Caleb Wilson’s NFL combine performance likely will earn him more attention from teams

UCLA tight end Caleb Wilson runs a drill at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis on Saturday.
(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

There were 21 tight ends at the NFL scouting combine that concluded Monday, and Caleb Wilson went there with a goal.

“Just want to show I’m as good as anybody in the draft,” the UCLA standout said from a podium last week, about midway through his four-day stay in Indianapolis. “Show that I’m a complete player and I can block and catch and run.”

Wilson left the combine Saturday after a performance that might make NFL teams take a longer look at him during the run-up to the April 25-27 draft.

He clocked a time of 4.56 seconds in the 40-yard dash, second-fastest for tight ends.


“He probably wasn’t a household name, but that will force teams to go back and maybe take another look,” said an NFL scout, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about draft prospects.

Wilson, 6 feet 4¼ and 240 pounds, still must convince NFL teams that he can block effectively and provide a physical presence, the scout said. But his 40-yard dash time — second only to the 4.50 seconds run by Iowa tight end Noah Fant — is a positive as Wilson prepares for UCLA’s Pro Day.

Wilson’s road to a possible NFL career included college stops at USC and UCLA as he transitioned from a high school quarterback into a pro prospect at tight end.

Wilson had played quarterback in high school in Mississippi and Georgia before his father, Chris, was hired as USC’s defensive line coach in January 2014. Caleb, who had made an oral commitment to play in college at Old Dominion, enrolled at Gardena Serra High for his senior season and played quarterback and tight end.

About a month before what was then national signing day, he announced he would attend USC as a walk-on.

Wilson redshirted as a freshman in 2015, his tuition waived as the child of a USC employee. But when his father was fired after the 2015 season, he sought opportunity and funding elsewhere.

“At that point, I was like, ‘OK, I need to go find some tuition. I need to go find some things for myself,’ ” he said.

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Wilson considered going to play quarterback at Old Dominion, but then contacted Marques Tuiasosopo, a former USC tight ends coach who had joined UCLA’s staff as quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator.

“I called and said, ‘Hey, I’m thinking of going back to Old Dominion and playing quarterback: What do you think?’ ” Wilson said. “He was like, ‘Give me a week.’

“I waited, and the next thing you know he told me he had a scholarship for me at UCLA.”

In 2016, Wilson played on special teams and caught 16 passes for 220 yards for the Bruins.

A year later, he got off to a fast start, catching 15 passes for 208 yards in a season-opening comeback victory over Texas A&M. But Wilson suffered a season-ending broken foot in the fifth game against Colorado and finished with 38 catches for 490 yards and a touchdown.

Last season, under new coach Chip Kelly, Wilson caught 60 passes for 965 yards, the most receptions and yards by a tight end in UCLA history.

“It was awesome,” he said of his UCLA experience. “They treated me well. They welcomed me with open arms as soon as I transferred in, so I’m really thankful to UCLA.”

He has remained close with former USC teammates as well.

“All the USC guys were super supportive of me and we have a great relationship to this day,” he said. “They knew getting a scholarship for me was huge, so they were really happy.

“I’m, obviously, competitive. They beat us two times and we beat them the last year so it was good.”

Wilson declared for the NFL draft in early December. He was a late addition to the Senior Bowl before his final weeks of preparation for the combine.

Wilson said his father, the Philadelphia Eagles defensive line coach from 2016 through last season, helped prepare him for the combine process.

“He definitely prepped me on some of the interview-type things,” Wilson said. “He gave me a heads up on how it is, and how the communication will be — how fast and up-tempo it is.

“And everything went well.”

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein