National Football League teams have had considerable success when they employ late-blooming tight ends in their system. While the recent trend is to convert basketball players into NFL-caliber tight ends, scouts see in Bell a player in the mold of former Dallas Cowboys great Jay Novacek – a standout quarterback who moved to wide receiver at Wyoming before he excelled once he shifted to the tight end position later with the Pokes.
A recently successful conversion was Washington Redskins’ Jordan Reed. The soon-to-be third-year player enrolled at the University of Florida and played under center during his first two years at the university before shifting to tight end. Blake Bell got a late start at learning the “tight end trade,” but as far as football pedigree goes, he comes from a family with impressive gridiron bloodlines.
Bell’s father, Mark, was a defensive end who played seven seasons in the NFL for Seattle and the Colts. Mark was a fourth round selection by the Seahawks in 1979 while Blake’s uncle, Mike Bell, was a first round choice in 1979 and a standout defensive end for twelve seasons as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. Both his father and uncle were All-Conference and All-Americans during their college days at Colorado State. Blake’s brother also lettered on the gridiron, as a member of the Emporia State team.
At Bishop Carroll High School, Bell was a coveted five-star recruit (Scout.com). He was rated the best player in the state of Kansas and the nation’s fourth-best quarterback by Scout.com.
Bell’s athletic ability in high school was obvious and when Oklahoma would later use him in the “Belldozer” package, it made him a Sooners cult hero. Like most talented athletes, he was at one time a three-sport standout, as he also played basketball and baseball at Bishop Carroll High, but dropped baseball his junior year.
Even though he didn’t throw a single pitch after his sophomore year of high school, the Detroit Tigers used a 2010 draft pick on Bell, taking him in the 43rd round, with the 1,303rd overall pick.
Bell red-shirted at the University of Oklahoma in 2010, performing as a 225-pound quarter-back for the scout team before appearing briefly in seven contests as a reserve with the varsity in 2011. He completed just one of four passes that year, but utilized in the “Bell-dozer” package created specifically for his ability to produce in goal-line and short-yardage situations. He ran for thirteen touchdowns on 44 carries, reaching the end zone once for every 3.38 plays.
Over the next two seasons Bell transformed into a traditional quarterback who still had the ability to make plays with his feet. He would continue to push the ball into the end zone as a ball carrier in 2012. Coming off the bench in thirteen contests, he ran for eleven touch-downs on 60 attempts, but was limited to 107 yards behind 9-of-16 passes.
Bell would earn eight starting assignments at quarterback before being benched during the 2013 campaign, gaining 1,648 yards with twelve scores on 140-of-230 tosses (60.09%), but suddenly could not find the end zone on the ground, picking up 255 yards on 75 carries.
After his junior season Bell selflessly volunteered to transition from quarterback to tight end and blossomed in the role, catching four touchdowns and becoming known as a great blocker in the running game. But, more knee problems during the 2014 schedule saw the converted tight end sit out vs. Kansas. The newly converted tight end started eight of the twelve games he appeared in at tight end, but when injuries depleted the backfield depth, he also served as the Sooner’s emergency quarterback. He would finish fifth on the team, pulling in 16-of-32 targeted passes for 214 yards (13.38 ypc) and four touchdowns.
While he was not deemed an elite enough prospect to receive an invitation to the 2015 Senior Bowl, Bell took advantage of more accurate passers attending 2015 East-West Shrine Game practices to be one of the few players in attendance to greatly improve his draft stock under the observation of NFL scouts and team decision makers.
The athletically-gifted athlete continues to receive quite a bit of attention from pro scouts this off-season, as it is evident that he has the classic size to make the move to tight end become permanent. He accelerates well with above average speed up the seam. Once he learns how to use his hands better to avoid the hold-up, he could be even better here. He can quickly find the seam in the short area zones, doing a nice job of sitting and coming back for the ball. His speed allows him to get deep often (not evident by his figures, as Oklahoma did not have a QB with deep arm strength).
His quickness makes defenses very conscious of his position on the field. If given space, he can take the ball to the house. Bell is not sudden, but shows above average quickness in his movements. When left uncontested, he generates a quick get-off on his routes. His speed gets negated a bit when he takes soft angle cuts, though. He displays good ball concentration, catching well when working through traffic. He’s learning how to utilize his strength better, doing a nice job of making the catch with defenders hanging on to him.
Bell is not super flexible, but he has good body control to adjust. He shows the ability to adjust and react to the ball outside the framework and his size makes an inviting target. He still needs to do a better job of getting his feet down along the sidelines. He shows very good pluck and snatch hands, but will also body catch and drop a couple. He appears natural catching away from the body’s frame and really impresses with his ability to adjust to the over the shoulder balls.
Even with his speed, Bell has only average elusiveness, but can break some tackles. If given room, he has above average speed to go the distance with the ball. The thing I like about him is his steady improvement turning it up hard after the catch, making one cut after another in his quest to break free from the pile.
Blake Bell NFL Scouting Combine measurables
6-6/252 (4.80 forty)
33 1/8-inch arm length
33-inch vertical jump
116-inch broad jump
4.32 20 yard shuttle
11.81 60 yard shuttle
Dave-Te’ Thomas is a sports writer, talent evaluator and scouting personnel consultant for a majority of teams in the National Football League. Thomas runs a scouting information service called NFL Scouting Services and produces THE NFL Draft Report, a publication provided by league headquarters to the media in preparation for the NFL Draft.
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