Though he hasn’t seen much action this season, Chiefs tight end Jake O’Connell told his hometown newspaper he views his rookie season similar to his freshman year at Miami of Ohio.
“I put on about 40 pounds my first two years of college and I redshirted my freshman year, so I had that time to get used to everything and see it all go down,” said the 6-foot-3, 250-pound O’Connell. “I’d say the jump to the pros is similar to the jump from high school to college. I love football and I love what I do, but you don’t realize how much you have to put into it growing up. You think it’s all just playing games and having fun, but you don’t realize it’s all day every day.”
After 46 collegiate catches for 453 yards and four touchdowns, O’Connell became the first Gulf Coast High School graduate to play in the NFL.
“It was always a goal to play in the NFL, but I didn’t start thinking realistically about it until probably the end of my senior year of college,” O’Connell said. “I tell you what, I was never really the main guy at Miami and they didn’t throw me the ball all the time, so it wasn’t a big deal to come here (Kansas City) and start at the bottom.”
O’Connell’s only NFL start thus far came at home against Oakland on Sept. 20, when the Chiefs offense opened the game in a two-tight end set. The Raiders won 13-10 and O’Connell’s day came and went without a statistical contribution.
After catching a case of the drops early in the season and eventually watching 12 of the Chiefs’ first 15 games from the inactive list, O’Connell caught his first pass, made his first special-teams tackle and blocked his first punt as a professional in Kansas City’s 17-10 loss at Cincinnati last Sunday.
He wasn’t actually credited with a blocked punt since the kick fluttered forward over the line of scrimmage, but that’s just how it goes when you’re an NFL rookie trying to learn and earn your place on the roster. Even milestone statistics are officially hard to come by.
“I’d say it’s been kind of like a redshirt year,” O’Connell said. “That second game of the season against Oakland was a little overwhelming at first. Everything takes some getting used to at this level, but the more I’m in there … it’s no big deal now.
“I just want to get as good as I can at as many things as I can … I want to be a good overall player and do whatever I can to help.”
It’s important to remember, when trying to evaluate a draft, that when you gamble on guys from smaller colleges or players that were not “stars”, their transition to the next level will take longer.
Would it be nice to see some production out of O’Connell, Quinten Lawrence and Javarris Williams? Absolutely, but the more telling time with those players will be the first quarter of next season after they have that extra time under their belt to adjust their games to the speed of the NFL game.