MOBILE, Ala. — “This is a big step for a kid from Wiggins, Colorado, man.”
That was the first sentence that Dalton Risner said to me as I sat down next to him in a hotel lobby in Mobile, Alabama before his first Senior Bowl practice.
The standout from Kansas State has been looked at as one of the best offensive linemen in the country for the last few years, and he’s expected to go as high as round one in this year’s NFL draft, but there was a time when he didn’t even know if college football was a real possibility.
“I played 1A football, I had 17 guys on my football team, 800 people in my whole town, you know? No one had ever gone and played Division-I football from Wiggins, and I can promise you one thing, college scouts aren’t coming through Wiggins, Colorado to see what type of talent there was.”
And because they weren’t coming to see him, he was going to see them.
“In order for me to get my name out there, I had to go to 15 plus football camps per summer, go get my face in front of coaches, and send them emails,” Risner said.
At one point the 300-pound lineman sat back, and with a proud smile told BSN Denver, “One of my greatest stories was when Steve Greatwood from Oregon (Offensive line coach at that time) contacted me throughout the recruiting process and said, ‘Hey, the only reason I’m replying back to this is because I saw that I had 50 missed emails from you in the past two months and that’s persistence.’
“And that’s what I was doing,” he added. “I’m gonna force you guys to take a look at me, and I promise you once you look at me, you’re gonna give me a chance.”
And a chance, they gave him. The football camps and emails paid off as Risner started to collect scholarship offers. And the first ones that came in were close to home.
“Colorado State spent a lot of time on me, they were my first offer and kinda kick-started the deal,” he said. “I’ve been a big CSU fan ever since. I take pride in the fact they gave me an offer so quick. CU was probably my last offer, so there’s a little bit of beef there (laughs). I’m still definitely proud that they offered me, but everyone else offered before they would.”
Dalton Risner’s hometown of Wiggins is one hour East of Denver, and he grew up a huge Broncos fan. On Monday, he got a chance to meet childhood hero Steve Atwater while doing a radio interview, and he was visibly excited about it. He told BSN Denver, “If I get drafted by the Broncos, I may have to splash water on my face to make sure this is reality.”
A lot has to happen for the Colorado native. First, is he the Broncos type? We know from the past that Elway likes his lineman mean. On this front, Risner will score high.
“One of my attributes of being a good offensive lineman is my mean streak, a guy that likes to finish guys into the ground,” he said with a serious look on his face. “If you put on my tape and you talk to scouts, I hope the first thing you hear is how I’m burying guys downfield, like, ‘What’s wrong with Risner? He looks like someone did something to him before the game.’
“I take a lot of pride in that,” he continued. “You know, I haven’t given up a sack in a couple years, so I take pride in blocking like that.”
The second thing that needs to happen before he can be selected by the Broncos is his position being defined. Right now, many coaches are saying that he is a center but others, including himself, are saying that he is a tackle.
Jon Gruden told an entire scrum of reporters on Tuesday that he thinks Risner is a center.
“I’ve been playing right tackle for three years now,” he stated. “I’m a tall and lanky guy, I’ve got long arms, got a long wingspan. I measured in at about 6-5 today, and I feel like I could play that position. As a right tackle, you go against defensive ends that are athletic and quick, and I feel like I’m an offensive lineman that brings that to the table as well.”
On top of these points, Risner’s arm length came out at 34.25 inches on Tuesday morning. Traditionally, arms over 35 inches are considered long, so he’s not quite in that category, but his arms aren’t short either. About 70 percent of current NFL lineman are between 32 and 35 inches in arm length, so he’s definitely on the longer side, and that plays into the notion that he’s a good fit at tackle.
As for what round he’ll go in the draft? He seems to have an idea.
“I’ve heard that I could go in the first round but this Senior Bowl is a big week for me, the combine is gonna be a big week for me, and the unofficial visits in April will be big for me. Depending on how all that goes, I can go anywhere from the first round to the third round,” he told BSN. “But hey, it could be fourth or fifth, I have no idea, man.”
He paused and then continued.
“I hope it’s the first round, I believe that’s where I belong, but if a team gives me a chance to put on a helmet, that’s all that matters to me. I know I’m gonna earn my keep as long as I get a chance to wear a helmet.”
Dalton Risner is big and athletic. He plays with a punishing mean streak, and he can play multiple positions. He’s a three-year captain and a leader. But most importantly, Risner is smart. He was easily the most impressive player I spent time with on Tuesday. The last time the Broncos drafted a tackle with a “mean streak,” intelligence was not one of his shining attributes.
If they select this guy, he will lead the unit for years to come.