A little later than usual on a Monday, here’s this week’s edition of draft insider news and notes. Many more Senior Bowl invitations have been handed out and we’ve got them. Additional underclassmen are ready to dip their toe into the pool of draft eligibility and the latest scuttlebutt from the scouting community.
– Additional Senior Bowl invitations have gone out to both Boise State receivers, Titus Young and Austin Pettis. We previously told you that Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi received an invitation. If Carimi decides to travel to Mobile in January he’ll be joined by teammates guard/center John Moffitt and tight end Lance Kendricks, who have also been invited. Other receivers/tight ends that have been invited include Niles Paul of Nebraska and Richard Gordon from Miami.
– The running backs invited to the Senior Bowl include West Virginia’s Noel Devine, Evan Royster from Penn State and Miami’s Graig Cooper.
– We are hearing two offensive linemen are building momentum in the scouting community. Mississippi State center J.C. Brignone, graded as a priority free agent at season’s start, is getting a lot of long looks from zone blocking teams. Baylor’s Danny Watkins was given a middle round grade and has played so well many think he could end up as a top 100 pick. Watkins is a terrific story as the 26-year old never played football in high school and was a fireman in Canada before latching on to Butte College where he developed into an All American lineman.
– There is more chatter coming out of USC that offensive tackle Tyron Smith will enter the draft. He is likely to be a top 15 pick and the first tackle drafted.
– Staying in the PAC Ten, sources have told us it is very likely Arizona State defensive lineman Lawrence Guy will enter the draft.
– We are hearing the names of two junior cornerbacks that are likely to enter the draft. Utah’s Brandon Burton will most certainly make himself eligible after the season and is projected as a top 50 choice. The other name from the position we hear is also leaning towards entering the draft is Florida’s Janoris Jenkins.
– Sources have told us San Jose safety Duke Ihenacho, who suffered a season ending foot injury during the third game of the year, has received another season of eligibility from the NCAA and will use it next year.
– There’s good news for Duke’s brother, former San Jose star Carl Ihenacho. The defensive lineman went undrafted and had several unsuccessful tryouts since April. Ihenacho was struggling to return to form after undergoing knee surgery in which two screws were put into the joint. We’ve been told Ihenacho recently underwent a procedure to remove those screws and as a result there’s no more swelling in his knee during workouts. He recently passed the physical administered by the Miami Dolphins and the team hopes to sign him after the season. They have some competition as we here there are another three teams showing interest in Ihenacho.
– Tune into this week’s podcast as we will have news on Robert Sands of West Virginia, an update on Maryland receiver Torrey Smith, the name of a small school star ready to enter the draft as well as an update on Senior Bowl invitations!
Just a few games of national importance this weekend yet a number of contests which will see top NFL prospects face-off. The match-ups are expansive starting in the east coast and include a highly considered west coast underclassman.
Cincinnati vs West Virginia
Bearcat receiver Armon Binns is in the midst of a terrific season and heading towards the draft’s top 100 choices. He’ll be challenged by a talented WVU secondary on Saturday. The struggles of Brandon Hogan have been well documented and the highly rated senior has likely played himself into the late round after his misdeeds. He’s still a talented cover corner when on his game. Robert Sands is a talented junior with great size and very good skill. He’s an imposing player on film and plays the part. We’ll have breaking news on Sands this coming Monday during our Insider News & Notes segment. Corner Keith Tandy and safety Sidney Glover round out this skilled unit.
Kansas State vs Missouri
Wildcats running back Daniel Thomas draws a lot of different opinions in the scouting community but this much is certain; the senior is having a terrific season and is improving his draft stock. Does it mean he’s a feature runner at the next level? We have our concerns. Thomas will be tested against what is one of the most underrated defenses in the Big 12. Fortunately for him the Tigers are strongest on the perimeter while Thomas is best running between the tackles.
