The week of practice for the East-West Shrine Game has concluded and it's time to compare notes.
As we discussed in our 2014 Draftnik Primer, the game is one of two, major All-Star weeks for draft eligible collegians that gives them an opportunity to spend a week of preparation under the tutelage of former NFL head coaches Jerry Glanville and Romeo Crennel. While it is true that the Shrine Game doesn't have the same cache as the Senior Bowl that follows next week, one cannot under-estimate the talent level this event possess.
As their website boasts, over 100 players from last year's game made it to NFL training camps. Many of these players will turn into your pet cats this summer; going through camp battles to prove their worth.
As is the case with these all-star games, the game itself is secondary for talent evaluation. The week of practice is really when evaluators get a sense of what a player can really do. It's why scouts from every NFL team were in Florida this week and why teams are sending their entire coaching contingents to Mobile AL to prepare for next week's Senior Bowl.
To help us dissect what is and what isn't, I've enlisted the assistance of Eric Galko, Director of Optimum Scouting.
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.
If you know what's good for you, follow Eric @OptimumScouting on Twitter and after reading this Q&A, head on over to their site, OptimumScouting.com for more coverage of the 2014 draft.
Blogging The Boys: Let's start with Syracuse's Jay Bromley, who seems to be exactly what Dallas needs in a 3-tech. Most fans expect Dallas to go DT early (because, it's mock season and you must take your biggest need with your highest pick ::shoots self::) but what have you seen out of Bromley, in case Dallas waits or even double dips on the position?
Optimum Scouting: Bromley, on film and this week, has thoroughly impressed as a pure pass rusher from the interior. He's quick off the snap, exploding low and with a great first and second step as a rusher. His ability to attack the offensive lineman's inside or outside shoulder and immediately force him to recover has allowed for great production. However, he does tend to shoot too quickly upfield, and doesn't hold his ground well in one-on-one situations against the run. He could fit the 4-3 the Cowboys utilize, but don't expect much consistency in the run game.
BTB: Who else at the DT position could be a good fit for an athletic 1-tech or 3-tech?
OS: Two 1-techniques impressed this week: Beau Allen of Wisconsin and Justin Ellis of Louisiana Tech. Allen is an efficient gap eater who holds down initially, isn't easily knocked off the point of attack, and has the hand strength to win against centers head up. But Ellis was the real stud, repeatedly beating his blocker as a rusher, being near immovable at times in the run game, and even utilizing a tight-to-his-body spin move despite being around 360 pounds.
As a 3-technique, I think Stanford's Josh Mauro can play there in a 4-3 defense if need be. He attacks as a rusher better from the inside, and at worst he'll be a rotational and situational defensive lineman who can play multiple spots.
BTB: Staying on the defensive line, which ends look like good fits for either the 5-tech strongside or the 7 tech weakside, or even a stand-up Leo position?
OS: Again, Josh Mauro fits that 5-technique position, which may be his best NFL spot in the NFL. He played it (along with nearly every DL position) at Stanford this season at times, so it won't be anything new to him. As a weakside 7-tech, Ethan Westbrooks of West Texas A&M and Will Clarke of West Virginia both impressed this week. Westbrooks is a small school player who's athleticism transferred to the better talent very well, and he showcased the speed-to-power rushes and ability to sink and attack on the inside well.
Clarke is a 6'6, well-built edge setter who's very active off the snap. As for the Leo position, I was pleasantly surprised with Colorado's Chidera Uzo-Diribe. Quite a mouthful of a name, but he was known for a quickness and speed rushing ability this week. I think he can stand up and win as a pure "set him wide and let him free" type speed rusher.
BTB: Moving on to the linebackers, I think Dallas' most coveted skillsets are athleticism and ability to diagnose. Have there been any players that have shined in both of those categories we should keep an eye on?
OS: There wasn't a whole lot of 4-3 linebacker talent here this year. Maybe the only two guys who can fit that mold are Preston Brown of Louisville and Xavius Boyd of Western Kentucky. Brown is likely a mid-rounder, and proved to be the most versatile linebacker here, diagnosing and adjusting in the run game well and staying low and balanced in his coverage drops. Boyd is likely a late round/PFA type target, but he has the athleticism to work with.
