Saturday night in the fourth quarter of the Reese’s Senior Bowl, NFL Network commentator Mike Mayock and his crew could be heard singing the Yale fight song on national television. The reason? Tyler Varga ’15, Yale football running back and now a serious NFL prospect, was taking over the game.
Following a notable showing in practice that had scouts tweeting about both his physique and play, Varga turned even more heads Saturday with two fourth-quarter touchdowns that gave the North team a 34–13 win. The 5’11”, 227-pound back sparked comments from his initial weigh-in all the way until the end of the game.
“Everything he did in the game — catching the ball, running for touchdowns — he did during the week in practice,” said Joe Linta ’83, Varga’s agent. “I think he just repeated what he had done all week … He went from not being on the map, to being on the map, to being on the map significantly.”
Varga also earned 70 all-purpose yards in the contest while lining up both at tailback and fullback. In addition to his 31 yards on the ground, he caught three passes for 39 yards.
At Yale, Varga caught only 12 passes in his entire senior season. Linta noted that Varga made several “phenomenal” catches over the week, and said that scouts noticed it.
In addition to scouts, multiple news organizations were impressed by Varga’s showing. A Bleacher Report article called Varga “the most impressive running back of all,” adding that he “showed an impressively well-rounded skill set.” Rob Rang of CBS Sports, meanwhile, said Varga was one of the 10 biggest standouts and wrote that Varga “delivered a couple of crushing blows when asked to line up as a fullback.”
Because of Varga’s standout performance, Linta predicted he would be a fourth- or fifth-round selection in the draft three months from now, but cautioned that anything could happen in that time frame. He said that the Titans, whose coaching staff led the North team all week, are likely the team with the most interest in him early on.
Varga played on the same squad as former Harvard defensive end Zack Hodges, who also practiced as an outside linebacker for the Senior Bowl. In an interview last week, Varga told BuffaloBills.com that he was happy to represent the Ivy League’s skill level alongside Hodges.
“I think [our appearance in the Senior Bowl] shows that we can play football in the Ivy League, too,” Varga said in the interview. “A lot of people look down on our conference — obviously not in intelligence — but in terms of our caliber of play. Definitely coming out here and showing we can play ball elevates those standards in people’s minds hopefully.”
Hodges and Varga played alongside many of the most notable names in college football, such as Bryce Petty of Baylor, Hau’oli Kikaha of Washington and Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska, who was named Senior Bowl MVP after rushing for 73 yards and tallying another 40 receiving.
Varga’s play is no less impressive considering that he switched positions the week of the game. Coaches used Varga at fullback, rather than at tailback, during the majority of the week. His two touchdowns, however, were from his familiar position of tailback, proving his versatility to NFL teams.
“I think he’s got a chance to … play either running back or fullback,” an NFL scout said to the News. “He also showed he can [take a] pitch out of the backfield, so [he is a] versatile player who can play multiple positions and play on special teams. I think teams know that.”
The scout, who wished to remain anonymous, told the News that he first saw Varga when visiting Army in mid-October 2014. Varga, who ran for 185 yards and five touchdowns in Yale’s 49–43 overtime win against the Black Knights, was featured on the Army defense’s film.
Later, the scout visited Lehigh, another early Yale opponent. In that game, Varga rushed for 152 yards on 19 carries. After that visit, the scout decided to drop by New Haven to meet the Ivy League’s leading scorer.
“He’s very smart,” the scout said of Varga. “He has good drive, he wants to be successful. He understands what it takes to have success at the next level as far as dedication, time management, all those kind of things. He’s the kind of guy who has a shot at having success at the next level if everything works out and he finds himself in that situation.”
This is where Linta comes in. A Yale alumnus with more than 20 years of experience, Linta has represented NFL players such as Baltimore Ravens quarterback and former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco and former Harvard center Matt Birk, who also played for the Ravens.
Linta regularly attends the Senior Bowl with his clients, he said, but called this year “special” due to his connection with Yale.
As of now, Varga and Linta are waiting to hear if Varga will be invited to the NFL Scouting Combine next month. They are also hoping to put together a Pro Day, where Varga can work out for assembled NFL scouts.
Until the scouts arrive, Linta said, Varga is working on many aspects of his play, including his running and pass blocking. Though he was reported to have struggled blocking earlier in the week, the NFL scout said he thought Varga’s blocking was acceptable.
Varga will be doing all that preparation while still finishing up his graduation requirements as an ecology and evolutionary biology major. While he has impressed scouts with his intelligence, Linta said that he has also dispelled a stereotype among scouts that Ivy League graduates are not passionate enough about playing professional football.
“[Varga] just lives, breathes and dies football,” Linta said. “It’s what he loves. He’ll be a doctor some day, but he knows he can do that down the road. He’s probably the best prospect that Yale’s had in the last 30 years, I would say.”
The last Eli invited to the Senior Bowl was right tackle Walter Clemens ’51.