Author Archives: John Kryk

‘Air Canada’ takes flight toward realizing NFL dream with ‘strong’ throwing performance at combine

BRANDON

INDIANAPOLIS – In showing off a strong arm, a quick release and improved footwork on Saturday at the NFL scouting combine, Brandon ‘Air Canada’ Bridge impressed top draft analysts on Saturday.

And took a big step toward realizing his NFL dream.

“I thought that Brandon Bridge got himself drafted today, I really did,” Rob Rang, Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Sports Xchange and CBSSports.com, told Sun Media.

“I thought that he had a strong performance. He and Jerry Lovelocke (of Prairie View A&M) both stepped up and showed that they have legitimate NFL arms, and therefore in a quarterback class as weak as this one, why not gamble on a guy with a big arm?”

Bridge is a 6-foot-4 3/8, 229-pound passer from the University of South Alabama. He was born in Toronto and raised in neighbouring Mississauga, and is hoping to become the first Canadian quarterback taken in the NFL draft since Jesse Palmer in 2001.

“I thought I did pretty well,” Bridge texted Sun Media on Saturday night. “Threw the ball well for the most part.

“Teams say they like me but anything can happen between now and draft day.”

The 22-year-old threw in the first of two quarterback/receiver groups on at Lucas Oil Stadium. The other passers in his group were UCLA’s Brett Hundley, Duke’s Anthony Boone, Nevada’s Cody Fajardo, East Carolina’s Shane Carden and Southeastern Louisiana’s Bryan Bennett.

Greg Cosell, the respected analyst for NFL Films and NFL Network, observed from the field. Although he has yet to analyze Bridge’s game tape from South Alabama, or from his previous college stop at Alcorn State, Cosell said Bridge more than held his own.

“I thought he threw it well,” Cosell said. “He was in the first group, which I didn’t think was a very good group. I think he stood out.

“With his size and the way he threw it, he stood out.”

That’s not a backhanded compliment, because many analysts have UCLA’s Hundley rated as the No. 3 quarterback in this draft class, after everybody’s Top 2: Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota.

Gil Brandt, the “Godfather” of the scouting combine and former long-time Dallas Cowboys front-office executive, told Sun Media he thought Bridge “threw the ball pretty good. He’ll be a free agent, at least, in somebody’s camp.”

Even by Bridge’s own admission, he still has work to do to clean up his unpolished footwork. With most throwers, accuracy is proportionate to footwork sophistication, and Bridge was only a 50% passer in two years at South Alabama.

I was fortunate to be one of only 15 members of the Pro Football Writers of America permitted to watch Bridge’s group throw, from a luxury box. I was expecting Bridge to have much sloppier footwork, based on what he and others had said about it.

But it’s not that bad.

He told me on Thursday he’s been working hard under quarterback guru Steve Calhoun in California to fix his footwork woes from the fall, when Bridge told me he was always throwing “all arm,” off his back foot.

Bridge has a quick delivery and, without any question, possesses an NFL-strength arm. On some routes on Saturday, such as the five-yard slant-left, 12-yard curl-right and 10-yard out-right, Bridge was consistently accurate, ripping the ball into his receivers’ hands on tight spirals.

On others — such as the 10-yard out-left and 18-yard in-left — he was hit-and-miss, with the occasional ugly miss.

On go-route throws left, and post-corners right, he threw two good throws for every bad one. But that’s to be expected when working with unfamiliar receivers on such long tosses.

“Brandon Bridge is who I thought he was: a tall drink of water with a whip (for an arm),” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock told me at his late-afternoon news conference. “He hasn’t got much of a clue about footwork, he gets out of position a lot, his accuracy is all over the place, but he’s the kind of guy you’d like to work with.”

Bridge did OK in the speed and agility drills earlier Saturday morning. He placed sixth of 13 quarterbacks in the 40-yard dash (4.72 seconds) and sixth in the first 10 yards (1.68 seconds). He was also sixth in vertical jump (33 inches) and ninth in broad jump (9-foot-2).

“He’s got some athletic ability,” Rang said, “and there’s just a hunger about him. If he isn’t drafted, then he certainly got himself into a camp (as a free agent) with how he performed. And that’s really all you can ask for is an opportunity.

“Based on physical talent, he showed that he has at least a chance to make an NFL roster.”

