Mariota, Winston, Fowler, Cooper; just a few of the names the media will focus on over the next twelve hours. But what of the small school players? Those who’ll be selected on Saturday or signed Sunday as free agents. Is there a Victor Cruz to be found this year? Here’s a breakdown of my top small school prospects; the non-combine/non Senior Bowl prospects with a good chance of playing Sunday football.
Chris Bonner/QB/CSU-Pueblo: By this point most are aware of Bonner, the strong armed passer who surprisingly never received a combine invitation. He’s the perfect developmental prospect for a team such as the Pittsburgh Steelers or Baltimore Ravens; a franchise looking for a back-up they could use as a trade chip in the future. Pueblo’s local home team, the Denver Broncos have worked out and interviewed Bonner.
Terrell Watson/RB/Azusa Pacific: Watson is a strong, punishing runner with terrific instincts and surprising straight line speed. He’s rushed for nearly 4000-yards and 52 touchdowns the past two years. Watson is a lot more than a product of inferior competition rather a legitimate rotational ball carrier for Sunday. Don’t be surprised if he slips into the very late rounds as the Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Texans have shown draftable interest in Watson.
Beau Gardner/TE/Northern Arizona: Gardner is an interesting story. Graduating high school in 2008, he left for a Mormon mission then arrived at NAU via junior college. He’s very rough around the edges but a terrific athlete with the speed to split the seam. Gardner fits perfectly as a move tight end at the next level and has drawn strong interest from the Arizona Cardinals, San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots.
Ricky Collins/WR/Texas A&M Commerce: The tape doesn’t lie and game film proves Collins is a legitimate 5th/slot receiver for Sunday. He’s a dynamic downfield pass catcher that only needs to improve his underneath routes. The Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns are considering Collins in the late rounds.
Jake Kumerow/WR/Wisconsin Whitewater: Kumerow has great bloodlines as his dad Eric was the first round pick of the Miami Dolphins in 1987. He’s also a terrific receiver with outstanding size, reliable hands and deceptive speed. Kumerow, who’s been drawing interest as a late round pick from the Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets and PFA interest by the Baltimore Ravens, is a legitimate fifth receiver with tremendous upside.
Jacob Rodgers/T/Eastern Washington: Rodgers began his college career at Washington State and is one of the best kept secrets on the offensive line. He’s large, relatively athletic and plays intelligent football. At worst Rodgers is a swing tackle that can back up on the left or right side and offers potential as a starter down the road. I’m told the San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles will consider selecting Rodgers in the late rounds.
Davon Walls/DL/Lincoln: One can’t help but be awed after watching Walls game film. He’s big, explosive and dominant. Granted it’s on a small school level but Walls overwhelms opponents out of a three point stance as well as the times he stands his 6-foot/5-inch, 295-pound frame over tackle. I expect him to get consideration at tackle in a four man line or as a two gap end. And with that said the New England Patriots have been very focused on Walls the past month.
Tonga Takai/DT/Montana: Takai is another who performs well on the game film then looked incredibly athletic during his pro-day last month. He’s a powerful 307-pound nose tackle prospect who slugs it out in the middle while also displaying the ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. A mobile nose tackle if you will so it should come as no surprise that the Philadelphia Eagles and Houston Texans have been targeting Takai.
LeBranden Richardson/OLB/Bethune-Cookman: Richardson could well be one of the most under the radar pass rushers in the draft. Primarily lining up at defensive end, he accounted for 8 sacks and 15 tackles for loss last season. Barely 6-feet/.5-inches, Richardson timed 4.7s during pro-day after tipping the scales at 245lbs. He also posted a vertical jump of 38-inches, highlighting his explosion. I really like Richardson as a 3-4 OLB/designated pass rusher for the next level and not surprisingly the New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars have been calling his number.
Tray Walker/DB/Texas Southern: Walker is yet another who stands out on film. He’s an explosive 6-foot/3-inches and overwhelms opponents with brute force. Walker needs to improve his defensive back mechanics but offers potential at corner or safety. He offers potential as a nickel back/special teams player and is receiving heavy interest as a third day pick from the Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens, who have had a ton of contact with Walker recently.
C.J. Roberts/CB/CSU-Pueblo: The second Pueblo prospect on this list, Roberts is a physical cornerback with terrific size and speed. He’s most effective backed off the line of scrimmage and plays with a special teams mentality. The Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals are both considering Roberts.
– I’m told if the Detroit Lions target a defensive tackle in round two the player at the top of their list is Xavier Cooper, who they feel is a perfect fit for their system.
