Who is the fastest tight end in this year's NFL draft?
Would you believe UC's Blake Annen?
The 6'4", 247 pounder is not even among the 29 TE prospects listed in the USA Today's NFL Draft guide, but after running the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds at UC's pro day, the former Bearcat is definitely attracting interest from NFL teams.
"There's a difference sometimes between playing speed and timed speed," an NFL scout told me. "As a receiving tight end, the question will be, 'Can he play to that timed speed?' He hasn't always done that on tape. But now you know he's capable of it so that's intriguing."
"That obviously opened everybody's eyes," said UC head coach Tommy Tuberville. "He's a little undersized but there are not a lot of tight ends out there like him. He's physical, he can block, and you can also flex him out and play him as a receiver. He did great in almost everything that he did as his pro day so his stock went up. I'm excited for him."
Annen showed good speed on a 49-yard grab against Northwestern State last year and a 41-yard touchdown catch vs UConn. Still, despite seeing nearly every game he played at UC, I'll admit to being a bit stunned when I saw his 40-yard dash time.
But teammate and fellow NFL hopeful Brendon Kay says he was not surprised.
"Not at all because I was training with him for two months so I would have been surprised if he didn't," said Kay.
OK, so he's fast. But 4.41? That's faster than the 4.43 posted by top wide receiver prospect Sammy Watkins of Clemson at the NFL Scouting Combine. I asked Annen how he did it.
"I've heard that question a lot," Blake said with a laugh. "Part of it was training and being around nutritionists more and learning different ways to take care of your body."
Annen finished last season with 16 catches for 183 yards and 2 touchdowns (you can listen to his first TD catch here). But his stats suffered when the Bearcats changed their offense following a loss at USF in the fifth game of the season. For the rest of the year, UC emphasized a 4-wide receiver attack with limited use of the tight end.
"I think it was a great decision by the coaching staff and we won nine games which is nothing to complain about," said Annen. "Obviously you want to contribute as much as you can, and that means finding ways to be a team player. If that means catching 100 balls then I do. If that means making 100 blocks, then I make 100 blocks. When you win nine games you can't complain about it."
"He was a team player and he was a professional about it," said Kay. "My hat's off to him. I'm close to Blake - we've spent a lot of time training together - and we've been tight for the last five years. It was definitely tough for him when we made that change and he didn't get many opportunities. I still think he made the most of the opportunities that he had. He can do it all - he can run, he can catch, and he can block. He has a bright future."
Annen recently had a private workout with the Philadelphia Eagles and last week, took part in the Bengals' annual workout for draft-eligible players from area colleges and high schools. If he is not selected in the late rounds of the draft, Blake stands a good chance of winding up in an NFL training camp as an undrafted free agent.
"That's the goal and all I need is a shot," Annen told me. "Obviously if that comes on draft day I would be ecstatic, but just being able to have an opportunity is more than a lot of people can say. If you do get that opportunity, it all comes down to what you do with it."
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