BTB: What kind of drills are the corners going through and has anyone been able to wrestle the title away from Pierre Desir?
OS: The East team ran a "read step and bail" technique for the cornerbacks, so it wasn't a great opportunity for Desir (and Rice's Phillip Gaines) to show their ability close to the line of scrimmage. I though Shaquille Richardson of Arizona, Bene Benwikere of San Jose State and Andre Hal of Vanderbilt were all very solid this week, each having their particular days/moments to claim the "top defensive back of the week" award. However, none are as physically or athletically gifted as Desir is, and I still think he'll be the first defensive back taken from this game.
BTB: It's my theory that Dallas has two different needs converging into one at the quarterback position; Tony Romo's backup and Tony Romo's successor. My gaze has been set on Jimmy Garoppolo since early in the season. From what I can tell, he has great mechanics and arm-strength that would be considered good enough but not great. However the system at Eastern Illinois is more of a quick-strike, limited read offense. What have you seen from him this week?
OS: Garoppolo would be a great fit for those two needs at quarterback that you mentioned. The best part of his game is his quick release and his ability to adjust his final release point to control his velocity and touch down the field. His arm strength isn't great, and it was easily secondary to Cornell's Jeff Mathews this week (another talented quarterback), but he did nothing to hurt or help his draft grade. He may need a year to develop his footwork and adjust to a new, non-timing based offense, but he looks like a future NFL starter to me.
BTB: What other quarterbacks have caught your attention this week and where do you see them projected?
OS: The most impressive quarterback based purely on this week has been Jeff Mathews of Cornell. His arm talent and lower body mechanics were on display, generating ample velocity across the field and making a handful of wow throws. However, his concern is his footwork under pressure, which leads to poor throws and a lack of velocity. It happened a lot his senior season, and a few scattered times this week. I think he ends up in the mid rounds, with the 3rd being his ceiling and the 5th being realistic. Also, Ball State's Keith Wenning impressed this week, but I still feel he's a solid backup-type, with consideration in the later rounds.
BTB: Dallas has a prototypical height-weight ratio that they look for in wideouts. They like them around 6'2" and around 215-220 lbs. Of course, anyone with that profile that's also a polished route runner , good hands and quality speed is going to be a high-end pick. Army's Patrick Laird and Nebraska's Quincy Enunwa fit the height-weight profile, but how have they looked this week, is the draft in the future of either guy?
OS: Laird is a nice invite, and I like the Shrine Game's willingness to add a player from the armed forces, but I don't believe he has NFL talent. He was knocked off his route too easily and didn't wow enough the way a receiver his size should. Enunwa had a few nice vertical grabs early in the week, but he didn't do much to impress overall. He is built extremely well though, as the former top recruit is sculpted across his frame and has an NFL body type.
Also, I wouldn't rule out Coastal Carolina's Matt Hazel. He may measure in just under 6'2 at the Combine, but he's a physical hands catcher who consistent wins at the catch-point and adjusts his body well as he finishes his routes to make a play as a mid-field receiver. I think he cemented a draft grade this week for teams.
BTB: Dallas also seems to be missing a flat-out burner out wide. Anybody in particular looking uncatchable?
OS: Pittsburgh State's John Brown has been an exciting surprise. Easily the most unknown receiver when he got here, Brown has had the most impressive routes of any receiver here, controlling his speed in his transitions across the field remarkably well. He also repeatedly beat receivers in short area drills, including winning consistently in one-on-one red zone drills. He looked like the real deal this week, and he's atop my "re-watch" list.
BTB: The Cowboys O-Line improved greatly, but will definitely be in need of some additional depth. The D-Line's started out making the protectors look bad early in the week. Is there anything they do in these practices that would give good insight into ZBS ability and if so, have there been any standouts?
OS: The West team ran a lot of zone plays in their team drills, and easily the best in that role is Oklahoma's Gabe Ikard. He struggled mightily against nose tackles head-up, but if he's playing guard in the NFL in a ZBS system, he'll rarely need to encounter that. He's been a leader for the Sooners throughout his career and an All-Conference or All-American at center or guard the last three years for good reason. He looks to me like a long term NFL starter in a zone blocking system, and should be available in the early part of Day Three.
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.