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Later NFL draft may have improved UMass’ Rob Blanchflower’s chances to get picked

University of Massachusetts junior Rob Blanchflower is the leader of a deep group of tight ends for the Minutemen.

University of Massachusetts junior Rob Blanchflower is the leader of a deep group of tight ends for the Minutemen.

By MATT VAUTOUR @GazetteUMass
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
(Published in print: Tuesday, April 29, 2014)

Not many players can say the Rockettes improved their chances of making it to the NFL, but for Rob Blanchflower, that might just be the case.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the reason the 2014 draft was pushed from its normal spot in early April to mid-May was because a of a conflict with “Hearts and Lights,” a new production for the legendary high-leg-kicking dance ensemble that was scheduled for this spring at Radio City Music Hall but then pushed back to 2015 for “production issues.”

For most prospects, the rescheduling simply meant extra waiting. But for the former University of Massachusetts tight end, having it May 8-10, meant crucial extra time to get healthy.

Coming off a double sports hernia, Blanchflower didn’t perform for scouts at UMass’ pro day on March 25. He still wasn’t healthy enough. A month later, he might not have enough flexibility to audition for “Hearts and Lights,” but he was plenty healthy enough to audition for NFL scouts.

“It went really well,” said Blanchflower, who drew representatives from 15 NFL teams last week for his solo pro day on April 23. “I could do all the tight end specific drills, running around, catching, blocking and things like that. I think I did a good job showing I could play the position.”

Had the draft been in April, he might not have been healthy in time to get the chance.

“The fact that I could move my pro day back so far was definitely a blessing for me,” Blanchflower said. “They could see I’m recovering. I was moving fluidly, moving around like an athlete, not some old stiff coming off of surgery. I’m going to be able to do all the things I’m capable of doing. That was the most important thing, showing that I’m healthy.”

Blanchflower was limited to just six games as a senior, but was second on the Minutemen in catches (27), receiving yardage (313) and touchdown catches (three) as he tried to play through the injury before off-season surgery.

He was invited to both the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine, but couldn’t participate in the physical drills (he met with some coaches) at either event because of the injury.

After his personal pro day on Wednesday, Blanchflower flew to Indianapolis for the combine recheck, an opportunity to show teams’ doctors that he’d physically recovered.

“They all confirmed that I’m making a great recovery,” he said. “I can’t tell you how happy I was to actually to get all the questions teams had about me answered. I know there were questions. I’m feeling really relieved that the pre-draft portion is over as far as analysis and judging.”

Pittsburgh and New England have both brought him in for private workouts and interviews with their coaching staffs, while Philadelphia, Seattle and Detroit sent coaches to Amherst to meet with him.

Blanchflower is now working on getting back into game form.

“I’m recovered fully. I’m not 100 percent in football shape yet,” Blanchflower said. “I want to be ready for mini camp.”

While his injury likely hurt his stock, his prototypical NFL size (6-foot-4, 256 pounds) at a position that teams have coveted recently has all but guaranteed that he’ll be in some team’s minicamp next month. Most websites have him projected as either a day three pick (rounds 4-7) or a highly sought after undrafted free agent.

ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. offered the following assessment of Blanchflower in mid-October.

“Blanchflower has long arms, pretty good quickness for a guy his size, and runs well when he’s in space. He has been a four-year starter, and last year had 43 catches,” Kiper said. “We’ll see a number of tight ends taken again this year, and Blanchflower has a shot to be one of them.”

If Blanchflower is drafted, he won’t see it live. He’s not planning to watch it.

“I’ll probably go fishing and wait for a phone call,” he said. “That’d be a lot less stressful than standing next to a TV all day.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage