When Eric Fisher, a former two-star recruit, who was a 235-pound tight end his junior year of high school, went first overall in this year's draft, it may have surprised many who had not followed his development.
Still, the concept of taking a kid with a tall, long frame and building him into a premiere offensive tackle prospect, is not all that uncommon. In the Midwest alone, there have been many examples of this over the last few years.
Robert Gallery was an All-Conference tight end at East Buchanan High (Ia.) before signing with Iowa and becoming an All-American and high draft choice at tackle. Bryan Bulaga followed in those footsteps, going from tight end at Marian Central Catholic (Ill.) to 1st Round offensive tackle.
Even at Central Michigan, Fisher was not the first. Joe Staley was a 200-pound wide receiver when he first started hearing from colleges. He came to CMU as a 250-pound tight end and admits to crying when he got moved to tackle. That move proved to be a fruitful one, as he was a 1st Round choice for the San Francisco 49ers.
Jake Fisher was a lightly recruited tight end from Traverse City West (Mich.) before blowing up as a tackle on the summer camp circuit and is now playing at Oregon. Jack Knopoka was a high school tight end at Palatine Fremd (Ill.) now starting for Northwestern, the same for Jason Spriggs (Concord, Ind.) who started as a true freshman for Indiana despite never playing tackle prior to that season. So does the Midwest have more of these mold-able gems in this year's class? Here are some candidates.
Northwestern did well with Konopka's transition and now will look to do the same with Blake Hance, a 6'5, 260-pound tight end from Jacksonville High. He has the frame and the athleticism to do it and has excelled as a blocker during his career already.
Chance Sorrell is a 6'6, 250-pound prospect from Middletown (Ohio). He has eight scholarship offers, including Louisville, West Virginia, Indiana, Cincinnati and Boston College. Some schools are recruiting him as a tight end, others on the offensive line. We believe his frame and athleticism would allow him to easily make the transition to tackle.
Offers are beginning to come in for Grafton (Wisc.) junior Beau Benzschawel. A tight end and defensive end for his school, his 6'6, 250-pound frame and the blocking ability he shows on film have many schools thinking he could be one of the next converts to succeed. Iowa State, Central Michigan, Wyoming and Bowling Green are among the schools he has offers from.
Central Michigan is looking to have lightning strike again after the success of Fisher and Staley. Alex Neering, who committed earlier this month, has played tight end, middle linebacker and defensive end for Essexville Garber (Mich.) and has the size (6'7, 235) to project to several spots. A position has not been decided yet, but offensive tackle was one of the spots the Chippewas discussed with him. Hunter Lassitter of Portage Central (Mich.) committed this week and has never played offensive line before. However, at 6'4, 255-pounds, he is a big kid who shows great drive blocking skills. He has good footwork and athleticism, evidenced by his outstanding results on the basketball court this year and is beginning to work on his offensive line skills, something he did at the Adidas Invitational in March.
Western Michigan is looking to do the same with Jordan Van Dort of Zeeland West, a massive 6'5, 275-pounder who has played tight end on varsity since his freshman year. Light on his feet and coordinated, he has proven to be a very good receiver, but it has been his blocking skills within his school's Wing-T offense that has lead many to believe he'll be able to trasition to the offensive line with ease.
Finally, Highlands (Ky.) junior Nick True earned his first offer recently as Western Kentucky offered as a tight end. However, with his 6'7, 235-pound frame, he has the look of a kid who could end up playing tackle.
In the end, not every single big tight end will be moved. There is still a place for a tight end with the size and strength to block and the athleticism to be effective as a receiver. However, history tells us that those with the pre-requisite tools to move to the offensive line will be successful and have a chance to end up making NFL millions. With that in mind, the Midwest should continue to be a fertile ground for these prospects and we can be sure that there will not be as many kids crying anymore when asked to make the switch.