Prior to the lead-up to the NFL Scouting Combine, new Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Willie Beavers was viewed as a durable small-college offensive tackle at Western Michigan University. However, when NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock listed him as the fifth-best offensive tackle in the 2016 draft, his stock took a jump up and got him on the radar of a lot clubs.
He started the last 40 games of his college career at WMU and showed up well against impressive outside defenders like Kahlil Mack, Joey Bosa and Shilique Calhoun.
However, when he showed up at the Senior Bowl, he moved from tackle to guard to show teams that he had the ability to be a position-flexible swingman. It wasn’t to necessarily enhance his draft status, it was at the request of several teams that wanted to see how he could handle playing guard for the first time in his career.
“It wasn’t to help my draft stock, it was where teams wanted me to play at to see if I would fit in their system. It was to show my versatility, it wasn’t intentionally to try to boost my draft stock. It was just me doing that because that was what a lot of teams wanted to see.”
His road to the NFL went from the highway to the byways. As a high school senior, he committed to the University of Illinois and was ecstatic about the opportunity to realize a goal of playing in the Big Ten.
But, due to a mistake by the Illini, his scholarship was rescinded and Beavers had to turn to his faith to cushion the devastating blow.
“I was committed to them, but they ended up over-signing too many players,” Beavers said. “It was hurtful. Growing up I was a huge Big Ten fan. That was a dream of mine to play in the Big Ten. When they told me that, it was hurtful. But, I’m a big faith guy and just prayed on it and God helped me through it.”
Beavers had the scholarship offer from WMU to fall back on and he made the most of it, becoming an ironman for the school and was named a first-team All-MAC selection as a senior.
He often dominated the competition he faced, but he understands that his transition to the NFL will be an enormous challenge. Prior to the draft, the Vikings already had 15 offensive linemen on the roster, so many will not be guaranteed a spot. The challenge will be daunting because the jump in the speed, strength and talent in the NFL will be a major adjustment Beavers will have to make.
“I know at the next level a lot of guys are much bigger and stronger,” Beavers said. “Just for me to get stronger and bigger and pick up on things and become a student of the game.”
The biggest challenge, however, may be to convince his family to become fans of the Vikings. His family lives in Detroit and he grew up as a lifelong Lions fan. That all changed Saturday and he isn’t looking back.
He doesn’t see it as being a problem – it may be for some family members, but the Lions have become his enemy, not his friend.
“I’m not a Lions fan anymore,” Beavers said. “I’m a Vikings fan. I’m a Vikings guy.”