2013 Texas vs. Nation Game Defensive Prospect Preview

Ray Ray ArmstrongIn the third and final week of the "All-Star Circuit", the Texas Vs. Nation game has built a fantastic reputation of adding quality players, especially unique small schoolers, to the roster. This year, potential defensive small schoolers like Rufus Johnson, Craig WIlkins, and Vernon Kearney have a chance to make a major impact on their draft stock with a big week.

See those small schoolers, plus more well known prospects with a lot to prove like Ray Ray Armstrong, Jonathan Stewart, and Phillip Steward.


Notes by Eric Galko and Alex Brown of Optimum Scouting

Defensive Linemem
1. John Youboty, DE, Temple

One of the more talented non-BCS defensive lineman, Youboty has flashed on film as a potential NFL draft pick since his sophomore year. However, for the past two seasons, Youboty has been extremely inconsistent as both a pass rusher and his read-react in the run game. With fantastic NFL upside thanks to his bend, quickness off the snap, and transitions laterally, Youboty could work his way into a draftable grade with a big week here.

2. Rufus Johnson, DE, Tarleton State
Probably the most physically impressive specimen at the Lone Star Conference festival, Rufus Johnson really looks the part of an NFL caliber, 4-3 defensive end. Along with possessing plus size, length, and muscle definition throughout, Johnson also sports a quick, explosive first step, a non-stop motor, and excellent closing speed to finish plays in the backfield. While his leg drive and balance serve well for a power-speed combination at the Division II level, Johnson still remains very raw from a technique standpoint. He lacks a go-to move, doesn’t always read and react instinctively to the play, and can be influenced up the field or down the line of scrimmage by the blocker. A size-speed prospect with plus physical tools to develop, Johnson is a must-sign, priority free agent that all NFL teams should take a closer look at.

3. Marquis Jackson, DE, Portland State
The one time highly viewed high school prospect, Jackson went from likely BCS-level prospect to Texas Southern, and eventually ending up at Portland State this year. Despite all of the off-the-field and transfer concerns, the 6’3, 250+ end talent has produced when on the field in college, and this week will go a long way in determining if his transfer/character issues are worth the risk.

4. Meshak Williams, DE/OLB, Kansas State
Clearly lacking in plus height or length, Meshak Williams certainly meets the “tweener” criteria but may have a place in the NFL as a rotational end or 3-4 outside linebacker. Flashing pass rush variety and the ability to incorporate multiple hand techniques in rushing the passer, Williams should stand out as one of the more polished pass rushers, despite all his limitations. It’ll be crucial for Williams to also be able to hold the point of attack and set the edge in team drills, as those are two of my primary concerns with his next level projection. I’m not sure where Williams fits in the NFL game, but I have a feeling that he’ll stick in the league, whether drafted or undrafted.

5. David King, DE, Oklahoma
Not much of a pass rusher, David King makes his money as a stack and shed, 5-technique type of defensive end. Oklahoma incorporated more four-man fronts in 2012 than in years past, but nevertheless, King used his heavy hands to direct the point of attack and work to the football. He’ll never be an exceptional player at the next level, but I firmly believe King will be a valued rotational lineman early and possibly a starter later in his career. King’s draft value sits in the 5th round range and could go up or down depending on workout numbers. 

1. Jonathan Stewart, Texas A&M
One of my “sleeper” prospects entering the year, Stewart more than looks the part, with an excellent size-speed combination at the Mike linebacker position. Stewart runs very well for his size, flashes quick diagnosing skills and normally takes correct read steps to flow, but too often in 2012 has shied away from attacking downhill and meeting ball carriers in the hole. Much more active and instinctive in the Aggies 2011 3-4 defensive scheme, Stewart hasn’t been the same in 2012 playing behind a four-man front. While he doesn’t excel in defeating one-on-one blocks with uncovered guards, Stewart appears more comfortable reading the offense with only three defensive linemen in front of him. I’d expect Stewart to test well and be selected in the 4th round, but 2012 has definitely been a down year for the senior prospect.

