In my role as lead analyst for www.900footballlinks.net, I study players entering into the NFL draft in detail. This article reflects my initial impressions of the players who popped during the 2011 East West Shrine Game. After “film study”, I will have more observations; particularly about the East’s offensive line which was dominate in the game. Keep in that the more-highly rated prospects go to the Senior Bowl.
Before looking at the 2011 players, I want to look back at some of the players that caught my attention the past two years. This will help frame the draft expectations for the players who excelled in this year’s game.
Here was my comment on wide receiver Blair White (2010 game). “White was the best player in the game. He has good hands, gets open and has decent size. I will need to see White’s workout numbers before deciding if he is a sleeper as a second-round value, or a late round type who could out-produce his draft slot.” White then went out put up great numbers for 6’2.2″ wide receiver. He ran a 4.42 forty, 4.03 short shuttle, and 6.69 three cone. All these numbers were towards the top of his draft class for wide receivers. In one of the biggest head-scratchers in last year’s draft, White went undrafted. He then signed as a free agent with the Colts, got on the field due to injuries, and played very well for a first year player. Think teams like the Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, Washington Redskins, and others could use White? I bet many wish they believed their eyes both on the field during the East West Shrine Game (not to mention that Mike Mayock said White caught everything in practice) and in workouts and drafted White in the 2010 draft.
Here was my comment on tight end Andrew Quarless (2010 game). “Quarless made a phenomenal one-handed catch. He was said to be the most athletic tight end in the game. I’m very curious how he will work out at the Combine. With a good workout he could be a player that gains momentum leading up to the draft.” Quarless’ workout was solid but not spectacular. He ended up being the 11th tight end drafted (in round five). As I get ready to watch the Bears-Packers game later today, I’m sure Green Bay is glad that they drafted him as Jermichael Finley insurance.
Here is my comment on cornerback Alterraun Verner (2010 game). “Verner played well in pass coverage and even showed good tackling skills on a quick completion eliminating YAC.” Verner then ran a 4.52 forty. However, his 4.12 short shuttle and 6.70 three cone indicated that he had excellent quickness and cutting ability. He also had excellent cornerback instincts. I had a third round grade on him and he was the 19th cornerback drafted (round 4). Verner started for the Titans and has a bright future in the league.
Here was my comment on quarterback Brian Hoyer (2009 game). “Came in with poor stats and little fanfare but was said to have looked surprising good in practices. He followed that up with a solid game. Hoyer showed quick feet, a quick release and good accuracy.” Hoyer went undrafted and was signed by a free agent by New England. He is currently Tom Brady’s backup and may eventually get a shot to start with another team.
Here was my comment on wide receiver Mike Thomas (2009 game). “Love this kid! He made plays both as a receiver and as a punt returner. He made some tough catches, including going up high to grab one (important since he is listed at 5’8″). Thomas gets open, makes catches and makes plays. What’s not to like.” He then went on to get an invite to the Senior Bowl. Thomas followed up his solid All Star game performances with great workout numbers including 4.30 in the forty, 6.65 three cone, 40.5″ vertical (supporting what I saw with him going up high to make a catch) and a 10’6z” vertical jump. I gave Thomas a second round grade. He was drafted in round four. All I can say is think about Thomas as a receiver/returned for the Patriots instead of Brandon Tate who they drafted in the third round.
Here was my comment on defensive tackle Roy Miller (2009 game). “Miller played a good game. He was consistently tough versus the run.” Miller then showed a great mix of strength and speed during workouts. He lifted the bar 36 times, ran a 4.93 forty (more importantly he was 1.68 at ten yards and 2.82 at twenty yards), and showed he was an explosive athlete for a 310 pound man with a 32″ vertical jump. Miller was drafted in the third round behind other defensive tackles such as Sen’Derrick Marks and Jarron Gilbert. Miller is now a vital cog in Tampa Bay’s young defense.
What does this all mean? For me the lesson to be learned is that if a player shines during the East West Shrine Game and supports their on-field performance during workouts, don’t jump at drafting, perhaps earlier than where you originally had them slotted. And for the record, in 2008, Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis had a nice game. He then went undrafted and is now a major contributor to the Patriots’ offense.
Now let’s look at the 2011 game. Remember, I have not as of yet done any “film study” so these observations are based on my watching the game in real time.
No quarterbacks stood out which meant no wide receivers popped for me either on first glance. However, a couple of running backs looked good, both on the East squad.
Delone Carter, RB, Syracuse – A short compact back in the mold of Ray Rice, Carter showed quickness, speed and strength while making some very nice runs. I will need to see how well he catches the ball, and his workout numbers to get a better feel for his draft value, but he is very intriguing.
Graig Cooper, RB, Miami – On first glance Cooper looked better than his production showed. He appeared fast and quick. He even made a nice play on special teams. This is where playing in the East West Shrine Game can be misleading. Marlon Lucky was a running back who had a similar feel to him in 2009. However, his workout numbers didn’t support what I saw in the game. Cooper’s workout numbers will tell the story of whether, in my eyes, he is a sleeper running back, or fringe player.
At tight end Greg Smith of Texas easily led all players in receiving yards with 4 catches for 77 yards. He looked very natural catching the ball and had a long of 35 yards. I’m very curious to see his forty time.
Another tight end that had some good moments was Kyle Adams of Purdue. He had a couple of receptions, although on one he should have gone out of bounds to stop the clock rather than fight for a couple of extra yards during a two-minute drill, and he made some nice blocks.
Offensive line takes “tape study” to grade. However, I saw a few players make some good run blocks. David Arkin (OG, Missouri State) looked like the best run blocker in the game. Beau Warren (OC, Virginia Tech) and Randall Hunt (OG, Illinois) made some nice run blocks. Laupepa Letuli had a nice block protecting the passer.
There were some very good defensive players in this game. As a group, the inside linebackers impressed me the most.
Ore Lemon, ILB, Oklahoma State – I felt Lemon was the most impressive player in the game. He was all over the field and is a hitting machine. He did miss a tackle when he went for the big hit instead of the tackle, but that is coachable.
Nicolas Bellore, ILB, Central Michigan – Bellore was another very active player. He showed good instincts against the run and played well in pass defense. He has excellent size and is a very intriguing prospect.
Gregory Lyoyd II, ILB, Connecticut – In addition to playing the run well, Lyoyd also made at least one special teams tackle.
Kenny Rowe, DE, Oregon – Rowe was a very impressive pass rusher; he looks like a good speed rusher. At 6’3″, 232 pounds he will need to show in workouts he can transition to linebacker.
Justin Trattou, DE, Florida – A batted ball, and consistent pressure on the quarterback summed up Trattou’s day. At 6’4″, 255 he could bulk up a bit and be a 4-3 defense end, or he could transition to a OLB in a 3-4 defense. His offseason position drills will go a long way to determining his draft value.
Josh Thomas, CB, Buffalo – Thomas had the best day of all cornerbacks. He played very well in coverage. Mike Mayock indicated during the broadcast that he is best served as a cover-two corner, however, he played very well in man-to-man during this game.
Winston Venable, SS/OLB, Boise State – Venable was a safety in college who played outside linebacker in the game. At 6’0″, 222 he would be nest served staying at strong safety, however outside linebacker is another possibility. His workout numbers, cover skills, and future NFL team will help dictate his position and draft status. During the game he showed excellent skills coming up to play the run. He is a sure tackler and has good run instincts. In any case he will be an excellent special teams player.