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UMass TE Rob Blanchflower drafted by Pittsburgh in seventh round

University of Massachusetts senior tight end Rob Blanchflower (87), shown during the 2013 season, was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers Saturday.

University of Massachusetts senior tight end Rob Blanchflower (87), shown during the 2013 season, was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers Saturday.

By MATT VAUTOUR @GazetteUMass
Saturday, May 10, 2014
(Published in print: Monday, May 12, 2014)

Rob Blanchflower arrived at the University of Massachusetts with just a partial scholarship. He’s leaving as an NFL draft pick.

The tight end from Leominster was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the seventh round (No. 230 overall) Saturday in the NFL draft.

Blanchflower wasn’t available for comment. Steeler draft picks are doing all interviews from Pittsburgh on Monday. But Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert said he was glad to add the Leominster native.

“He had a down year productivity-wise. He had a sports hernia issue,” Colbert said in the Steelers’ post-draft press conference. “He’s played attached (to the line), he’s played some in the slot, he’s played some on the wing, he’s played some as an H-back. Versatility is something we were real happy with for the majority of these guys.”

Blanchflower, UMass’ career leader in receiving yards by a tight end with 1,164 yards, was limited to just six games last year because of a sports hernia injury. He was still second on the Minutemen in catches (27), yards receiving (313) and touchdown catches (three) as he tried to play through the injury.

He was invited to the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine, but couldn’t participate in the physical drills at either event because of the injury. The fact that the draft was later than usual helped Blanchflower. He missed UMass’ late March pro day while he rehabbed, but the extra time helped him be healthier for his April 23rd pro day, as well his private workout with the Steelers.

He’ll join nine other Minutemen on NFL rosters, a list that features Victor Cruz, Michael Cox, James Ihedigbo, Jeremy Cain, Vlad Ducasse, Josh Samuda, Emil Igwenagu, Jermomy Miles and Julian Talley. He was the 24th former UMass player to be drafted by either the NFL or AFL. He was one of eight Mid-American Conference players drafted this year. Kent State running back Dri Archer will be a teammate with Blanchflower, as the Steelers took him in the second round.

He was the only tight end selected by the Steelers, who have 31-yard-old Heath Miller atop the depth chart. Matt Palmer, David Paulson and Matt Spaeth are also on the roster.

Former UMass coach Charley Molnar and offensive line coach Shane Waldon, who was previously the tight ends coach under Whipple, were excited for the former Minuteman.

“I couldn’t be more excited for Rob and his family. Pittsburgh is the perfect spot for him to go because of their extensive use of multiple tight end sets,” Molnar said. “Blanch epitomizes what Steeler has traditionallybeen, namely a program built on tough, hard working team-first players.”

Waldon thought Blanchflower would be a good ambassador for UMass.

“I’m really proud of him. He put in a lot of hard work. He had some bumps along the way and he’s overcome a lot to get where he’s at right now,” Waldron said. “He’s an excellent representation of UMass. We’ve had some good ones, who’ve had great success at the next level. He’s the next in line. His skill set is great, but his toughness and his game day demeanor give him a chance to separate himself to be a competitive player at the next level.”

Blanchflower is UMass’ second tight end from Leominster to reach the NFL. Milt Morin was a first-round pick of the Cleveland Browns in 1966. He was two-time Pro Bowler and is in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Blanchflower’s former UMass teammates immediately took to Twitter:

Quarterback A.J. Doyle: “Congratulations to my brother and the minuteman to my militia @Rob_Blanch on being drafted by the steelers! So happy for you n proud”

Receiver Shakur Nesmith: “Congratulations Blanch, Dreams Do Come True.”

Safety Joey Colton: “Blanch is going to the steelers!!! Atta boy blanch !!! @Rob_Blanch ..saw you work everyday. I’m now a steelers fan.”

Tight end Derek Beck: “Congrats to my brother @Rob_Blanch gettin drafted by the Steelers I’m proud of you bruh keep grindin…”

CBS Sports gave the Steelers a B grade for the pick: “Blanchflower is a tough, solid in-line blocker in both facets of the offense, and offers some short-range pass-catching ability.”

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