2. Craig Wilkins, Old Dominion
After bulking up a bit more this year to be built like a more true linebacker, the smooth athlete Wilkins has developed into an adequate coverage linebacker with range to move outside the tackle box and playing wide enough to finish tackles in traffic. The leader on his defense at ODU, he still needs a big week here to add to his (already draftable for us) grade.

3. Phillip Steward, Houston
Putting up fantastic tackle numbers in college and possessing solid inside/weakside linebacker size, Steward will be head to the Texas vs. Nation game after a brief (yet solid) late invite to the Senior Bowl. Well-built, physical yet quick laterally, Steward could prove to be one of the best linebackers this week.

4. Danny Mason, Texas A&M Commerce
I really like Mason’s physical makeup, as he’s a long cut, tall and athletic 6’3, 235; Mason appears capable of adding 5-10 pounds with no problem whatsoever, being lean through his arms and legs. Possessing sideline-to-sideline range with good chase speed and instinctive feel for the game, Mason’s skill set is suited for the Will backer position in a 4-3 defense. Playing a 3-4 outside linebacker position, Mason appeared out of position when asked to set the edge versus direct run flow. He needs space to operate, and even excels in zone coverage, reading and reacting to multiple routes in his hook-to-curl zone. Overall a solid outing for an athletic backer could earn a late round pick and roster spot.

5. Nick Clancy, Boston College
Attempting to follow the Boston College pipeline of lienbackers to the NFL, Clancy has been very productive over his career, but isn’t the talent of Luke Kuechly or Mark Herzlich before him. Still, he finishes tackles in the box, and if he can show separation ability from blocks this week, he could earn himself a solid PFA grade this week.

Defensive Backs
1. Vernon Kearney, S, Lane

As you’ll see with most of this list, Kearney adds another small schooler to the roster. Kearney has great length, explosion upfield, and the ability to adjust vertically quickly with great short-area hip fluidity. While some teams may consider him at cornerback, he may be best fit in the Cover 2 safety role. Regardless, he has the athleticism, length, and coverage ability to be a later round draft pick, maybe higher with a good week here.

2. Ray Ray Armstrong, S, Miami (FL)
After (unfairly) being forced out of Miami, the NCAA, and even the NAIA this year due to a minor infraction at Miami, Armstrong has been out of football all year long. Coming into the year, many (including myself) thought he had a chance at the 2nd round, maybe even higher if he impressed. But after moving to the NAIA Faulkner, staying in shape and active with their football team, Armstrong may have a coming-out party and get back on NFL radars.

3. Rontez Miles, S, California PA
A Division II stud safety since his junior year, Miles even considered declaring as a junior before returning for final season and continuing to impress. The aggressive and rangy Miles, he closes on the ball with some of the best safeties this year, and also flashes the ability to transition in shorter and mid-range zone coverages. Unsure if he’s a true free safety for the next level thanks to his lack of great deep coverage range and this ability to thrive upfield as a safety, he should use this week to prove his D2 success can translate to top competition.

4. Daxton Swanson, CB, Sam Houston State
Quick to read and react to route developments, Daxton Swanson showcases plus anticipation and driving footwork to click, close and break up passes underneath. Sinking his hips into a low pedal, holding a wide enough base and gaining ideal depth with each step, Swanson is able to quickly break on the throw or flip his hips to turn and run. Not appearing to have elite speed and having a penchant for looking back in at the quarterback, Swanson does have his fair share of struggles versus double-move patterns. Swanson should have a good week of one-on-one’s and more than hold his own in press drills.

5. Dustin Harris, CB, Texas A&M
Specializing as a returner and steadily improving as a cover-three corner, Dustin Harris possesses fluid hips and good turn and run ability. Fast and coordinated to look back inside for the football while maintaining coverage, Harris shows more than enough balance and long speed to protect the deep third. What Harris needs to show this week, is sharper v-cuts and driving angles to the throw in the short-to-intermediate game, as well as lower pad height in his pedal.