The best of the bunch?

The best of the bunch?

As the Combine draws ever near, head scout Brent Sobleski steps up to the plate and reveals his version of the NFL draft’s top 30 prospects for 2010.

Take a quick journey through the inner recesses of his addled mind. One which may or may not adhere to the masses.

As always rankings are subject to change, particularly when everyone is required to watch prospects run around in shorts and tshirts in Indianapolis.

1. Marcell Dareus, DE Alabama – A bull along the defensive line who is a handful for any opponent. His talents suggest scheme versatility.  Dareus has been productive for three years, plus he has the best technique among his defensive line mates.

2. Nick Fairley, DT Auburn – A tailor-made 3-technique with the most explosive first step among his contemporaries. His one year of production for the Tigers is hard to top.

3. A.J. Green, WR Alabama – The top receiving prospect to enter the professional ranks since Detroit’s Calvin Johnson.

4. Tyron Smith, OT USC – Smith is a dancing bear at right tackle with a nasty attitude. His recent weight gain, putting him over 300 pounds, makes the USC product a legit top prospect.

5. Aldon Smith, DE  Missouri – If not for injury, Smith would not even be questioned as  a top ten prospect due to his length and athleticism.

6. Prince Amukamara, CB Nebraska – Hip flexibility is the top indicator of an exceptional cover corner. Amukamara has the best hips of the bunch.

7. Patrick Peterson, CB LSU – A world-class athlete who will ‘wow’ with workouts and has top playmaking ability, whether he stays at cornerback or moves to safety.

8. Ryan Kerrigan, DE Purdue – Kerrigan is absolutely relentless as a pass rusher and provides top production (57 tackles for loss, 33.5 sacks and 14 forced fumbles in his career) and better technique off the edge.

9. J.J. Watt, DE Wisconsin – Watt possesses a rare size/production combination leaving Madison at 6-6 292 pounds and 21 tackles for loss in 2010.

10. Mark Ingram, RB Alabama – Great feet in and out of the hole makes Ingram the draft’s only top notch workhorse.

11. Da’Quan Bowers, DE Clemson – Elite talent does not trump the disappearing acts seen on film while watching Bowers.

12. Blaine Gabbert, QB Missouri – A former top high school prospect who has posted an impressive career for Mizzou, although his pocket presence is somewhat suspect.

13. Akeem Ayers, LB UCLA – The best sideline-to-sideline linebacker in the nation, who doubles his value by being able to put his hand in the dirt to rush the passer.

14. Brandon Harris, CB Miami – Somewhat of a rocky junior campaign does not overlook the natural ability Harris possesses covering on the island and in the slot.

15. Drake Nevis, DT LSU – Despite being listed at a mere 6-2 and 285 pounds, Nevis was one of the most disruptive defensive forces in the nation during the 2010 campaign.

16. Robert Quinn, DE North Carolina – Number one overall ability succumbs to a year away from the gridiron due to a lackadaisical attitude.

17. Cameron Heyward, DE Ohio State – A recent elbow injury has Heyward plummeting, but his strength and versatility on the field make him a top 20 talent after he heals and works out just prior to the draft.

18. Gabe Carimi, OT Wisconsin – His junior tape indicates he is a pro-ready pass protector at the left tackle position. His senior season showed he was much stronger as a run blocker after adding weight.

19. Muhammad Wilkerson, DE Temple – The MAC’s best player the last two years is an ideal two-gap end.

20. Nate Solder, OT Colorado – A mess from a technical standpoint, Solder has the ideal size required of the left tackle position while showing enough improvement  as  a senior to warrant a first round selection.

21. Cam Newton, QB Auburn – Unbelievable athletic talent and an once-in-a-lifetime junior season does not overlook Newton’s lack of consistency throwing with accuracy and anticipation.

22. Cameron Jordan, DE California – After a fantastic Senior Bowl week, Jordan began to fly up boards. He is quick off the snap but can be found on the ground too often during Cal’s games.

23. Justin Houston, LB Georgia – A 34 outside linebacker who displayed ideal rush skills, was better against the run than indicated, and experienced in the system.

24. Aaron Williams, CB Texas – Among a triumvirate of talented corners at Texas, Williams was the most well-rounded and the best pure cover man of the lot.

25. Julio Jones, WR Alabama – Physical ability and work ethic go a long way, unless that is accompanied by a tendency to drop the football.

