Every off-season, you'll get draft-eligible players that rise and fall based on their performances at the collegiate all-star games. Prior to the Scouting Combine, these games give evaluators an opportunity to evaluate prospects by the bunches, and in environments controlled by NFL coaching types.
There's a lot of information to be soaked in, not just from the games themselves, but from the week-long practices where the players are put through the motions of a crash course on NFL life. Thanks to Optimum Scouting's Eric Galko, we got a good look at who did what during the first all-star game, the Shrine Bowl.
Now, Eric rejoins us to discuss some items from the Senior Bowl. We're a little late due to scheduling conflicts, but since there hasn't been any action on the draft front since, it's still completely relevant.
Eric is the Director of Optimum Scouting and someone who I feel has a keen eye for draft talent. He had the privilege of not only being in attendance for the week of practice, but was allowed to review film of the practices so he could get a better read on all of the players skills and shortcomings..
Optimum Scouting, LLC is a full scouting company that has experience working with pro teams, leagues, All-Star events, and much more. Our scouting has been recognized by major media, on radio, and used by professional teams at a variety of leagues, including the NFL.
BTB: Let's talk Senior Bowl. Many people will say there is very little to glean from the game itself, that the core of evaluation is based on what happens in the week of practices. There are obvious reasons for this, as 30 snaps of game situations don't run a player through the gamut of various things you're looking to see. But still, nothing beats actual game footage in some regards. What's your take on how much information can actually be counted on when talking about the All-Star game performances themselves?
OS: I think the game is still a worthwhile watch, mostly to test situations. Can a linebacker/defensive end finish on 3rd down in sacking the quarterback? Can an offensive tackle that struggled during the week show he's better as part of a unit? Can the quarterbacks utilize a game-plan, work with their receivers, and finish throws in a game setting? Outside of those big questions, I think it's also key for running backs and linebackers, as they can't hit during the week.
BTB: Give us a quick rundown and snippet on some players who caught eyes during the week of practice that carried that into the game.
OS: Overall, I thought Dee Ford showed he's for real, as he finished his rushes with sacks and was winning inside and out on left tackles. Charles Sims and Lorenzo Taliferro showcased their versatility as running backs, a definite plus in a loaded running back class. Logan Thomas showed he still has warts in his game, with those five sacks very concerning about his ability to manage an offense. And Pierre Desir finally got his interception after a long week of practice dominating receivers both in press and when he was in position down the field.
BTB: Were there any players that had a really good game after a tough week of practice that surprised, or maybe reinstated an opinion that was held before the rough week?
OS: For the most part, I'd lean no. Most of these guys entered the game with some preconceived notions from me, but few showed something during the game that they didn't during the week. The one guy I will saw had a better-than-expected game was center Gabe Ikard, who had been repeatedly beat during the last two weeks of practice (played in Shrine Game too), but was adequate at guard during the game. After that, no Ezekiel Ansah performances this year.
(KD Note): Ikard is considered a late-round, ZBS-only fit at G/C.
BTB: Give me your three most overhyped prospects, guys you saw are a long ways away from the potential a lot of others see in them.
OS: Even though people have already said it, I think Logan Thomas needs a LOT of work. He told me that he and George Whitfield are working on fixing his front foot position to better his placement, but I think it's a lot more than that. Still, some team will grab him in the 3rd round. Adrian Hubbard of Alabama needs a lot of work, but I'm not sure he's even worth it. He's truly position-less at this point, and despite his upside, I'm not sure I'd even draft him. And finally, I'll say Stanley Jean-Baptiste needs a lot more work than people seem to think. He wasn't all that good during the week of practice when I went back and re-watched the film on Thursday night, and his footwork seems lost at the top of the receiver's route. Still, I know some teams that view him as a solid 2nd rounder.
BTB: Let's talk Jimmy Garoppolo, my well-known pet cat. What are the things you've seen from him over the past two weeks that you like, and those you think need improvement. And then, where do you see him in terms of the other QBs and draft slotting?
