In the middle of an offensive wasteland the size of the Atacama Desert, tight end Steven Scheu was a rare oasis for Vanderbilt in 2014. The then-junior was the focal point of the Commodore passing offense and the only target Johnny McCrary could reach on a regular basis.
That 525-yard campaign made Scheu an all-conference selection and a rising factor on 2016 draft boards. Then, a series of ill-timed drops and a reduced role in the Commodore offense made him an afterthought in the SEC. His lackluster senior season kept him off mock drafts and made him an NFL afterthought despite his Sunday credentials
But Scheu can be a valuable vertical target at the next level
At 6'5 and around 250 pounds, Scheu turned in a 4.65 40-yard dash at Vanderbilt's pro day that showcased his blend of size and athleticism. That straight line speed made him a dangerous target up the seam for the 'Dores. Here, he shows off his ability to shake off a linebacker and adjust to the ball while its in the air to record a 25+ yard gain against Missouri.
Here, he adjusts his route while his quarterback scrambles and shows he isn't afraid to absorb big hits, either.
And, possibly most impressively, he creates enough space and separation to be a big enough target that even walking skeleton Stephen Rivers could find.
Scheu was an adequate blocker and a downfield threat for a Commodore team that lacked both. That made him a standout player in 2014. While Latevius Rayford and C.J. Duncan provided some measure of help on the sideline, Scheu was Vandy's go-to man over the middle. And the 'Dores QB sampler platter of Rivers, McCrary, Patton Robinette, and Wade Freebeck went to him often. He caught 39 passes for 525 yards and four touchdowns in 12 games.
More importantly, Scheu's landmark performances came against legitimate competition. The tight end had seven games in which he recorded 50 or more receiving yards as an upperclassman. All seven game against SEC rivals. Not only was Scheu finding seams and creating the separation needed to gain first downs, he was doing it against some of the nation's toughest defenses.
But the Waterworld of senior seasons sunk Scheu's draft stock
After garnering all-conference honors in 2014, Scheu fell off hard in the follow up. Despite marginally more consistent quarterback play, he recorded only 27 receptions for 240 yards. His yards per catch dropped by more than 34 percent and he no longer represented a downfield threat for VU.
So how much of a letdown was Scheu's 2015? Currently, if you search USA Today images for the tight end, you get four shots of him dropping passes in the first six results. The fifth is a Western Kentucky defender jumping over him to make an interception. The sixth finally shows Scheu hauling in a pass.
Scheu went from the only option in a sputtering Vanderbilt offense to its third or fourth choice. His drops skyrocketed and his receptions dropped. He was responsible for 24.4 percent of the team's receiving yardage as a junior. Last season, that share fell to 11.2. Despite the limited output, he still earned an invitation to play in the East-West Shrine Bowl. Scheu only managed a single reception for four yards in the exhibition.
That was devastating for the draft stock of a player like Scheu, who relied on his production on an otherwise impotent offense to cover up questions about his speed and athleticism. NFL teams are willing to overlook a prodding but effective tight end, but Scheu's struggle with dodgy hands and Saturday disappearing acts pulled him from scouts' radars and mock drafts across the internet.
His status stagnated until his eye-opening performance at Vanderbilt's pro day. That 4.6 40 speed should help assuage concerns about his ability to stretch the field, and there's plenty of tape to showcase his ability to create passing windows despite being picked up by linebackers or safeties downfield.
The good news for Scheu is that the 2016 NFL Draft class is weak on tight ends -- and his pro day results puts him near the top of them. As the Tennessean notes, his 40 time and bench press performance would have placed him second among all players at the position at this year's Draft Combine. Any scout who overlooks his weak 2015 will see a big, elusive tight end who finds holes in opposing defenses and creates first down opportunities.
The bigger issue is finding out what caused his senior slump. An undisclosed injury? A mental block? The mounting frustration of playing with approximately two dozen below average quarterbacks?
Whatever it is, any NFL team that invests a draft pick on him will be betting it's just temporary.