HUNTINGTON — In terms of this weekend’s NFL Draft, former Marshall tight end Gator Hoskins is caught up in a numbers game. One set of numbers isn’t working in his favor.
That set isn’t his production. He caught 25 touchdowns in his last two seasons, both of which ended in Conference USA first-team selections. It’s the other one, the one over which he really has no control, one that includes his size. That seems to be what’s keeping him out of the conversation of the draft’s most coveted tight ends.
Hoskins hopes NFL teams will look past the tape measure and focus on the stat sheet, and that he’ll get the chance to reward the team that chooses him.
“Hopefully, they’ll watch game film and see that I can play football,” Hoskins said earlier this spring. “There are other guys in the league who are just my size. Delanie Walker, Charles Clay, those guys are putting up good numbers.
“If you can play football, you can play football,” he added, “no matter what your size is.”
Walker, an eight-year veteran who played last season with the Tennessee Titans, stands a little smaller than Hoskins’ 6-foot-1 5/8, 252-pound frame. Walker stands 6-1 and 248 pounds, started 11 games last season and caught a career-high 60 passes. Clay, who has spent his entire three-year career with the Miami Dolphins, is a little taller at 6-3 and 250 pounds. He started 15 games last season and caught a career-high 69 passes.
The tight end class for the 2014 draft skews a couple inches taller at the top end. Of the top 10 in Scouts Inc.’s tight end rankings, only two stand shorter than 6-4. Hoskins ranks 20th on that list, and one of his lowest grades comes with his measurables. The scouting service deems his bulk, length and hand size “adequate.”
Marshall tight end coach Todd Hartley said that size didn’t stop Hoskins from becoming not just the most productive tight end, but one of the most productive receivers in Thundering Herd history. His 28 career touchdown catches rank first among tight ends and third among all players in Marshall annals.
“He can’t make himself any taller,” Hartley said. “He had to go out and have a great senior year to get into the conversation, and he did that. The kid worked his butt off. He routinely dominated the people that lined up in front of him.”
Some scouting services rank Hoskins as a fullback, rather than a tight end. Changing positions never has been a problem before. Hoskins left Gainesville High in Florida as a quarterback, hoped to crack the Marshall lineup at receiver and had coaches considering him as a safety before his final move to tight end.
Hoskins said he’d be just fine with bouncing around an NFL lineup, if it means securing a spot in one.
“I think they’d move me around a lot,” he said. “I think they’d have me in the backfield some, and at the tight end position, kind of like Delanie Walker. I’m just a football player, so I feel like I can play wherever they want me to play.”
Hartley not only lauded Hoskins’ versatility, but also his headiness and his athleticism. He feels Hoskins has the ability to create separation from the defender and the hands to corral passes in traffic. He’s watched him do both in a Marshall uniform.
“He’s the definition of the tight end in Marshall’s offense,” Hartley said. “He made the mold of the future of the tight end position here.”
Now Hoskins hopes to fit the mold of an NFL player. He doesn’t care what shape that mold takes. He just wants to prove there’s a place for him to thrive in the league.
“I feel like I might have gotten overlooked a bit, but that’s out of my control,” he said. “That’s out of my hands. There’s nothing I can do but go out and perform and show teams I can play football.”
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.