 

 

 

NFL coaches warming to idea of expanding video reviews to include at least pass interference — but will rule change?

INDIANAPOLIS – NFL coaches are warming to the idea of expanding video replay to include pass-interference calls, if not all judgment penalties.

“Yeah, we got a sense for that,” St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, a leading member of the NFL’s competition committee, said at his Friday morning new conference at the NFL scouting combine.

Whether reviews will be so expanded next month at the league’s annual meeting in Phoenix is conjecture at this point.

Another coach on the competition committee, Marvin Lewis, suggested Thursday that such a rule change is unlikely.

Regardless, based on what Fisher and some of his colleagues said this week, more coaches are coming around to that way of thinking.

Fisher is the foremost coach on the competition committee, which each year at the combine consults coaches and GMs on potential rule changes. The committee meets a week or two after the combine to consider all proposals, then submits a final list of rule and by-law changes to owners for their consideration at the NFL’s annual meeting.

This year’s annual meeting is March 22-25 in Phoenix.

“There are a number of proposals this year, probably the largest number that I can remember with respect to instant replay,” said Fisher, expanding on what NFL VP of officiating Dean Blandino said three days before the Super Bowl.

“A number of those proposals involve including penalties. So that will all be discussed. We’re scratching the surface on this now. We’ll look at it in detail.”

Fisher did say that expanding reviews will be “one of the major topics of discussion” when the competition committee meets next week in Naples, Fla.

With stricter enforcement in 2014 of two rules preventing contact with a receiver five yards beyond the line of scrimmage, angst about pass-interference calls and non-calls proved a constant source of grief to players, coaches, team execs and fans.

League execs felt especial heat after the NFC wild-card playoff game between Detroit and Dallas, when a flag for pass interference at first was thrown, then picked up. Southeastern Michigan is still slow-burning over it, after the call helped the Cowboys knock off the Lions.

The NFL would be following the CFL by one year if it allows coaches to challenge pass-interference calls or non-calls in 2015.

According to Winnipeg Sun colleague Kirk Penton, CFL coaches in 2014 challenged 55 such plays in the 18-game regular season. The CFL’s centralized video-review command centre overturned 17 calls — or 31% of the time.

Blandino told me last month he spoke with his CFL counterpart, Glen Johnson, about how the rule change went over. Coaches, players, executives and fans in Canada all seemed to be happy with it.

“I think the coaches appreciated the ability to at least challenge those calls,” Blandino said following his Super Bowl availability.

This week we asked several NFL head coaches at their combine news conferences for their thoughts on whether replay reviews should be expanded to include PI calls or non-calls.

“Yeah, last year I thought it was kind of a weird recommendation that everything be reviewable,” Arizona’s Bruce Arians said. “I’m kind of believing (New England) coach (Bill) Belichick now, where everything should be reviewable but you get three (challenges) — you pick and choose, whether it’s holding or any play that judgment was involved in.

“I think I’m going for that one now.”

Buffalo’s Rex Ryan and Tampa Bay’s Lovie Smith both dropped strong hints that they are now in favour.

Said Ryan: “Before, I wasn’t a big proponent of it, because you don’t want to slow the game. I think the game is so good right now that you don’t want to change things. But as what happened to me last year with a couple of things, certainly would I like a chance to review them.”

Said Smith: “I have definite opinions on that. I think the rules we have in place right now are there for a reason. But I think any way that you can make a wrong a right during the course of a game — whether it be penalties, any part of the game — I think that eventually will help our game.”

Jacksonville’s Gus Bradley said he’s ambivalent, but edging toward change.

“I think there are pluses and minuses,” Bradley said. “I hate to be vague on it, but I think there are advantages and disadvantages to it.

“But ultimately you want to get it right. And that’s what I think, from most people’s mindset, is to try to expand it to make sure we get it right … I think that’s ultimately our whole mindset: just to find a way to get it right.”

Cincinnati’s Lewis said not so fast.

“No one is in favour of expanding judgment calls, because we work in a system right now with high-definition television, and guys are literally making split-second determinations,” he said. “And more than 90 percent of the time they’re getting them right. I don’t think we want to fool with that.”

Is that how the whole competition committee feels?

