With a couple of days to watch snippets of practices, plus keeping one ear to the ground, and gathering some numbers of relevance I feel ready to share some Star Game thoughts as the Shrine & Senior Bowl are upon us.
Let me start with one of the most pleasurable of the happenings once practices get under way… surprise standout players. No not guys that have jumped from Priority Rookie Free Agent to First Rounder. There really are not a lot of those miracles lying around out on those practice fields these days. But we do seem to find guys who go from “not on my Top 300 list”, to “might be late draftable”. Got one from each squad in Mobile.
Players do drop out of these events, and this late in the process it’s a mad rush to replace guys like ROSHCON JOHNSON/Texas who unfortunately broke a bone in his hand on Tuesday. So it is not surprising to hear JIM NAGY talk about watching tape of players who were at the Hula & NFLPA games that preceded this week’s Star action. He’s always looking for the “next man up”to get to Mobile to replace someone, for whatever reason it might be. So it’s a pleasant surprise, and a pat on the back to NAGY & his scouts, when some of these ‘Call-up” guys make their mark, like these two…
#67 ASIM RICHARDS OG UNC 6’04/307 10″H/34 1/8″A National Squad
I have to admit this man was not on my Prospect list two weeks ago. When he was announced as an add-in I shrugged and took a quick look at the 2022 UNC football guide. I liked what I read OK. But in two practices he’s been more than just OK. He’s a strong man, with long arms (for an IOL) and he is agile. It shows that he played in a pro style Offense for MACK BROWN as he is proficient in both run blocking and pass pro. I can guarantee you that he has made my watch list as game day approaches.
#0 MARTE MAPU SS/LB Sacramento St 6’025/217 33 3/8″A/80″Wing American Squad
From a strong smaller school football program, MAPU was called up after playing in the NFLPA Game last weekend. He is a seriously talented and athletic hybrid LB/SS who has practiced primarily at LB so far. And his penetration and head on tackling, in TFL ground quite often, is not going unnoticed. You can hear the pads cracking as he hits blockers and RB alike. He too just jumped onto the pages of my Top Prospect list. I am anxious to see what he does on game day.
As with much of higher level football these days, electronic timing is gaining big ground, and looking to eclipse things like the 40-yard dash as a meaningful measurement of player speed, in pads. I was anxious to see how fast/quick TREY PALMER is. Palmer was at Nebraska last season and put up some solid numbers, in both receiving and return work, in a lost season for the Cornhuskers. It sure seemed to me that PALMER would be moving up Draft Boards as his speed was revealed in post-season testing. We got a taste of that Wednesday as the National squad receiver was timed at 21.15 mph, running a fly route. Translation for future reference, that project to a 40-time of about 4.3? This guy is gonna rise all the way up until the NFL Draft begins.
Let’s flash to a guy who was not on many folks prospect radar until the 2022 collegiate season got to late October; TYJAE SPEARS/RB/Tulane. He rushed for over 1,000-yards, proved he was an above average receiver. He was the primary weapon for Tulane as they flipped from a double-digit Loss team in 2021, to a double-digit Win team in 2022. First good impression was weighing in at a solid 205, and looking like the most explosive RB here in practice. He is simply exploding through holes at the line-of-scrimmage and racing to the house. What I have seem in two practices in Mobile, combined with his season’s work at Tulane have him now entrenched in my Top 100.
Unfortunately, the highly scrutinized QB position has been much like a car accident scene; ‘Move along folks, nothing to see here”. But years of scouting (albeit admittedly amateur, not professional) tells me the real proof is in the game day play. So I will say for now, I might expect JAKE HAENER/#9, NATIONAL & CLAYTON TUNE/#3, AMERICAN to be the most effective game day leaders from the 6 active QB here.
