Colorado Native TE Dalton Keene Checks Multiple Boxes for Broncos in Draft
Dalton Keene is a 6-foot-4, 253-pound tight end from Virginia Tech that could be the next homegrown Colorado native to be drafted by the Denver Broncos this April.
Keene played high school football at Chatfield Senior High School in Littleton, CO. After originally playing quarterback his freshman year, Keene was asked to transition to running back and quickly emerged as a dominant player for the Chatfield offense.
Dalton’s father, Wes, was a Division I standout at Murray State under Bud Foster, who’d later become defensive coordinator at Virginia Tech. Along with Foster, the Keene family developed a deep, personal bond with Charlie Wiles — the offensive line coach for the Hokies.
After growing up a Hokie fan, Keene visited Virginia Tech his junior year and was once again asked to convert positions from running back to tight end. By the end of his visit, Keene showed significant potential as a tight end and accepted a scholarship to play for the Hokies one year later.
Nicknamed ‘Rambo’ by his college teammates, Keene immediately earned a reputation on campus for his intensity and dedication in the weight room. As a freshman, he started 12 games and recorded 10 catches for 167 yards.
Virginia Tech capitalized on Keene’s versatility in their offense as a tight end, H-back, fullback, and on special teams. He utilizes his lower body power to square up defenders in the run game, making him an aggressive blocker both in space and on the line of scrimmage. Keene finished his collegiate career with 59 receptions for 748 yards, and eight touchdowns in 36 games.
After Keene declared for the 2020 draft, Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente talked with local media about the interest Keene was generating at the next level.
"He got a lot of feedback," Fuente said. "Not just putting in for a review with the NFL, but individual people that we know across the league giving us feedback to continue to make these guys make the best decision. There was a litany of feedback he got, kind of formally and informally for people in the league we know and the formal process.”
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In the passing game, Keene's college film shows surprising speed and a lengthy stride that beats linebackers and creates a mismatch. He welcomes contact and continually fights for extra yards, making him very difficult to tackle. His consistent awareness allows him to track the ball in the air while maintaining the specificity and integrity of his routes.
One of the biggest attractions in Keene’s game is attention to detail. His past experiences as a quarterback and running back allow him to recognize coverages and understand the significance of positioning. His raw athleticism allows him to reel in overthrown and misplaced passes, making him a reliable and secure target for any quarterback.
One potential NFL comparison that matches Keene’s game is Jacob Hollister. Hollister was an undrafted free agent from Wyoming that was signed by the Patriots in 2017. In New England, he played 23 games and caught eight passes for 94 yards, before being traded to the Seahawks in 2019.
Hollister operates from the tight end and H-back positions, in addition to playing special teams. Last season, he started 10 games for Seattle and caught 41 passes for 349 yards and scored three touchdowns.
Although the Broncos recently signed TE Nick Vannett and expect Noah Fant to capitalize on the momentum of his rookie season, along with Andrew Beck, the need for versatility and production on special teams remains. Keene has proven that he’ll go all-in on any responsibility that gets him on the football field, even if that means converting positions.
Broncos' TE Room Needs Reliable Reinforcements
Keene would also be a healthy addition to a snake-bitten and injured tight end room for the Broncos, which has seen Jake Butt, Jeff Heuerman, Troy Fumagalli, Austin Fort, and Bug Howard all battle injuries. Because he’s proven that he can play the tight end, H-back, and fullback positions, Keene could be an ideal prospect for new OC Pat Shurmur. Keene was also a team captain in 2019, which fits the recent draft prospect profile of GM John Elway with the last two draft classes, which has prioritized high-character leaders.
The Broncos watched Keene participate at the NFL Combine last month where he ran a 4.71-second 40-yard dash, bench pressed 21 reps (225 lbs), had a vertical jump of 34 inches, and a broad jump of 125 inches. Virginia Tech’s Pro Day was scheduled for March 20th was ‘indefinitely postponed’ because of the COVID-19 crisis.
Last weekend, Wes Keene tweeted a video of his son weightlifting in the family garage and appeared encouraged that the NFL has committed to holding the draft on April 23-25th. Keene is currently projected to be a mid-to-late-round pick in the draft.
The Broncos have recently proven that they’re extremely familiar with identifying homegrown, local talent. In 2019, Colorado’s own Phillip Lindsay, Dalton Risner, and Mike Purcell were all featured in the starting lineup for Denver. Broncos Country loves local talent and quickly turns those players into fan favorites.