“Pretty much, yes,” Lewis said. “But that’s not for me to speak for the competition committee. It’s under discussion. It will continue to be under discussion. We had four days of discussion of it over here. We will discuss it again and make proposals to the ownership when we go to the March meeting.”

 

 

Bills, Jerry Hughes talking long-term contract + why franchise tag makes no sense

BILLS

INDIANAPOLIS – Buffalo Bills GM Doug Whaley said Thursday that talks to strike a long-term deal with free-agent-to-be Jerry Hughes have heated up over the past two days.

In his two years in Buffalo, Hughes has blossomed into a top-shelf pass rusher.

He registered 10 sacks in 2013 in Mike Pettine’s 3-4 defence, and 9.5 sacks this past season in Jim Schwartz’s 4-3.

“We’ve sent a proposal over to his representatives,” Whaley told Bills beat writers. (My photo of him, above, before 2014 home opener.)  “His representatives have sent a counter-proposal. I just got off the phone with (VP of football administration) Jim Overdorf, who talked with their representatives at length last night.

“There’s an open line of communication.”

Whaley added that the two sides were set to meet again Thursday.

JerryThe Bills surely don’t want to slap a franchise tag on the fifth-year veteran, because the non-exclusive tag amount for his position probably will work out to about $15 million.

“We’re trying to avoid that,” Whaley said, “because we’re trying to get him long-term for sure … so they (can say), hey, we got a good deal, and we say as the Buffalo Bills we got a good deal.”

This season the Bills already are scheduled to pay their other three defensive-line starters a fortune, precisely $33.9 million against the cap: $19.4 million for end Mario Williams, $8.1 million for tackle Marcell Dareus and $6.4 million for tackle Kyle Williams.

Even though, as Whaley pointed out, the Bills have more freedom to spend big on defenders because so little (at this point) of their cap is devoted to quarterback pay, it’s almost inconceivable that Buffalo or any NFL team would devote about a third of its cap space (about $49 million) to but four D-line starters.

Signing Hughes to a long-term deal can backload a lot of the money, rather than have all of his 2015 pay count toward the 2015 cap, as happens when you tag a player.

The GM did say that approaching Mario Williams to restructure his contract “as of now” is not what the club is considering, but “it’s something in our back pocket.”

Whaley sounded much less optimistic about re-signing running back C.J. Spiller, middle linebacker Brandon Spikes and safety Da’Norris Searcy.

What best-of-the-rest combine QBs say is their best strength, biggest weakness

MOBILE, Ala. – For the third straight year, Sun Media asked Senior Bowl quarterbacks two questions:

1)   What’s the one attribute that makes you most NFL ready?

2)   What’s the thing you have to work on most?

All six passers who worked out last month in front of NFL talent evaluators at the Senior Bowl (a college all-star game) accepted invitations to the NFL scouting combine. The combine began Tuesday and concludes Monday.

It’s always interesting to hear how quarterbacks answer the first question.

Some pick a physical trait, such as arm strength, or accuracy. Some cite their familiarity with the pro-style passing game. A few even cite leadership and competitiveness, such as EJ Manuel two years ago.

“I think mainly just a winning mindset,” told Sun Media then, in answer to Question 1. “Obviously, my physical skills kind of speak for themselves. I have the size, and I can throw, I can run. But I think mainly it’s the pedigree in my mind.”

The Florida State product at the time didn’t rank on any draftniks’ Top 5 lists. But a month later at the combine, Manuel blew away teams’ GMs, coaches and scouts in his interviews.

Manuel’s draft stock skyrocketed, and he wound up being the first quarterback taken three months later, 16th overall by the Buffalo Bills.

Here is how this year’s six Senior Bowl quarterbacks answered the two introspective questions (with my photos from Mobile, accompanying):

 

BRYCEBRYCE PETTY

Baylor

Midlothian, Tex.

6-foot-2¾, 230 pounds

BEST ATTRIBUTE: “I think leadership, toughness, competitiveness.

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: “Footwork. That’s all it is. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a kid in peewee football or Tom Brady or Peyton Manning — those guys are always working on their footwork. It’s not something you can ever totally master … Accuracy is tied to footwork. It’s huge. I think if you have calm feet, you make great throws. Good feet lead to good throws.”

 

BLAKEBLAKE SIMS

Alabama

Gainesville, Ga.

