Mark Andrews won the Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end this past season at Oklahoma.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Five years ago, Mark Andrews was a dazzling wide receiver at Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale. Maybe too dazzling.
Even though many analysts projected the physical pass-catcher to switch to tight end at Oklahoma, Andrews balked.
"In high school, you don't see tight ends really doing anything," Andrews said. "I had a really bad misconception of what a tight end means."
It took a redshirt year with the Sooners, but Andrews eventually made the move, and it proved to be a fruitful one. He wrapped up an impressive three-year college career by winning the Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end in 2017, finishing with 62 catches for 958 yards and eight touchdowns in 2017.
Andrews is one of the top-rated tight ends at the NFL Scouting combine, getting some buzz as a possible first-round pick. Andrews is more receiver than blocker after coming out of a spread offense in college – he was a popular target for quarterback Baker Mayfield – but can be a pivotal chess piece if he proves capable at both.
"I can throw people off really well in my routes," Andrews said. "I move my hips and upper body to make people think one thing and do another. Then you use me in the blocking game and that uses a whole different dimension to it. It's really tough for defenses to game plan against that tight end. You don't know if they will be in blocking. You don't know what type of route they will be running. It's just difficult. My ability to run routes and be deceptive is huge."
Andrews said he met formally with 14 teams at the combine, and said he plans to meet with the Cardinals in Arizona, a luxury afforded to players who live in the team's state. Cardinals coach Steve Wilks wants versatility in his tight ends, but like former coach Bruce Arians, he puts a premium on the ability to block.
"You like the guys that are well-rounded, with that diversity," Wilks said. "You look at what we have on the roster right now with Ricky (Seals-Jones) and also Jermaine (Gresham). A little more basketball-type kind of player. You need that road grader that's going to come off the ball and create a new line of scrimmage, a point-of-attack kind of guy. That's what we're looking for moving forward.
"I'm very pleased with the tight ends we have on the roster. They bring a lot of skillset. But when you start talking about running the ball and trying to be successful, that's the one thing I believe in. I'm trying to create an offensive line and tight end that's going to be able to do that for us."
In order to be a high pick, Andrews must show the ability do both. As a former wideout in high school and primarily a route-running tight end in the pass-heavy Big 12, he is aware there is work to do.
"I have a lot a lot more experience in the receiving side, but with that being said, I am someone that plays with a lot of technique with a good base," Andrews said. "That is not something that everybody has. … I am a very willing blocker. I am excited about it. I like to learn."
While Andrews admits to the blocking flaw, he is adamant another perceived negative will not affect him. Andrews was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of nine, and while he must keep a close eye on his blood sugar levels, he said it has never affected him athletically.
"Being a diabetic, you lose a lot easier -- you lose fluids, hydration, electrolytes," Andrews said. "Eating the types of foods like the pastas, and heavy, thick things before really helps me. It helps me last throughout a game. And through a week is hydrating. A lot of guys don't think about hydrating, but I have to. If I don't, there are consequences I will pay. I will cramp up and lose stuff really easily, so it is something that is on my mind 24/7."
After his initial diagnosis, Andrews wondered why he was saddled with the health issue at such a young age. But much like it did with the tight end switch, time has brought with it perspective.
"I have been able to do so many things with it," Andrews said. "I have been able to help kids. On the flip side of it, I treat my body like a temple. I eat the right things and most kids my age don't do that. I had to mature at a really, really young age. It's something that I think has helped me along the way to help me with where I am right now. Without it, I don't know if I would have this passion and edge that I have for everything in life."
Images of some of the more notable tight ends scheduled to hit free agency