Kyle Auffray knows the odds are stacked against him.
Of the 9,000 football players who make it to the college level only 310 go on to receive an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine, per the NFL Players Association. Even fewer get selected in the NFL Draft.
But Auffray is attempting to achieve the unconventional, two years removed from an unremarkable collegiate career at the University of New Hampshire via transfer from Mississippi State and no NFL playing time to speak of after spending training camp with the Arizona Cardinals last year.
“I’ve been basically training full time,” he said. “I have a workout regimen that I’ve been sticking to. I’ve been running routes and catching balls and doing everything I need to. I’m in as good a shape as you can get. I can go through any workout a team would put me through and I’d be ready to go for OTAs tomorrow if they started.”
Auffray, a 6-foot-6, 252-pound tight end from Cornwall, N.Y., began his collegiate career as a quarterback on scholarship with the Mississippi State Bulldogs. But Auffray soon found himself on the outside looking in following a dislocated knee during his first few months on campus.
With four quarterbacks above him on the depth chart, Auffray knew it was time to look elsewhere for an opportunity to see the field and carve his path to the NFL.
“There was a coaching change,” he said. “Sylvester Croom was the head coach there and Dan Mullens from Florida came in and he was more of an option-running kind of guy. I wanted an opportunity to compete for playing time, so I decided it would be best for me to transfer to a school where I could get on the field and play some football.”
Auffray transferred to New Hampshire, where head coach Sean McDonnell asked him to make a position change to improve his chances of seeing the field. He was hesitant at first having always been a quarterback, but made the transition to tight end over time. He spent the final two years of his collegiate career for the Wildcats adapting to his new position.
It was a difficult change, but Auffray made it work and played in all 13 games his senior year. In an uptempo run-heavy offense not exactly tailored to high tight end production, he caught four passes for 34 yards and a touchdown.
But that’s not all Auffray did for the Wildcats during his senior season. With a hidden talent in his back pocket and a need on special teams, he competed for and won the team’s punting job.
“I had always punted in high school, it seems like the quarterback-punter combo was a common theme in high school,” he said. “I always would take reps as a punter and when an opportunity presented itself my senior year, I earned the starting spot as the punter in the spring.”
He punted 71 times for a respectable average of 37.7 yards per punt.
THE NEXT CHAPTER
Auffray embarked on a long, toilsome path following his graduation from New Hampshire, but it soon paid off.
He participated in the College Football Development League’s Euro-American Challenge in Poland where he was able to compete alongside NFL hopefuls and former NFL players like Laurence Maroney and Tony Simmons. As expected, the American team pummeled the European All-Stars, 34-7.
Despite being used primarily as a blocking tight end with just one full year of tight end experience under his belt at New Hampshire, Auffray has good hands and possesses surprising athleticism which put him on a lot of teams’ radars following his performance at the NFL Super Regional Combine two years in a row.
He starred at the 2013 Super Regional Combine in Dallas, clocking in at 4.57 seconds in the 40-yard dash, putting up 28 reps of 225 pounds on the bench and registering a 34-inch vertical leap.
For perspective, those numbers would’ve placed him within the top three in each category at this year’s NFL Combine in Indianapolis. His short shuttle (4.15) and three-cone drill times (6.72) would have been tops among all tight ends.
For his efforts, Auffray was awarded a contract as an undrafted free agent from the Arizona Cardinals in May.
Here’s what they had to say about him at SBNation’s Revenge of the Birds:
For a bigger body used primarily as a blocker in college, he does a decent enough job catching the ball. He ran a 4.73 40 a couple years ago and has been training hard this off-season to get back into the game, saying he’s in the best shape of his football life. A stand-out at the NFL’s Super Regional Combine, Auffray survived a field of over 2,600 other NFL hopefuls to reach the final event and parlayed that chance into a roster spot with the Cardinals. Pretty good for a guy who was ready to go play in Poland a few months ago.
“It’s been a dream of mine to play in the NFL,” he said. “I have the physical tools. I have the mental tools and I have the skill set. The only thing I need is the opportunity.”
Auffray made the most of his opportunity, participating in OTAs and mini camp and earning an invitation to join the team in training camp that July.
During that time, he was at the top of his game. He did all that was asked of him whether it was blocking, catching or special teams. He says he caught everything thrown his way—all 59 of 59 passes, noting that they do keep track of those stats like practice is one never-ending game. In a short span, he had all of the intricacies in head coach Bruce Arians’ complex offense downpat.
But the numbers game was not in his favor, and as one of seven tight ends in camp and the Cardinals in need on defense due to an abundance of injuries, Auffray’s first run in the NFL was over before it really took off.
