Meet Tanner Conner, Idaho State’s under-the-radar WR prospect

·12 min read

If you want a size-speed combination at wide receiver, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who fits the bill in the 2022 NFL draft quite like Idaho State’s Tanner Conner.

A 6-foot-3, 226-pound weapon with a 4.37 40-yard dash, a 39.5-inch vertical jump and an accomplished collegiate track background, Conner’s level of explosiveness stands out on screen when you watch his tape. He solidified himself as a dangerous deep threat at the FCS level during his time at Idaho State, and he looks to carry that level of play in the NFL.

Draft Wire had the chance to speak exclusively with Conner about being a two-sport athlete in college, his time at the Shrine Bowl, a possible transition to tight end, and more.

JI: Not only are you a standout football player, but you’re also an accomplished track athlete. How did you manage to pull off two collegiate sports, and play both of them at such a high level?

TC: It was an ambitious decision to be a dual-sport athlete at the collegiate level, but I’m grateful that I did it. It was a lot of hard work, and there’s a lot of time management involved, especially between the two different coaching staffs, but it ended up working out really well. In the fall, you do football, at Idaho State, we’ve never really ended up making the playoffs, so we were done by Thanksgiving. And then, after Thanksgiving week, that’d be my week off to start indoor track training. From there, I do indoor track through February, then outdoor track starts in March and goes through June, and during that time, I split time with spring football, as well. After track is over, you got the summer, and then you start football workouts again, so I don’t really have an offseason. Track and football both kept me in shape for each other’s sport, so it always worked out pretty well for me.

JI: I can imagine that has to build quite a work ethic.

TC: Absolutely. I had to [have a good work ethic], especially during the springtime. I had to coordinate my weeks in advance just to know what I was going to do, which practice I was gonna do on which day, whether I’m doubling up on practices one day, or do every other day alternating, but the time has been both track football, and then obviously, school. It’s gonna help me a lot at the next level. You got to worry about school or another sport, so it’s a good training ground for me.

JI: You came into Washington’s pro day workout as an outsider, and ended up stealing the show. How did that feel, to be able to perform as well as you did?

TC: Yeah, I mean, that was a great opportunity for me. Cameron Foster, my agent, did a fantastic job of giving me the opportunity to go there. Initially, I was going to do Idaho State, but University of Washington didn’t have any receivers coming out, and I lived within the general vicinity. They were able to let me in, and I was able to hook up with Patrick O’Brien beforehand and get some chemistry with him. Then, just going into the pro day, [I] just wanted to do the best I could, show out in front of some really good draft picks, because University of Washington has some good DBs coming out this year. Just being able to show out metrically wise with those guys, that was huge, because now scouts here, see me compared to some bigger-school guys. The exposure was great for me. I’m super grateful for the opportunity.

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

JI: With you being a bigger receiver, teams had you participating in some tight end drills. Has there been any indication that teams might want you to make that switch?

TC: I’ve only talked to a few teams, but a few teams are pretty dead set on me playing tight end, which I’m totally fine with; it’s just something I have to learn. When I had to do the drills at the end, that was a learning experience. For me, it was something new I’ve never done before, but I understand the basics of tight end and blocking schemes and stuff like that, so for me, the transition would be almost a good thing. I would be learning from the beginning with really good coaching; I wouldn’t be learning any bad habits or improper technique, beginning learning tight end blocking schemes. That would be great, because I would start with really good coaching and then be able to take off from there without creating bad habits, so it could be a blessing in disguise for me. with my skill set, my metrics, I’m kind of an anomaly. There’s really no real true comparisons with me in the NFL right now, and so, with my see my size and my speed, I can be used as a mismatch nightmare in the NFL against linebackers, so I’m totally cool with that. I know some teams looking at both, maybe like a flex receiver where I can play power slot, but some things will be full-time tight end.

JI: A lot of tight ends are evolving to the point where you’re basically a big slot receiver, so that could be enticing to NFL teams with your skill set, right?

TC: Yeah, absolutely. I think some teams…I was talking to some coaches, and they always told me that we’re never gonna make you do something that we know you can’t do. You’re not gonna have to block 280-pound defensive ends by yourself, you’ll be double teaming [them], or if we want you to block some by yourself, it will be a linebacker. Now, if you run routes, they’re not going to put me [in an uncomfortable position]. They’re going to use my skill set, my ability, for a benefit for the offense. So that’s really enticing for a lot of teams, and I’m excited for it.

JI: You also had the chance to go down to the East-West Shrine Game a few months ago. How was that experience for you?

