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2014 Shrine Game: West Team Prospect Scouting Preview

EJ GainesWhile the East roster may boast the top quarterback and more depth in the secondary, the West roster wins at almost every other position based on film work.

The West roster is led center Gabe Ikard, linebacker Max Bullough, cornerback EJ Gaines, and a host of expected-to-be drafted defenders that will make this roster a must follow during practices.

1. Keith Wenning, Ball State

Despite not being highly recruited, Wenning turned in a very impressive career in the MAC, capped off by a solid senior season that has led to well-deserved NFL attention. The biggest takeaway from Wenning is his composed feet inside the pocket and on the move. He’s consistently balanced and in position to make an accurate throw across the field, something many quarterbacks in this class can’t say. His timing in short-to-mid range routes was also a plus, but that likely will be neutralized this week due to new receivers. While his ball placement isn’t perfect down the field, his routinely in position to make accurate throws and generally gives his receiver the best chance to win at the catch-point downfield. While Garoppolo will likely be the best passer of the week for the East roster, Wenning could make the most money during this week of practice, and could leave with a draftable grade.

2. Keith Price, Washington
A highly productive passer over his Washington career in Steve Sarkesian’s offense, Price’s senior season was derailed by injuries that nearly rendered him forgotten in this deep quarterback class. His recovery from that injury, especially for a runner of his talent, will certainly be something to watch for teams. He has some release versatility, able to spin the ball out quickly with velocity in the short area, but also the control to stand tall and deliver vertically with touch. However, his accuracy begins to get erratic when forced under pressure or on the move, and his overall footwork is spotty at best, leading to a lot of his placement issues. I’ll also be very curious to see how consistent he can be without being able to get in a rhythm with the screen passes that his offense often used to get him going.

3. Tommy Rees, Notre Dame
Certainly the most surprising invite of the quarterbacks, I’ll add to that with the thought that Rees isn’t as bad of a quarterback as some made him out to be. He lacks the vertical arm strength and certainly doesn’t have the foot speed to be effective outside the pocket in the NFL, but he’s become a very consistent, efficient pocket passer who doesn’t rush his mechanics/footwork and rarely misses open receivers. I don’t think he’ll flash all that much this week nor will he flash if he gets an NFL opportunity early on, but like Matt McGloin this year, being an efficient passer who doesn’t make many mistakes could have a role in the NFL in the perfect situation.

Running Backs
1. Tim Flanders, Sam Houston
One of the FCS’s best running backs the past three seasons, Flanders nearly declared for last year’s draft before opting to finish off his college career at Sam Houston State. The former Kansas State transfer has had great success thanks to his remarkable explosive laterally and his ability to gain speed quickly on the edge. While he stays low through traffic, he does tend to lose momentum in power run plays, and doesn’t fight through contact as well as you’d like. But it’s his lateral cuts in the box and high elusiveness IQ that should have him drafted in the later rounds. He’s had success in both the FCS playoffs and against the FBS foes he’s faced in his career, so the increase in competition shouldn’t be a major concern.

2. Brennan Clay, Oklahoma
Oklahoma has been known to use multiple running backs during the game and season, but Clay was the recipient of plenty this season. With his control and wiggle on the interior, Clay has great long speed when he hits the open field and burst to take advantage of smaller initial holes. A versatile player during his career (getting ample work on special teams along with 3rd down carries), Clay will be aiming to show teams that they need a versatile presence in their backfield like Clay as a mid-late rounder in this deep class.

3. Ben Malena, Texas A&M
4. Anthony LaCoste, Air Force

Wide Receivers
1. TJ Jones, Notre Dame
The feature receiver for an inconsistent and somewhat lackluster offense this year, Jones made the most of his opportunity this year. Playing in multiple spots of the field, Jones is an efficient, patient receiver who adjusts his routes well to the defense and attacks quickly upfield as a runner. While he doesn’t psosess great vertical speed, he keeps stride well after the catch and shows immediate elusiveness after catch to pick up quick yards. His lack of plus size, struggles against press at times, and limited extension ability away from his frame limits his upside, but he’s developed in key areas that should lead him to be a solid NFL receiver, likely as a 3rd or 4th option.

2. Chandler Jones, San Jose State
The primary slot receiver for David Fales this season, Jones got work in a variety of routes this year, attacking in the short area and in vertical routes. Jones shows the footwork to adjust his routes very well downfield, utilizing double moves and playing under control as a vertical receiver the best out of any receiver in the game this year. With ample work in the slot, it’s likely that this is where team’s will project him, so I’ll be watching to see his separation quickly off the snap and his ability to work vertically against safeties in off coverage this week.