26. Corey Luiget, DT Illinois – Fantastic feet for a legitimate 300-pounder, but he does need to work on his hand play.

27. Christian Ballard, DE Iowa – Scheme diverse defender who did plenty of the dirty work among Iowa’s vaunted defensive line.

28. Torrey Smith, WR Maryland – An explosive straight line target who can blow the top off defenses.

29. Von Miller, LB Texas A&M – Impressive pass rusher who lacks versatility in his repertoire, plus struggles at the point of attack.

30. Ryan Mallett, QB Arkansas – Mallett possesses wonderful natural ability but was plagued by poor decision making throughout his Razorback career.

Slippery Rock's Brandon Fusco

Senior Bowl spring cleaning commences as head scout Brent Sobleski takes time to revisit his conversations with Slippery Rock’s center, Brandon Fusco, and the team’s head coach, George Mihalik, during their visit to Mobile.

Jahri Evans, Reggie Wells, John Kuhn, and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah all played their collegiate careers in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. Slippery Rock’s Fusco is next in line as the National Football League beckons. Half of the league’s scouts already made multiple trips to the university nestled an hour north of Pittsburgh.

The achievement of a Division II athlete to make his way to Mobile is extraordinary. Northwestern Missouri State’s Seth Wand was the last to do so in 2003.  Wand became a third round selection by the Houston Texans.

Fusco realized and relished the opportunity.

“It means a lot,” he exclaimed. “I’m the first player to be here in Mobile, Alabama. I come from a great program and tradition. It’s hardnosed football. I hope I’m making everyone proud back home. I get a ton of text messages and calls. Everyone says they’re proud and tell me good luck. I’m proud of myself and so is my family.

“My agent called me over the phone as I was sitting with my friends eating lunch. He said I was in the Senior Bowl. I couldn’t believe it. I was ecstatic. I had to call my family. I never really pictured myself being down here. I’m just taking it all in right now. I can’t believe I’m on the same field as all of these guys who were on tv all of the time. It’s a blessing and a honor.”

Mihalik reiterated his player’s response.

“Total excitement,” the veteran coach of 25 years stated. “We were ecstatic. The first guy in the history of our university to be invited to the Senior Bowl. All the scouts when they came through in the fall, they said he would be probably be invited to the other all-star games, and maybe the Senior Bowl. ‘But if he gets to the Senior Bowl, coach, that’s big time.’ When it came through, I realized some people see things in Brandon and feel he belongs here.”

The highly rated pivot discussed the process he endured throughout the week under the tight scrutiny of scouts and NFL evaluators while admitting to being apprehensive.

“I came in Sunday and met some of the scouts,” Fusco explained. “I started meeting a lot of the guys. It was a great experience meeting all of these guys. You start to form friendships and hope to communicate with them for the rest of my career. Monday was the first practice. I was a little nervous and anxious at the same time. Once I got that first hit out of the way, the butterflies were gone. I was then ready to go. I knew I belonged here. Days two and three were all about getting better and better.

“The butterflies were normal. I played at a smaller school. These guys are big, strong and fast. It will get you a little nervous, but I held my own. I feel I’m right there with all of them.

“The first day of practice was a little rough. It took me a couple plays to get used to it. Now, I think I fit right in with all of these guys. I’m more fluid in my punches and technique. I’ve gotten used to the speed of the game and the strength. I just wanted to get better and better every day.”

DraftInsider.net noted his improving performance throughout the week.

Brandon FuscoOLSlippery Rock604130233 ¾9 7/8
 
Monday Practice Notes: Fundamentally very sound yet really needs to improve his strength.  Stays square and controls opponents but lacks the dominant base and at times was push back into the pocket.
Tuesday Practice Notes: A tough day was had by the small school prospect. Fusco was getting some stalemates against strong interior defenders, but he was not prepared for quicker opponents. He tried to overcompensate and was caught playing over his toes and reaching far too often.
Wednesday Practice Notes: Fusco has improved each day. While he was coached up about pad level once again, his timing off the snap was much better against higher rated defensive linemen. He was very strong in small areas and really bowed up against powerful interior defenders.
Analysis: Scouts were impressed with Fusco both on and off the field as they got a closer look at the Slippery Rock product. Coming from the Div.II level, the center admitted to being surprised by the quickness of his competition early in the week. He adjusted, continued to work very hard, and got better each practice. All good signs. His athleticism and ability to step off the snap also made him the best pure center prospect during the week (although the pivot class in Mobile was generally considered weak)

“I think I’ve done a lot better,” he commented. “The techniques with my hand placement, punches, and knee bend are getting a lot better. I’m still getting used to the speed and the strength. I’m happy with the progression I’ve shown.