TC: Yeah, it was all a little daunting at first, because as a smaller-school guy, you come in, you see all the bigger school helmets, and you see all these big names that are gonna go play at the next level and be drafted really high. For me the first few days, I just figured out that, once I realized that I could play with everybody else there, I gained a lot of confidence, especially in the 1-on-1 periods and the team periods. I just felt like, at the end of the day, the sticker on the helmet didn’t matter anymore, in that I knew that I could play with any of those guys. That was a huge confidence booster for me. I learned a lot from my coaches, learning a true NFL offensive scheme, and then how NFL teams operate practice-wise, so it was a great experience for me. I learned a lot, and I think it was a good primer for the next level.

JI: Which wide receivers have you grown up idolizing?

TC: It was interesting for me, because I grew up a Seahawks fan, and so I love watching Doug Baldwin as a kid. I think he was one of the most technically sound receivers in the league. He’s really underrated. His releases and route running is something that would have been big time if he were still playing today. But I get to college [at] 180 pounds also that put on 50 pounds, and so now I have to start looking at bigger receivers who move a little bit differently. Guys I used to watch quite a bit were DK Metcalf, Julio Jones, AJ Brown and Chase Claypool; bigger receivers who use their physicality in the frame to box people out and to use different types of speed to get up on corners, eat up cushion. I’ve been sticking to watching the bigger receivers, but you’re probably gonna start watching some more tight end film now. It’s still good to watch the bigger receivers, because there’s honestly a gray line now between a big receiver and a smaller tight end. They kind of do the same thing nowadays, so I tried to watch guys I know I can relate to and I know my skill set more matches towards the NFL.

(Matt Herp/Standard-Examiner via AP)

JI: A lot of people projected Chase Claypool into that receiver-tight end hybrid like you coming out, right?

TC: Yeah, I don’t think I’m gonna have a true position. I think that I’ll be someone they use in a variety of ways, like you mentioned. I think I’ll be big on special teams, as well. Obviously, I think that’ll be my in to the NFL. But they’ll be able to just use me in a lot of different ways. I won’t be like a true X or a true tight end; I’ll be kind of a flex just because of my body type, my metrics. I’m in between every single category, so I think I’ll be used a lot of ways.

JI: Do you think a guy with your size and speed definitely should be enticing on special teams for NFL coaches?

TC: Yeah, one of the biggest question marks for me from scouts is that I didn’t have much special teams experience in college because my coaches didn’t want me getting hurt as the No. 1 offensive guy. What I ended up doing is practicing on every single special teams [unit]. I was a backup on all four teams, and so I practice punt every single day, I’d be on punt return, on kickoff, the kickoff return stuff. I wanted to learn how to do it, as well. I enjoyed doing special teams in a competition for myself. I finally got the opportunity at the Shrine Bowl to actually do some special teams work, and so I was on the punt team, the kickoff team, I was playing kickoff return, so I had a lot of fun doing that. It was really easy for me because I had practiced it my entire college career, and so it just translated instantly to the field or through drills and stuff. I excelled in a lot of those drills, I showed out, because with me, I’m big enough to block at the end on punts, I’m also fast enough to run on the field and cover it, so I think that’s where I’m going to really shine in the NFL is that I’ll be able to do a lot of different things on different special teams while being able to develop as an offensive player.

JI: How do you like to spend your free time outside of football?

TC: Me and my entire family, we’re all sport oriented, so as we got more and more in sports, we try and detach by finding different hobbies. What I love to do in my free time is I play video games with my friends and my brothers, and so that’s usually how I detach from football. Other than that, I’m actually a big anime fan. I know a lot of athletes, lots of other players will watch anime, so I’ll dig into that, as well.

JI: Do you have any anime recommendations? I just caught up with “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure” and “One Punch Man.”

TC: Some easier short ones that you can watch like “Jujutsu Kaisen,” and then “Demon Slayer” I would recommend; that’s my favorite. If you want something that’s going to take you forever to watch, “Naruto” is the GOAT of all anime, so there’s a lot, but “Demon Slayer” is [my] all-time favorite right now. I love that series. It’s really good.

JI: Let’s say I’m an NFL general manager. What would I be getting if I drafted you to my team?

TC: You’re getting a guy who’s very willing to help the team in any way they can, whether that’s being the guy that’s needed to play on offense, or close to being a role player. I have the unique willingness to just be able to be on a team and help them to be better. I grew up with a lot of obstacles, and I was never really a true star of anywhere I was. I was always trying to work and grind to get to where I had to be, and so I’m just happy to have the opportunity to play in the NFL. Any GM is gonna get a guy who’s willing to do whatever the coaches need me to do. I’m going to be extremely level-headed on and off the field. I’m not going to be too high on big plays, I’m not going to dwell on bad plays. [I’m] somebody who’s going to be really mature in the locker room and mature on the field and understand relationships between coaches and players and just [be] super willing to make the team better, so I think I’ll be an easygoing guy and real comfortable guy.

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2022 NFL draft rankings: The Draft Wire 300