PISCATAWAY – True to form, neither Tyler Kroft nor Michael Burton is hosting a big NFL Draft party, though both former understated Rutgers football stars are about to receive the gift of their dreams.
Kroft likely will be selected between the third and fifth rounds and Burton could be taken after that or be available as an in-demand free agent as soon as the NFL Draft concludes. The draft is set for Thursday (first round), Friday (second and third rounds) and Saturday (fourth-seventh rounds) in Chicago.
“We are planning on keeping it low key,” said Kroft, who will be with family and close friends. “I’m going to try to keep my mind off it as much as possible. My brother was saying we’ll go watch a movie during the day. I’m going to try and not watch it as much as I can, but I know myself and I’ll probably end up watching every pick.”
Burton watches every pick of the draft at his family’s Morris County home every year anyway, so he isn’t going to deviate from his routine. He will make sure to keep his cell phone close by, however.
“I feel very good and I’m ready to see what happens,” Burton said. “It would be a great feeling to be drafted, but at the end of the day, for a guy like me, putting myself in the best position possible to end up making a team – which is ultimately the most important thing – is really what matters most to me.”
In order to join what is considered a weak draft class for tight ends, Kroft left Rutgers with a year of eligibility remaining despite a significant dip in his statistics from his redshirt sophomore to redshirt junior seasons. Four months later, he remains confident he made the “right decision.”
“Because there was a drop in production some people were saying the ability is not there anymore,” Kroft said.
“Through being able to show teams what I can do and being able to watch film, I could show them why certain things happened the way they did and that my ability wasn’t really gone but that schematically my role shifted. Putting up the numbers I did at Pro Day, I think, showed them that athletically things weren’t far off from what people were thinking.”
Kroft’s draft prep took a strange turn when he withdrew from drills at the NFL Combine due to an ankle injury lingering from the Quick Lane Bowl, but he put most questions about his health to rest at Pro Day.
Since then, Kroft has worked out for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles, and Denver Broncos, various reports say, and he joined a handful of former Rutgers teammates at the local days hosted by the Jets and Giants. He is projected to go No. 151 overall in the fifth round to the San Francisco 49ers in a NFL.com mock draft.
“My ankle was only about 85-90 percent when I was at Pro Day so I was excited about being able to do what I did at not 100 percent,” Kroft said. “Now I’m healthy and I’m getting into the next stage of my life, so I’m excited.”
Like Kroft, Burton was at the NFL Combine, as one of only two fullbacks invited after catching notice of NFL personnel during his week at the Medal of Honor Bowl college all-star game.
“I think ultimately your film is really what sets you apart,” Burton said, “but I definitely feel like I accomplished what I needed to. I think I surrounded myself with a great support system. Doing well through the Combine and Pro Day and all these visits, I feel like I’ve done everything I can up until this point.”
Burton worked out for the Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns and other teams he declined to list in compliance with the wishes of the franchise. The former West Morris High School star sought advice from recent Rutgers draft picks Mohamed Sanu, Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon and Khaseem Greene.
“Those guys say Rutgers is a first-class organization and they prepare you right so keep working like you did at Rutgers and it will pay off,” Burton said. “Just stay focused and whatever happens happens. There is adversity and things like that, but keep fighting. Even more so a guy like Brian Leonard, who I’ve grown a very close relationship with over the past few years, gave me very similar advice.”
Leonard, the former Rutgers star, carved out an eight-year NFL career as a fullback, though the position is becoming less utilized in the NFL, making it all the more important for the sure-handed Burton to show versatility.
“I’d much rather have the pads on playing a full game, but the pre-draft process was a lot of T-shirt and shorts,” Burton said. “The main thing you can really focus on in terms of the physical points is living in the gym, and I love to do that. There also is the mental aspect of it. You want to be mentally sharp, so studying film, getting in that playbook for when teams ask about your offense and special teams.”
Rutgers has had at least one player selected in six of the last eight NFL drafts, including a school-record seven picks in 2013, but wide receiver Brandon Coleman unexpectedly slid out of the draft last year because of injury concerns.
“My agent talks to teams and he has a good relationship with them as far as where they have me,” Kroft said. “But obviously everything comes back to draft day, and that’s probably one of the craziest days of the year, so you never really know.”
Staff Writer Ryan Dunleavy: firstname.lastname@example.org