This year’s small college darling appears to be CODY MAUCH/OL/N. Dakota St #70. He’s the big guy with flaming red hair sticking out of his helmet, a bit of a QUINN MEINERZ big belly (usually exposed) and a big smile despite missing his front 2 top teeth. But let me tell you, this young guy is not some kind of joke. He’s a legit college player, and pro prospect. He’s big and tough and aggressive. And the big experiment seems to be going well. That experiment is moving him inside to play OG/C here this week. MAUCH ‘s weigh-in numbers were as follows: 6’047/305, 9 5’/8″H/32 1/8″A/79 3/4″ Wing. It’s those relatively short arms that have NFL Scouts looking to see what he can do as a future IOL. He’s doing fine so far. He’s also showing a solid personalty with a self-deprecating sense of humor. Another Top 100 player for me.
OK, so really how big is DAWAND JONES OT/Ohio State? 6’801/375, 11 3/8″H/36 5/8″A/89 1/2″Wing
In other words huge or gigantic. The striking part is that when his unit huddles, even the 6’4/315 guys look a lot smaller than him. He sat out Wednesday with a possible concussion. So without teasing him about his size I will give you a point of reference if you have not seen his size differential with other full sized football players. Go to UTube and google up AndyReid Punt, Pass & Kick competition. It’s an often referenced video of Andy as a kid competing in the NFL sponsored PPK competition. Reid looks like a giant compared to all the kids in his age group. That’s DAWAND in most any football huddle. Now get better young man so we can see you in game action. He’s kinda raw, but as Coach Parcells used to say, you can’t coach size.
I have been a big fan of RASHEE RICE WR/SMU since the 2021 season. He’s an athletic, decent sized receiver @ 6’004/200, 9 1/2″H/32 1/8″A/77 1/4″W. Not numbers that sound like a small guy, but SMU’s media Gide had him about 6’3/210. Doesn’t matter a bit when you analyze his play. RICE caught 96 balls for 1355-yards & 10 TD last season for SMU in 12 games last season. He has decent speed but gets open on route running and a penchant for winning contested throws. He is also a workaholic when it comes to his playbook.
Most of the players in Mobile are 20+ years old. That sorta means that they are just transitioning from boys to men in their football molded bodies. But it looks like a few of them are already grown men, or at least playing like a man. One such player has been KEEANU BENTON DL/Wisconsin. In his muscled 6’3 1/2″/312# frame he is just pushing a lot of his National teammates around to make plays in any drill exercise his coaches run. He’s strong, and shows very good quickness and some well honed penetration moves. He reminds me a lot of 2 former SEC greats, now toiling in the NFL; CHRIS JONES/Chiefs & JEFFREY SIMMONS/Titans. At the pace he is practicing this week BLANTON could be edging his way into the late First Round come Draft time. Guy’s with his size, who can collapse the pocket from the inside are highly desired in today’s NFL defenses. He didn’t get the recognition as the Badgers 2022 season became a dumpster fire every other week of action. That’s why LUKE FICKELL is now their Head Coach and is working the Transfer Portal to boost the Badgers talent pool, as we speak. If you watch the Senior Bowl game this Saturday, keep your eyes on #95/BLANTON and a guy who may line up near him #6/KEION WHITE.
So let’s run this thru one more time. Star Games matter. Anytime they put on the pads and keep score it matters. So…
SHRINE BOWL Thursday (tonight) 8:30 EST/5:30 PST TV coverage NFLNetwork from Las Vegas
REESE’S SENIOR BOWL Saturday 2:30 EST/1:30CST TV Coverage NFL Network from Mobile, AL
Watch them both, and tape them for future study.
P.S. I almost forgot to mention my favorite player in this game: LB #1, National Squad, DAIYAN HENLEY, Washington State, 6’1/230#. He has been flying around the field in Mobile and I am pretty sure I am not the only “watcher” this week tat sees First Round (late) talent, in part because he is just as effective against either the run or pass game.
P.S.S. Not to forget the Shrine Bowl tonight… keep your eyes on ZAY FLOWERS WR/RS #4. This speedy/quick, little (5’9/182) water bug is the highest ranked prospect in this game. He’s on the West Squad somehow, even though he’s from Boston College.