The 2017 Steelers season is over, but it’s never too early to look at what might come ahead. In continuing with this series looking at college players who could become future Pittsburgh Steelers, we examine a tight end that was a finalist for the John Mackey Award.
Name: Troy Fumagalli
Weight: 246 lbs
Son of Char and Doug Fumagalli who was a star running back and receiver at Holy Cross College, Fumagalli was a three-star recruit out of Waubonsie Valley High School (Illinois), where he was a standout at both offense and defense. Though he was ranked 35th in his state, he didn’t rank among the nation’s top 1,300 players. After receiving offers from several colleges, including the University of Illinois which would have kept him close to home, he committed to the University of Wisconsin; however he was not granted a full scholarship. Fumagalli was offered a “1/4”, making his first year a walk-on year.
Following his redshirt freshman year, Fumagalli played 14 games at tight end and started in two of them. Despite finishing his year with 187 receiving yards on 14 catches, he made his opportunities count. One such notable moment took place against the University of Auburn in the Outback Bowl on January 1st, 2015, in which his 14-yard reception on third down helped setup the game-winning field goal, allowing the Badgers come away with the victory in overtime.
In his sophomore season, Fumagalli started all 14 games at tight end, earning his second straight letter. This was the season where he would become an integral part of the Badgers offense led by star quarterback Joel Stave. Fumagalli increased his previous totals with 313 receiving yards on 28 receptions. It would be at the end of this season where he would earn a full scholarship.
Fumagalli’s junior year marked his true breakout season. In addition to recording 83 yards on just 6 receptions in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic against Western Michigan, in which he made one of the best catches of the year; his signature performance came against LSU in the Lambeau Field College Classic on September 3rd, 2016. On this occasion, he collected a career-high 100 receiving yards on 7 receptions, and earned Offensive MVP honors. In total, Fumagalli collected a total of 580 receiving yards on 47 receptions. With these career highs, NFL teams started to take notice.
After a successful senior year which saw Fumagalli accumulate 516 receiving yards and named a finalist for the John Mackey Award, many mock draft boards have projected him to go anywhere from the 2nd to the 3rd round in the upcoming NFL draft. For a team like the Steelers whom could use a consistent, physical, big time playmaking tight end, Fumagalli might be the player that fits their need.
Troy Fumagalli has nine fingers, an aspect that could possibly be a source of scrutiny amongst NFL teams. Despite this setback, Fumagalli has arguably the most gifted hands of the tight ends in this draft class. From watching Fumagalli on film and comparing him to other tight ends coming into this draft, there are very few tights that I have seen that can catch the ball at multiple angles. In addition, Fumagalli seemingly has soft hands; it was noticeable in all his clips, his ability to cushion the ball in his hands. Generally you see these types of hands with decent wide receivers.
The aspect about Fumagalli that makes him appealing in this regard is that he is able to make catches in tight spaces. In the clip seen below, he is going to run a simple inside slant route. As you will note, it is not the cleanest route, as he is well covered by the Michigan defensive back. Fumagalli in this instance is able to use his strength to create enough separation to make the catch. More importantly, he is able to secure the ball after making the catch. One of the aspects that distinguishes receivers are the ones able to make combat-type catches. Much of the film on Fumagalli showed him making these types of catches which coaches always appreciate.
With much of the emphasis for new-age tight ends centered around their ability to catch the ball, blocking is still a necessary requirement for a tight end. What separates Fumagalli in this regard is his ability to establish the right base and use proper technique to effectively block on the opposition’s defense. Wisconsin, which is noted as being a team that often runs the ball, utilizes a variation of counter plays. When viewing these clips, Fumagalli was often the one leading the counter and proved be very effective in pulling and locating the defensive player. Fumagalli also demonstrated in these instances his willingness to engage physically. In the clip below, the Wisconsin offense runs a counter with Wisconsin offensive lineman Michael Dieter (#63) pulling to the right. As Dieter begins, Fumagalli (#81) is able to pull at the same time, and make a timely block before the Iowa lineman can get across to make a play. From videos I viewed, Fumagalli showed a knack for pulling and locating which is an advantageous skill to have as a blocker.
With the future of current Steelers tight end Xavier Grimble in doubt and the health status of fellow tight end Vance McDonald always in question, coach Mike Tomlin could use a tight end that is as effective at blocking as he is at catching the ball. Fumagalli brings to the table speed (low 4.7 to 4.9), reliable hands and the consistency which made him an important part of the Wisconsin offense. Many may use the fact that he is missing one finger against him, yet it has not stopped him from being among the best at his position in the upcoming draft.