The final day for most NFL scouts before they head off to prepare for the Senior Bowl, I got the chance to focus on the defense for most of practice today.
The biggest winners today were WR Chandler Jones, OG Austin Wentworth, DT Beau Allen, and CB Shaquille Richardson.
-It was a tough day for the quarterbacks thanks to the consistent, albeit not gusting, winds today, and they all seemed to struggle to keep a tight ball, including yesterday’s “winner” Keith Wenning. Still the best and most accurate passer of the day, especially downfield, he had his share of poor throws and mis-read throws, just like the rest of the passers.
-Keith Price still struggled throughout the day, still not building chemistry with his receivers. Tommy Rees wasn’t much better, and seemed to have the toughest time keeping a tight spiral down the field.
-Without any position specific drills to evaluate, the running backs here will likely be relying on the game to show their talents. Still, from the team work, I think Tim Flanders of Sam Houston State is the best of the bunch of this group. Built low and thick throughout his frame, Flanders has the best NFL build of the runners here. With the depth of this class, though, he really needs to impress in the game to separate himself.
-The top receiver today, in my eyes, was San Jose State’s Chandler Jones. I was critical of him yesterday at the catch-point, but today he showed off some nice physicality at the top of his route to get separation. He was physical throughout his shorter routes and looked even more focused and positioned to finish catches. He also did well to get separation vertically with speed, but could read and adjust his receiver a little better when working vertically.
-Pittsburg State’s John Brown had another solid day as far as route runner, but unfortunately his targets aren’t coming yet. He adjusts his speed so cleanly in his routes and has such route definition that he may be able to fit long-term “Z” receiver.
-It was another frustrating day for Oklahoma’s Gabe Ikard, today struggling with Wisconsin’s Beau Allen. It’s clear Ikard can’t take on nose tackles by himself based on this week, which certainly doesn’t help his grade. The zone blocking center will be a tough sell to GMs after this week, and he’ll be falling from our pre-week 2nd round grade.
-Austin Wentworth of Fresno State had another strong day, playing with plus hand positioning and size, and arching his back well through the pass block. Wentworth looks comfortable playing tackle and not worrying about speed edge rushers, and looks like a solid draftable player based on his play this week against multiple types of interior rushers
-While the top center here Ikard struggled, I thought Dillon Farrell from New Mexico did a solid job protecting against powerful rushers. He locks on and holds his engagement well initially, working hard to extend and resetting his hands well. We had a fringe draftable grade on him before this week, and he looks like a center who could develop into a potential starter.
-I thought Wisconsin’s Beau Allen exceeded my expectations the best after today’s practice. I hadn’t graded him as a draftable player in this class coming in, but he’ll force me to re-watch after he was able to penetrate and get great initial push and remaining active in his lower half throughout his rush. In a class lacking great nose tackle talent, Allen could have found himself a home in the draft.
-Derrick Hopkins of Virginia Tech is certainly a shorter than ideal rusher, but he’s remarkably active with his hands and stays low once he gets separation. However, he relies on his quick hands and initial step to have success as a rusher, and when a blocker can get his hands on him and win with length, he struggles to disengage. It’s certainly concerning for a defensive tackle to not be able to win against quick-handed blockers, especially at the NFL level.
-More of the same from yesterday on Chidera Uzo-Diribe of Colorado. He’s a pure speed rusher, but changes directions with great burst and sets up his rushes well. Not a fit for everyone, I think taking a late round look at the speed rusher would be wise for 3-4 teams or one’s that play Wide-9 defenses at times.
-I tried to take a focused look at the linebackers today, and I was pleasantly surprised with how many had success in things they were comfortable with. The most impressive from that perspective was USC’s Devon Kennard, who seems very natural and smooth in his coverage drops, and keeping his eyes in the backfield along with tight, controlled steps in his drops. I’m leaving this week having little doubt that he can translate well enough to a 4-3 defense.
-Inside linebackers Nate Dreiling and Max Bullough both showed better than expected timing and steps in coverage today. Dreiling is still a bit slow-footed in his drops, and is still likely a bit limited to a 3-4 defense. And while Bullough weighed in heavier than expected, he finished the day with two pass breakups and an interception from what I saw today. He’s not flashy and doesn’t bend overly well to his drops, but he was able to make plays today from that spot.
-And finally, I was thoroughly impressed by the only translatable weakside linebacker here in Prince Shembo of Notre Dame. He did a solid job in staying low through his drops, sinking his hips and transitioning to receivers around him. He closed down in coverage well, and filled nicely in run fits. As far as the linebacker position, he may have done the most compared to what I came into the week expecting.
-The best defensive back of the day hasn’t changed from Tuesday, as Arizona’s Shaquille Richardson impressed once again. He recovered well vertically, staying tight to his receiver and keeping his balance throughout the receiver. His subtle yet not exaggerated hand use at the top of the receiver’s route has done wonders for him this week, particularly against primarily slot receivers in one-on-one situations.
-I felt Carrington Byndom and Rashaad Reynolds both also had strong days today, but they weren’t able to separate themselves all that much due to limited overall practice reps. Byndom did a great job in stating low and balanced in his transitions, getting his head around well downfield as well. He’s clearly talented on the field and on film to be an NFL cornerback. Reynolds, for the second straight day, continued to turn and run well vertically, staying low and keeping his speed level vertically. He may have earned a late round grade from some teams this week.