throws that were off the mark as he dove to haul them in. His teammates started hollering. Observant NFL scouts took notice. Fans cheered.
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock observed, “I think we’ve got the most explosive tight end in this year’s draft on the field right now.”
Walford proved he is indeed “full go” on that knee, which had an initial recovery timetable of two months.
But his mission wasn’t just to show he’s healthy. Walford wants scouts to see a complete tight end, one who doesn’t need to come off the field on blocking downs and one who can make the most difficult catches.
“That’s the definition of a real tight end,” said Walford, 23, of Belle Glade, Fla.. “He can block, he can pass block, he can run block, he can catch the ball, he can run with the ball and he can make tough catches. That’s an all-around tight end.”
He mentions the Miami tradition of tight ends, guys who went onto the NFL, Jimmy Graham, Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow Jr. and Greg Olsen. He says he grew up idolizing Winslow, Terrell Owens and Randy Moss.
That might get a raised eyebrow or two from NFL scouts, but he assured he didn’t have the much-publicized selfish attitude of those players.
“Just some fierce players, man. They play with their heart,” he said. “I feel like I do the same thing.
“I wouldn’t say my personality is like theirs. I’m pretty much laid-back.”
In 11 games this season, Walford seemingly scraped the surface of what he’s capable of with 44 receptions for 676 yards and seven touchdowns. Miami (6-7) struggled at quarterback, which impacted the team’s offensive numbers, particularly his.
His receptions still led the team and his receiving yards were second. His longest reception went for a 61-yard touchdown. The John Mackey Award semi-finalist missed the Hurricanes’ bowl game due to the injury.
After Tuesday’s opening practice, Walford sounded eager to show what he’s got against other prospects in this environment, with scouts from every NFL team in the stands.
“It’s the Senior Bowl, so there’s a lot of great talents out here,” he said. “I’m just comparing my talent to their talent.”
He smiled as he said this, perhaps knowing the obvious, that the comparison has been rather favorable so far.
“I just try to match ’em and overcome ’em,” he said. “I think I did a pretty good job.”
And he likes the idea of playing on a roster that includes fellow Hurricanes in wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, cornerback Ladarius Gunter and inside linebacker Denzel Perryman, the latter his roommate.
“I feel like I’m at home,” Walford said. “I don’t feel like I’m in Alabama at all.”Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.