Diamond in the Rough: Connor Dietz

Diamond in the Rough: Connor Dietz, WR, Air Force
By Charlie Campbell, @draftcampbell

Every year in the NFL Draft, there are talented players who slip through the cracks. Players go undrafted for a variety of reasons like being too undersized, a lack of speed, injuries, a lack of production in college or playing at lower level of competition. Some players end up not getting invited to the NFL Scouting Combine and end up falling to the late rounds or going undrafted all together.

The history of the NFL features some great players who went undrafted, including Hall of Famers like quarterback Warren Moon. In recent years, there have been other superstars who were undrafted free agents, including Tony Romo, Kurt Warner, London Fletcher, Antonio Gates, Arian Foster, Brian Waters and Priest Holmes. Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith became the Super Bowl MVP after not getting invited to the Combine and being a seventh-round pick.

With so much talent falling through the cracks, WalterFootball.com decided to start a new series to showcase some of the under-the-radar talents in the 2014 draft class. These players could be late-round picks or undrafted free agents who end up becoming steals for their NFL teams.

This edition features Air Force wide receiver Connor Dietz. Dietz (6-0, 195) is a good athlete who played quarterback for Air Force’s spread offense. He ran for 1,347 yards and passed for 1,523 yards with 20 touchdowns. Dietz was a team captain and has served his mandatory year of service. He is a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force and hopes to get drafted this May or sign as an undrafted free agent.

After doing your mandatory service, how do you feel as far as preparedness for the NFL, and what more obligations do you have to the Air Force?

“When you graduate the academy, you have a commitment. Just like all the previous players, I’ve spoken with all of my leadership here at Macdill Air Force base in Tampa, and they all know what I’m going after. What would happen is if I get picked up, I would hopefully get released out of my contract with the Air Force. After I’m done playing, I would probably end up doing reserve time.”

“Playing the previous five seasons with the Air Force academy was an honor to play for the coaches and all the players I played with. I watched players even before I got there like Chad Hall, who’s with the Kansas City Chiefs. I’ve talked with him about starting this route. Working with the coaches has helped. Playing at a service academy you get the opportunity to play around the country against great competition. The rivalries and heritage is something you can’t really put into words. We had a lot of success and it was great.”

What was your speciality in the Air Force.

“Business management was my major, and everybody graduates with Bachelors in Science. I wanted to get into the business side of things in the Air Force. I like my feet on the ground, so I wasn’t trying to be a pilot. I do logistics down here in Tampa. It is a great opportunity to work with every aspect of the Air Force. It is something I love to do and can see myself doing for awhile.”

The Air Force program has had a lot of success on the field and has been a regular in the postseason. You were a part of that, and you’ve had some coaches who have NFL experience.

“Absolutely, our head coach Troy Calhoun was with the Texans and Broncos before coming to the Academy. There have been others, and other graduates have played in the NFL. Some of our position coaches have that experience as well; they just gave us the opportunity to be the best football player [we could] be and give any potential future in the NFL some preparation as well. I feel very fortunate to have played for a staff like this, and in Tampa, I’ve worked with some NFL prospects.”

Have you had conversations with teams about workouts or visits leading up to the draft?

“I just sent my packages last week with my tape and bio and all that for NFL teams. Hopefully, I’ll hear something from that. Unfortunately, I tore up part of my hamstring at my pro day at Ohio State on March 7th. That kind of limited me in my workouts. I spent two months training really hard and getting ready working out in Orlando with Tom Shaw and those guys. I’ve been working day and night to get ready. I had some bad luck tearing it on my 40-yard dash, but I’ve been working to be ready if I get that call.”

That’s some bad luck, but at least it wasn’t a torn ACL. That could knock you out for an entire year.

“Yeah, I was putting up great numbers like I had wanted to before it happened, but bottom line, I’ll be back to where I was in about a month from now. I just got released from physical therapy to start training again, so I’m excited about that. This week, I’m back to training.”

What were you running in the 40 before the injury?

“The best one I had before the injury was a 4.43. I was putting up consistent 4.4s and 4.5s. My shuttle was what was really good. I set the record at Air Force running consistently a sub-four in that.”

How ready are you to go against the NFL veterans in OTAs and training camp?

“Right now, I’ve been training to switch positions to slot receiver from quarterback. No one is ever going to work harder than I am. I feel that working out with Tom Shaw and a bunch of guys who’ll be first-round picks. They’re top-level competition, and running around against them gives you confidence. At that level, everyone is such a high-level athlete; it is minor things that separate the best players. I feel confident that I can go in and compete at slot receiver or defensive back, special teams or wherever they need me.”

Have you done some work at safety and special teams?

“Well knowing how a guy like myself to get on a roster, I need to be a special teams guy at first. I’ve been working on total explosion and my hips to make sure my hips are extremely loose, and work on speed and ball skills, so I’m prepared to do all three. I feel that I can train where ever they want me at: receiver, return coverage. I’ve tried to make myself a total football player for a coach to transition me. I can pick up whatever they want me to.”

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