5-foot-11½, 223 pounds

BEST ATTRIBUTE: “Personality — the willingness to do whatever I’ve got to do to play in the game.”

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: “Just footwork. That’s the main thing, I think. It’s the only thing I need to work on.”

 

GARRETTGARRETT GRAYSON

Colorado State

Vancouver, Wash.

6-foot-2 1/8, 215 pounds

BEST ATTRIBUTE: “Playing in a pro-style system. We had reads that, you know, if they’re in cover-2 it’s one read but if they switch to cover-3 it’s a totally different read. You still have to go through your progressions, and I think that gives me a leg up on everyone, having gone through that. That’s helped me out a ton, and that played a big part in me going to CSU. Steve Fairchild (CSU’s head coach, 2008-11) was there running a pro-style system. I just looked at guys through the years who have gone on to have success at the next level, and they went through a pro-style college. That was a system I wanted to play in.”

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: “Being under centre. At CSU we were about 50-50, centre-gun, until this last season, when we were about 90% gun. So just getting those drop(back)s from under centre, making my sure my hips are right when I’m throwing to my left, things like that. They’re definitely fixable.”

 

SEANSEAN MANNION

Oregon State

Pleasanton, Calif.

6-foot-5½, 229 pounds

BEST ATTRIBUTE: “I think my throwing ability, and what I mean by that is my accuracy and arm strength. I feel like I can make any throw in any offence. That being said, you can always improve your accuracy. I hold myself to a high standard in terms of putting the ball in the right place, and putting it there on time.”

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: “I think just working on getting the ball out of my hand on time. The timing and the speed of the game is at a whole other level in the NFL, and I think it requires the quarterback to play fast and get the ball out of his fast on time. You want to sharpen up the physical side of it, in terms of when you put your foot on the ground, and that the ball’s coming out right away. So that’s part of it. But it’s also the mental aspect. Not just going through your reads quickly, but making the right read, and quickly. It’s two sides of the same coin. We ran a pro style system, so we had a lot of similarities in terms of concepts in the passing game with what we’re doing this week. But the detail is just a whole other level.”

 

BRYANBRYAN BENNETT

Southeastern Louisiana (transferred from Oregon)

Granada Hills, Calif.

6-foot-3, 215 pounds

BEST ATTRIBUTE: “I think my arm strength is something that I’ve been able to show here, especially when I tie my feet to my arm. I usually am pretty accurate and have the strength to make every throw.”

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: “I think I need to just keep working on throwing in the pocket, and being accurate through the pocket. There was one play today where I started running and may have gained a couple yards, but if I got my eyes up there might have been a touchdown (pass) there. So just working on little things like that.”

 

ShaneSHANE CARDEN

East Carolina

Houston, Tex.

6-foot-1¾, 218 pounds

BEST ATTRIBUTE: “Dealing with adversity. I wasn’t heavily recruited coming out of high school. I spent two years on the scout team just battling for jobs. I’m just a fighter, man. I’ve been through a lot and I’m going to continue to fight through and figure out a way to be successful. I honestly believe I’ll figure out a way to be successful in this league. Physically, I feel it’s my feel in the pocket. This past off-season I really spent a lot of time working on that. It’s hard to do when you’re not playing in a game.”

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: “Just my footwork. Being consistent with dropping back, getting my feet underneath me and using them to get power on the ball.”

 

The backstory of Canadian NFL draft prospect Tyler Varga: son of former “Mr. Ontario” and “Miss International” has an impressive body of work of his own

TYLER

The son of mom-and-dad bodybuilders, Kitchener’s Tyler Varga
enter’s the NFL scouting combine this week in Indianapolis
as the No. 2-ranked fullback. (My photos from Senior Bowl week)

- -

MOBILE, Ala. — Most NFLers are products of robust athletic bloodlines. Dad, Mom or both mastered some popular sport. Aspiring NFLer Tyler Varga boasts a similar lineage — with a unique twist.

His parents were accomplished athletes, but in less-mainstream pursuits: rugby, downhill skiing and, most of all, in competitive bodybuilding.

And that’s just Varga’s mother. His father was an accomplished amateur bodybuilder too.

“He was Mr. Eastern Canada. He was a pretty big dude in his time,” Varga said of his dad, in an interview during Senior Bowl week.  “And Mom was Miss International.”

