Ryan Mueller has the perfect response when someone teases him about training for his third pro day more than two years after making his last tackle at Kansas State.
“Every time I have done it I have been signed,” Mueller said. “I am a pro day veteran at this point and I’m hoping to get signed again.”
Pro days are typically a one-time audition for NFL hopefuls. They provide opportunities for recent college graduates to show their strength and athleticism to professional scouts. If they impress, NFL teams draft them or sign them a month later. If they disappoint, they move onto other careers.
That’s the way it usually works, anyway. Mueller has a different story.
After finishing his time as a defensive end at K-State with 16.5 sacks and 116 tackles in 2014, the Leawood product did enough at his first pro day to sign with the San Diego Chargers as an undrafted free agent. He had highlight moments as a rookie that preseason and made the team’s practice squad at outside linebacker, but he didn’t play in any games and was released midway through the year.
When he failed to catch on with another team, he decided to attend K-State’s pro day a second time. The Philadelphia Eagles took notice and signed him, but not as a defensive end or linebacker. They wanted him as a fullback.
Mueller gave it a shot. At 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds, he had the size and passion to make fullback work. But the Eagles quickly released him, opting to remove the position from their offense.
“It’s been a tough journey,” Mueller said. “I did everything in my power to tell them I was capable of playing other positions, but there wasn’t an opportunity for me.”
This time around, Mueller hopes to use his experience as an advantage.
He plans to market himself at defensive end, linebacker and fullback when K-State holds its pro day on March 14. He might as well show up with a cardboard sign that reads: “Football player for hire. Position negotiable.”
“I am a versatile player, a utility guy,” Mueller said. “I can play outside linebacker and I do a fantastic job rushing the quarterback. I am certainly athletic enough to play fullback. Get me running and I will knock a linebacker’s head off. I am also athletic enough to play special teams. I think I can help the right team in a lot of ways.”
It will be an uphill process. Few are the NFL players who thrive in Year 3 after failing to make it in Year 1 and Year 2.
Then again, the odds have always felt stacked against Mueller. Though he left K-State as one of the program’s best career pass-rushers, he wasn’t offered a scholarship out of high school. The Wildcats discovered him by accident at a summer camp and invited him to play as a walk-on.
When Mueller enrolled, he ran his own landscaping company to pay tuition. His experience with lawn mowers came in handy once again when he needed work between his NFL stints.
He has more clients than ever lined up for the spring, but his services come with a disclaimer. If he signs with a third NFL team, football will become his priority.
“When I was in Philadelphia last year, I got calls all the time from clients asking if I would be able to give them a spring cleanup,” Mueller said. “I had to tell them, ‘Sorry, I’m playing for the Eagles right now.’ ”
Mueller has balanced work and training for the past year in hopes of giving the NFL another shot. He has ramped up his training this month, working alongside former teammate Jordan Willis.
He predicts his times and measurements will be better than what he previously showed.
“I am bigger, faster, stronger than what I was at Kansas State,” Mueller said. “My body fat is lower. I am in better shape than I was in college. Five years of college football really beat me up and wore me down, but I have had time to get my body right and improve my diet. I feel very healthy and strong.”
Will that be enough for Mueller to get his third shot in the NFL?
He’s willing to go through pro day a third time to find out.
“It would show a lot of personal perseverance on my part,” Mueller said. “But that is just kind of how sports have always been for me. I have always had to put in the extra work and try a little harder to get noticed by scouts or coaches. When I have been given the opportunity, I have never let them down.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett