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Caleb Wilson Settles In At Tight End

Cardinals' seventh-rounder passed up chance to be college quarterback

TE Caleb Wilson hauls in a pass during offseason work.
TE Caleb Wilson hauls in a pass during offseason work.

Everyone wants to be a quarterback, and after playing the position at Gardena (Calif.) Serra High School, Caleb Wilson originally committed to do more of the same at Old Dominion University.

That plan changed after a moment of reckoning.

"My senior year in California, the quarterbacks out there were like Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Blake Barnett, some really talented guys, and I knew there was a difference between me and them," Wilson said. "I knew I could play, but it was like, 'You know what? They're a little better than I am.' I was like, 'You can put three or four tight ends on the field. There's only one quarterback. Maybe I should give myself a better chance.'"

Wilson chose the road less traveled, forgoing a scholarship to walk on as a tight end at USC. He transferred to UCLA after one year because his father, Chris, was fired by the Trojans and eventually broke out with the Bruins. Wilson led all collegiate tight ends with 965 receiving yards last year and was selected by the Cardinals with the final pick of the draft.

As a former quarterback, it's not a huge surprise that Wilson's weakness is his blocking, but he has landed in an intriguing situation with the Cardinals. Coach Kliff Kingsbury employs a spread offense in which tights ends are valued more for their receiving ability, and Wilson has impressed early on.

"He has great route-running ability, great hands and so I'm interested to see, once we get pads on, where that goes," Kingsbury said.

Wilson's spot on the 53-man roster is no lock. The Cardinals may only keep three tight ends, and Charles Clay, Ricky Seals-Jones and Maxx Williams are a trio of veterans Wilson will have to battle with at the position.

Speed could be his main asset in the competition. Wilson ran a 4.56-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, the second-fastest among tight ends.

"I feel like I fit in the offense well," Wilson said. "I can help stretch the field and make plays for us."

Even though Wilson figures to make a quicker impact in the receiving game as a rookie, becoming more well-rounded is a priority.

"I eventually want to be a guy you can leave in on all three downs and do both: block as well as make plays in the pass game," Wilson said. "That's definitely a point of emphasis, but the way we run our offense, I think it does give me an opportunity to contribute early on."

Wilson has spent the offseason picking the brain of Clay as he adapts to the NFL game. With only four years on the job, he is still learning the intricacies of the tight end position. Wilson had a breakout season in 2018 with UCLA and feels like he is just scratching the surface.

"I definitely feel like I'm still developing." Wilson said. "I feel like my game is only going to continue to improve with more time, more added strength, more adjustment to the tight end position. I feel like my ceiling is still high and I have a lot to improve on."

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