The 21-year-old Varga is a native of Kitchener, Ont. — one of four Canadians invited to take part in the NFL’s scouting combine for the top 300-plus draft prospects.

He’s a running back at heart, but the NFL so far sees Varga as a fullback prospect, and at this still-early stage of the draft process he seems to be the consensus No. 2 at that position.

The combine kicks off Tuesday in Indianapolis and runs through the following Monday.

JOHNBoth of Varga’s parents were immigrants. His dad, John Varga, came to Canada from Croatia when he was about 10, and his mom, Hannele Sundberg, emigrated from Finland after the couple met and fell in love.

“I was born in Sweden, so I guess we’re all European,” said Varga, a lone child.

“Mom and dad just went over to Sweden so I could be born there. So I was only in Sweden for like a month, then we came back.”

You can’t get far into a discussion with Varga about his athletic exploits before he proudly points out he has “genetics going my way.”

That he does. Before his parents met, each came to love competitive bodybuilding after excelling at other sports.

“Dad was a quarterback in high school, at (Kitchener’s) Eastwood Collegiate,” Varga said. “He had an opportunity to play in college but he never pursued it. He just decided to go to school. Then he did track.”

And then bodybuilding. By the late 1980s and into the ’90s John Varga became one of the world’s foremost amateur bodybuilders. At one time he ranked among the top six internationally, and won the ‘Mr. Ontario’ competition in 1988.

HanneleIn a phone interview from Kitchener this week, John Varga stressed two things about his bodybuilding past: (1) that the sport in his day can’t compare to where it is now (“Arnold Schwarzenegger at his best could not win even a mid-level contest today”), and (2) his wife Hannele was the better bodybuilder.

“She was exceptional,” John said. “She could have been a Miss Olympia, but she didn’t pursue it further.”

Before that, Sundberg was a winger on the Swedish national women’s rugby team. Today she still competes as an elite athlete.

“She’s a Master’s ski racer,” Tyler said. “She competes in basically all the events: slalom, GS, Super-G and downhill. She’s pretty good.”

Just a week ago, in fact, Sundberg won a silver medal in the slalom in her age bracket (50-54) at the Winter World Masters Games in Quebec City.

As for Tyler, he is John and Hannele’s only child. His apple not only didn’t fall far from their tree, the skin got clawed by the trunk on the way down. Especially in body sculpting, even though John refused to let Tyler begin serious weightlifting until five years ago.

Varga strutted his ripped, muscle-popping physique at the Senior Bowl weigh-in three weeks ago, in front of hundreds of the NFL’s top talent evaluators and a wave of reporters and photographers. The sight created quite a stir, both in the room and on social media. Varga’s phone lit up all day and night.

“‘Destroyer of Worlds’ is what he looked like,” said Josh Norris, a former draft consultant for the St. Louis Rams and current NFL Draft Analyst for NBC Sports’ Rotoworld.

TYLERIndeed on first glance, you’d conclude Varga could not possibly pack any more muscle onto this 5-foot-10¼ frame. He weighs 227 pounds. Veins pop from his Popeye arms.

And yet Varga is anything but muscle-bound in an athletic sense. In addition to his obvious power, he is surprisingly fleet of foot, and his feet are excellent: he can cut sharply. Otherwise Varga could not have starred at halfback in Yale’s spread read-option attack.

“Everybody always automatically tags me as a slower back because I’m big,” Varga said. “Am I like a 4.4 or 4.3(-second guy in the 40-yard dash)? Probably not. But I’m really good within a 10-yard box.

“My feet are pretty good, especially for someone my size. I make decisive cuts, and NFL coaches like one-cut guys. And I’ve got acceleration that can keep up with most guys. Even the 4.3 and 4.4 guys.”

How a kid from Kitchener wound up playing football in the Ivy League is its own story. Although youth football is not popular in Canada, Varga is one of the few Canadian NFLers who took up the sport as a child — in addition to competing in gymnastics, judo (he’s a blue belt), alpine skiing and baseball.

“I started playing (football) catch with my dad in the front yard when I was about five or six. Then when I was eight, he was like, ‘Why don’t you try flag football for a while, then if you still like that we’ll try tackle.’

“So I played flag for three seasons, then I went on to play tackle … I was a nose tackle and a fourth-down running back, because we didn’t punt back then, ’cuz we were so little. So when it became fourth down, I’d go run.”