“It’s a business and they have to make personnel moves that are in the best interest of the team,” he said. “You don’t have many opportunities and you better make the best of them. I learned a ton out there [in Arizona] and I think it’s really prepared me for whatever team picks me up next.”
THE ROAD AHEAD
Of course, Auffray is hopeful that next team will come calling soon. An injury derailed his last opportunity, when he hurt his hip running the 40-yard dash during a workout with the New York Giants shortly after being cut by Arizona.
The injury put him on the shelf for awhile and he did not return to full health until November. However, something from his workout with the New England Patriots prior to signing with the Cardinals stuck with him and has kept him optimistic.
“The week of the draft before I signed with Arizona, I had a private workout with the New England Patriots,” he said. “It was a very challenging workout and at the end of the workout [Patriots head coach] Bill Belichick walks over to me and told me, and his exact words were, ‘that was pretty impressive.’ For him, being a multi-Super Bowl winning, Hall of Fame coach to say that my skill set and my abilities were impressive kinda reinforced all the hard work and perseverance I’ve been through.”
Auffray has been striving hard to earn another chance in the NFL. He moved down to Greenville, South Carolina and has placed all his focus into training and preparing for another opportunity. Thanks to the money he earned during his short stint with the Cardinals, he’s been able to survive without a full-time job, though he does do some personal training work while also helping kids in the area.
In a recent workout, video shows that Auffray’s skills have not diminished. He clocked in with a solid 40-yard dash time between 4.66 and 4.71 seconds, benched 315 pounds for 16 reps and put his abilities as a receiver on display.
During a recent interview with The Football Educator’s Josh Elkin, Auffray compared himself to the Baltimore Ravens’ Dennis Pitta. He noted that both can do a multitude of things well, whether that be blocking, as a threat in the red zone or as a mismatch down the field for defensive backs. While Pitta’s a bit slimmer, Auffray possesses similar athletic traits with good quickness in and out of his routes and soft, underrated hands when catching the football.
Auffray hopes to live up to his comparison on the gridiron, but that will require a team to provide him an opportunity to do so first.
“I thought he should have been signed,” said Mike Hagen in an email conversation. Hagen is an NFL scouting consultant who saw Auffray work out at the NFL Super Regional Combine in 2012 and 2013. “He is big, athletic, can run and catch, and was very passionate about football.”
Auffray’s passion for football is obvious in speaking with him.
The 27-year-old cites two popular New York football icons, former Jets wide receiver Wayne Chrebet and legendary Giants tight end Mark Bavaro, as all-time favorites. His reasoning: their tough, blue-collar work ethic which helped make them the beloved fan favorites they grew to be during their professional careers.
His determination to land another job at the NFL level and the lengths he’s willing to go to attain that chance are equally as admirable. And it might just be the reason he’s given another chance this summer.
“He’s very knowledgeable in terms of what he’s trying to do as a tight end and with route running, but also in terms of what he’s trying to do scheme wise,” said Gus Ornstein, a former NFL quarterback who has worked extensively with Auffray and coached him at the 2013 Euro-American Challenge in Myrtle Beach last December. “I think with teams these days utilizing the tight ends in the NFL more and more. I think he’s in the mold of some of these guys you see catching the passes. I can see him as somebody you put in motion to block because he’s big and physical. I can see him as a somebody can split into the slot occasionally because he moves well. And then from a regular tight end spot, he’s certainly a guy that could stretch the field for you.
“He’s a great target based on his size alone. I see a guy who fits the mold of what so many are these teams are going for today in the NFL and there’s no doubt in my mind that he can help somebody.”
Hagen and Ornstein both did note that, should Auffray get passed over by an NFL team, a trip up to the CFL would greatly benefit him but that there should ultimately be a place for him on an NFL roster. He has little gamefilm to show for himself and soon, his youth and athleticism won’t be enough to attract an NFL team without visual evidence of his abilities on the football field.
Auffray knows time is working against him, but he’s not ready to give up on his dream yet. He’s working hard and is driven toward proving he can be a key contributor to an NFL team’s success.
He has the skill set and physical tools that have helped tight ends like Antonio Gates, Rob Gronkowski and Greg Olsen develop into NFL superstars. All he wants is one more opportunity.
“I didn’t get let go in Arizona because of lack of talent or lack of ability,” Auffray said. “I’m a hard-working guy. I do all the right things off the field. I’m very knowledgeable of offenses and defenses, and I know how to study film. I am very versatile, I’ve played quarterback, receiver, tight end, punter and H-back. I’ve done it all. … A team has nothing to lose with me and everything to gain.”