We asked Seahawks fans what draft prospect they wanted to hear from during Thursday's 2019 NFL Scouting Combine media availability, and Washington State offensive tackle Andre Dillard was the runaway winner.
INDIANAPOLIS—Andre Dillard never could have imagined he'd be in this position, taking part in the NFL Scouting Combine as one of the top offensive line prospects in his draft class.
After all, he didn't even like football when he started playing the sport as an eighth grader in Woodinville in order to, in his words, "make me cooler at school."
"I didn't even think I'd make it to college football back when I first started," Dillard said. "That was not in my vision at all, so this is pretty crazy."
Prior to Thursday's player availability, we took to Twitter to ask Seahawks fans who they wanted to hear from in one of the afternoon sessions, and let's just say that fans liked Dillard a lot more than Dillard liked football as a middle-schooler.
"When I first started I was kind of a wuss," he said. "I wanted to try football just to say I tried it, and I thought it would make me cooler at school. The first two years, it sucked really bad. I was terrible. But something inside of me said to just keep going, and a switch flipped in me and things started looking up from there."
Dillard said that switch flipped during his sophomore year at Woodinville High School, and over the next couple of years he showed enough as a self-described "tall, skinny kid" to get the attention of at least a few schools even if he wasn't a big-time recruit. In addition to WSU, Dillard also got offers from Portland State, Idaho and Eastern Washington, and he arrived in Pullman as a 240-pound tackle who eventually turned himself into a 315-pound prospect who many draft experts believe will be selected in the first round of this year's draft.
The key to that weight gain, Dillard said, was a "lot of eating in the middle of the night. Sometimes I'd set an alarm for two in the morning and drink a shake then go back to sleep. Eating late at the night was the biggest key, and living in the weight room and just following whatever else the strength coaches had for me… They just told me to literally eat everything all the time, and so it kind of worked out over time."
But Dillard's growth as a player involved more than just food and weight-lifting. He credits a childhood of playing basketball for giving him quick feet—a must for an NFL tackle—and once he started taking football more seriously, he began studying the film of top NFL tackles, even filming himself trying to emulate their techniques so he could critique his own form.
"The first tackle I started watching was Tyron Smith," Dillard said. "He's a phenomenal player, master technician. I was like, 'If I want to be one of the best, I've got to learn from this guy.' He helped me a lot without directly helping me, just watching him. I watch other great tackles like Joe Staley, Jason Peters, Trent Williams, Joe Thomas. Just a bunch of great tackles that kind of help me.
"The mental part of the game is just as important, if not more than the physical part. When I'm studying NFL tackles, I look at pretty much everything they're doing, from their stance to where their eyes are, to what angle they set on depending on where the defender is, to how fast they move their feet, to their hand placement, everything. I liked Tyron Smith's demonstration of all those things the most, so I kind of stuck with watching him. It has helped me a lot. I watch for those things when I'm watching tackles, all the little details."
For Dillard, like all linemen who come out of air-raid offenses, the biggest questions he has to answer are about his run-blocking ability. Dillard felt like he demonstrated some of that at the Senior Bowl, but he also knows teams will have those questions about him coming from a school where "we had like two zone (running) plays, that was it."
"I'm pretty critical of myself, so one area for improvement is definitely continuing to improve on the run game," he said. "I showcased a bit of that ability at the Senior Bowl, and I just plan to continue that."
But even if Dillard's game isn't perfect, it's good enough for him to be a likely first-round pick. Not bad for somebody who only started playing football to try to impress his eighth-grade classmates.