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Husky Hard Knocks: Ryan Griffin

Here is part three of our new series that will highlight the seven former Huskies about to enter their first NFL training camps this summer. Each day we’ll evaluate a single player’s individual prospects, likely fit with their new team and position competition. Today, we continue with Ryan Griffin, who was selected in the sixth round of this year’s draft by the Houston Texans.

Before we get into our next installment today, I’d like to run a quick blind resumé test with you. Below are a pair of players after their final seasons of college football. Take your pick between the two as if you were a drafting GM.

Player A stands at 6’ 5", 247 lbs. with a 36" vertical leap. He finished his year with 44 receptions, 5 touchdowns and a 15.9 yards/rec. average. His team concluded its season 6-6 and scored just shy of 32 points per game.

Player B stands at 6’ 6", 247 lbs. with a 34.5" vertical leap. He finished his year with 28 receptions, 6 touchdowns and a 16.7 yards/rec. average. His team concluded its season 5-7 and scored just shy of 18 points per game.

Whichever your choice, simply based on those individual measurements alone, the differences between the two appear negligible, no?

Each tight end looks to be an athletic receiving threat who can gain good chunks of yardage on any play. While Player A caught more balls, (likely in part because he played in a more successful offense) each gained an impressive near sixth of the field every time they touched a pass. The two also seem to be a pair of dependable red zone targets not only due to their height, but superior jumping ability. In fact, while Player’s B vertical leap does fall an inch and a half shorter than Player A’s mark, 34.5" still would’ve placed top-five in his draft class, had he been invited to the combine.

Now, somewhat predictably to this point, I’ll tell you that Ryan Griffin is Player B.

Any guess as to who Player A is?

Try A+ tight end, all-time player, person and surefire Hall of Famer—

Tony Gonzalez.

Yes, the best tight end in NFL History posted numbers in his last year at Cal not far off from those that belonged to Griffin this past fall. This is by no means to say the two will have similar careers or incur any further comparison. But, this is to create pause for consideration because Griffin, despite the low-level of attention he has garnered, has a chance to surprise folks at the next level.

The first thing you’ll notice about Ryan Griffin in person or on tape is his size. He possesses ideal height and frame for a tight end, which he uses in the passing game to shield away defenders and demonstrate a wide catching radius. A basketball background (mainly high school star and active pick-up player with this year’s women’s basketball national champs) helped cultivate his second biggest asset, above average athleticism, which you can see on display here.

While this reach and athletic ability allows the New Hampshire native to compete for balls in traffic, it is an understated toughness that allows him to come away with them. Whether on short or intermediate routes, before or after the catch, Griffin is willing to go over or through defenders to get where he needs to go. In difficult spots his hands are without a doubt good, but on the whole they’re rate at above average.

In the running game, Griffin is a willing, physical blocker. Similar to when he’s running routes, the UConn product is capable of blocking either in-line or on the outside. However, he is a bit light for his 6’ 6" stature, so sometimes his physical ability doesn’t match the willingness to push defenders back. This struggle to gain ground against defenders will only become worse in the NFL, unless he bulks up.

Additionally, like most rookies, Griffin has to develop more consistency in his game. Last season, he complied 84 receiving yards against Pittsburgh, 85 opposite Cincinnati and two other 60-plus yard games versus Syracuse and Temple. Yet somehow, the then senior also picked up a combined six yards against Maryland and North Carolina State. Furthermore, he hauled in a total of seven balls when the Huskies took on Rutgers, Buffalo and Western Michigan.

The tools are in the shed, but sometimes you can’t even see that they’re there.

Now, his fit with Houston is a simple one. He’ll play tight end and there won’t be any discussions otherwise—period. Depending on how the Texans deploy their special teams, his back-up offensive role could also mean a starting spot covering kicks or on the punt and field goal protection units.

Luckily for Griffin, head coach Gary Kubiak believes he can become a very good player. The front office holds similar faith, as they view him to be a "developmental-type prospect". These beliefs stem from Griffin’s package of physical tools that we mentioned earlier and his potential to grow them further, by adding functional weight and getting faster. Thus, the typical rookies mistakes he’s made so far in mini-camp have been excused. The key will be making positive, consistent strides this summer.

In training camp, Griffin will have the opportunity to learn from Pro Bowler Owen Daniels and fourth-year player Garrett Graham. Both of their jobs are safe, after Daniels has been a key part of the Texan offense for years, and Graham started to come on a season ago. The team usually likes to keep three players at the position, so Griffin will fit in on the third-sting.

The players he’ll be battling with for the final spot are both undrafted free agents from a year ago. Phillip Supernaw, out of small Ouachita Baptist University, spent the first six weeks of Houston’s 2012 campaign on their practice squad, before hurting his foot. He stands at 6’ 5" 250 lbs, can block, catch, run and is still currently recovering from the injury. When healthy, he’s a bit faster than Griffin.

Meanwhile, Jake Bryne is a one-trick pony who specializes in blocking so much so that he can hardly catch a cold. Byrne recorded only six passes caught during his final two seasons at Madison and was released last summer by the Saints after signing with them two Aprils ago. Since then, he’s worked out for multiple NFL teams, before finally settling in Houston.

From this view, Griffin has every reason to make the team provided he’s dedicated to gaining good weight and honing his craft. This entails improving his hands, getting a bit faster, growing stronger and refining his route running. But, unlike most late-round rookies, Griffin has support, a good system around him and few standing in his way.

Not to mention perhaps the most interesting aspect of his situation, which is that Graham is currently entering the final year of his contract and Daniels holds a large salary number after this season.

Meaning, that depending on how much Griffin can improve from his days wearing blue and white, he could find himself a starter with battle red and blue in a couple years.

The Texans open training camp this Friday at their team facility in Houston. They open the pre-season with Minnesota on August 9th at 8 p.m. in Minneapolis.