I made the trip up to Carson, CA from San Diego to attend the second ever NFLPA Bowl practice week. Most of the participants here are considered UDFA to high third day picks in terms of NFL prospects while others may have futures in the CFL.
I was only able to attend Wednesday and Thursday practices but I came away impressed by the facilities and the event as a whole. It didn’t hurt that weather ranged from 68-72 all week. The coaching staff, led by Herman Edwards and Dick Vermeil, was phenomenal providing constant feedback for players. There were about 40-50 NFL and CFL scouts in attendance on the first day and around 30 scouts the second day I was there. There was nothing but first class treatment and I’d expect this event to attract more talent in coming years.
I have broken down players that stood out during the week by position. These reviews are based off of my observations only, unless specified otherwise.
-The quarterback play overall this week was erratic but there were a few that stood out. One of the bigger names coming into the week, regardless of position, was Brad Sorensen of Southern Utah. He certainly looks the part, built more like a tight end at 6-4 and a half and 240 pounds. At the beginning of the season opinions varied greatly with Sorensen with some evaluators projecting him as high as the 2nd round (including myself) while others had him as low as late day 3. He hasn’t progressed this season and didn’t answer many questions in his play this week as he still had trouble with touch on all levels along with streaky accuracy. The accuracy issues seem to stem from his front plant foot on his release, which he locks out straight. It causes his passes to float. He did, however, have the strongest arm of the bunch by a mile. He was easily spinning it on a rope outside the numbers. Sorensen also looked more comfortable in the pocket than he did on film but we’ll see if that carries over to the game on Saturday.
-Dayne Crist of Kansas (and Notre Dame transfer) had the most consistent week of all the QBs, showing adequate arm strength and flashing nice ball placement in traffic but he also struggled with accuracy at times. He’s built really well at just under 6-4 and 238 pounds and has big hands. He showed good footwork and is a good athlete overall.
-Vanderbilt QB Jordan Rodgers (Aaron’s little brother) also flashed throughout the week. He’s a crafty type but he’s on the shorter side at 6-1. Like his brother, he’s a very good athlete and displayed a fluid natural arm and showed good ball placement. His arm is slightly above average but it’s his mechanics that can be scary. Our SEC scout, Alex Brown, noted that he’s very raw in his lower half in his drops and working through the pocket. This was apparent all week as Rodgers would have different release points from play to play for no reason other than his footwork and balance were inconsistent. With Rodgers, it’s all about consistency because when he’s on he looks great. He was the most vocal of all the quarterbacks and had the most obvious leadership qualities.
-The running back group wasn’t flashy nor did they do much to stand out. I would have liked at least to see how they held up in pass protection drills but they didn’t conduct those. There were still a couple backs who flashed some skills that caught my eye throughout the week. Mike James from Miami (Fl) was the best overall back and also built very well at 5-10 and a half and 220 pounds. He showed good initial burst through the hold and nice leg drive through contact. He’s a one speed guy, however, and lacks much explosiveness to his game.
-Eric Stephens of Texas Tech and DJ Monroe of Texas both caught the ball well all week and showed good speed. They are smaller quicker types who are better suited as returners which is where coaches really liked them this week, especially Monroe.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
The wide receiver group was disappointing as a whole in all honesty. I saw too many drops and many were very raw route runners. The best prospect in the group was Marquis Goodwin of Texas but he went down with what scouts said was a leg injury during Tuesday’s practice and didn’t return. He measured in undersized, as expected, but what was really concerning was his hand size (only 8.5 inches). I was not at Tuesday’s practice but reports from some scouts that were there said he was clearly the best athlete on the field (he happens to be an Olympic qualifier in the long jump).
-Trey Dillet of Sam Houston State had the best hands of the group. He consistently caught away from his body and showed strong hands making some tough catches with guys draped over him during 7-7 and team sessions. He has showed good straight-line speed and also showed some upside as a kick returner.
-I was looking forward to seeing what Virginia Tech transfer turned Norfolk State wideout Xavier Boyce (6-3, 215 lbs) would bring to the table but he was very raw in his routes and lacked any sort of burst out of his cuts, although he made a few nice mid air adjustments catching the ball in 7-7’s.
-Luke Wilson of Rice was the most consistent tight end showing above average separation skills but had his share of drops.
