Cardinals tight end Ricky Seals-Jones celebrates his touchdown in Sunday's win over the Jaguars.
Several months ago, Ricky Seals-Jones looked like a classic cautionary tale.
The wide receiver left early for the NFL despite a down junior season at Texas A&M, and while 253 different names were called over the course of the three-day draft in April, Seals-Jones wasn't one of them.
Thus, the familiar refrain broke out: He should have stayed in college.
The situation, though, had much more nuance. While Seals-Jones was a five-star recruit coming out of high school who never realized his full potential with the Aggies, it wasn't ego that sent him to the NFL, but necessity.
Texas A&M employed a run-and-gun offensive system that catered to wide receivers. Seals-Jones may have been one in college, but it became clear his NFL future was at tight end. Instead of converting to the Aggies' version of the position that "wasn't the traditional hand in the dirt," Seals-Jones trained with future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez before the draft.
By the time it came, Seals-Jones was ready for his NFL shot, regardless of how it came about.
"I knew it was going to be a zero percent chance I'd get drafted," Seals-Jones said. "I mean, I dreamed about it. I thought about it like, man, 'What if?' But at the same time, I'm the type where it doesn't matter. I'm more of the realist, like whatever happens, happens. If I don't get drafted, oh well. There are guys in the NFL that didn't get drafted and are still balling out."
Fast forward several months, and Seals-Jones' belief in himself has become prophetic.
Seals-Jones has caught seven passes for 126 yards and three touchdowns the past two games, zooming up the list of the team's most impactful rookies despite being undrafted. His breakout game came two weeks ago in Houston, 50 miles from where he grew up, when Seals-Jones hauled in a pair of receiving scores.
The Texans were on his short-list of possible destinations after the draft, along with the Cardinals and Seahawks. While deciding on a team, Seals-Jones asked for input from Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson, who is a cousin of Seals-Jones' mom and had been a mentor during the process.
"Who called you first?" Dickerson said he asked Seals-Jones. "The Cardinals? Then I would go with the Cardinals … The Texans told him he'd start right away for them, but he wanted to get out of Texas. I felt the same way. I didn't want to go to Houston or Dallas when I was drafted."
It was Dickerson who broached the idea of the tight end conversion. He said Seals-Jones balked at first, but eventually came around. The switch took work, but it paid quick dividends. Dickerson remembered a call soon after Seals-Jones arrived in Arizona.
"After the first day he told me, 'They can't cover me,'" Dickerson said. "I told him, 'At tight end, you're a mismatch.' I knew that was the position he would excel at. Once he embraced it, the proof was in the pudding."
Dickerson will have split allegiances this weekend. On Sunday the Cardinals will host the Rams -- the team Dickerson starred with in the 1980s and now works for as vice president of business development. He spoke with Seals-Jones recently and laid out his rooting interest.
"I told him, 'I want you to have a good game,'" Dickerson said. "'I just don't want you to win.'"
Seals-Jones is hoping for both, and more production would be another step forward during a whirlwind rookie year. As if there's not enough on his plate professionally, Seals-Jones' personal life also changed drastically on Wednesday.
He missed practice to attend the birth of his son, Roderick, and didn't arrive back in Arizona until Thursday morning. Seals-Jones went directly from the airport to the practice field, intent on continuing the upward trajectory for himself, and now, for his son.
"It's been a stressful 48 (hours), going from having an off day and relaxing at home, to getting that call and catching a flight," Seals-Jones said. "I'm going to go home and sleep really good tonight. But I wouldn't change it for the world. I got my little boy, and he's 100 percent healthy. It's really great. Now I've got something to work for, a little bit more."
Images from past matchups between the Cardinals and this week's opponent, the Los Angeles Rams