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Who is Dallas Goedert? How the draft's top TE made NFL radars

From ESPN - April 17, 2018

ACROSS THE SOUTH DAKOTA PRAIRIE -- Our story begins with a miracle. Pastor Carl Larson happened to be sitting in the stands in the fall of 2012, watching his Milbank Bulldogs host a high school team from the tiny town of Britton, South Dakota. The game was forgettable, but he could not take his eyes off a skinny, 6-foot-5 senior on the opposing team who "was so much better than everyone else."

So Larson phoned a friend.

South Dakota State University coach John Stiegelmeier took the call, but only because Larson had coached with him before entering the ministry. "We get that type of plug a ton around here," Stiegelmeier said. "But when Pastor Carl calls, he has some authority."

Larson had delivered Dallas Goedert, a program-changing star who would go on to be a projected first-round pick in the 2018 NFL draft. Stiegelmeier, however, was not feeling it.

"The tape was really rough, actually," he said. "I saw a big guy who could control his body, but I did not see a dominant football player."

There was no time to waste on a single prospect from a town of 1,250. Stiegelmeier stopped at Britton-Hecla High School once to watch Goedert play basketball but continued recruiting elsewhere. A few months later, Larson called again. He had just volunteered at a track meet where Goedert was tossing the discus like it was a piece of bread.

"I just kept telling coach Stieg, 'This kid stands out,'" Larson said.

Finally, Stiegelmeier relented. He offered Goedert a chance to walk on, and redshirt, as a tight end.

Life can turn on the chance of a random gift. Goedert would not have made it to South Dakota State without Larson's repeated intervention. And if Goedert had not made it to South Dakota State, albeit an FCS school, he would never have stuck the one-handed catch that catapulted him into the national consciousness. He would not have competed against FBS opponents such as Kansas and TCU. And, without a doubt, he would never, ever have been a projected first-round pick.

Goedert could be the first tight end selected when the draft opens April 26. The team that takes him will get 256-pound tight end with 10-inch hands like Odell Beckham Jr. and an affinity for dramatic plays. It will also take on a unique character who rides a 6-foot unicycle for fun, is ready to bust out from small-town stereotypes and is not opposed to wearing a leopard-print snuggie to embarrass his sisters in public.

"I like to bring the flair," he said. "Fans of the city I go to will like it. If people are wondering what they will be getting, I'd say to think about how much fun and how much energy I will bring."

You can trace Goedert's elite receiving skills to the nighttime routine he began as an 8-year-old, when he would refuse to sleep until his stepfather, Gary Carlson, agreed to throw him footballs from his bedroom doorway.

"A stalling tactic," said his sister Megan.

Not so, said Goedert.

"I'd have him keep throwing me the ball," he said, "so I could do one-handed catches. That's where it all came from."

Goedert showed up on the Brookings, South Dakota, campus in 2013 amid little fanfare. He redshirted his first year, then caught 34 passes over his next two seasons as he added 60 pounds to his frame. From the beginning, however, Goedert brought with him an undeniable skill set: big hands and a star's mindset in deploying them.

To find gloves that fit, the school submitted a special order to Under Armour for size XXXL. With those mitts, attached to 34-inch arms on a 6-5 frame, Goedert could reach up and over any FCS defender.

Never was that more apparent than on Sept. 10, 2016, when he engulfed a 3-yard touchdown pass with his right hand while a 5-8 linebacker from Drake University pinned Goedert's left arm to his body. The high floater stuck on Goedert's fingers as if it were a nerf ball. Instead of pulling it in, Goedert held the ball aloft -- and away from the defender -- as he fell to the ground.

Amid a wild celebration at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium, the ensuing extra point was delayed. The referee wanted to see the replay on the scoreboard for himself.

"I have really big hands, but I try to use all of my fingers," Goedert said. "I feel like when the ball hits my hands, it sticks. A lot of the one-handed catches you see, people bring it to their body and do not completely catch it one-handed. I feel like I am really good at ... being a hands-catcher.

"That catch made people say, 'Whoa, who is this guy?' Is this a one-time deal or is he a good player?"

The answer was clear as he neared the end of a 92-catch season. He was one of the most dominant skill players in FCS, with a body that was easy to project at the next level. NFL scouts, perpetually in search of mismatch opportunities, began showing up in Brookings.

"The winter after that season," Stiegelmeier said, "a pro scout asked me, 'Is he going to leave early?' Well, everything here is small. I did not know what he was talking about. You do not think about our players 'leaving early.' Then it dawned on me: Was he going to enter the draft?"

Goedert opted to stay for his final season, and Stiegelmeier's assistants dug in to supplement their offense with plays that could maximize a tight end who held the advantage in any matchup. They used him as an "X" receiver in the red zone. They studied how the Kansas City Chiefs deployed tight end Travis Kelce, adding a tight end shovel pass to the playbook. They even made plans to hand Goedert the ball as a true running back; as a junior, he had taken a handoff 17 yards for a touchdown against Southern Illinois.

"One-on-one, he's super tough to guard," tight ends coach Luke Schleusner said. "And it's not just size; he has quick feet to go with it."

Goedert participated in a pro day as a junior, running the 40-yard dash in 4.68 seconds without training to maximize his time. He has not run another since. He suffered a Grade II hamstring tear on Jan. 23, the first day of Senior Bowl practice, and did not work out at the scouting combine. Fully recovered by his pro day on March 30, Goedert opted out of the 40 but did all other drills.

It's unusual for a receiver not to have a current 40 time on record. But sitting in the local Applebee's, crushing a double order of artichoke dip and smothered chicken, Goedert said simply that he did not need to run.

"[The 40] was first," he said. "And there were maybe seven or eight tight ends coaches there. I wanted to do the position work. I felt like obviously teams want to see the 40, but my tape shows how fast I really am."

In truth, if there are any questions about Goedert as the draft approaches, it's that his recent tape does not show much of the traditional in-line blocking NFL teams like to see. South Dakota State coaches had too many ideas for him as a receiver and scheme-buster to give him conventional blocking assignments.

"I am not going to say it would have been wasting him," said offensive coordinator Eric Eidsness, "but it would have been almost like wasting him."

Goedert is honest about his priorities. "Any tight end that says blocking is his favorite part of the game," he said, "is lying to you." But he is willing, he said, and scouts who have studied him do not have much of an issue.

Steve Muench, who spends the year evaluating draft prospects for ESPN, gave Goedert an above-average grade for blocking.

"There's room for improvement," Muench said. "[But] he's a willing run-blocker with the size and strength to compete as an in-line blocker and engulf smaller defenders as a move blocker in space. He's got the length to push linebackers past the hole when he climbs up to the second level, and he's competitive in pass pro."

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