When you think of the Mountain West Conference and a 2022 NFL Draft tight end, the mind rightfully flows to Colorado State’s Trey McBride. But what if I told you there was another TE in the conference worthy of your attention? Let me introduce you to San Diego State’s very own Daniel Bellinger. Bellinger’s scouting report shows a player not only worthy of attention but mid-round NFL Draft consideration.
Daniel Bellinger NFL Draft Profile
- Position: tight end
- School: San Diego State
- Current Year: Senior
- height: 6’4 1/4″
- weight: 253 pounds
- Wingspan: 77 5/8″
- Arm: 32 1/2″
- Hand: 10″
Daniel Bellinger’s Scouting Report
Outside of 2010 and 2016, the Aztecs have had at least one player drafted each year of the last decade. This year, they have two surefire draftees in Bellinger and EDGE Cameron Thomas. Although Thomas, nicknamed the “Aidan Hutchinson of the Mountain West,” will assuredly hear his name called before the big-bodied TE, Bellinger shouldn’t be too far behind.
After four years with the Aztecs (last three as a starter), Bellinger is still only 21 years old. He has room to grow, both physically and mentally, making his scouting report that much more intriguing. Bellinger was on the Shrine Bowl team’s radar, but he ultimately accepted an invite to the prestigious Senior Bowl. Although he didn’t produce in the game, he shined in practice. In fact, Bellinger was named the top TE on the American Team by the DL, LB, and DB groups.
Following his all-star circuit performance, the SDSU TE was en route to the NFL Combine. There, he was one of the best all-around performers at the position. At a rocked-up 6’4 1/4″ and 253 pounds, he produced a 4.63 40-yard dash, 34.5″ vertical, 10’5″ broad, 7.05 three-cone, 4.47 short shuttle, and 22 bench reps. His testing numbers culminated in a 9.65 Relative Atheltic Score (RAS), showcasing impressive physical tools.
Bellinger is a ready-made “Y” or inline tight end. He is experienced as a run blocker, possesses above-average overall athleticism, and has some of the best hands in the class. The San Diego State TE can slide into a TE2 role early and be a long-term contributor. He isn’t the receiving weapon that will threaten defenses all over the field, but teams that run 12 personnel could use Bellinger from Day 1.
Where Bellinger wins
SDSU’s offensive scheme was run first, RPOs second, and run again. Thus, Bellinger’s usage as a receiver was far from what NFL teams will ask of him. He rarely pushed vertically, owning a 3.7 average depth of target in 2021 (7.1 career). However, his low aDOT allowed him to prove he can get up field in a hurry and has some short-area quickness to his game. He averaged 9.1 yards after the catch last season, forcing a few missed tackles.
Bellinger is your prototypical tight end with an NFL build that is tough to bring down. The San Diego State product is already a solid run blocker. But with improved technique, he can take his ability to new heights. He may not have the overwhelming strength to drive defenders back, but Bellinger can seal in the ground game, flipping his hips and walling off edge rushers.
As a receiver, there is no other place to begin than with Bellinger’s strong, reliable 10″ hands. He looks passes in and didn’t bobble a reception in the film studied. He can high-point receptions over defenders and maintain control through the ground, making him an exceptional red-zone and contested-catch threat. Additionally, Bellinger has a good feel against zone, slipping into holes for easy receptions.
Based on those attributes alone, Bellinger can be a reliable pass catcher and safety blanket for QBs. While he doesn’t always play to his 40 time, the SDSU TE can attack the seams on occasion. He’s also quick to transition up field underneath. He gets up to top speed with long strides, and his fluid hips/swift feet make for clean breaks at the top of routes. Lastly, Bellinger has significant special-teams experience on kick returns, point coverage, and field-goal units.
Areas for improvement
While I believe Bellinger can be a long-term NFL contributor, there are some areas he can improve. As a run blocker, he needs to maintain leverage before standing up to drive. On occasions, he overextends when reaching for edge rushers, shifting his weight over toes. Thus, defenders can easily discard him with a pull move. I would love to see a bit more aggression in his blocks to kick opponents out rather than reach a standstill at the apex.
Furthermore, the SDSU TE can miss some cutoff blocks due to poor angles, and his hand speed/placement could be more consistent. In the receiving game, Bellinger isn’t too elusive after the catch. He can make an over-pursuing first defender miss and pick up yardage with long strides.
However, Bellinger lacks wiggle and creativity in space. He’s more of a one-speed receiver, and while he can be a threat on crossers and in the seams, Bellinger won’t create many mismatches outside of his size. Moreover, he never reached 360+ receiving yards. Now, much of that is due to San Diego State’s scheme, but the lack of production will be a concern for NFL teams.