“It (Fusco’s knee bend) was questioned coming in. Coach (Cincinnati’s Paul Alexander) saw that right off the bat. It’s something I work on every day, and believe I’m getting a lot better. Bending and hand placement were important factors to work on for me.”

NFL personnel took notice of Fusco’s work ethic one night when he was quietly sitting with his former head coach breaking down film late in the evening.

Mihalik raves about the player his center is, but more importantly the person he is off the field. He made sure to endure the trip in support and experience everything.

“I’m on cloud nine,” the coach beamed. “Personally, I’ve seen a young guy who came into our program and grew up as a man first and foremost. Then, he grew up as a great football player. He’s worked hard for this opportunity. I really believe he is proving that he does belong.

“We’ve been here every minute we could at practice. It’s just a rewarding experience to watch that Slippery Rock helmet line up by the Wisconsin’s and against the Notre Dame’s. That is something you just don’t expect. I tried to talk to a lot of the scouts, many of whom I saw when they came through in the fall. They like what they see. They make comments about him. I’m just trying to be that fly on the wall in the shadows absorbing everything I can. More so, my chest is puffed out being so proud.”

In a draft class which lacks pure center prospects, Fusco finds himself atop the heap. The product from the Rock discussed his relative strengths and weaknesses.

“I think my speed and the fact I’m a little taller than most centers, that makes me a little unique,” he described. “I’m a little over 6-4, and you see centers in the league that are closer to 6-2 or 6-3. That’s an advantage to me. I’m a real aggressive player. I love getting after it on the field. I don’t think about anything else on the field. I focus purely on football. Anything outside, I just forget about until practice is over.

In fact NFL decision makers are moving towards larger centers to counteract the league’s massive nose tackles. Alex Mack, Eric Wood, and Maurkice Pouncey were first round selections during the last two drafts. Each is listed at 6-4. The position’s perceived body type is shifting.

As the two reflected on the entire week in Alabama, the draft is not too far off as the Combine quickly nears. Both are taking everything in stride and have come to the realization exactly what everything entails.

“It became more of a reality instead of just a dream,” Fusco mentioned. “Of course it’s been a dream to play in the NFL since I was a little kid. With all those scouts coming in every day and coach calling me to come down to the office, it was great and I made sure to enjoy it.

Mihalik built on Fusco’s interpretation.

“Your dreams can come true even in Division II football,” he expressed. “You dont’ have to be a DI player to get this opportunity. You do have to dominate at that level of program, which Brandon did.”

Lookin' Good in TexasScouts and a few general managers traveled to San Antonio this weekend for the Texas vs. The Nation contest.  While we were not on hand we’ve received reports from many of the scouts and people who were on hand.  Here’s our initial account, which will be updated later on Friday/Saturday.  Update 11PM:  More Player Additions & the Dixie Grid Iron in shambles

The conditions by all accounts were miserable, as anyone that’s watched the weather in Texas would know.  Practices were held outdoors and on Tuesday it was 16-degrees.  The conditions hampered the ability to practice as players were unprepared.  Few had gloves or warm weather clothes.  The second practice on Tuesday was called off after just 48-minutes.  The teams were able to move into the Alamo Dome on Wednesday for practice.  A boating convention in the facility made it impossible for practice to be held in the dome early in the week.  Several told us the greatest value this week was not the play on the field but the interviews several players completed with the teams on hand.

Here’s the lowdown:

Kenrick Ellis/DT/Hampton: Ellis flashed dominance throughout the week, displaying great quickness, use of hands and playing with good pad level.  Most we spoke with said that while he looked terrific Ellis is anywhere from 10-to-15 pounds overweight.

Christian Anthony/DE/Grambling: To a man everyone told us Anthony looked impressive all week.  He was explosive, athletic and made his presence felt each day.  His pass rushing skills were some of the best of anyone in attendance.  He does get a little tall but overall it was a successful outing for Anthony.

