Exclusive Interview With Kansas State DE/LB Ryan Mueller

If you could draw up the ideal football player and teammate in terms of overcoming obstacles, working hard, and constantly exceeding expectations, he might look a lot like Kansas State’s Ryan Mueller.

Mueller, a fifth year senior for the Wildcats this past season, was an All-American in 2013 as a junior after walking on to the K-State football program five years ago. He started 26 games to finish his collegiate career and was voted Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2013 and Honorable Mention for the same award this past season.

Labeled a ‘tweener’ by NFL Draft scouts, Mueller was snubbed of a Scouting Combine invite, though being snubbed is nothing he’s not used to at this point. The All-Big 12 selection played defensive end for the Wildcats, but is not completely foreign to standing up, and will transition to the outside linebacker position in the NFL.

Experts aren’t expecting him to  test well athletically, which has caused him to go underrated in the pre-draft process. What I see from him in games and in the way that he plays is a player very similar to Rob Ninkovich, another underrated prospect who has carved out a nice role for himself with the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots.

Mueller faces an uphill battle as he approaches his NFL auditions, but what else is new? He took some time out of his schedule to chat with NFL Mocks, reflect on his career at K-State, and catch us up on what’s going on this offseason.

“After our bowl game, we played UCLA in our bowl game, I was invited to the Medal of Honor Bowl game which is a college football senior All Star game. It’s kind of the cream of the crop guys and I just finished up with that and felt confident with how I practiced and how I played. Now I’ve been training at D1 Sports in Franklin, TN.”

Now that his college career is over, Mueller is making a transition to the outside linebacker position due to his 6-2, 245-pound frame. He has already proven he can be a relentless pass rusher, but he needs to show them he can be effective in coverage when he needs to be, and just overall that he is versatile enough to translate to a new position early on in his career. He says that the toughest part about that transition is going to be making it look like he’s a natural.

“I believe that the NFL scouts are going to want to see how I can transition from defensive end to outside linebacker and being fluent in your hits, being able to adjust from run to pass — just making everything seem more natural.

It’s hard to say (what’s the most difficult transition) right now because I’m not training with a team, I’m training individually and just going through the movements of what a linebacker would be doing. I believe a tougher adjustment might be to be able to communicate to everybody on the line and I haven’t been able to simulate that because I’m not practicing with a team, I’m practicing individual skills so that would be something different for me that I haven’t been able to practice. There are things that you can get familiar with at this time, asking position coaches for advice that I think could really benefit.”

The traits that NFL teams want to see Mueller show as a linebacker are well documented at this point. We just need to see him do it. What we have seen and know about him at this point is the fact that he is an absolute monster on the field who never quits in his pursuit of the football. He says his best assets as a player are the intangible qualities that cannot be coached.

“Obviously commitment and accountability. Drive, work ethic, just being a good team player. What I’ve been able to do over my football career is surround myself with guys who are really good players and I’ve been able to push those guys to get the absolute best out of them. I’ve been on teams when I wasn’t always the best player but what I’ve been able to do is push those guys.

When I walked on at K-State, I wasn’t the best player but by the end of four or five years you could argue I was one of the best guys on our team if not the best. It’s just natural for me to push others and I think there’s a lot of value in that in being part of an NFL team.”

So what makes him so relentless in his pursuit of the football?

“I’ve always been told you never know what’s going to happen in a ball game. It’s important to be always going 110 percent to the ball because you never know what’s going to happen.”

Case-in-point, Mueller did THIS:

So Ryan, do you remember that play pretty well then?

“Oh yeah, couldn’t forget it!”

You can’t peg a guy’s entire college career on one play, but in terms of what many believe to be his best assets as a player, that play does a pretty good job. It shows his relentlessness, his drive, his absolute refusal to give up on a play, and the ability to attack the football. He seems resigned to the fact that his strip-sack on Bryce Petty is the play that most people will remember, but it wasn’t the only big play he made at K-State.

“It’s hard to just pinpoint one play to simplify what I’m all about. I played for four years and I think there’s a lot of plays — I know that play sticks out a lot — but I know I have a lot of plays on film that shows my effort, my relentlessness to get to the ball carrier and get to the ball. That’s certainly a play that sticks out and has gotten the most attention.”

For pass rushers, I always find it interesting where they get their inspiration. It always seems everybody is watching everybody, so I had to find out from Mueller if he and his Wildcats teammates watched any NFL players for inspiration.

“We watch the guys who are playing our position because those are the cream of the crop guys at what they do. We like to watch Cameron Wake, just seeing his explosiveness off the ball and the great first step he has. J.J. Watt and his athleticism — they’re just elite at what they do using their hands and how they set up their pass rushing moves to try to apply that at the following practice and see if that move works for you.”

Mueller is just a kid from Kansas. It’s where he played his high school and college ball, but he says he’d be excited to play for any NFL team, though one might be better for hosting friends and family…

Oct 25, 2014; Manhattan, KS, USA; Kansas State Wildcats defensive end Ryan Mueller (44) is blocked by Texas Longhorns tight end M.J. McFarland (85) during first-half action at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

“It’s hard to pinpoint an exact team — you want to play for any of ’em and all of ’em. I like all the NFL teams and it would be a privilege and a blessing to be part of any NFL program. Kansas City Chiefs, it’s where I’m from — obviously that would be cool to be part of that team. I played high school ball in Kansas, college ball in Kansas, and the Chiefs are close to home. That would certainly be convenient. I would have a lot of fan support, and it would be an easy commute for my family. Especially for all my lawn clients, my landscape clients could attend.”

Wait, what?

“I had a little landscaping business in high school, and at K-State I couldn’t get everybody tickets to come watch me play. I feel like at Arrowhead, they’d be there anyway.”

Just in case you didn’t get that clearly enough, this guy has at the forefront of his mind the people he worked with in high school, people that he wants to honor by getting them tickets to watch him play an NFL game. That is something I’ve never heard from a football player in my life, and it was a breath of fresh air coming from a guy who has accomplished as much as Mueller.

He won’t ever forget where he came from, or the people who helped him get there. That’s an incredibly admirable quality.

But as much as there have been people helping and supporting him along the way, Mueller is the one who has created this path. He has worked so hard to get where he’s at, to have earned the accolades, and to ultimately have a chance to be drafted and play in the NFL.

“I just like to work hard, honestly. I love to compete, and I love to win. That’s the God-honest truth. I enjoy working hard. That stems from my family, my landscape business. The women in my family — they all work. The men in my family — they all work. We all like to work hard and work efficiently. Being part of the Kansas State football program, it’s probably one of the most blue-collar football programs in the country and it was a blessing to be part of that program and be engulfed in that culture.”

The culture he was part of at Kansas State has bred a player that I think can be a really solid pass rusher in the NFL. As I stated earlier, he has the ability to do what Rob Ninkovich of the Patriots does — a sneaky great pass rusher who is versatile, can play special teams, and can do so much to help your team. I like his ability to play off the edge, make plays in the backfield, blitz from the middle, and do a little bit of everything.

This is a player you don’t want to fall asleep on.