– South Carolina tight end Rory Busta Anderson, who’s still suffering from a hamstring strain, had his pro-day on Tuesday. Anderson did not run the forty and ran a partial route tree with no deep outs to protect the hamstring. I’m told he caught the ball well and has built a good amount of intrigue around himself. The Denver Broncos, New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers were all on hand and have shown a good deal of interest in Anderson.
– Despite a poor forty time and general disappointing workout at the combine I’m told scouts like the film on Jean Sifrin and many teams have stamped him as a late rounder. Both are justified in my opinion. His age is of concern as Sifrin will be 27 years old this season.
– Sources say Andrus Peat won’t get past the St Louis Rams at 10 and could be selected even earlier. New York Giants perhaps?
– Tyler Sambrailo was slightly disappointing in the run-up to the draft but teams still like his film and the athleticism he displayed in college. Sambrailo is ranked as a tackle on a lot of boards outside war rooms but I’m told he’ll very likely be drafted as a zone blocking guard for the fall.
– One scenario I’m hearing for the New England Patriots is a trade out of the 32nd pick, something the team has had a lot of success with in the past, and moving down a few slots to select offensive guard AJ Cann. This would fill a big need at guard for the team. I’ve been skeptical of Cann’s movement skills but was told the big offensive lineman, who has been struggling with a calf strain since the end of the season, worked out for several teams on Monday and ran both the short shuttle and 3 cone at the request of coaches. He timed 4.51s in the short shuttle and 7.37s in the 3 cone, both terrific marks. Only two offensive linemen, Jake Fisher and Ali Marpet, ran faster times during the combine.
– A little more on the Browns. Earlier today on the Bull and Fox Show I revealed additional news on Cleveland wanting to trade up and select Marcus Mariota or possibly trading back with a team who wants to jump up and grab the signal caller. The premise being if trading up for Mariota was too rich for Cleveland’s blood they would be part of a three team trade in which another franchise would use the Browns initial pick as a stepping stone to move up for Mariota. I speculated the team in question is the San Diego Chargers with Philip Rivers being part of the trade. When asked if the Philadelphia Eagles would be interested in something similar I stated a move like that would surprise me. Here’s the audio. In conversations later in the day I found out on Monday evening Mike Florio wrote a piece stating the Eagles are in fact one team looking to work with the Browns in the hopes of trading up for Mariota. The article which can be found here.
After my interview with Bull and Fox I made further inquiries and can confirm both the Chargers and Eagles are exploring the possibility of maneuvering up for Mariota through the Browns and both teams have had conversations on the topic. This of course is contingent on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers not selecting Mariota with the first pick, which is a greater possibility than many presently predict, as well as the Titans passing on the Heisman Trophy winner. A league source told me if the Titans are ready to deal the pick then the Browns hold the most powerful position in the draft and the ability to dictate whether they or another team make the move for Mariota.
– I’m told the New Orleans Saints, another team with two picks in round one, will consider trading up if they feel they are in striking distance of Vic Beasley. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan loves Beasley’s pass rushing ability and potential in a 3-4.
– I’ve been a big proponent of Taiwan Jones and have stated several times he’s one of the more underrated linebackers in this draft. And while I was disappointed in his forty time at the combine it seems a number of teams concur on Jones being a gem at the linebacker position. Teams feel Jones is a smart, heady linebacker who makes up for his lack of foot speed with great instincts. The outside linebacker spot he played as a junior for Michigan State was a complex read and diagnose position and Jones rarely had mental lapses. Michigan State coaches have been raving about Jones to anyone who asks and there are a bevy of 3-4 teams who grade Jones as a third round pick.
– Another Michigan State defender that will be drafted earlier than originally predicted is Marcus Rush. Setting aside the fact his pro-day results were much better than scouts expected, Rush has blown teams away during the interview process. His willingness and ability to be a situational defender in a variety of schemes could push Rush into the fifth round.
– Staying with the linebackers, Wyoming senior Mark Nzeocha, who had his 2014 season cut short with a knee injury, worked out today for teams just six months after surgery. Nzeocha measured 6030/238lbs and timed as fast as 4.52s in the forty with a 1.56s 10-yard split. His other marks included a 39-inch vertical jump, 10’ 11” broad jump and 4.3s in the short shuttle. Scouts were surprised how quick and fast Nzeocha was just six months post-op. I had the opportunity to meet the senior at the combine and found Nzeocha to be engaging and articulate.
– I’m told the Seattle Seahawks would love to grab Dorial Green-Beckham if he’s available at the 63rd selection but they expect the receiver to be off the board during the initial fifteen picks of round two.
– I was surprised when I saw my buddy Josh Norris posted on a number of teams ranking Sean Mannion as the third quarterback in the draft. In the end Mannion could be the one laughing as I’m told more than a dozen teams in fact rank Mannion number three on their quarterback board. The Oregon State senior has recently worked out for the St Louis Rams and Dallas Cowboys.
– I’ve taken a lot of grief for mispronouncing Marcus Mariota’s name time and time again; fair enough. In my defense I am an American of Italian descent and a life long New Yawker. See you tomorrow.
– Expect the talk of teams wanting to trade up for Marcus Mariota to pick up intensity in the coming week. From all accounts I’m hearing the Cleveland Browns are the front runners and working hardest in the hopes of acquiring the quarterback. Early last week I was told the asking price from the Tennessee Titans was both of the Browns first round picks as well as their choice in the second round, to which Cleveland replied no. Understandable Tennessee would have a high asking price at this point and even more understandable the Browns would say no. I’m told the Browns may be willing to part with both first round picks for Maroita but want to hold on to the second round choice to draft a much needed receiver.
– Back on February 20th I posted the St Louis Rams would target linebackers early in the draft. One linebacker the team loves is Benardrick McKinney of Mississippi State. The team worked out McKinney last week and came away very impressed. The tenth pick of round one is too early for McKinney which lends many to believe the Rams could trade down in the first round or trade up from the second round to secure McKinney.
– The Denver Broncos are another team I’m hearing linked to McKinney as they believe he’d fill their linebacker need. The other name associated with Denver in league circles is Paul Dawson of TCU. It must be mentioned the team has not shown a lot of interest in Dawson via the visit/workout route.
– I’ve been a big proponent of running back Jay Ajayi of Boise State and like his entire game. That said last week I was informed a number of teams red flagged Ajayi over a knee injury he sustained early in his college career.
– Now that he’s been cleared of any wrong doing I’m told Frank Clark of Michigan will be selected much earlier (top 125) than most predict.
A little more than three weeks away from the 2015 NFL Draft! What’s the latest scuttlebutt and rumors floating around? Today we take a look at a few defensive backs soaring up draft boards and a late round surprise.
Quite possibly no defensive back is moving up draft boards faster than Eric Rowe of Utah.
As first reported two weeks ago, there’s a feeling Rowe will end up in the second half of round one and won’t get past the 40th pick. The teams I’m hearing highest on Rowe in round one include the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles have doubled up on Rowe, that is worked him out and will bring him in for an official visit, as have the Detroit Lions, who believe Rowe can start at either safety or cornerback.
Teams who like Rowe but select late in the rounds face a dilemma as most realize if they don’t draft him with their initial selection he won’t be on the board when they’re called on the clock in round two. Teams love Rowe’s size, athleticism and versatility but also feel he’s a smart, coachable player. The New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Bucs and Oakland Raiders are also bringing Rowe in for a visit. The Atlanta Falcons are working him out in a few weeks.
The Atlanta Falcons as well as the Detroit Lions will also be bringing in Arizona State safety Damarious Randall for a visit. Randall is another defensive back making a fast move up draft boards, so much so he could slide into the late part of round one. Teams love Randall’s film and understandably so. His cover skills are such that several defensive back coaches feel Randall could line-up at cornerback on Sunday’s. The Arizona Cardinals are another franchise very high on Randall.
Byron Jones, who was in Arizona visiting with the Cardinals today, is another zipping up draft boards. Jones is the bigger corner teams want and offers versatility as a number of coaches feel he could slide inside to safety. To date he has seven official visits on his calendar.
Getting back to the Green Bay Packers, immediately after the the combine I was told by several sources cornerback Kevin Johnson of Wake Forest is a player that have been targeting in round one.
One final defensive back who will be drafted much higher than people expect is safety James Sample of Louisville. Sample, who had 23 team interviews at the combine and presently has four official visits scheduled, is projected as a potential second round pick on some boards. Teams feel he’s a coachable prospect with a next level body.
Looking for a late round sleeper?? Turn towards Texas Southern cornerback Tray Walker, a player that was not on scouting sheets entering the season.
Watching the film Walker is an explosive, sudden player who loves to mix it up with opponents. He’s physical and fast but still a bit rough around the edges. Walker needs work on his backpedal but could easily line up as a nickel/dime back in zone packages. Walker measured a shade under 6-feet/3-inches and 190lbs on pro-day, averaging 4.47s in the forty and timing 6.7s in the 3-cone.
How busy is Walker? His visits list includes the Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens, Seattle Seahawks and the Atlanta Falcons, who’ll also be working him out.