-A guy who came out of nowhere as a receiver was Alabama State QB/WR Greg Jenkins. He took reps at quarterback but also lined up in the slot and showed off his speed and natural athleticism. He also showed strong hands hauling in lasers from Sorensen away from his body in stride and even hauled a downfield throw between the safety and corner while being hit. Obviously, his inexperience running routes showed, but he has some promise as a receiver with some development.
-OT Jeff Nady of Nevada flashed good footwork and lower body strength in one on one’s but needs some work with his hand placement, something coaches were working with him on. He looked good on the right side during team sessions and shows some mobility in getting to the second level.
-Florida International’s OT Caylin Hauptman also flashed smooth feet in sliding and countering and probably had the best week against edge rushers.
-Michigan OT Elliot Mealer was a bit frustrating because he looked like a guy who was the best lineman there for a string of plays and then he’d be completely beat inside on the next. He was one of the stronger guys there but he struggled mightily in space at times and doesn’t have the foot speed to slide against speed. His best position may be at guard.
-Washington OG Drew Schaefer is a good athlete who showed good bend in his knees and has the ability to change direction quickly and kick to the outside. He’s not overpowering but he plays with good physicality.
There were two guys that stood out from this group, particularly during team sessions. The first was Syracuse DT Deon Goggins, an undersized but quick pass rush type. He measured at just over 6 feet and weighs 270 pounds but he was consistently beating his man with his first step and even kicked out to DE on occasion. He uses the leverage advantage well showing good upper body strength playing underneath the shells of OL and used his burst to make plays in the backfield. He was also by far the toughest to block during 1 on 1’s.
-The other standout was Nate Palmer of Illinois State, an athletic DE. Also undersized, Palmer flashed an explosive element where he could deliver that strong initial pop. There were also several occasions which he showed good snap anticipation and was able to win gap control at the line.
-The linebacker group showcased the best player at the NFLPA Bowl practices in Bruce Taylor. Playing in a different scheme than what he was accustomed to at Virginia Tech, it took some time for Taylor to grasp fulltime strongside responsibilities, but he became acquainted quickly and it was obvious he was one of the more instinctive players on defense. He’s slightly undersized at under 6-2 but built well with really long arms. He showed very good route recognition during team sessions and diagnoses plays quickly. He also uses his hands well in traffic to keep trash away from his feet and blockers out of his body. He made several plays on the ball during team sessions.
-Jordan Campbell of New Mexico Highlands (Southern Cal transfer) had himself a solid week as well. He’s also undersized (notice a trend?) at just 5-11 but he plays bigger than that. He was maybe the most physical linebacker out there but also played under control. He loves to hit and has violent hands to keep linemen out of his body. He takes short choppy steps to locate the ball then comes flying in to meet the ballcarrier squared up. UCLA OLB Damien Holmes showed nice versatility as a rush linebacker/defensive end. He played both standing up and with his hand in the ground and was one of the better athletes of the group showing burst off the edge and good range/awareness in coverage making a couple of nice pass deflections in 7-7.
-Aside from the linebackers, this was probably the second most impressive group as a whole. Of the corners Demetrius McCray of Appalachian State and South Carolina State’s Jakar Hamilton (Georgia transfer) were the most impressive. Both possess plus speed and both have quick hips to easily flip and transition out of backpedal. McCray showed better anticipation and ball skills when they threw his way but both had no trouble mirroring and sticking in the hip pockets of their competition this week.
-The safety group had some nice upside as well. The most impressive of the safeties was Rutgers’ Duron Harmon. He was easily the best athlete at the position and his breaking ability and fluid hips were very impressive. He came in at 6-0 and 198 pounds and shows very good feet and explosiveness. On one play during team he sprinted from the opposite hash to cover a drag route and came close to intercepting a pass thrown out in front of the receiver. On another short hand off play he came flying up from about 12 yards deep to stick the running back at the line of scrimmage. He definitely plays faster than his estimated 4.6 speed.
-Another guy that stood out was Ohio State’s Orhian Johnson a big physical safety at 6-2 and 206 pounds. He showed very good awareness in the backfield and did an adequate job of diagnosing route development in front of him. He was the most vocal of the defensive backs and was directing other defenders to their spots in coverage.
-Indiana transfer Andre Kates of Virginia Union had showed nice ball skills and made a nice acrobatic interception during team while in zone coverage.