Utah vs Nebraska
A match-up of heavyweight underclassmen as the Utes travel to South Bend. The season has not gone as well as hoped for Irish receiver Michael Floyd, yet he’s still highly considered in scouting circles. We alerted you to Utah cornerback Brandon Burton who’s drawing rave reviews several weeks ago in our Insider News & Notes segment on Monday. We’ll have more on Burton’s future plans this coming Monday but his contest against Floyd is one which will be closely monitored by scouts.
Georgia vs Auburn
It seems no one can get away from the Cam Newton story, and its’ just going to get louder from here on out. We reported two weeks ago that Newton was telling teammates he would enter the draft after the season. Based on what’s going on in his life consider the NFL in 2011 a done deal for Newton. Besides all the off the field issues Newton will have his hands full against a terrific Bulldog pass rush on Saturday. Justin Houston is having a terrific season and though we’ve been critical of his play standing up in space, he’s been outstanding rushing the passer this season. And while Houston is noticed by all, Cornelius Washington is another terrific pass rusher with a bright future that gets little mention.
Virginia vs Maryland
The injury sage for highly rated cornerback Ras-I Dowling continues. The senior has missed half the Cavs games this season with assorted leg injuries. In his absence Chase Minnifield has done a solid job picking up the slack. Whomever UVA puts out on the field Saturday it could be near impossible to stop Torrey Smith, one of the best big play threats in the nation.
The year 2010 has been the year of the undrafted rookie in the NFL. Every week it seems like another player who was overlooked by every NFL team during the draft makes an impact and Week 9 was no different, with four undrafted players producing headlines with their play on Sunday. Chris Tripodi has the latest on this week’s unheralded rookie stars.
Javarris James (RB-Ind)
James might be better known for being the cousin of former NFL running back Edgerrin James than anything else, but his two touchdowns on Sunday helped the Colts stay in the game against the Eagles. Undrafted out of Miami, James received the goal-line work in for the Colts with Joseph Addai and Mike Hart out and Donald Brown still not 100 percent.
After a freshman season that saw him amass over 1,000 yards from scrimmage, many thought James would be the next big running back prospect out of Miami but injuries slowed him during his final two college seasons and dropped his draft stock significantly. While James may never be the star his cousin was, he has the skill set to be a solid backup in the NFL and step in when injuries hit, much like he did this weekend.
Seyi Ajirotutu (WR-SD)
With San Diego losing Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd, Legedu Naanee and Buster Davis to injury, the undrafted former Fresno State star stepped in to lead the Chargers receivers against the porous Texans secondary. Ajirotutu finished with 4 catches for 111 yards and his first 2 career touchdowns, burning Houston’s first-round pick, cornerback Kareem Jackson, for scores of 55 and 28 yards.
Ajirotutu is a smooth 6-3 receiver with the ability to stretch a defense vertically despite average speed. He went undrafted due to his inconsistent hands and focus but if he continues to polish his game, Ajirotutu has the size, speed and skill set to develop into a second receiver in the NFL. His performance against Houston solidified his spot on the San Diego roster for the rest of the season, even once they get healthy and Vincent Jackson returns from suspension.
Jacoby Ford (WR-Oak)
A second-round pick out of Clemson, Ford became just the second NFL player to have 140 receiving yards and 150 return yards in the same game. Ford returned the opening kickoff of the second half for a touchdown to get the Raiders on the board and caught 6 passes for 148 yards, including two long late-game catches that set up the game-tying and game-winning field goals.
Ford got an opportunity thanks to the Louis Murphy’s injury problems and the disappearing act pulled by last year’s first-round draft pick, Darrius Heyward-Bey, who didn’t catch one ball just a week after going over 100 yards. At just 5-9, 186 pounds but equipped with 4.25 speed, Ford is a playmaker in both the receiving game and the return game.
One of the major knocks on him out of college was an inability to win out in battles, but Ford stole an interception from Brandon Flowers that would’ve ended the game and sealed a Chiefs victory. Then in overtime, Ford laid out for a 47-yard reception down the field to essentially seal a Raiders victory. It will be interesting to see how Ford is used after Oakland’s Week 10 bye and how he might adjust to Bruce Gradkowski’s impending return.