OS: First off, his quick release, strong arm, leadership ability and football intelligence are the three characteristics I think make him a top 100 pick, maybe even a high second rounder. During the two all-star game events, he showed he can make "all the throws", and that he's a quick learner in terms of NFL style progressions. His small-ish hands are a bit of an issue, and his footwork needs a LOT of work, in all areas. Combine that with the fact that he didn't play against top competition and his throws were generally easier in the FCS, and it's clear he's not worth a Top 20 pick. That being said, based on how he interviews (should do phenomenal) and if he can impress in workouts (certainly could), he could go anywhere from a darkhorse late 1st rounder to an early 3rd round pick. I don't think he leaves the Top 100.
BTB: The 2014 draft is different than last year's; quality underclassmen rule the day. That has the best of the senior class looking like mid-first round picks at the moment, and it brings up an interesting situation for Cowboys needs.
Dallas is in need of a penetrating 3-tech as well as an edge rusher, while also having a need for an offensive lineman that could possibly start at guard and eventually move to tackle. Enter Zach Martin, Dee Ford and Aaron Donald. It looks like the 16/17 slot Dallas occupies might be the zone where these guys project. Who do you feel is the safest pro prospect and who do you feel has the highest ceiling?
OS: Of those three, I think Zach Martin is clearly the safest. I'm confident he can adequately play tackle (may need some tight end chips against speed rushers early in his career) and could be a very consistent, Pro Bowl guard. I'm thinking a Logan Mankins type player, maybe David Diehl as well. As for the highest upside, I'd have to say Dee Ford, mostly because being a devastating pass rusher is so unique. That being said, I really think Aaron Donald could reach Geno Atkins level. I can't see that guy not being productive in the NFL, especially if teams realize that he won't ever be a great run-stuffing guy, and use him accordingly.
BTB: Can you explain what the coaching staff was doing by playing Rashede Hageman as a defensive end on a four-man line so much? That one baffled me.
OS: When you have his length and size (6'6), teams just want to see if he COULD do it. He's best in a 5-tech role in my opinion. However, on 3rd and long, pushing him to end where he can simply control the edge with power will allow quick interior rushers to penetrate with more success. Situationally, he could play defensive end, if only to help his interior rushers.
BTB: Jimmy Ward appears to have established himself as the top Senior safety after his impressive week. Does he have what it takes to be the centerfielder Dallas has remained allergic to drafting? What do you have him slotted?
OS: I'm not sure he's best as a center fielder, but he certainly has the patient feet and anticipation to fit there. He's a do-it-all type guy, playing cornerback at a high level, covering slot receivers well, attacking upfield in a strong safety role, and showcasing the ability to play deep in the Cover-3. Selfishly, I'd rather see him in a role where he can be a 5th defensive back early in his career as opposed to playing a lot of Cover 2 early in his career like he may in Dallas, but he could certainly be a fit.
BTB: DTs Caraun Reid (Princeton) and Justin Ellis (Louisiana Tech) walk into a dark alley and the one who emerges will be the better NFL 3-tech player. Who do you put your money on?
OS: As far as a 3-technique, I'd lean Reid. He's really Aaron Donald-lite in that he's consistently active initially, plays with quick hands, and can get penetration with multiple rush moves. He's not quite as good in every area like Donald is, but he certainly gets the same penetration. The second round isn't out of the question. As for Ellis, I think he fits the run-stuff, hole-collapsing 3-technique very well, but doesn't seem to have a great grasp on rushing the passer. He lacks any sort of rush moves (has a terrible rip move), and only has success when he drives with extension. I think he can play both interior tackle roles in the NFL, and likely best as a 3rd defensive tackle in the NFL, providing depth and situational ability.
BTB: When you're scouting 3-tech defensive tackles, give us an overview of which traits you place the most importance.
Optimum Scouting: It depends on what the drafting team's value. Team's that only try to send four each down will value upfield rushers, guys who can be quick off the snap and active laterally to either generate pressure or force double teams. For teams that can be creative in blitzes, they may be more focused on guys who fill holes more effectively and stunt with better hand placement, to allow their defensive ends/linebackers more room to run. Either way, I think having that quick, decisive initial hand placement and a plus first step are the two biggest areas 3-techniques need to win at to develop into a successful pro.
Many thanks are extended to Eric for sharing with us his first-hand knowledge of the prospects mentioned above. We'll be checking back in with him throughout the draft process.
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