If you aren’t familiar with Tulsa’s Garrett Mills, it might just be because you’re not sure what position he plays.
Tight end? Fullback? Slot receiver? Halfback?
How about all four. Plus some excellent special teams in his spare time.
Listed as a tight end in college, the 6-foot-1, 241-pound Mills is being projected as one of the top fullbacks in this year’s draft. Number one by Vic Carucci at NFL.com, and second-best by Mel Kiper Jr.
Mills’ identity crisis should actually boost his stock in this year’s draft because you’ll be hard-pressed to find another player who is not only so versatile, but who excels at all the positions he’s asked to play. But it didn’t always work to his advantage in college. Mills wasn’t even mentioned on the watch list for the John Mackey Award, given to the nation’s top tight end. Evidently, he didn’t quite match the profile for the “typical” tight end. His head coach, Steve Kragthorpe, wasn’t the least bit happy about the slight.
“I’m sorry that he is a good enough athlete and smart enough that we can play him in about five different spots and put him in about 40 different formations in the game and he doesn’t ever have any problems with it and never has been a mental bust,” he said with a note of sarcasm.
“So I guess Garrett Mills is being penalized because of his versatility. Because he is not a guy who just lines up and plays end-line all the time. There are a lot of great players out there, but I think this guy is the best tight end in the country.”
Mills, an Academic All-American with a 3.91 GPA, didn’t let it get to him. He went about his business and set an NCAA record for tight ends with 1,235 receiving yards in a single season. During his career, he had eight 100-plus yard receiving games, 40 consecutive games with a catch, and was a three-time First-Team All-Conference selection.
Mills drew high praise from another head coach, University of Central Florida’s George O’Leary, who said, “He has great ability to get uncovered when covered. He knows the coverages and where the weaknesses of the coverage is in relationship to routes and running.”
And the NFL has taken note of him as well. Baltimore Ravens running backs coach Matt Simon believes that players with the versatility that Mills possesses are underestimated, “But in this league, you can’t win championships without them,” he noted. “Mills will come out of this deal, and seven or eight years from now, you’re watching him in a Super Bowl.”
Amongst other great attributes, draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. notes Mills’ quickness and his concentration while the ball is in the air. He “catches passes with hands away from frame and rarely drops a pass he should catch.”
NFL.com’s Pat Kirwan is another analyst squarely in Mills’ corner.
“I want this guy on my team,” said Kirwan. “Versatility is critical in this era of the salary cap, late-season injuries and changing offenses.”
Kirwan has been impressed with Mills’ receiving and blocking skills and believes that if you include special teams work, Mills could be on the field at the pro level for 25-35 plays per game.
One person who’s going to be happy to see Mills take the leap to the NFL ranks is Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops. After a Sooners victory against Tulsa, Stoops still reflected some frustration and admiration in regards to Mills when he said, “We still haven’t stopped that guy,” after the Tulsa receiver grabbed 13 passes for 152 yards against Oklahoma’s defense.
Coaches around the NFL will likely be muttering the same thing to themselves and to the media in 2006 and for many years to come.