Going into his senior season, Kentucky tight end CJ Conrad is gaining steam nationally as one of the top players at his position in all of college football. ESPN analyst Mel Kiper lists Conrad as the No. 1 draft-eligible tight end in America and he’s on the 2018 John Mackey Award Preseason Watch List for the outstanding tight end in college football.
If everything goes as expected this season, there’s a very strong chance Conrad lands in the top two rounds of next spring’s NFL Draft.
And it’s not because he’s the most dominant receiving tight end in the nation. It’s for all of the tiny aspects of his game that extend beyond the stat sheet.
While most players at pass-catching positions get upset with minimal touches, Conrad loves it. Because he knows it means his teammates or going to shine.
“My mentality is, if I open a hole for Benny, it feels just as good as when I score,” he told KSR at UK Media Day. “That’s the mentality I want to carry forward with these young guys this year.”
It’s what makes him a complete player, and why NFL teams are so enamored with the 6-foot-6 senior out of Ohio.
“I think I am a complete tight end. I’m a physical guy. Some tight ends around the country just like to catch passes, but I’m all about doing both. I want to be a guy that can be complete. I want to be in on every single play. I don’t want to be taken out because it’s a pass play, and I don’t want to be taken out because it’s a run play. I want to be in at all times because I can do both. That’s what I feel I can bring to the table on this team,” said Conrad.
And he had to show that throughout his sophomore and junior seasons, specifically when he and Stephen Johnson couldn’t connect on those short dink-and-dunk throws over the middle. He turned into one of the most impressive blockers in the SEC in both run and pass situations.
This year, he’ll have the perfect mix of both blocking and receiving, as he believes the quarterback situation is looking very impressive.
“Those guys did a great job all summer,” said Conrad. “We were connecting pretty well, all of them. It should be good. With Stephen, it took just a little bit. We ended up making it work several times. We’ll make it work, I’m very confident in our quarterback position this year.”
We’ve known since he arrived on campus that he’s a huge fan of Rob Gronkowski and his historic career with the New England Patriots. He has said on multiple occasions that he models his game after him. But what exact traits does he take?
“I think the biggest thing is just how he attacks the ball,” Conrad said. “One of the biggest things I’ve learned here is just understanding how big I am. It’s hard to describe. Rob Gronkowski understands how big he is, and uses it to his full advantage. Some guys don’t understand how big they are or attack the ball like they should. But we (as tight ends) are bigger than a lot of these defensive backs, and we need to play like it. That’s what I’ve noticed about Gronk, he doesn’t even act like a DB is near him. He just goes and gets the ball like he’s running routes on air, no defender.
Mini-Gronk will be making his way to the NFL next offseason, but right now he’s just worried about his final year at Kentucky, one he expects to be special.
“I’m very confident that I’m the best tight end in the country,” Conrad said. “I feel that way because of the work I’ve put in and I feel like I’m very complete. I’m not cocky, I’m confident. I try to be the best for this team.”