The All-Star Draft prospect exhibition season is over. Final scores in these games are almost meaningless. Who was there and how did they perform is the meat and potatoes that we look at. So here are some post-game thoughts. Please keep in mind that rosters at these games can be very fluid as injuries occur. So some of my numbers and roster analysis can vary depending upon which day’s team roster you are looking at.
More so than ever, it was the year of small school participation at every game. The generally accepted rule of thumb for roster size is about 110 players per game. That number often goes up due to player injuries during the practice week. My small school roster count for each team, based primarily on weigh-in rosters, was as follows:
SENIOR BOWL 17
SHRINE GAME 18 (+2 Canadian college players)
NFLPA Collegiate Bowl 27
There were a few double-ups, as a handful of players like BRETT TOTH/OT/ARMY and POONA FORD/DT/TEXAS played in one game and then traveled to the Senior Bowl the following week to fill in for an injured player. But let’s not get hung up on minutia.
My overall point would be that I am sure these numbers represent a record number of small school players. The numbers above add up to a total of 63 small school participants. I don’t have any problem with this circumstance for multiple reasons. The two most significant reasons are that, in general, the quality of these small school players have improved in recent years, and it gives many of us our best chance to see quality small school guys practice and play against some of the best draftable talent in the land. A number of Combine Invites are held back until after these games. As a result, some small school guys who might not have been scrutinized to the Nth degree, will be getting that coveted Combine invite after their performance at one, or two, of these 3 venues.
Let me mention a few of my favorite small school performers from these 3 games.
One of the biggest hits at the Senior Bowl was NATE SHEPHERD/DT/FT. HAYS STATE. If you tell me you knew all about how good he was before January then I would say you are a paid pro scout (and a thorough one at that) or a chronic liar. SHEPHERD was absolutely dominating practices until he broke a bone in his hand late in the week. He will be someone they want at the Combine if he’s healthy enough to participate in most of the work there.
MICHAEL JOSEPH/CB/DUBUQUE was at the Senior Bowl and looked to me like a legit Nickel/Slot Corner prospect for the Draft.
KYLE LAULETTA/QB/RICHMOND was on the South roster and got some serious playing time in the second half of the game and was named the MVP of the game after passing for 198 yards and 2 TD’s, on 8/12 accuracy.
The leading tackler for the SOUTH was LB/DARIUS LEONARD/SOUTH CAROLINA ST, with 14 stops.
LB/NICK DeLUCA/NORTH DAKOTA STATE had 6 tackles for the North, and was a standout on Special Teams. NICK came highly recommended by former teammate CARSON WENTZ, who made a personal phone call to Senior Bowl boss PHIL SAVAGE on behalf of his former college mate.
ALEX CAPPA/OL/HUMBOLDT STATE was a big hit at Senior Bowl week, with his aggressive play and versatility. He began the week at OT, but later also showed well at OG as well. What he lacked in finesse, he more than made up for in effort and nasty.
The other most disappointing injury of the week in Mobile was a first practice hamstring pull by SOUTH DAKOTA STATE TE/DALLAS GOEDERT, who is ranked as a Top 5 TE prospect and was expected to show well in Mobile.
BRANDON PARKER/OT/N. CAROLINA A&T looked like a small school player trying to catch up fast to the big school boys and he did just that. He’s 6’7 and weighed in at 303. And he did indeed look thin at that weight. If he can hold some weight on, being 320 in a year or two should be no problem. 35 5/8″ long arms and 85 1/4″ wing span have OL tutors drooling. He more than held his own by game day, and should have a chance to crack into Top 100 prospect lists.
The SHRINE Game had more than its share of small school guys step up and impress.
Star of the week over in St. Pete, FL was DAURICE FOUNTAIN/WR/N. IOWA, who caught everything thrown his way in practice and during game action. How he is still not a Combine invite may finally prove the NFL needs new management in charge of the Combine selection process!
Another very interesting small schooler at the Shrine venue was MARCUS MARTIN/DE/SLIPPERY ROCK who was the small school king of TFL/Sacks. But thanks to short arms (31 1/2″), MARTIN spent a lot of time playing as a FB and Special Teamer, which he handled quite well, including a goal line pass reception for a TD.
COLE REYES/S/NORTH DAKOTA was another standout defender during the week’s spirited practice action.
One of the most interesting OL candidates at the Shrine was GREG SENAT/OT/WAGNER, who played more HS & College basketball than he did football. He is still pretty raw in technique, but his measurables from the weigh-in screamed for attention. He stands 6’6 1/8″ and weighed 294 lbs, telling you that he needs to bulk up a bit for the NFL. But I can guarantee that OL coaches are drooling over his 35 5/8″ arms and wingspan of 84″.
Ivy League WR, JUSTIN WATSON/PENN, had an excellent week receiving at the Shrine, as well as working on Special Teams coverage units. He caught 3 balls in the Shrine Game and earned himself an invite to the Senior Bowl, where he caught one long ball of 34 yards.
Even though the NFLPA Game had the highest number of small schoolers on their rosters, I only noted a couple of them standing out in their game-day play. But remember, I was at the Shrine practices that week and had no way to watch NFLPA practices.
DE JOHN FRANKLIN/S.F. AUSTIN led the defense with some very aggressive pass-rush pressure from his DE spot. He had multiple QB’s on the run or on their butts all week.
One of their top OL performers was MATTHEW GONO/OG/WESLEY COLLEGE. He used nice size (6’4/319) to control DL all day long in the game. Of specific interest to pro scouts will be his arm length of 34 3/8″ and 82 1/2″ wingspan, which might help him earn an NFL slot, because he might be able to back up out at an OT spot as well as inside at OG.
Another small school OL, JAMIL DEMBY/MAINE, was impressive enough to get a Senior Bowl call up after the NFLPA Game. After a bit of a rough practice start, he acquitted himself well in Mobile, seeing a lot of game action, particularly out at OT.
With the proliferation of 100-plus underclassmen declaring for the NFL Draft each year, the absence of senior talent depth opens the door for these small school guys to fill out All-Star rosters in unprecedented numbers. Expect their presence to continue to play an important part in these games, especially until some way is found to include more underclassmen in the mix.
Let me point out that I counted 7 players on Senior Bowl rosters who we thought were underclassmen, but because of recent degree completion and age issues, the NFL declared them automatically qualified for 2018 Draft inclusion. Their number included highly regarded QB/JOSH ALLEN/WYOMING, who scored some big points with scouts, both on and off the field, with his participation in practices and the game itself in Mobile.
Though not exactly a “small school” performer, I did want to make note of a prospect, who played/practiced at both the Shrine and Senior Bowl venues, in BRETT TOTH/OT/ARMY. Right now no one is really sure what his military commitment will be, but the consensus I got was that he has pro potential, perhaps similar to HECTOR VILLANUEVA, STEELERS starting LT. He stands 6’056″, weighs 303 lbs. and has 33″ arms. His concept of pass-pro is a bit weak when you consider that Army never threw double-digit passes in a game last season. But most that I talked to felt that he had roster potential with a few years of Practice Squad work. He is a smart young man, and he demonstrates the personal discipline almost all service academy players do. It will be very interesting to see how his Draft status plays out, but I would urge you to remember his name. In a few seasons he may be competing seriously for an NFL career.