Every NFL team wants a franchise left tackle they can rely on to protect their quarterback. Pro-ready offensive linemen are going to be a hot commodity in this upcoming draft class. After all, the result of Super Bowl LV just proved why you can never have too many good offensive linemen.
That should make North Dakota State’s Dillon Radunz a top priority for many teams in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Radunz recently spoke exclusively with The Draft Network about his impressive career for the Bisons, his pre-draft training with former NFL offensive tackle Joe Staley, his experience at the Senior Bowl, the intricacies of playing the offensive tackle position, and what kind of player he’ll be at the next level.
JM: You grew up in a small town called Becker, which is about 46 miles northwest of Minneapolis. The population is less than 5,000. You unfortunately lost your father at a young age and you became the man of the house at just 12 years old. What are some of your earliest memories of life in Becker, Minnesota?
DR: It was obviously tough. What you said, that’s a pretty good summary right there. It’s a small town, but it’s a big football town. Football was a big outlet for me growing up.
Our dad actually moved us to the town of Becker specifically so that we could play football growing up. The football program there has been so successful.
Coping with the loss of my father, football was a big outlet for me. A lot of my father figures after my dad passed away were football coaches. I hung around football and stayed out of trouble. Losing my dad at a young age, it would have been easy for me to lash out and get in trouble. Sports kept me grounded.
A lot of my mentors were there for me. At the end of the day, football kept me on the right path. It kept me going in the right direction and it helped me become the man I am today.
JM: Football has led you to beautiful things. You had a terrific career at North Dakota State. You did a great job blocking for two very different quarterbacks in Trey Lance and Easton Stick. How did you alter your preparation while blocking for those two players?
DR: I was a young guy when I blocked for Stick. I was just trying to learn the offense and play mistake-free football. It was all about getting in-game experience with him. He made life super easy for me. He was a veteran for us. He’s incredibly smart. He’s a great player. I was a young guy and he took me under his wing. I had a lot of fun blocking for him. He always knew what the defense was throwing at us.
Blocking for Lance, I was the veteran guy now. He hadn’t played a game yet. I tried to be a big brother to him as an offensive lineman. We tried to block for him and let him do his thing. One thing led to another and he didn’t need a big brother anymore (laughs). He grew into his role as a leader so quickly. We protected him and let him work his magic.
His talent is off the charts. We were very successful because of it. He definitely gave us a different aspect. For me, they were very different experiences. I was the young guy when I blocked for Easton. I was just trying to feel my way around, whereas I was one of the older guys when Lance stepped in.
They were different players and experiences, but blocking for both of those guys was a huge pleasure. They’re both excellent athletes.
JM: You’re training down in Irvine, California with Eric Renaghan at Sanford Power Training. Eric has 10-plus years of experience as a strength and conditioning coach in the NHL and recently won the Stanley Cup with the St. Louis Blues. How’s the training process been going for you?
DR: We’ve been doing a lot of combine training now that the Senior Bowl is in the rearview mirror. We spent a lot of time preparing for my week down in Mobile, Alabama. It was very football focused when I was prepping for the Senior Bowl.
It’s a lot more drill oriented now that we’re preparing for the NFL Scouting Combine. Other than that, I’m enjoying the process. I’ve learned a lot from the guys down here. It’s a tight-knit family. We’re close to our agents down here in Irvine. It’s been a great, comfortable experience for us.
I’ve been training with former NFL offensive linemen Joe Staley as well. We’ve had coach Paul Alexander out here a few times. I’m picking everybody’s brain as I prepare for the next level. When I head to a rookie mini-camp, I’m going in well prepared. I won’t be completely blindsided. I’ll be able to adjust and adapt really quickly to the NFL program. The hope is to blend right in without any hiccups.
[Editor's Note: You can watch how Radunz works out by clicking here]
JM: It sounds like the training process is going incredibly well for you. I want to touch on your training with Joe Staley a bit more. What a terrific resource and person to have in your corner. What have you learned from him?
DR: Joe has been huge for us. He’s giving us a peek into the mindset of the NFL. He’s teaching us about the preferred schemes of the passing game and running game at the next level. He’s preparing us for what life in the locker room is like. He’s teaching us how the NFL studies film. All of that stuff is coming from a mindset perspective. It’s been great.
We’re also picking up on his skills and abilities. We can see why he had a 13-year NFL career. It’s very evident. I’m picking his brain every chance I get. We may be able to learn these lessons from our future coaches, but it comes off a little differently when it comes from an NFL pro. He’s sitting us down, watching film, and telling us, “This is what it felt like when I did it, this is what it’s supposed to look like, and this is why I did it” and things of that nature. Learning from him in that way has been huge.
JM: It sounds like he’s been of great value to you. You’re not alone at Sanford Power Training. You’re training alongside other draft hopefuls such as Samuel Cosmi, Spencer Brown, and Jared Hocker. I imagine that being around one another has really increased the level of competition within the camp.
