Until a few months ago, many of you may have never heard of him, but Ladarius Green might be the next big thing in the NFL.
The former Louisiana-Lafayette Cajun is one of the top tight end prospects in the 2012 NFL draft class after an impressive collegiate career. Green recorded 149 receptions for 2,201 yards and 22 touchdowns for the Cajuns over the course of his career, bookending it all with a memorable performance in the 2011 New Orleans Bowl with five receptions for 121 yards and a touchdown in a 32-30 victory against San Diego State.
“Definitely winning the bowl game my last year, as a senior,” Green said when asked of his best memory from his accomplished tenure at Louisiana-Lafayette.
The bowl game was Green’s first and only appearance during the college bowl season and he made the best of his opportunity. His performance was just the exclamation point on a memorable run with the Cajuns that included strong showings against BCS powerhouses Georgia, LSU and Nebraska.
Since the completion of his final season with the Cajuns football team, the Germany-raised tight end prospect has been working hard to improve his stock heading into the NFL draft. Originally a late-round project player, Green’s performance at the NFL combine in February shot him up many analysts’ draft boards and put him in the same sentence as fellow top tight end prospects Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen and Orson Charles.
“Those guys are all great athletes, but I consider myself to be a great athlete as well,” Green said. “I think we’re all about the same level.”
The Louisiana-Lafayette product will almost certainly be taken after each of those three men in April’s draft, but that will not stop him from excelling when given the opportunity in the NFL.
Green showcased his talents at the combine, impressing scouts and earning attention that was lacking because he played in one of college football’s less premier conferences, the Sun Belt Conference. He ran an electric 4.53-second time in the 40-yard dash, second best among present tight ends (Fleener and Charles did not run).
The first-team All-Sun Belt tight end continued his combine effort with a successful day in the vertical jump (34.5”), broad jump (124”), three-cone drill (7.12 seconds) and, most importantly, in position drills. Green ran solid, precise routes and showed great balance and body control when making cuts.
Something that still concerns scouts, however, is his ability as a traditional tight end at the line of scrimmage. Green was a capable blocker during his time at Louisiana-Lafayette, but there are doubts about his place as an in-line blocker at the next level.
Green, meanwhile, believes he showed what he is capable of at this year’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
“I think I did well,” Green said. “I think I showed a lot of people that I can block and I think I did good for myself in the Senior Bowl.”
He did show great progress as an in-line blocker and had a positive showing throughout Senior Bowl week.
Green fits the mold of the influx of athletic tight ends in the NFL that have become greater passing targets for quarterbacks than a talented corps of wide receivers, such as the New Orleans Saints’ Jimmy Graham and the San Diego Chargers’ Antonio Gates. With 4.4-speed and a heap of potential and athletic ability, Green is the future of the tight end position.
Or is he?
“Pee Wee,” Green said. The answer draws a chuckle from the well-spoken draft prospect when stating his nickname. The nickname is a title given to him when he was younger because he was shorter than everyone else.
At 6’6”and 238 pounds, Green isn’t very “Pee Wee” anymore and boasts all the size and abilities an NFL offense yearns for in a lethal receiving threat. While he has been tabbed as a tight end coming out of college, his size and skill set make him a much more intriguing prospect with the potential to play wide receiver.
Green compares favorably with some of the NFL’s best big-bodied receivers, such as Calvin Johnson, Vincent Jackson and Marques Colston, whom some scouts projected may have to move to tight end at the pro level.
Bleacher Report’s preseason first-team All-American is willing to do whatever it takes to contribute in the NFL.
“[Playing wide receiver] is not a problem,” Green said. “I spread out a lot in college and it’s not a problem running routes and catching the ball.”
And that is all he is looking to do: Contribute. He’s a nice departure from the selfishness and me-first players in the NFL, focused solely on being productive and helping the team he plays for any way he can.
Green will have one more opportunity to impress NFL scouts before April’s draft at his pro day on the Louisiana-Lafayette campus on March 20th. That day will be Green’s best chance to shine once more, showing off his exception skill set and piquing the interest of NFL teams who may be seeking a play-making tight end or even a big-bodied wide receiver that could pan out to be the next Calvin Johnson or Marques Colston.
He plans on savoring the opportunity to improve his draft stock one more time.
“We’re just all in the weight room training and running, trying to get back in shape,” Green said. “[Being drafted] was always a dream since I was a little kid and I’m just excited to see what happens.”
The top prospect’s hard work will certainly pay off come draft time. There is no doubting his talent and potential, which must be grabbing the attention of quite a few NFL teams as the draft inches near.
Projected to go in the third round by many draft pundits, there will be plenty of teams that overlook Green and his game-changing abilities. He is a special player that could make a lot of teams sorry for passing over him when it is their turn to pick.
Green just wants to play football. Whoever is wise enough to take a chance on this stud prospect will be getting a brilliant athlete with unmatched work ethic in return.
“I know there’s a lot of stuff I need to improve on, but I’m willing to do it,” said Green, who recognizes a need to improve as an in-line blocker in the NFL. “I love the game with all my heart. I’m determined to be the best at what I do.”
Louis Musto is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were acquired first-hand. Follow him on Twitter.