When split out, Bellinger could stand taller and take his hands off his knee for more efficient movement off the snap. He’s a bit raw as a route runner and lacks hip sink at the break. Additionally, he won’t set up defenders or do much more than get open with contact.
Bellinger’s Player Profile
Bellinger was a three-sport player at Palo Verde High School in Las Vegas, Nevada. On the gridiron, he played on both sides of the ball as a linebacker and tight end. In his junior year, Bellinger recorded 61 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 sack, earning All-Conference honors. But on offense, he caught just 6 passes for 54 yards.
The summer before his senior campaign, Bellinger committed to San Diego State. He battled between the Aztecs and the Navy Midshipmen, as Bellinger’s grandfather (1956) and great grandfather (1932) both graduated from the Naval Academy.
On how close the decision was, Bellinger said, “Very close. I definitely had a tough time trying to decide. My grandpa was on my phone every day trying to push me to go to the Naval Academy. Both were great opportunities, so I was blessed to have both. I was very close to going to the Naval Academy, but I couldn’t really beat the weather in San Diego, and it was close to home.”
As a senior, Bellinger led the team with 131 tackles (10 for loss), 3 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. Offensively, he pulled in 21 catches for 371 yards and 3 TDs. The future Aztec received All-State recognition for both positions, as well as an All-Conference nod at LB.
Further adding to his résumé, Bellinger was a second-team All-Conference forward on the basketball court. Moreover, he ran track, setting personal highs in the 100 meters (11.04), 200 meters (23.04), and 400 meters (51.96). He was also a part of a 4×100 relay team that would finish third in the 2018 state championships.
Bellinger’s Career at San Diego State
According to the 247Sports Composite, Bellinger was a two-star recruit and the 14th-best in Nevada. Some programs recruited him as a linebacker, with others viewing him as a tight end. Despite competing offers from Weber State, Navy, UNLV, and a late bid from Cal, Bellinger did not waver on his commitment. He signed with the Aztecs in December 2017.
Bellinger spent his first year on campus fully transitioning to the tight end position and building on his frame. His work was quickly rewarded, as he became the team’s starter as a true sophomore. Although San Diego State’s run-heavy system didn’t allow the rising TE to showcase his pass-catching prowess, he leaves school with 68 receptions, 761 yards, and 5 touchdowns.
Off the field, Bellinger excelled as well. He was a four-time member of the Mountain West Fall All-Academic Team and will graduate with a degree in business administration with an emphasis in finance.
What they’re saying about Bellinger
“In talking to NFL offensive coaches, ‘complete’ tight ends have renewed value for teams that want to have play versatility in 11 personnel. [Daniel Bellinger] is already a great pass catcher. Awesome run blocker too.” — Shrine Bowl director of football operations/player personnel Eric Galko
“Finally seeing SDSU’s Daniel Bellinger in-person — saving one of best for last. Big-framed Y (6052v, 252 lbs) catches it clean & easy and he torques dudes around on the LOS.” — Senior Bowl Executive Director Jim Nagy
Bellinger’s NFL Draft Ascension
Truly, there isn’t much not to like with Bellinger’s tape. He simply gets the job done and will do whatever is asked of him. That’s why I believe he will play in the NFL for years to come. He reaches — and in some cases — surpasses the size and athleticism thresholds for the position. Nevertheless, his lack of exceptional juice and production will limit his ceiling on draft day.
I project Bellinger as an early-Day 3 selection, somewhere in the fourth/fifth-round range. His tape reminds me of former LSU and current Raiders TE Foster Moreau — with better strength and pass-catching ability.
- Moreau (2019 Combine): 6’4″, 253 pounds, 33 1/2″ arms, 9 5/8″ hands, 4.66 40-yard dash, 36.5″ vertical, 10’1″ broad, 7.16 three-cone, 22 bench reps
- Bellinger (2022 Combine): 6’4 1/4″, 253 pounds, 32 1/2″ arms, 10″ hands, 4.63 40-yard dash, 34.5″ vertical, 10’5″ broad, 7.05 three-cone, 22 bench reps
They match up well physically, and LSU utilized Moreau as a blocker first, similar to SDSU and Bellinger. Moreau ultimately went in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, and I believe Bellinger will fall in the same range — if not a bit higher in a lighter TE class.
As for teams already linked to the Aztecs product, the Titans hosted Bellinger on an official 30 visit, and both the 49ers and Packers spent time with him at the Combine. Each team could maximize Bellinger’s skill set and have needs at the position. So, look out for one of them to select the San Diego State TE on the draft’s third day.