Tyler Varga signs with Colts, but Yale’s NFL Draft drought reaches 34 years

Tyler Varga,  projected to be selected in the later rounds of the NFL Draft, now is expected to sign as an undrafted free agent. (Yale Athletics photos)

By the end of the 2015 NFL Draft, Tyler Varga hoped to become the highest player selected from Yale in decades.

Since 2001, only four Bulldogs were drafted, all in the sixth or seventh round. The highest selection since 1980 was linebacker Jeff Rohrer, a second-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 1982.

But Varga’s immediate focus wasn’t on which NFL coaches or scouts he’s impressed during interviews at the Senior Bowl or NFLScouting  Combine, but rather the doctors and PhDs he must impress during a 15-minute thesis presentation Monday on a potential Type 2 Diabetes breakthrough he’s been working on with a team of students and researchers at Yale.

“I’m bearing down and getting everything organized and putting the final touches,” Varga said of his 30-page thesis. “I gotta know what I’m talking about.”

Varga, a running back, who currently has a 3.57 GPA, also has two speeches to polish and a 20-page paper on the evolution of the human shoulder to finalize before his graduation next month with a degree in ecology and evolutionary biology.

“It’s really neat,” Varga said of his final projects. “You want to do something that has an impact and is potentially significant.”

Varga, though, has done that on and off the field for Yale, assistant head coach Larry Ciotti said.

Born in Sweden and raised in Canada, Varga started his collegiate football career at the University of Western Ontario then transferred to Yale.

“It’s like heaven dropped him on my lap,” Ciotti said.

A three-time all-Ivy League selection, Varga finished third in school history with 31 rushing touchdowns and fourth with 2,985 career rushing yards. Last season, he averaged 142 rushing yards per game and scored a school-record 26 touchdowns.

The first Yale athlete invited to the Senior Bowl in 60 years, Varga didn’t disappoint. He was named the North team captain, scored on two of his four carries and caught three passes for 39 yards.

Due to a minor ankle injury at the combine in Indianapolis, Varga postponed his 40-yard dash until Yale’s Pro Day. The result: 29 NFL teams in attendance … and an apology from one team that couldn’t make it due to pre-planned draft meetings.

“It’s safe to say that it’ll be the most highly attended pro day for a Yale football player in 50 years,” Varga’s agent, Joe Linta, who graduated from Yale and represents players such as Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, said last month.

On March 31, Varga ran in the 4.6-second range in the 40-yard dash, and he jumped 38 ½ inches high. He also weighed in at 225 pounds.

Though the 40 time was solid, Varga is projected as a tweener, meaning he could play running back or fullback.

Ciotti, however, insisted that Varga is a running back and noted that his charge was at a disadvantage, relative to other draftable running backs.

“You have to remember, he is pre-med, and so he wasn’t training full-time (like other rookies) before the Senior Bowl, Combine or his Pro Day,” Ciotti said. “I don’t think they’ve seen what he can do yet.

“He’s going to surprise people.”

Varga was projected to be selected in rounds 5-7 but was not. However, he signed Sunday with the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent and wants to play in the NFL for a long time.

“It’s the best game in the world,” Varga said of football. “I’ve been playing it since I was 8 years old. I love the physical aspects of the game, as well as the mental aspects,” he said. “I’ve got different interests, but this is my No. 1 passion.”

As a pre-med student, Varga was asked about the risks of playing football.

“There are a certain set of risks you assume when you play any sport, especially a contact sport,” he said. “Those are a given. I’ve been taking those risks my entire career, and I plan to keep taking those risks.

“I love the game and want to play the game as long as I can, as long as my body permits.”

Above: Yale’s Tyler Varga (Yale Athletics photos)

Sean Jensen

Sean Jensen is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis.