Drake's Saubert could be rare Pioneer League draft pick

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(STATS) - Former Drake tight end Eric Saubert was talking about his strengths as an NFL prospect when he hesitated about the idea he is "very coachable," briefly thinking it's a trait not seen on the field.

Then he caught himself, smiled and uttered, "Maybe you do see it."

NFL scouts see that strength in Saubert, believing he is a raw talent who can be molded into a serviceable player at a position that is more coveted than ever on the pro level.

Projected to be selected on the third day of the April 27-29 draft in Philadelphia, Saubert would become the third player drafted from the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League, which formed on the FCS level in 1993. The others were San Diego quarterback Josh Johnson, taken by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the fifth round in 2008, and Marist defensive lineman Terrence Fede, taken by the Miami Dolphins in the seventh round in 2014.

Drake has had 24 prior selections, although none since 1983.

What's brought attention to Saubert is his high ceiling. He considers himself a later bloomer, having not been heavily recruited in high school as he weighed only about 185 pounds as a senior and played for a program that he said won only one game over his four years.

But he has grown to an athletic 6-foot-5, 253 pounds and was highly productive in all four seasons at Drake. He finished his career with 190 receptions, 2,253 receiving yards and 21 touchdown catches, including 10 as a senior. He was a 2016 STATS FCS All-America second-team selection.

"I like running routes, I think it's one of my strengths," Saubert said. "I'm an athletic tight end. I really block also. I think my game needs improvement and it's going to. I think the competition in the NFL is going to bring that out a lot. I love getting out there in the passing game, I love catching the ball and running with it. I think I showed my athleticism at the (2017 East-West) Shrine Game. I'm also pretty versatile; I can line up anywhere on the field on offense."

Saubert said he started to realize an NFL career was possible when he attended Iowa State's junior pro day last year. At this year's Cyclones' pro day, he clocked 4.65 seconds in the 40-yard dash and 7.29 in the 3-cone drill and set a personal best with a 35-inch vertical leap. That added to his 22 reps on the 225-pound bench press and 10-foot, 1-inch broad jump at the NFL combine.

He dropped too many passes at Drake, but he picks up yards after the catch and can create separation from defenders to become an excellent target in the red zone.