By the time Varga entered high school (Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute) he’d been playing football for six years. He played five positions and was a superstar, scoring 100 touchdowns and earning team MVP honours all four years — while playing club football on the side.

After Varga’s Grade 12 season he was named Canada’s top high school football player.

TYLERAlthough Harvard and other Ivy League schools recruited Varga, none of the top-tier U.S. colleges did. Varga originally chose to play close to home at a traditional Canadian power, the University of Western Ontario in London, about an hour’s drive southwest of Kitchener.

Even though he was named Canadian university football’s freshman of the year in 2011 (London Free Press photo, above), and led the nation in scoring, things didn’t work out at Western for reasons Varga prefers not to discuss.

The assistant coach in the States who’d recruited him hardest, Tony Reno at Harvard, by then had become head coach at Yale.

“He gave me a call, and said, ‘Hey, I heard you might want to transfer. And I said, ‘I’ll check you guys out for sure.’”

Varga liked the vibe in New Haven, Conn., and transferred to Yale. His on-field transition to the NCAA’s second-tier (Football  Championship Subdivision) proved seamless.

Playing both running back and quarterback in 2012, Varga led the FCS with 194.2 all-purpose yards per game, 117 on the ground. Against Columbia he set a Yale single-game rushing record for QBs with 220 yards.

Purely a running back thereafter, Varga missed half of his junior season with injury but still finished fourth in the Ivy League with 641 yards rushing. And his 236 against Colgate was the third-best single-game rushing performance in Yale history.

Last fall Varga led the FCS in touchdowns scored, with 26, a Yale record. He scored five of them against Army, a top-tier NCAA team, and by season’s end he averaged 6.1 yards per carry and 142 per game.

In all, Varga rushed for 100-plus yards 17 times in his Yale career, ranks third in rushing in school history, and made the all-Ivy team all three years.

But how much of those accomplishments translate to the NFL? Star college halfbacks are a dime a dozen. It’s often hard to know how a top-tier back will do in the NFL, let alone an FCS back.

TYLERVarga might well prove he has the abilities to make it in the NFL as a halfback. But an athletic, elusive, strong fullback with big, soft hands who can pass protect? That really stands out, and surely is why the NFL is slotting him as a fullback.

“Varga is interesting, because he comes from an offence where they really liked to spread it out,” said Rotoworld’s Norris. “He was able to be a running back in these sets. But even more impressive is his comfort in space, because not only would that allow him to be a runner in some situations in the NFL, but as a receiving threat.

“You see a lot of these fullbacks whose primary duty is to block, but once the ball is thrown to them they panic. They freak out, they aren’t comfortable in the open field. I think Varga absolutely is comfortable.”

And Norris said Varga is a rarity in that if he’s not already a good pass-protector, he has the skills to quickly become one — whereas “95%” of rookie backs prove unreliable in that role.

In Mobile, Varga already was warming to the idea of becoming a fullback as a pro.

“It’s a little bit of a transition,” Varga said. “That’s the biggest thing for me — trying to get comfortable playing a position I haven’t really played before. Being in the three-point stance, and having a different vantage point.

“But playing fullback gives me a chance to show I’m versatile. Everybody’s seen me play tailback on tape. Getting a few (Senior Bowl) reps at tailback, too, gives me the chance to show that I can play both positions. That’s valuable, because the more things you can do, the more ways you can help a team. That helps your draft stock.”

TYLERVarga impressed at Senior Bowl practices, then was one of the stars of the game. He ran four times for 31 yards and scored on a pair of nifty, shifty runs. He added three receptions for 39 yards as his North team defeated the South, 34-13.

A month earlier, the CFL Scouting Bureau rated Varga as the No. 4 overall prospect for the three-down league’s draft in May, after first rating him No. 2 in September. But as long as he’s not a liability on special teams, Varga seems destined to land a job south of the border.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper and CBS’ NFLDraftscout.com both rank Varga as the No. 2 fullback prospect in this year’s NFL draft, which goes April 30 to May 2 in Chicago. Jalston Fowler of Alabama is the consensus top fullback prospect.

Fullback is a low-priority position at the draft, so Varga is unlikely to be selected until the third and final day — when Rounds 4-7 are held.

