FARGO — Dane Brugler, an NFL Draft analyst for The Athletic sports website, said North Dakota State tight end Ben Ellefson wasn’t a strong draft consideration entering his senior season with the Bison.
Ellefson, from Hawley, Minn., has changed that perception during his final collegiate season, and has only helped his cause this week. Ellefson has been in St. Petersburg, Fla., preparing for the East-West Shrine Bowl. The college football all-star game is scheduled for 2 p.m. (CST) Saturday, Jan. 18, at Tropicana Field and is being televised on the NFL Network.
“He entered the year barely even on the radar, so he’s trending in the right direction and I think he continued that this week,” Brugler said Friday afternoon. “He created a little bit of buzz with what he did.”
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Ellefson had 15 catches for 199 yards and five touchdowns this past season, helping NDSU win a third consecutive NCAA Division I FCS national championship last weekend. In his final three seasons with the Bison, the team posted a 45-1 record with three national titles.
“He’s not your traditional tight end,” said Brugler, who has been an NFL draft analyst for 10 years. “He’s 6-3, 250, a really compact frame so he’s more of that versatile H-back type of guy. He rolls off the line of scrimmage really quickly to get into his routes.”
Ellefson finished his Bison career with 35 receptions for 463 yards and 16 touchdowns in 59 games. His career touchdown catches are a program record for a tight end.
Ellefson was a key run blocker for the Bison, who averaged 287.6 rushing yards per game this past season. The Bison finished 16-0 to become the first college football team since the 1894 Yale Bulldogs to finish a season with that record.
“As a blocker, effort is not a question, I do think there are going to be times he’s not going to be able to overwhelm and move NFL defensive linemen on the edge, but there is something to work with there,” Brugler said.
Brugler said some NFL teams could use Ellefson as a fullback depending on the offensive scheme. He views Ellefson as a sixth- or seventh-round draft pick or a priority free agent if not drafted. The NFL Draft is scheduled for April 23-25.
“Really smooth mover, you don’t see a lot of wasted movement out there,” Brugler said. “He was consistent at the catch point. … He played assignment-sound football. That’s obviously really important. You’re looking for guys that are smart and can do their job.”
Bison defensive end Derrek Tuska, from Warner, S.D., is another draft prospect that Brugler evaluated. The 6-foot-5, 246-pound Tuszka had 13.5 sacks in his final season with NDSU and finished his career with 29.5 sacks in 53 games.
“He’s going to be dinged immediately because of the size, he’s kind of the tweener,” Brugler said.
Brugler said Tuszka could be viewed as either a defensive end or outside linebacker by NFL teams, depending on the defensive scheme. He added Tuszka’s arm length is shorter than what evaluators hope for in a pass rusher.
“When you watch him on film, he’s just a (bull),” Brugler said. “He loves to use his hands. He will slam his hands into blockers, get them on their heels. He’s relentless, he screams off the edge with bad intentions.”
Like Ellefson, Brugler thinks Tuszka is in the discussion to be a late-round draft pick, but more likely a priority free agent after the draft. Brugler added Tuszka could be a fit with the right team, which would likely use him as a situational pass rusher.
“He shows an understanding of pass-rush moves,” Brugler said. “I think it’s an area where he needs to continue to grow, but at least he has an idea of what he’s doing out there, but he’s a quick-thinking player. You can see that on film.”
NDSU offensive lineman Zack Johnson is set to play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl at 6 p.m. (CST) Saturday, Jan. 18, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., and also televised on the NFL Network. The 6-foot-6, 317-pound Johnson, from Blaine, Minn., needs to show more consistency in his play and likely won’t get drafted.
“I think he’s got a little bit of guard, tackle versatility, but he’s more of a free agent who has a chance to maybe make some noise once he gets into a training camp,” Brugler said.
NDSU has won eight of the past nine FCS national titles with a 128-8 record over the past nine seasons. That success has translated into Bison players getting opportunities in postseason college all-star games.
“North Dakota State, more so than any other non-FBS school, has consistently put guys into those (all-star) games year in and year out," Brugler said." Not all of them make it on (an NFL) roster, but they at least do enough with development through that program to get noticed.”
Brugler said while he hasn’t evaluated underclassmen on the Bison roster, sophomore wide receiver Christian Watson is one player who got his attention while evaluating the current pro prospects.
“He consistently pops as a guy that can play,” Brugler said.
He added that NDSU has built a reputation on its ability to develop players.
“You look at that program, you think they develop kids. They get the most out of them,” Brugler said. “They do a really nice job of getting every ounce of talent out of them. There’s not a lot of dumb football being played at North Dakota State and that’s something that NFL teams, coaches, they appreciate and something they’re willing to invest in at the next level.”
@NFLPABowl All-Practice Team: Offense
QB Brian Lewerke
RB Johnathan Ward
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TE Charlie Woerner
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PK John Molson
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@NFLPABowl All-Practice Team: Offense