Bucky Hodges lacks no confidence, seemingly filled with sugar and fueled by what he perceives as a draft snub.
Hodges plays a different position – kind of – than a first-round draft pick in 1998 that never let himself forget that nearly 20 teams passed on him – Cincinnati (of all teams) passed on him twice. Back then, Randy Moss was considered at least a top-10 overall talent, but off-the-field concerns dropped him to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 21 overall before Dennis Green embraced the challenge of trying to break the bronco and lead him on wild rodeo ride.
Nearly 20 years later, Hodges had no known off-the-field issues, but he expected to be drafted somewhere on Day 2 last weekend, projected in the top 10 at his position, but not the top 10 overall. Instead of settling in somewhere on Day 2, which would have matched the projections issued by analysts, he was the 13th of 14 tight ends selected, the 201st overall pick and landing in the sixth round.
Moss’s first-round slide has nothing on Hodges, but Hodges isn’t shy about his feelings for Moss. While Moss hailed from Rand, West Virginia, Hodges played his college ball for Virginia Tech. Arriving in Minnesota and embracing the purple No. 84 couldn’t have meant more to him.
“Legendary. That’s what I thought when I first put that on,” Hodges gushed on his first day wearing the jersey for a practice. “84 is legendary and I want to build on it. This is some big shoes to fill, but I filled the 7 at Virginia. I’ve had that down a little bit.”
“All of them are my favorite players. To be what he was at the start of his career, I can’t emulate his career,” he said of Moss, “but it’s the Bucky Hodges story. I’m going to write my own story.”
His selection of an 84 Vikings jersey was very intentional. There was no shying away from it or fearing it would put too much pressure on him to live up to the production of his idol. Quite simply, he wanted it, got it, wore it and is embracing it.
Like Moss, Hodges refuses to let the anger of his draft weekend waft away. Instead, he will use it as consistent kindling for self-motivation.
“That chip is going to be on my shoulder the rest of my life. That was one of the longest days of my life, longest weekends of my life. They’re throwing fuel to the fire,” Hodges said. “Me and a couple of these other guys, they overlooked us, but we’re Vikings. We’re hungry and we’re going to get it.”
There is a distinct difference between Moss and Hodges. Moss was never a talker, at least never embracing the media and seeing the benefit of increasing his star. He let his play do the talking most of the time, but was always interesting and brimming with confidence and an opinion when he did speak publicly.
Hodges, meanwhile, seemed to eat up his phone interview after being drafted and in another interview after his first practice. If his play reflects his confidence, the Vikings may have found a steal.
He is far from a traditional, throwback tight end. At 6-foot-7 and 245 pounds, Hodges is an oversized receiver and, like Moss at times, not much of a blocker. Hodges says he is willing to work on that, calling it “a big focus” but admitting his is “very raw at it.”
But if he is used like one of the player comparisons issued by Pro Football Focus – Jimmy Graham – he won’t be asked to block much. Split him out wide. Put him in the slot. Motion him across the formation. He’s willing to do it all.
“We were both were basketball players,” he said of the Graham comparison. “I didn’t play in college, but that was my first love. Just the way that the position of tight end is now, when the ball is in the air, it’s like a rebound. When the ball is in the air, you go get it. That’s the same mentally that Jimmy Graham has that I have. I model my game after him a lot.”
If he turns out anything like any of them, the Vikings would be ecstatic with the value they found in the sixth round.
“I’ve got my own style to it. 84 has got to bring a little Moss to it,” he said. “I’m bringing my own style to it.”
His time watching Moss started as a 4-year-old boy. He remembers that, and his emulations, well.
“It was outside of my grandmother’s house, throwing the ball, jumping – who do you think you are? Moss! Moss! Moss! Well, yeah,” Hodges said, getting more excited and animated with each ensuing Moss-related answer. “Like I said, this is a legendary number. I’m just hoping I can throw my name into that hat and maybe some kid will want to be like me one day.”
Maybe. But first he will need his play to reflect his talk.
“I know my hunger, my drive,” he said, “and the sky is the limit.”