DR: It for sure has. Ultimately, this is why we love playing this game. Competition drives every single one of us at the end of the day. We’ve all grown super close throughout this process.
We watched The Bachelor together last night. We’ve become close friends. We’re out here competing with one another. We’re pushing each other to become better players. If one of us is having a rough day, we’re there for another. We’re on our P’s and Q’s. We want the best for one another. Competing with those guys has been great for me. This entire process has been awesome.
JM: I just want to make sure that I heard that correctly. Did a bunch of 300-pound offensive linemen get together last night to watch The Bachelor?
DR: You got that right (laughs). It’s a fun show to watch together. We love reality TV. It’s hilarious.
JM: Who gets into it the most?
DR: We all enjoy it (laughs). We’re not super into it but [Texas offensive tackle] Sam Cosmi usually watches it with his girlfriend every week. We were able to watch it together the other night and we had a blast doing it.
JM: I love that. You touched on the Senior Bowl earlier. You went down there after playing just one game in 2020 due to COVID-19. What was the overall experience like?
DR: I had a lot of fun. You said it about my 2020 season. I’m used to playing a full season and being a little banged up around this time of year. I was fresh when I got down there. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been right now. I lifted weights during our time off, if you could call it that. I was able to work with Joe Staley like we talked about. I had a relaxed, fresh mindset and a strong, healthy body.
All of that stuff helped me out going into the week. I was obviously a little nervous to play against the top competition in the nation after so much time off. Once I suited up and had those first few practice reps, I was ready to go. It was fun.
That’s the only way I can describe it. After the first practice was in the books, I immediately grabbed my phone and texted my agent, “Man, that was fun.” I was glad to get back into it. I missed it so much. I only got one week of it. I can’t wait to get back into it this coming fall or summer if there’s a rookie mini-camp.
JM: You go down there after not really playing in 2020. What happens? Jim Nagy, the Director of the Senior Bowl names you the Overall Practice Player of the Week. What a terrific week you had.
I’ve touched on how much time off you had, but it also meant you went in cold against some of the best competition the nation has to offer. And some people would call you a “small school prospect,” not that NDSU is a small school in my books, but I’m sure you’ve heard it before. All of these things coming together really shows what an impressive week you had.
DR: For sure. It was a super huge honor to win that award. I mean, it was a huge honor just to receive an invitation. A big shout out and thank you goes to Jim Nagy for the opportunity.
Going down there, I knew which questions I wanted to put to bed. Why should we think Dillon Radunz can play at the next level when he comes from the FCS? NDSU has been successful, we won the National Championship at the FCS level. It’s a super successful program and not a small school by any means, just like you said.
But there’s still that question that everybody asks. Can he make the jump to the next level? I wanted to prove that I could play alongside those guys. I wanted to show people that I’m a great athlete. That I can handle the jump to the next level.
Those were the question marks that I felt surrounded me. I think I went down to the Senior Bowl and proved it to everybody in attendance.
JM: You absolutely did that. Who were some of your favorite edge rushers to do battle with in practice?
DR: I played against UNI so I was very familiar with Elerson Smith. He’s always been a great guy to go up against. He was about 25 pounds lighter when I played him in college, though (laughs). He’s clearly been working hard. It was impressive to see him out there. Playing against him at the Senior Bowl was very different from playing versus him in college. He’s a long guy and he’s taller than me. He has long arms and he’s very powerful. He’s a quick-twitch pass rusher. He’s gonna be a good player at the next level.
Daelin Hayes from Notre Dame was another good one. It was cool to go up against a lot of those big school guys. Rashad Weaver from Pittsburgh was another big one. The guy from Florida State [Janarius Robinson]—I didn’t practice against him but I played against him in the game. He’s a bigger guy. Going up against those longer, bigger, quick-twitch guys excites me. I love testing my ability against players of that stature.
JM: This has been terrific, Dillon. I’ve really appreciated your time today. I feel like you’ve allowed me to tell the full range of your draft story and I’m very thankful for that. In closing, and I know this is one of your goals, why is Dillon Radunz going to be the earliest offensive lineman to ever get drafted coming out of NDSU?
DR: Because of the village around me. We all produced this. I didn’t do this alone. It’s not just me. This happened through my faith, through the people around me, the people at NDSU, my high school coaches, and my mom. All of these people lifted me up. They all trained me and made me the person that I am today. Through that culmination of hard work and support, we made this happen.
The experience I received, watching NDSU consistently send players to the NFL, it’s all been a learning experience for me. I will continue to get better. The program at NDSU will continue to get better. I’m just thankful to be a part of that history and lineage.
You said it, it’s a goal of mine to get drafted early, but I hope that someday another offensive lineman comes from NDSU and gets drafted earlier than I do. That’s something I want to be a part of.
All of this says a lot about where I come from and the amazing people that I have in my life.