Derek Newton/OT/Arkansas State: Looked like one of the best offensive linemen in attendance.  Lined up on both the left and right side.  He was athletic, moved well and used his long arms to dominate opponents.

Spencer Paysinger/OLB/Oregon: Looked explosive and agile.  Showed terrific vision and instincts in practice.  Fluid moving sideline-to-sideline and looked very athletic.

Jamari Lattimore/OLB/Middle Tennessee St:  The pass rush extraordinaire moved from the defensive end position he played at MTSU and was used solely at linebacker.  According to all the transition was smooth as Lattimore was fast getting to the flanks and showed ability making plays in space.

Chris Prosinksi/S/Wyoming: Prosinski impressed everyone with his hard-hitting and intimidating style.  Most commented he plays the safety position like a linebacker yet he is undersized and showed marginal ball skills.

Craig Marshall/DL/South Florida: Marshall lined up at both tackle and end, looking fluid and athletic.  He showed quickness up the field as well as the movement skills to get to the sidelines in pursuit.

Vance Cuff/CB/Georgia: One of the better corners in attendance.  Showed well in coverage and displayed next level ball skills.

Taylor Potts/QB/Texas Tech: Was one of the better signal callers in attendance.  Showed a decent arm and accurate with passes.

Nathan Enderle/QB/Idaho: Enderle had a rough start but finished strong.  Part of the problem was implementing the spread offense the Nation team will use in the game.  Enderle had a lot of his passes dropped, in part because of the weather and in part because he does not put touch on throws.

Jarriel King/OL/South Carolina: For the most part did a good job displaying quickness, athleticism and good footwork in pass protection drills.

Daniel Kilgore/OL/Appalachian State: Was a favorite of many.  Described as a tough, nasty blocker- something evident on film.  Looked a bit stiff, also obvious on film, but showed the tools to work with.

Anthony Gaitor/CB/Florida International: For the most part really struggled.  He was small in comparison to most, looked stiff and consistently got turned by opponents.

Update 11PM

Kris Durham/WR/Georgia: Two separate sources told us that despite the poor conditions, Durham was one of the few receivers that stood out.  One scouts referred to him as a “beast” displaying the best hands of anyone and catching everything in sight.

Ryan Taylor/TE/North Carolina: Taylor, the Tar Heels back up tight end that did a good job filling in when Zack Pianalto went down, was also effective catching the ball.  He displayed strong hands and the ability to pull the ball from the air.

Jeff Van Camp/QB/Florida Atlantic: By all accounts Van Camp struggled as the poor conditions which included strong winds the first two days exploited his weaknesses.

Notes:

Scouts on hand said they were surprised that Christian Anthony decided to opt for the draft, something we stated when we received confirmation at the Senior Bowl he was playing in this game.  Anthony decided to return to Gambling in 2010 after a dominant ’09 campaign.  You may remember we reported in August that Anthony was taken by ambulance from the practice field to the hospital for heart attack like symptoms as Grambling was preparing for the season.  He never played a down in 2010.  During a television interview during the Bayou Classic against Southern, Anthony said he planned to return to Grambling in 2011.

–  One scout told us besides Vance Cuff of Georgia and Josh Gatlin of North Dakota State, the defensive backs have looked like “junk”.

– Another All Star game, the Dixie GridIron Classic, is also scheduled to kick-off tomorrow, though this game takes place in St George, Utah.   Several sources told us today the game is in shambles.  Evidently when players arrived on Monday there were no NFL scouts in attendance and a shortage of footballs.  Footballs had to be borrowed from a local high school yet the situation never improved.  Several players who traveled to the game left to return home or to training facilities, including some that had driven upwards of eight hours in the hopes of showcasing their skills for NFL scouts.  The game was originally slated to be played at Dixie State College but was moved to Desert Hills High School.  One source from the Dixie State athletic department confirmed the stories of the practice and game falling into shambles.  A secretary from Desert Hills HS confirmed the game was stll scheduled to kick-off tomorrow.   Some of the better known names listed on the roster include Kodi Burns/Auburn, Karl Moore/Florida, Joe Collins/Weber State, Marc Schiechl/Colorado School of Mines, Ronnie Paulo/UNLV, Culmer St.Jean/Wisconsin, Mistral Raymond/South Florida.

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