If there was a breakout star at Missouri’s Pro Day on March 21, it was Eric Waters.
Waters caught only eight passes for 72 yards with a touchdown as a senior tight end for the Tigers. He caught six passes for 73 yards during the previous two seasons.
Still, with a 4.58 40-yard dash, a 39 1/2-inch vertical and a board jump of 10 feet, 2 1/2 inches, Waters put himself on the NFL Draft map with a stellar workout.
He also caught every pass thrown his way from quarterback James Franklin during passing drills.
Waters, who bumped his vertical to 40 inches before twisting an ankle during an NFL Super Regional Combine in Detroit last month, has worked out for the Patriots and also talked with Pittsburgh, Denver, Houston, Atlanta, Miami and Tennessee.
He’s hoping one of those teams or another of the NFL’s 32 teams will scribble his name on a piece of paper this weekend during the draft. If not, he’s confident that he’ll get a crack as a free agent signing.
Waters talked to The Star about the last six weeks of his journey:
•Q: How much of an impact do you think your Pro Day performance had on boosting your NFL Draft stock?
Waters: “It’s been huge. I went from a guy that was on pretty much nobody’s radar to a guy that a lot of teams that were in need of a tight end started to notice. That made a huge difference, especially when it comes to the next couple days in the Draft. Now, we’re looking at a possibility of going from a priority free agent to being drafted.”
•Q: Is it crazy to think that, before the weekend’s over, you could have an NFL home?
Waters: “It is crazy to think, because that’s something that I have been wanting since I was about 5 years old, maybe 4.”
•Q: Have you always played tight end?
Waters: “No, sir, when I was starting out younger, I played quarterback for a little bit. As I got into high school, I did a little bit of everything. I played wide receiver, running back and I really thought I would be a defensive end. That was my main position in high school until my junior year when we installed a new offense and I moved to tight end. It just stuck with me. My junior year, I had my hand on the ground and my senior year I split out more in the slot.”
•Q: Blocking seems to be a question mark for a lot of top tight end prospects. Obviously, you didn’t get a lot of passes thrown your way, but was that a blessing in disguise as far as answering questions about your blocking?
Waters: “Definitely, I do think of it as a blessing in disguise. That helped me show a side that not everybody has shown. That’s a question for everybody else. I showed at my Pro day and I showed at the Combine that I went to afterward that I can catch the ball, I have really great hands and I move well. My route-running is great and I can make cuts, but I didn’t need to show everybody my blocking too much. It shows on film against some of the best teams in the SEC.”
•Q: Is it hard to keep your emotions in check this week?
Waters: “Right now, I’m really trying to keep it levelheaded as far as whatever happens, happens. You’ve just got to take it with a grain of salt. I’m trying not to get my expectations and hopes up too much, but it would be a dream come true. I would like it to happen, but I also know I only need one opportunity to really show what I can do. If I’m an undrafted free agent, so be it. That’s where the chips fell, but now I’ve got to make the best of the opportunity I’ve been given.”
•Q: Growing up a Cowboys fan, where would you like to land or do you care at this point?
Waters: “Me personally, I have no preference at all. Whatever team I land on, that will be my future and they’ll get 100 percent of my focus and attention. But yeah, I’m a Cowboys fan at heart.”
•Q: Has anything in this process been surprising or different than you expected?
Waters: “Not in this experience. This experience has been really smooth. Jim (Schottell Jr.), my agent, has been through this process so many times. He let me know what to expect — what could happen, what may not happen, stuff like that. He’s made this process so simple on me and my family. I really couldn’t ask for more.”
•Q: Knowing the NFL Draft is in a few days, are you getting some butterflies?
Waters: “Yes, sir. I was actually sitting outside on the tailgate of my Ram 1500 thinking about what it will be like even to just get signed as a free agent. Just thinking about the look on my parents’ face, it brought tears to my eyes, because that’s something I want to be able to give to my parents. In a way, they almost want it worse than I do. To be able to give a gift like that, especially to my mom on Mother’s Day, would be almost unbelievable.”