Dillon Radunz’s collegiate success almost never was; at least not in the way it’s now known. Radunz, a 2-star recruit out of Becker Senior High School in Becker, Minnesota, was initially going to be North Dakota State University’s (NDSU) “next great 3-technique,” head coach Matt Entz recalled.
Radunz was athletic but was at the bottom end of the 2016 class; he was ranked 3,828th in that cycle. As the recruiting process unfolded, NDSU was lacking depth on the offensive line. Radunz, who played both sides of the ball in high school, starting at left tackle and defensive end, quickly and surprisingly was firmly cemented in the Bison’s offensive front.
If the quarterback is the most important position in football, the offensive line’s role is crucial. The left tackle becomes the second-most important position, tasked with protecting the passer’s blindside from opposing pass rushers. It’s rare to see a freshman start on the O-line, but Radunz’s feet, strength, and ability to move from point A to point B impressed Entz. He was starting as a redshirt freshman and was going to continue carving out a role up front until he suffered a season-ending knee injury 17 snaps into the season opener.
Now, Radunz is touted as a potential top-32 selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. He possesses the versatility teams covet. He can be moved anywhere across the line, taking snaps at all five positions, including center, at the collegiate level. Entz envisions Radunz playing guard; Radunz is most comfortable at left tackle. Whenever a team lines him up, it’ll get “one of those tough, hard-nosed” players with a “blue-collar mentality,” Entz described.
“He gets the game of football,” Entz said Thursday, prior to NDSU’s Pro Day. “He continues to challenge himself to be the best. He realized that there were things that he needed to continue to work on and guess what you saw after practice? No. 75 sticking around for another 15-20 minutes and working on the things that he thought he was deficient at. All those things together, tell me that this young man has an opportunity to have a successful NFL career. Is it going to be at tackle? Is it going to be at guard? I'm not sure.
“I'm sure just that flexibility and the knowledge that he has—both that at left tackle and interior—are going to be enticing to an O-line coach, to an offensive coordinator, to a head football coach in the NFL.”
Radunz faced a similar dilemma to NDSU quarterback Trey Lance; it was Lance who brought the 30 scouts to the FargoDome on Friday, something Radunz welcomed. “Even if they're here to see Trey and they just happen to catch me out of the corner of their eye; I mean the more the merrier,” Radunz said.
It was one of the few opportunities Radunz had to show NFL evaluators he was pro-ready. When the COVID-19 pandemic halted every sports league stateside, the Missouri Valley Conference postponed its fall season. There would be one “showcase” game in the fall, but conference play wouldn’t resume until the new year. Radunz was entering his redshirt senior season and facing a tough decision: opt-out entirely and prepare for the draft or play into the spring with very little rest between the season and pre-draft process with greater risk for injury. He solidified himself last season, highlighting his athleticism and dedication to film study; Radunz wasn’t desperate for playing time. It was the camaraderie and the Bison-style of football he wanted to be entrenched in.
“Ultimately it just comes down to athletes taking care of their bodies, because you can go out and have fun and do that and there's a certain purity to that, but next thing you know some guy tears his ACL in the spring and now he misses out the spring season, he misses out the fall season, then he has to wait another whole year and a half year, a year and six months, just to play football again,” Radunz said.
This was one of the biggest factors in his decision to forgo his final year at NDSU and prepare for the draft.
“If you are going to be a draft prospect, then you're going to be playing, who knows, maybe you go to the [NFL] playoffs and you’re going to be playing 16, 17, 18, 19 games next season? You're just playing that much football in a short period of time, and it's just not good for a body, especially at this high level of play. So, that's probably the biggest factor, and going into [the NFL] being able to take care of your body and being able to perform at a high level for so long.”
Radunz, however, had time on his side. Lance wasn’t able to compete at the Senior Bowl because he hadn’t graduated. But there, in Mobile, Alabama, Radunz thoroughly impressed. His draft stock increased, and he came away with Overall Practice of the Week honors—an award given to the 2020 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert in 2019.
Radunz’s training with former San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle Joe Staley increased his football IQ, and in his extended offseason, he got strong, prioritized working on his hand placement. His tape shows he can move. The Senior Bowl gave him a chance to show off his natural ability to set the anchor, a necessary skill in pass protection that will slow bull rushes by defenders. On Friday, Radunz wanted to show his agility and how all of these traits can come together to meet the needs of NFL teams looking for depth.
“I’m definitely going to be a versatile guy and that's what is going to put me above a lot of guys,” Radunz said. “There are teams that have said, ‘We see as a true left tackle.’ There's a team that has said, ‘We see us a true right tackle, plug-and-play, go right away,’ and some want an outside zone guard. We'll just see whatever team decides to take me on where we want to go with that. I want to be a left tackle, it's just in my blood, but I’m also a team player—I learned that at NDSU. I want to win games. I want to keep this winning streak going, so ultimately I’ll play wherever they want me to, but I’m just excited to get the opportunity.”
Radunz is part of a storied winning culture at NDSU. While the school has been lauded for the quarterbacks that have come out of the program, most recently Carson Wentz, Easton Stick, and now Lance; the Bison are also building a strong offensive lineman pipeline. It’s a testament to NDSU’s high level of play despite its small-school status. Radunz has taken full advantage and his versatility is going to be the selling point come draft day.