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Why Kylen Granson's SMU Coaches Believe Colts' TE Can 'Break That Trend'

Tight ends often have a steep learning curve upon entering the NFL. But Kylen Granson’s college coaches believe he’s well prepared to tackle that challenge. 

Only 71 tight ends in NFL history — and there's a lot of history there — have ever caught 30 or more passes as a rookie. 

Fifty catches? Only eight rookies have done that: Evan Engram (2017), Jermaine Gresham (2010), John Carlson (2008), Jeremy Shockey (2002), Cam Cleeland (1998), Keith Jackson (1988), Charlie Young (1973) and Mike Ditka (1961). Ditka, a Hall of Famer, is the only rookie tight end to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards as a rookie; he and Rob Gronkowski are the only Year 1 tight ends to have 10 or more touchdowns. 

The point is: The learning curve is extremely steep for rookie tight ends in going from college to the pros. 

But Kylen Granson's college coaches believe he has what it takes to conquer that curve and make an immediate impact with the Colts in 2021. 

"He's a guy that can do so many different things that I think the coaches in Indianapolis will find a role for him and where he can fit the best and can help the team and I think he'll just continue to get better and better at that," Josh Martin, Granson's tight ends coach at SMU, said. "I definitely think he can break that trend, there's no question in my mind. No doubt."

There's a long way for Granson to go before he's making an impact on Sundays. But both Martin and SMU offensive coordinator Garrett Riley raved about Granson's physical and mental traits, and how those two aspects of his game work together. 

The Colts were drawn to Granson initially by his speed — "this kid's got big time speed," assistant director of college scouting Matt Terpening said. The 242-pound Granson ran a 4.63-second 40-yard dash at SMU's pro day, which is fast, but not necessarily unprecedented in pre-draft testing history. 

Some players, though, have fast 40-yard dash times but don't play that fast at game speed. That's not the case with Granson. 

"He's one of those guys where I really do think he plays legit to his speed," Riley said. "He plays fast. (It was) kind of weird, you look out there, he's outrunning some of our wideouts. In a 40-yard burst, 20-to-40-yard burst, he's one of the better ones that I've been around for sure regardless of tight end or receiver."

Couple Granson's speed with his size and he's a natural matchup nightmare. But it's one thing to have that speed and size and it's another to know how to use it. 

That's where Granson's football IQ and attention to detail allows him to take advantage of his athleticism.

"He was one of those guys that could, after the first series of the game, (tell coaches) here's how they're playing me, this is what they're trying to do," Martin said. "It was kind of like having a coach on the field, so to speak. He was pretty good about recognizing that kind of stuff. And then with film study, knowing what the defense is showing the majority of the year and gameplay wise what we're trying to accomplish — he would really understand the why of what we're trying to do. 

"He always knew how to do it, but once you understand why we're trying to do it and why we're trying to attack defenses this way and how it'll help us, then the game really starts to slow down."

Granson had 1,257 yards on 78 receptions (16.1 yards/catch) with 14 touchdowns in two seasons at SMU, where he landed after transferring Rice following the 2017 season. His skillset allowed Martin, Riley and head coach Sonny Dykes to continue adding responsibilities to his workload, and no matter where he played, he excelled in the Mustangs' offense.

"We utilized him like he's going to be utilized in Indianapolis," Martin said. "We play flexed out, we play in the slot, we play as the single receiver, we play in the backfield, we play in-line — (our tight ends) do everything. They're playing special teams. 

"We try to teach them from a big picture perspective of understanding the game from a big picture point of view, similar to how you would teach a quarterback in ways. The only person in our offense that has to know more than the tight end is the quarterback, so as far as what you're doing since you play so many different roles and wear so many different hats."

Granson will still have to grow as blocker while getting used to the speed and physicality of the NFL. He's a former wide receiver — that's where he played his two years at Rice — and Terpening said he'll have to learn how the Colts want their tight ends to block. Martin mentioned blocking as a hurdle for Granson to clear, too. 

But you also won't find anyone who doubts Granson can do it. 

"This guy, listen, he's smarter than I am," Riley said. "He's a brilliant guy. He's a guy that is coachable, he's one of those — he's a coach's dream. You tell him something one time a year ago and he'll remember it. It's a guy that he can remember it but he can also translate it and apply it on the field. That's kind of all you can ask for as a coach." 

The Colts view Granson as an "F" tight end in coach Frank Reich's offense, the kind of guy who can do different things to become a weekly matchup problem for opposing defenses. And his progress developing into that kind of weapon will be followed closely by his former coaches in Dallas, because they think he can become a threat in the NFL sooner rather than later. 

"Just because of how offenses are continuing to change in the NFL and you are starting to see some of those hybrid type guys that are starting to really become weapons in the NFL," Riley said, "it just really wouldn't surprise me at the end of the day if he goes and plays his best ball as a pro."

The Colts used their first selection of Day 3 of the NFL Draft (127th overall) to pick SMU tight end Kylen Granson.

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