“I think a team can use him,” Norris said. “Somewhere on the third day, maybe sixth or seventh round, or maybe he goes undrafted. But I think he can absolutely make an NFL team.”

That’s a credit to Varga’s outstanding body of work.

VARGAS

Dad John Varga, Tyler and mom Hannele Sundberg at Yale. (A Varga family photo, as are the bodybuilding photos, above, circa 1980s.)

- – -

 

‘Schoolwork 1st, sports 2nd’ paid off for Varga

MOBILE, Ala. — To play sports, Tyler Varga first had to make the grades. His parents in Kitchener, Ont., insisted that his schoolwork always took precedence.

The lesson took.

To transfer into Yale from Western Ontario University in 2012, Varga had to have at least a 93% freshman average — and did.

Last October, during his last season as a star halfback at Yale, Varga received a rare honour. He was named a National Football Foundation scholar-athlete award winner.

Only 16 others among the tens of thousands of young men who played college football last season, at all levels of the NCAA and NAIA, received the same honour for academic success.

“I’m by no means a super genius, or anything like that,” Varga said in an interview last month. “I work hard, and that’s why I think I’ve been given the opportunities that I have.”

Immediately after the Senior Bowl on Jan. 24, Varga flew back up to New Haven, Conn., to finish up his degree this semester at Yale. Few draft prospects continue their college studies while prepping for the pros.

Varga wants to graduate from Yale his spring, however. He is four credits short. His major?

“Evolutionary biology,” Varga said. “It’s like a pre-med stream. I’ve met all the pre-med requirements.”

Another marker of Varga’s intelligence is that his dad says he won more awards and trophies in chess than he did in any of the many sports he played competitively.

Varga, who was born in Sweden and whose mom was born and raised in Finland, also speaks three languages.

“I went to the Kitchener-Waterloo bilingual school, so I speak French,” Varga said. “I don’t speak any Finnish, but I do speak Swedish.”

If you needed any higher testament as to Varga’s character, there’s this.

Last May he was awarded the prestigious F. Wilder Bellamy Jr. Memorial Prize by Yale’s Council of Masters, as the student who best exemplifies “the qualities for which the alumnus is remembered, including personal integrity, loyalty to friends and high-spiritedness in athletics, academics and social life.”

- -

Varga hoping to run 4.5 in 40 at the combine

MOBILE, Ala. — Tyler Varga is hoping to run a good time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine next Saturday.

“I’m shooting for 4.5 seconds. I’ve done that before, so I’d just be looking to do something I’ve already accomplished,” the running back from Yale University said in an interview last month at the Senior Bowl.

“I’m not slow. I want everyone to know that.”

Before Senior Bowl week (Jan 19-24), Varga trained in Bradenton, Fla., at the Athletic Edge facility under Mike Gough, a Canadian and a former Toronto Raptors strength & conditioning coach.

Until the draft, Varga said he will work out at Yale University, while he completes his degree.

“We don’t really have an indoor facility up there,” he said. “There’s a bubble we work out in. So I’m going to do some stuff with my (former) teammates, hopefully — see if they can help me out a bit, see if our quarterbacks can throw me some balls and stuff.”

- -

3 other Canadians at NFL combine, including a QB

Three other born-and-raised Canadians have been invited to the NFL’s scouting combine. They’ll be grilled, inspected and (if healthy) worked out this coming week in Indianapolis. The trio:

**    OT Brett Boyko (UNLV) from Saskatoon, the CFL Scouting Bureau’s top overall prospect. CBS’ NFLDraftScout.com has him as the No. 22 offensive tackle for the NFL draft; 19 were drafted last year. Boyko had to turn down an invitation to the East-West Shrine Bowl because of a lingering elbow injury.

**   QB Brandon Bridge (University of South Alabama) from Mississauga. He transferred from Alcorn State. Bridge is the 12th-ranked quarterback according to NFLDraftScout.com. Fourteen quarterbacks were selected last year.

**   DL Christian Covington (Rice University) from Vancouver. The son of CFL Hall of Fame defensive end Grover Covington (a Hamilton Tiger-Cat), he suffered dislocated a knee cap in November. He is not expected to work out at the combine. NFLDraftScout.com rates Covington as the No. 13 defensive tackle; 14 D-linemen were drafted a year ago.