How TE Bucky Hodges began his path to the draft by being Eric Ebron

How TE Bucky Hodges began his path to the draft by being Eric Ebron

Virginia Tech tight end Bucky Hodges wasn't groomed to draw comparisons to Jimmy Graham. Before the 6-foot-7, 257 pounder caught 20 touchdowns and racked up 1,755 yards in Blacksburg, he was a four-star quarterback recruit with a better Rivals ranking than the likes of Davis Webb and Joshua Dobbs.

A month into his freshman season season, though, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster needed someone to "play" Eric Ebron, the former North Carolina tight end, on scout team. Hodges had worked as Virginia Tech's scout team quarterback, but Foster identified him as the perfect fit to mimic the future first-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions. As it turns out, Hodges stuck at tight end permanently. 

"(Foster) said I could emulate his game a lot so he asked me if I'd be cool playing tight end that week," Hodges said at the combine last month. "And I started playing it and I fell in love with the position and it stuck ever since."

If the Bears target a tight end on Day 2 of next week's NFL Draft, Hodges should be among the pool of players available with the 67th overall pick. The Graham comparison is lofty, but one made by Pro Football Focus:

"The pair share extremely similar size, athleticism, and Hodges has displayed exemplary versatility with Graham's big-play potential. Graham spent his first year in the NFL improving his blocking technique and, with that same level of organizational development, Hodges possesses the tools to become one of the better tight ends in the NFL." (via PFF's Draft Pass)

Like most mid- or late-round tight ends, Hodges isn't "complete" as in he's accomplished as a pass-catcher, but not as much as a blocker. Hodges played wide receiver for Virginia Tech in 2016 and, at least early in his pro career, having him in a game would likely be a clear signal to a defense that the offense will pass (Hodges said in Indianapolis almost every team has talked to him about being a tight end, not a receiver). 

Hodges, though, spoke at the combine like someone committed to improving as a blocking tight end. 

"I'm tough," Hodges said. "I'm not scared to put my helmet into anyone's face. If you're playing against me, I'm going at you the whole game—run play, pass play, that's the type of player I am. I'm still raw fundamental-wise and technique-wise, but I know I'm capable of it because of my work ethic and I'm pretty confident I'll be a good blocker."

Using a third-round pick on Hodges certainly carries some risk, but there could be a significant reward if he's able to develop and refine his overall game. And that's not bad for someone who picked up the position less than four years ago. 

"I'm a top tight end," Hodges said. "They're starting to understand it."

Draft prospects take part in NFL's Play 60 program at Shriners Hospital

Draft prospects take part in NFL's Play 60 program at Shriners Hospital

By Mike Davis, CSN Chicago contributor

PHILADELPHIA — Before their own lives transform, a select group NFL Draft prospects spent time changing the lives of others on Wednesday.

At Philadelphia's Shriners Hospital for Children, prospects Jamal Adams, Leonard Fournette, Solomon Thomas, Mitchell Trubisky and Deshaun Watson took part in the NFL’s Play 60 program, which encourages kids of all types to be active for at least 60 minutes a day.

For 90 years, Shriners Hospitals — with 22 worldwide locations — have specialized in pediatric care, treating orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries as well as cleft lip and palate.

During Wednesday's event, kids took on players in everything from air hockey to foosball.

For more on this story, check out the video above.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: What will the Bears do in the NFL Draft?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: What will the Bears do in the NFL Draft?

Adam Hoge (WGN Radio), Danny Parkins (670 The Score) and Dan Durkin (The Athletic) join Kap on the panel.  The NFL Draft is tomorrow.  What will the Bears do with the 3rd pick?  Our guys discuss plus Will Perdue drops by to preview the pivotal Game 5 between the Bulls and Celtics.