Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagalli went from coming on as a walk-on to being the most reliable receiver on a top 10 football team in the country. Now, the battle-tested player is making his case to scouts and fans as to why he is the best tight end in this year’s draft.
Though Fumagalli’s story of perseverance and hard work is impressive, it is hardly unique at Wisconsin. The program is known for bringing in less than stellar high school prospects and transforming them into stars for the university. JJ Watt, Joe Schobert, and Ryan Ramczyk are all notable Wisconsin walk ons that are currently playing at a high level in the NFL.
Despite the program’s successful track record in this regard, doubts still loom for some scouts. Many pundits have questioned Fumagalli’s athleticism, allowing him to succeed at the professional level, putting him as a day three (fourth round or later) prospect. Fumagalli’s tight end coach Mickey Turner, has no doubt about how the former walk-on will respond to this criticism.
“I think whatever they say he’ll work to prove them wrong. He’s got the combine coming up and some pro days after that. We look at our weight room numbers here he’s doing a great job for us. Working out, training, just beating everything. And I think he’s feeling good right now,” Turner said. “He’s going to be 100 percent healthy going in for some of that stuff. It’ll be interesting. He’s always been more than athletic enough to get the job done with what we asked him to do here at Wisconsin so I’m confident in him.”
Fumagalli is the first major tight end prospect Turner has worked with since assuming the position in 2015. However, as a player at Wisconsin from 2007 to 2009 Turner got firsthand experience with former NFL-drafted tight ends Garrett Graham, Travis Beckham and Lance Kendricks.
While there are differences in terms of all these tight ends’ play styles, Turner wanted to stress what aligns them is how they all produced at high levels for the university.
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However, what makes Fumagalli unique as a tight end prospect is his ability to be a 3-down tight end. The Wisconsin star’s ability to perform in the receiving game, especially as a route runner. Blocking could set Fumagalli up to have a prominent role in the modern NFL lineup.
Today’s NFL tight end looks much different than even a decade ago. NFL stars Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce lead their position because of their skills as receivers and blockers. Turner said this could open up the draft for a complete tight end like Fumagalli as most teams in the NFL are now looking for more versatility at the position.
Turner echoed these sentiments when asked what Fumagalli needed to show scouts ahead of April’s draft.
“I think one of his best assets as a college player was that he could be an every down tight end. I think that’s what he’s got to show them. Cause they’re always going to have their guys that are very specific like: this is our deep ball guy, this is our goal line blocking guy and Troy is somewhere in the middle where he does a lot of things well. I think that’s going to have be the big thing for certain teams is if he can be an every down tight end for them,” Turner said.
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Another fact that, at first, left some scratching their heads at his ability to catch the ball and block was that Fumagalli is missing his left index finger. While you’d think this would hamper a tight end’s abilities, because Fumagalli suffered the injury as a young child his muscle memory is constructed to play with only 9 fingers. When asked if this condition would hurt Fumagalli in the NFL, Turner immediately responded.
“No, not at all. In fact it might even be an asset for him,” Turner said.
Fumagalli’s departure from the Badgers will undoubtedly leave a hole in the Wisconsin offense. Turner said he didn’t know if it would necessarily be a tight end who would replace Fumagalli’s receiving presence, noting that receivers or running backs may take on a larger role going forward. However, Turner said despite a lot of players vying for the position, Kyle Penniston and Zander Neuville are getting the most reps at tight end for the team early on.
Currently though, Troy is working at a combine training location off campus in preparation for the NFL Scouting Combine, which goes from Feb. 27 to March 5 in Indianapolis. After that, Fumagalli will likely host some pro days at UW Madison and await the NFL Draft that will last three days and begin April 26.