Dustin Keller put on a show in his last appearance at Purdue's Ross-Ade Stadium.
The former Boilermakers standout, who caught a career-high 68 passes last season, took in the draft from a suite in the stadium with his family and close friends. Late in Round 1, he got a call from New York and was informed he was going to be a Jet.
"When I got the phonecall, I was sitting there and I was really excited talking to Coach Mangini on the phone," he said. "But at the same time, my facial expression, I was trying to make it look like I was really upset."
Keller didn't let anyone in on what was going on. They had no idea the Jets, who traded up to get the Packers' first-round selection, were going to take the 6'2", 248-pound tight end.
"Every single time somebody gets a phonecall when they're watching the draft, you realize, 'OK, they're the next person who's going to get drafted,' " he said. "I didn't want to mess up the excitement for everybody, so I tried to pretend I was real mad, like nothing was going on. When they said my name, everybody was like, 'I can't believe you were messing with me like that.' "
The Jets would like to see Keller mess with opposing defenses in the fall. A wonderfully gifted athlete, his 142 career catches and 1,882 receiving yards rank third and second respectively all-time among Purdue tight ends.
"Everybody thinks I did a lot of moving around and a lot of lining up in the slot, but 90 percent of the time I was lined up on the line in your traditional tight end role," he said. "Anything you ever hear about me, it's like, 'He's a move guy. That's all he does.'
"But I actually very rarely lined up in the slot until maybe the last couple of games. I think that's something that made me better myself, lining up in that traditional spot and also towards the end of the year moving around. I think that gave me the opportunity and the ability to play more positions."
After totaling 124 receptions in the Big Ten the past two seasons, Keller probably ranked high on most teams' draft boards back in January. But by the time the Indy combine was complete, he cemented his status as the top tight end in the draft with an excellent showing. In addition to interviewing well, Keller ran a 4.55 in the 40-yard dash and a 4.14 in the 20-yard shuttle, vertical-jumped 38" and broad-jumped 10'11".
"You're just sitting there taking these tests all day long, so it got really old. Then you got to do some things that were football-related as far as just running and getting to catch some passes and things like that," he said. "That was the coolest thing. Being able to compete against the top athletes at your position — there really is nothing better."
The knock on Keller is his blocking or lack thereof, but he doesn't mind the skeptics' chatter. This is a kid who didn't get much attention from big schools despite finishing as a runnerup for Indiana's top receiver award at Jefferson High School. And when he arrived at Purdue, he was just a 185-pound receiver who hadn't lifted much iron.
But Keller is determined and has always accepted a challenge. He knows what people are saying about his blocking and he's out to prove them wrong.
"I love it. I love people saying I can't do something. Every level of football I've played at, I've always had somebody say I can't do something and I've proved them wrong," he said. "It's so much more of a motivator than anything. I really have been low-key at every single level until now. Now seeing that the Jets have drafted me in the first round, I guess the expectations are starting off a little higher than they were before."
The Green & White had an interesting draft with receiving targets. Marcus Henry, a 6'4" wideout taken in the sixth round, has some good ups, and Keller is no slouch, either. His high jump of 6'9" in the rain his senior year of high school gave him a state championship.
"My junior year, I lost to Rodney Carney — 6'10". It kind of left me with a sour taste in my mouth and I was really upset I didn't get a chance to beat Rodney, but he's playing with the Philadelphia 76ers now," Keller said. "He is a pretty good athlete, so I can't be too mad."
The Jets will work with Keller on his blocking, but they'll just be polishing him up on his receiving skills. Head coach Eric Mangini, a former defensive coordinator, knows what a player with Keller's ability can do to a defense.
"It's difficult because he's faster than your average big guy and there's the stress he can put on you defensively, especially down the middle of the field," Mangini said. "If you want to cover him with a defensive back, that may be a function of having to rotate down opposite the run strength to get the defensive back to cover him. Or if you want to substitute and put a defensive back in the game in lieu of a linebacker, then you've got some size mismatches there."
In short, Keller does have some showman ability.