FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Troy Fumagalli said before this season began that he believed himself to be the best tight end in the country.
Over the past 13 games, the University of Wisconsin senior nearly convinced everyone else he was, too.
Fumagalli received second-team All-American honors by four of the five outlets recognized by the NCAA this month, and anonymous NFL scouts told Bleacher Report this week that Fumagalli compares favorably to New England’s Rob Gronkowski, Washington’s Jordan Reed and Kansas City’s Travis Kelce.
“He’s got a huge frame and his radius of catching the ball, it’s unique,” Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook said. “Not many people can get the balls that Troy can.”
Even during Fumagalli’s early years at Wisconsin, teammates lauded his catching ability as the best on the Badgers’ roster.
Perhaps an even bigger reason why he’s drawing comparisons to the world’s best at his position, though, is because he’s developed into arguably the most complete tight end in college football.
“I try to make (blocking) a part of my game as much as I can, and I try to be a complete player,” Fumagalli said. “You don’t see as many complete guys around, so that’s one thing I try to take pride in — doing what’s asked of me to the best of my ability.”
Fumagalli’s receiving numbers don’t necessarily stand out. Heading into Saturday’s Orange Bowl against Miami, he’s caught 43 passes for 516 yards and four touchdowns.
Much of that’s a result of what Wisconsin asks of him in the run game. Per Pro Football Focus, Fumagalli’s 2.14 yards per route run actually stands as the highest among Big Ten tight ends and the fifth highest among all draft-eligbile players at the position.
“I think a lot of tight ends that you see now in college football are split out, and they don’t do the things that we ask Troy to do,” Wisconsin offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said. “But when you talk about someone being able to run block from on the line, from off the line, from split out. You talk about pass protection and understanding it. ... When you talk about just the route-running ability and ability to make plays on the ball. He’s got incredible hands and is a smart player.
“I think all those things will lend to him being very successful (in the NFL).”
Fumagalli, a former walk-on, wasn’t always capable of the role Rudolph described.
When Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst and the current staff took over in 2015 before Fumagalli’s redshirt sophomore season, the Badgers’ running game took priority over everything else offensively.
For the first time in his career, Fumagalli worked day in and day out on becoming a better blocker.
“When (Chryst) came in, the focus was on the run game first,” Wisconsin right guard Beau Benzschawel said. “It felt like the first three spring practices, just straight runs. No passes whatsoever.
“I think we as a team kind of view the run game more importantly, and I think (Fumagalli) kind of saw that as his opportunity to play, and obviously he’s capitalized on it. He’s kind of been forced to do it, but I think he’s also made it a personal thing, too, to be a great blocker and help this offense and this team be the best they can.”
By his junior season, Fumagalli likely had all the tools necessarily to play at the next level.
He still opted to return for his senior season, however, and after an All-American year, Fumagalli said he believes he made the right decision.
“I did think I became a better football player (this year),” Fumagalli said. “I took steps forward.
“I think I do a lot of things well both running and passing, but there’s always improvement. There’s always areas that I can improve, whether it’s pass blocking, getting some more power in the run game. All those things, as you try to challenge yourself and become a better player, you’ve always got to find one or two things that you need to get better at.”