INDIANAPOLIS -- While the Browns evaluate what life would be like if free agent tight end Jordan Cameron doesn't return to Cleveland, there's a pass catcher at the NFL Scouting Combine who is being pegged as the next big playmaker at the evolving position.
After making lengthy pros and cons lists with his family, 20-year-old Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams decided to enter the draft as a redshirt sophomore, and the buzz surrounding his name was the talk of the Combine on Wednesday.
At 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, Williams led the Gophers in receptions (36), receiving yards (569) and touchdowns (eight).
The numbers are reassuring because they came in Minnesota's run-first offense – the Gophers ranked 121st in the country in passing yards. Williams' three touchdown catches against Iowa cemented in his mind that he was ready for the NFL.
"I think [the fact that we were a running offense] actually benefited me," Williams said. "It taught me how to be an on-the-line blocker and play in a power scheme. It worked to our advantage because I won mismatches in the play-action game."
The numbers are one thing, but it's the film that is separating Williams as draft analysts' top-ranked tight end in the 2015 Draft.
He may not have elite athleticism like a Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski, but Williams made acrobatic catches a regular thing and has the ability to embarrass defenders in the open field – like here with a hurdle move.
NFL.com further touts Williams as a tremendous asset in the red zone, and he's shown the ability to run a variety of routes. Williams said he models his game after Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowler Jason Witten.
"He's a complete a tight end – he blocks, he runs routes, he makes plays for his team," Williams said. "That's who I want to be."
Browns general manager Ray Farmer told ClevelandBrowns.com the team will be identifying players who fit the Play Like a Brown model – accountable, relentless and arguably the most important, passionate about football.
Williams grew up in an NFL family and adored the days he spent in the New York Giants locker room with his father Brian, a center. Brian would let Maxx come into the training room to sit in the hot tub after games. Maxx's fascination with becoming a professional was engrained before he turned 10.
"Growing up around that atmosphere and seeing what football truly is, I think that's helped me in my career," said Williams, who confirmed he's met with the Browns at the Combine. "I know what it's like. I can fall back on my dad if I have any questions. He's one of those guys I've always relied on because he's been there."
Williams was told by the draft advisory committee he would be a third-round pick, but his stock is undeniably on the rise. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. recently projected Williams to be the first tight end drafted and be off the board by the 26th pick.
Using a first-round pick on a tight end is quite the investment, and there are risks involved just like any position. But certain franchises have reaped the rewards in placing a premium on the tight end position.
But for every stud, there have been first-round disappointments, too. Kellen Winslow Jr., Jerramy Stevens, Ben Watson and Dustin Keller all struggled to produce the same way they did in college.
Williams isn't a flawless prospect. He recognized his 250-pound frame could use a little more bulk. He'll need to become a reliable blocker on every down. He doesn't have a lightning quick first step.
But there's enough encouraging signs about Williams to project him making his mark in the NFL – and possibly right away.
This article is part of the Road to the Draft series, driven by Liberty Ford.
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