UW tight end Will Dissly at NFL combine: why he converted from D-line
Messing around at practice may prove to be the best thing Will Dissly's ever done.
Dissly was a sophomore defensive end for Washington late in 2015. He was messing around at a practice for UW's Heart of Dallas Bowl at the end of that season, a big number 98 playfully catching passes from a teammate.
UW coach Chris Petersen walked past and noticed Dissly was reaching for the ball and pulling it in with more skill than a defensive linemen should have.
"Hey, you want to have a package (of plays on offense)?" Petersen asked Dissly.
That's how Will Dissly became a top tight end prospect in next week's NFL draft.
"I had a couple of plays (in that bowl game), did well," Dissly said last month. "Then kind of in the offseason (before Dissly's junior year of 2016) Coach Pete approached me and was like, 'Hey, would you like to try this full time in spring ball?'"
Dissly was all ears. And all in.
"I was trying to get on the field a little bit more, trying to help the team win. So I said, 'Yeah, let's try it,'" Dissly said.
"And here we are."
Yes, here he is.
After 10 starts last season for a Huskies team that finished 10-3, got ranked as high as fifth in the nation and played Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl, Dissly is name to watch in next week's NFL draft.
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock says Dissly is the best blocking tight end in this draft class, and its fifth-best tight end overall.
"I did see that. I was humbled,” Dissly said of Mayock's praise at the combine, while getting the podium treatment of a top prospect for media interviews at the Indiana Convention Center. “There are a lot of talented guys here, so I really appreciate his recognition.
"I think one thing is I think he sees a lot of potential. I’ve only been playing tight end for two years. A lot of these guys are four or five years in and are kind of at their peak as far as their play goes. I have so much room to grow."
At last month's NFL scouting combine the 6-foot-4, 267-pound Dissly again showed his athleticism and his deft hands catching the ball. It surprised those who don't know he played multiple sports including basketball growing up in Bozeman, Mont. His time of 12.12 seconds in the 60-yard shuttle was fifth-best among tight ends and showed he can change directions quickly. He ran a 4.87 40-yard dash at the combine, 12th among tight ends.
He also clowned with fellow UW Huskies draft prospect Dante Pettis.
Next week, Dissly is likely to become the 19th Washington Huskies tight end drafted into the NFL in the last half century. Three Huskies tight ends have been first-round picks: Dave Williams (1967), Mark Bruener ('95) and Jerramy Stevens (by the Seahawks in 2002).
Tacoma-based NFL draft expert Rob Rang from the Pro Football Hall of Fame and NFLdraftscout.com said of Dissly: "I could see him go as high as the fourth to fifth round."
That's right in the Seahawks' wheelhouse for this draft.
Seattle currently has eight picks: one in the first round, at 18th overall, then not another selection until round four, on the draft's second day. Six of the Seahawks' eight selections are in the fifth round (four picks) and the seventh and final round.
Yes, the Seahawks have noticed Dissly. They met with him at the combine in Indianapolis. They were at his Pro Day at UW a couple weeks ago.
"I'd love to stay in Seattle. I'd love to be on their team," Dissly said.
"But I bleed purple and gold. And I look forward to being with an NFL team here in the near future."
The Seahawks have a need for Dissly, or guys like him.
Coach Pete Carroll has set getting back to a run-based offense as his top Seahawks priority in 2018. To exemplify that, Seattle let its top two tight ends leave in free agency last month, Jimmy Graham (to Green Bay) and Luke Willson (to Detroit). Graham and Willson are pass catchers, almost more wide receivers than suited for being tight at the end of the line. The Seahawks signed free agent Ed Dickson from Carolina for up to $14 million over three years because he is a blocking tight end.
But Dickson is 31 years old. And the Seahawks can get out of the final two years of his team-friendly deal at a cost of only $1.7 million in 2019.
So it's not unfathomable that the Seahawks, who have selected only one tight end in the last seven drafts (Nick Vannett in 2016), would use one of its scheduled eight draft picks next weekend on a younger blocker at the position.
It's not that Dissly can't catch. Or that he's not athletic.
As a senior at Bozeman High in 2013 he was Montana's Gatorade player of the year while winning a state title in football. He was a Class AA all-state selection as a tight end and defensive end. He was the state's co-defensive MVP for the second straight year. He caught 55 passes for 917 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior.
A 6-foot-4, 240-pound recruit with two-star ratings, Dissly committed to Petersen's staff at Boise State on Dec. 2, 2013. He chose the Broncos over other scholarship offers from hometown Montana State — where his older brother Nick started 82 games over four years as a basketball wing in the mid-2000s — plus Montana, Colorado State, Idaho State, Idaho and Northern Arizona.
As he was deciding, Steve Sarkisian announced he was leaving UW to become USC's new coach. Four days after Dissly committed to Boise State, Washington hired Petersen. Petersen and his staff that recruited Dissly to Boise were now at UW. So Dissly switched his commitment. He followed Petersen to Montlake as a freshman in 2014.
He played 19 games in his first two seasons for the Huskies. He was a run-stopping end in Washington's three-man defensive line in his freshman season of 2014. Then, when the Huskies switched to four down linemen, Dissly became more of a pass rusher outside.
Then he messed around at that bowl practice as a UW sophomore, in December 2015. He made his game debut at tight end in that year's Heart of Dallas Bowl, the Huskies' win over Southern Mississippi.
Dissly's first college reception was in September 2016, a touchdown from K.J Carta-Samuels in the first game of his junior season, a Huskies win over Portland State. As a senior he had two touchdown catches in UW's win over Dissly's home-state Montana Grizzlies. He had a key catch late for 28 yards to set up the tying score during the Huskies' rally past Utah in November.
"I'm not trying to be something that I'm not," he said at the NFL combine. "I know my skill set is as a blocking tight end, first and foremost. But kind of why I am here is to show people that I can catch the ball. I am confident in my abilities to do that."
He's a better — and far more unique — tight end having played the positions he is often blocking.
"As a tight end, the biggest thing is understanding how defensive linemen think, their tendencies, how to pick up their (rush) games," he said. "Understanding defenses and where the backers are; if the backer's outside, that defensive end is probably going to crash in. That kind of stuff came a little more natural to me."
Dissly has already mastered the intellectual part of blocking. The Seahawks' recent offensive linemen have sometimes struggled to do that. Dissly knows how to read the way a defensive linemen line up for clues just before the snap.
"You can tell a lot by their stance," he said. "If there are in a balanced stance they are maybe more prone to change direction on you and slant a little more. If they are leaning one way or not, if they are in their rush stance, obviously they are going to get up field (immediately). Maybe if they are leaning back in their two-point stance I can tell maybe they are going out (to drop back to cover) a pass.
"Just those things I learned as a defensive lineman I can see in their stance and their posture."
Dissly is, like many in Montana, a fisherman and a hunter. He's bagged a deer or two.
He might have hunted far more had Petersen not left Boise State. And had Petersen not seen Dissly catching passes at that bowl practice, Dissly would more likely be stalking Montana's wildlife right now than a week away from entering the NFL.
"Hard work pays off," he said of his unlikely path to the draft. "I've had a tremendous amount of support from my family and friends back home. And I just kept working, kept persevering through everything that's happened.
"You know, it wasn't a perfect story, by any means. But I wouldn't trade my time at the University of Washington for anything."