Getty Images

LAS VEGAS -- It's not exactly unheard of for college football players to transition from playing defense to playing offense, but it's not very common. Much more often, you'll see a receiver convert to playing cornerback or a running back start playing safety. When players flip from defense to offense, it's usually linemen. But that's not the case for former Ohio State tight end Cade Stover, who began his career in Columbus as a linebacker and defensive end before moving to offense.

If you just looked at Stover's production in his final two collegiate seasons, you'd probably have a hard time believing that he was a defender when he showed up to school. Stover posted 36 catches for 406 yards and five touchdowns in 2023, then followed that up with 41 catches for 576 yards and five more scores in 2023. And he did that while playing alongside star wideouts like Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka. 

Working in what is essentially an NFL skill-position group -- and, in the first of those two seasons, alongside a player who is already one of the league's best quarterbacks in C.J. Stroud -- has its obvious benefits.

"I was very lucky to be put in the situation I was put in. Just for the sheer fact of having good players around me opened up a lot of good opportunities for me to just to work one-on-one with a lot of people. So I think it's really gonna help me next level," said Stover, who spoke to CBS Sports as part of a promotional event for Icy Hot. "When you play with a bunch of good [threats], it helps everybody. I mean you guys basically pick your poison at that point. Somebody's gonna get the one-on-one coverage. And if I was not getting it, then it's on somebody else. We just look for a one-on-one matchup."

Depending on where he lands, Stover could see plenty of one-on-one matchups in the NFL, but one of the keys to winning them, he says, is his background as a defender. Because he used to be one himself, he has deeper insight into how they think and what they might be looking to do on a given snap. 

"I feel like I can see basically more tendencies, especially linebacker-wise. Like, I know how I played in my tendencies when I was trying to disguise something or when I was trying not to disguise something. I just kind of read into that a little bit more than other people," Stover said. "I see it from a different angle than most people do, just coming from the offensive side of the ball. I think it gives you versatility. Like, I mean, if you need me to go play defensive side of the ball, I could. There's no doubt about it," he said. 

That's a good trait to have, but probably not one Stover will need. Stover checks in as the No. 4 tight end and No. 100 overall player in the CBS Sports NFL Draft Prospect Rankings, pegging him as a potential Day 2 selection. And while it used to be extremely rare for either tight ends or linebackers to make an early impact in the NFL, that's changing a bit -- especially after last season, when tight ends like Sam LaPorta, Dalton Kincaid and others made profound impacts on their teams' offenses.

"I just think the game's coming around. I think that the game's coming back," Stover said. "I think 10 years ago, six years ago, where it's a completely spread out offense and tight ends were kind of irrelevant part of the offense. And now I think it's getting more towards the play action stuff, towards the quick flats, towards the naked stuff, towards the vertical seam stuff with tight ends. Now having people that can do both block and run routes is really allowing tight ends to make a bigger impact earlier."

In order to make an impact as a pass-catcher early on, you have to be able to get on the field. And most coaches won't put a tight end on the field if he can't block. Luckily for Stover, that's usually the case in the Big Ten, too. Most tight ends from his conference don't get to catch as many passes as he did, but they all have to block.

"I feel like I'm a very capable blocker. Very willing blocker," Stover said. "I really feel like I can be a three-down tight end, where you don't want to take him off the field. Whether it's a special team, whether it's first, second, third down, I feel like I'm capable to do it all."

With more and more teams going to two-tight end sets to counteract some of the light boxes opposing defenses are using, there are even more opportunities for players like Stover, who will probably enter the league as a backup, to contribute right away. 

"A lot of times, I mean, you get drafted and there's an established guy there already. The second tight end helps get you in the game," he said. "And then, when time comes to be that No. 1 tight end, you take it and run with it."