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."

BearsTalk Podcast: Analyzing Mitch Trubisky's contract as rookies arrive for camp

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USA TODAY

BearsTalk Podcast: Analyzing Mitch Trubisky's contract as rookies arrive for camp

On Ep. 56 of our BearsTalk Podcast, Chris and JJ discuss Mitch Trubisky’s contract, question marks about the final 53, go over the Vikings off-season with Dawn Mitchell from Fox-9 Minneapolis, and go “Off the Grid” on  JJ’s recent engagement.

The wait is over: Bears sign Mitch Trubisky

The wait is over: Bears sign Mitch Trubisky

Mitch Trubisky said all along he wasn't worried about signing a contract and that he would have something completed before training camp. On Wednesday, the No. 2 overall pick officially stuck to his word. 

The Bears announced Wednesday -- the day Bears rookies report to Halas Hall -- that Trubisky signed a contract. Trubisky had to be signed to a contract to participate in training camp, which begins next week in Bourbonnais. 

"That's not really for me to worry about," Trubisky said in early June. "I'm going to be out here at practice everyday. My agent and the Bears organization is going to handle that. But I'm not really sure how that stuff works. I'm here to play football, I'm not worried about contracts."

A Trubisky holdout was always unlikely given both sides' desire to get the North Carolina alum into training camp from Day 1. With his contract signed, Trubisky will have an opportunity to develop in the month and a half separating the start of training camp from the Bears' season opener Sept. 10 against the Atlanta Falcons. 

Trubisky wasn't the last first-round quarterback to sign, too. Patrick Mahomes, the 10th overall pick, has yet to sign with Kansas City. And Mahomes is one of six first-round picks who have yet to sign along with Solomon Thomas (No. 3, San Francisco), Corey Davis (No. 5, Tennessee), Jamal Adams (No. 6, New York Jets), Gareon Conley (No. 24, Oakland) and Jabril Peppers (No. 25, Cleveland).