Jared Pinkney didn’t hear his name called in the 2020 NFL Draft, but he was quickly signed by the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted free agent. Get to know more about him in our pre-draft profile.
When Jared Pinkney made the decision to forgo the NFL Draft following his junior season at Vanderbilt, there was no way the tight end could have known his senior year wasn’t going to be as fruitful as he had hoped.
Pinkney’s junior season found him snagging 50 receptions for 775 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 15.5 yards per catch. While the NFL was on his radar following that performance, Pinkney instead focused on coming back to the Commodores.
“There were things I felt I hadn’t accomplished yet, individually and as a team, that I felt we had an opportunity to accomplish,” he said at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine.
Unfortunately, the Commodores’ offense staggered to a 3-9 finish in 2019, totaling just 2,064 yards through the air with 10 touchdowns. Pinkney grabbed 20 passes for 233 yards, averaging 11.7 per catch, and found the end zone just twice. All were career lows.
”It was a challenging time,” Pinkney said. “People ask and I’ll tell them, it’s a lesson and a time you can’t read about. You have to learn about firsthand. Dealing with adversity, controlling what you can control ... Performance-wise, I wasn’t able to play well enough.”
Although Pinkney was quick to point out his own struggles, he wasn’t getting as much help from his quarterback as he did his junior year, either. In 2018, Vanderbilt was led by Kyle Shurmur, who passed for 3,130 yards with a 62.6 percent completion rate. He threw for 24 touchdowns while being intercepted six times.
In 2019, the Commodores turned to senior quarterback Riley Neal, who had transferred from Ball State after four seasons. Neal never quite found the same rhythm he had shown with the Cardinals, having his second-worst season of his collegiate career with 1,585 yards, nine touchdowns, and five interceptions.
With the Vanderbilt rushing game not posing a game-changing threat, the offense really didn’t find its footing.
Despite the difficulties, Pinkney said he never second-guessed his decision to stay.
“It’s football,” he said. “If you’re out there second-guessing and thinking and doubting, you’re going to get yourself hurt. So, I think, honestly, I didn’t allow myself, while I was in the game, to think about that kind of stuff.”
Pinkney wants to prove he can do more in the NFL than he did during his senior year
The statistics of his senior year tell a story of a reduced role in the Vanderbilt offense, and less production across the board. Pinkney said that’s the first thing teams have brought up during interviews. He said he discussed with them the fact he played through a wrist injury for most of the season, which kept him out of the final game of the year. Additionally, he admits his team just didn’t find the chemistry needed to put together a strong season.
”I just tell them that everything wasn’t able to come together,” Pinkney said. “And it’s unfortunate, but we were just never able to get off the ground. It was unfortunate. It sucked. But I think it was an important lesson, not only in my football development, but just life.”
Pinkney’s showing at the combine was a mixed bag. Despite running a 4.96-second 40-yard dash, he finished last out of the 17 tight ends who tested in the event. His bench press reps, however, were tied for second-best at 23. He didn’t test in the other parts of the combine.
At 6’4 and 257 pounds, Pinkney has solid size and good athleticism. His speed is quick enough to open up some routes and pick up yards after the catch. Still, Pinkney does see weaknesses in his game that he has focused on improving.
”I think my route creativity and savviness at the top of routes — giving head-fakes, giving a little bit of something on the way to them. Attacking them, getting them on their feet, things like that,” he said.
If playing at an H-back position, his ability to block on the move will also likely prove to be an asset, though analysts have questioned his ability to be a punishing run blocker at the line of scrimmage. But like with any career, Pinkney knows he has work to do in order to satisfy the expectations of his employers.
”I’m looking to show consistency and then as far as skills, that I offer versatility, doing multiple jobs at a high level,” he said. “And then things that I’m not good enough at, I’m willing to work to get to a level that’s acceptable for the clubs.”
A solid junior season at Vanderbilt showed Pinkney is capable of playing at a high level in a pass-first offense. But a senior season of less-than-anticipated results and an NFL Draft process stunted by the coronavirus pandemic will force teams to rely on his gametape and his combine results in order to get a feel for where he will fit in the NFL.
Pinkney is projected as one of three Vanderbilt players to be selected in the 2020 NFL Draft. Running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn was taken in the third round with the No. 76 pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Receiver Kalija Lipscomb should be a Day 3 pick like Pinkney. SB Nation’s Dan Kadar ranks Pinkney as the No. 137 player on his big board.
No matter when Pinkney hears his name called, he just wants teams to be aware he’s someone to be counted on, both in games and off the field.
”Just that I’m trustworthy,” Pinkney said about what teams should know about him. “And it’s not that I’ve had things in my past, but on the field, you can trust this guy with reps pass-blocking, run-blocking, reception routes, going out for passes. And then when he leaves the facility, you can turn your phone off at night. He’s not one that you have to worry about.
“But mainly, building trust in my teammates, the coaching staff and the organization that this is a good choice.”