Andre Roberts (WR-Ari)
An All-America-caliber junior season (95 catches, 1,334 yards and 14 touchdowns) put Roberts on the map and despite an underwhelming senior season at The Citadel, Roberts stood out enough at the Senior Bowl and the combine to warrant a third-round pick in April’s draft. He caught his first career touchdown on Sunday against Minnesota but remains behind Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston and Early Doucet on the depth chart.
Roberts is a sharp route-runner who knows how to use his 5-11, 195-pound frame to his advantage. He quickly reaches his 4.4 speed and while he’s a one-speed receiver, he has the ability to consistently create separation from defensive backs. Roberts is very polished for a rookie and can be effective as a third receiver, he just needs an opportunity to prove himself on the field coming out of a small school.
Michael Palmer (TE-Atl)
A longshot to make the team out of training camp, the undrafted rookie from Clemson scored his first career touchdown Sunday and doubled his career reception total with two catches. While he’s stuck behind Tony Gonzalez on the depth chart, Palmer proved once again that undrafted players can produce when given an opportunity.
Palmer is a limited athlete but shows good ability as a pass catcher, showing strong yet soft hands and a good release into his routes. His 4.94 speed prevents him from stretching the field and he doesn’t get much push in the run game, but he can be a serviceable backup tight end in the NFL with his receiving skills.
Koa Misi (LB-Mia)
Miami’s second-round pick out of Utah, Misi stepped into the starting role in Week 1 and hasn’t looked back. He had a season-high 6 tackles (4 solo) against the Ravens on Sunday and also ranks second on the team with 3.5 sacks.
Misi was a defensive end with the Utes but his skills have translated well to the 3-4 outside linebacker position. He consistently improved throughout his final three seasons in college and has done the same in the NFL. Misi struggled setting the edge on running plays during the preseason but has made major strides in that area, as well as working to perfect his pass-rush moves.
He doesn’t have the first-step quickness of a superstar rush linebacker and needs to polish his moves off the edge, but the Dolphins like Misi’s non-stop motor and his diligence off the field, watching tapes of Jason Taylor and soon Elvis Dumervil to look for things to add to his repertoire. Misi has the upside to be a solid NFL starter, both against the run and rushing the passer.
Sam Shields (CB-GB)
With the release of veteran Al Harris this week, the Packers are committing to the undrafted Shields as their nickel back for the rest of the season. Shields was a wide receiver until his senior season at Miami and Green Bay’s coaching staff believes he has the potential to develop into a top cornerback in the NFL once he gains a better feel for the position.
Shields is an excellent athlete who recorded his first career interception this week against Dallas. He works hard to get up the field to defend the run and breaks to the ball with receiver-like skills when the ball is in the air. Shields has displayed the same level of improvement so far this season as he did as a senior with the Hurricanes and with good size (5-10, 180) and speed (4.45) he has the potential to be a very good player in the NFL once he polishes his footwork and improves his instincts as a corner.
Kam Chancellor (S-Sea)
Drafted in the fifth round out of Virginia Tech, Chancellor saw extensive playing time in the second half of the Seahawks’ blowout loss to the Giants at home. The former Hokie finished with 7 tackles (5 solo) and a pass defensed in garbage time.
With the aging Lawyer Milloy starting alongside first-round draft pick Earl Thomas, the Seahawks view Chancellor as a potential option for next year and beyond at strong safety. At 6-3, 230 pounds, Chancellor is a hard-hitter best playing downhill against the run while his ball skills and awareness in coverage leave much to be desired. But with Thomas playing more of the prototypical center fielder at free safety, Chancellor can provide a Milloy-like complement at strong safety. Seattle would be wise to give Chancellor more playing time if they fall out of contention in the NFC West, which might be difficult to do this season no matter how hard they try.