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Draft profile: Russia mission helped mold Utah State TE Dax Raymond

Utah State tight end Dax Raymond hits questions about his preferred draft destination out of the park when he meets with NFL executives.

“I was being interviewed by a scout, and he said what do you think about living in a different city?” Raymond told The News at the Senior Bowl in January. “I said I’ve lived in Russia for two years. I think I can adjust to anywhere in America.”

Raymond is an intriguing middle-rounds draft prospect at a position of need for the Buffalo Bills. And he has an unusual story.

He spent two years on a Mormon mission in the Vladivostok region in Russia’s Far East, and he didn’t start his college football career until age 20 in 2015. He turned 24 in December. On one hand, he’s older than most NFL rookies. On the other, he has life experience.

“I’ve heard both reactions from NFL scouts,” Raymond said, “where it’d be nice if you were 21 or 22. On the other side, I’m more mature. And they don’t need to worry about me on a weekend doing something stupid. They can rely on me being mature.”

Raymond says he has great memories from his time in Russia.

“I served in a bunch of cities,” Raymond said. “I was near China and Japan and up near Siberia. First, I had to learn Russian. I’d study the language for an hour, then you study the scriptures. You basically go around preaching the gospel, asking people if they believe in God. Door to door, outside bus stops, anywhere.”

“I don’t know many 18- to 20-year-olds who would like to do that for two years, especially in Russia,” Raymond said. “But I loved it. I believe it made me who I am.”

Raymond’s brother served on a mission in Moscow, and his sister served in Ukraine.

“Most of the people were Russian Orthodox, so they did believe in Christ,” he said. “Yeah, it was hard to find people. But you go out every day and you’re working to find people willing to listen. We had great success while we were there.”

Vladivostok is a city of about 600,000 at a latitude of 43.8 (on a line just north of Toronto). It gets less snow than Buffalo but a lot more rain in the summer. It’s cold, with an average January temperature of 9 and an average low of 4. (Buffalo’s January averages are about 24 and 18.)

“There’s a different kind of cold in Russia,” Raymond said. “I don’t know if there’s many places in America where it's humid and cold. In Russia it’d be negative 30s but humid, where it’s hitting your face and it feels like someone’s constantly throwing ice water on your face. The food was hard for me. My stomach took a couple months to adjust. But I loved it.”

His favorite Russian food? “Borscht. A beet soup. Warm. Put some meat in there, and I recommend it.”

At 6-foot-4 1/2, 249 pounds, he has a big frame. He did not put up huge numbers in college, catching 41 passes in 2017 and 27 passes in 2018, a season in which he missed four games with a broken hand. He’s a willing blocker.

“I like him,” said former Giants and Bears scout Greg Gabriel, draft analyst for Pro Football Weekly. “He can play Y (attached tight end) or be flexed out but is best at Y as he can block. Needs to get a little bigger. He’s 249 right now. I estimated his speed at 4.72. He’s probably a fourth-rounder. He’ll be 24 in camp. He has good hands and better than average run after catch.”

Raymond showed some versatility at Utah State, flexing out in slot positions, catching some screens and being used as an H-back. The question for scouts will be assessing how much untapped potential he possesses and deciding if he’s a good enough athlete to be a better pro than college player.

He doesn’t appear as athletic as Bills tight end Jason Croom, who ran 4.69 in the 40-yard dash before the 2017 draft. But Raymond is physical after the catch and has starter potential.

How would he like to play in Buffalo?

“That’d be fine,” Raymond said. “Anywhere in America is warm to me.”

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