3. Seantavius Jones, Valdosta State
Potentially the longest and most physical receiver at the game, Jones will get the chance to take advantage of the undersized cornerbacks in attendace. While he was used most effectively in the redzone on quick hitches for needed first downs, Jones actually got ample work as a route runner, and showcased quick hands to exchange against cornerbacks and the control to position himself well against double coverage to allow for a throwing window. The only true “X” receiver on the roster for the NFL, he has the chance to really impress in one-on-one situations this week and leave as the best receiver at the game if he can showcase his route development and size value during the week. He will need to overcome some drop issues and lack of great separating vertical speed.

4. John Brown, Pittsburgh State
5. Bernard Reedy, Toledo

6. Quincy Enunwa, Nebraska

Tight Ends
1. Kaneakua Friel, BYU

A tight end group that certainly doesn’t wow much, Friel is the best of the bunch, though he mostly played in the slot and away from the interior line this season. The big boded, long tight end worked mostly underneath as either a screen blocker, quick hitch tight end, or occasional seam stretcher, Friel showed the ability to use his body to position for a throwing lane for his quarterback on first down-needing drives. His flashes of athleticism as a pass catcher, experience as a blocker, and strong build throughout his frame could make him a nice mid-late round tight end that a team could develop as a future starter with time.

2. Ted Bolser, Indiana
3. Jordan Najvar, Baylor

Offensive Linemen
1. Gabe Ikard, OC, Oklahoma
One of the best (maybe THE best) centers in the 2014 draft, Ikard plays with remarkably composed feet and quickness laterally on the Oklahoma interior. He’s able to play wide in pass protection and exchanges rushers smoothly, along with extending with strong hands and trap blocking well for running plays. He may lack great power and drive block ability, but Ikard will be the toughest offensive linemen to beat for all of the interior rushers at the Shrine Game.

2. Charles Leno, OT, Boise State
Protecting against speed rushers is key for the blindside offensive tackle to do at the NFL level, and that’s a key area where Leno struggles at times. Playing with a wide base and strong hands once engaged, Leno has had success in embracing contact when he can position himself well. However, he is susceptible to playing too wide and getting too extended, leading to either quick rushers to counter off of him throughout a game or for developed rushers to allow him to set up prematurely and adjust with speed afterwards. Leno is a polished and seemingly high IQ technician as a blocker, but he’ll need dot show he can adjust to rushers better during practice this week.

3. Dakota Dozier, OG, Furman
After playing tackle and guard in college, Dozier size and lack of great lateral quickness/balance will push him to guard during the practices this week and likely in his NFL career. However, in a phone booth on the edge in college, Dozier showed remarkable strength, a sturdy, wide base, and the physical tools to be a mauler in the run game. Dozier’s lack of great lateral athleticism and only occasional worthy rushers in college (he did play Tennessee this year) will be the two concerning parts of his resume that he’ll get the chance to answer this week.

4. Ryan Groy, OG, Wisconsin
5. Austin Wentworth, OT, Fresno State
6. Kevin Graf, OT, USC
7. Danny Kistler, OT, Montana
8. Dillion Farrell, OC, New Mexico
9. Jeremiah Sirles, OT, Nebraska
10. Christopher Burnette, OG, Georgia

Defensive Linemen
1. Derrick Hopkins, DT, Virginia Tech
The interior presence on a defensive line that failed to live up to the high expectations I set (along with NFL teams) for it a few years ago, Hopkins ended up as likely the best of the bunch after having the most consistent season of any Virginia Tech defender after cornerback Kyle Fuller. Quick off the snap and laterally controlled to adjust as a rusher without losing gap integrity often, Hopkins has shown the efficiency as a pass rusher and tackle finisher to get a starting opportunity at some point in his career. However, he does tend to rise post-snap if he doesn’t win initially, which leads to him being pushed out of position (and potentially on his ass at times). He’ll need to limit that this week.

2. Cassius Marsh, DE, UCLA
Playing a tackle/end role in the UCLA defense, he plays with great length and power away from his frame, setting up rushers to work around him inside and outside. He controls blockers at a high level, using his upper half to keep blockers off balance and allowing himself to adjust laterally. He’ll get the chance to shine on his own this week as opposed to players like Barr and other rushers to take advantage of his set ups.

3. Josh Mauro, DE, Stanford
Playing in the well-respected Stanford defense, Mauro is a 6’6, 281 pound powerful interior presence who got ample work at end, 5-technique, and in multiple spots as a defensive tackle. For his size, he’s very active laterally and with his hand exchange, closing quickly on the ball carrier with plus vision and anticipation. He can, however, get stood up at times as he attacks the backfield, as he seems to rely on shoulder adjustments and quick hands but is susceptible to sturdy lineman. He’ll get the chance to showcase his versatility against multiple offensive lineman types.

4. Larry Webster, DE, Bloomsburg
A former basketball player, Webster’s a still developing defensive player who has plenty of work to do but the raw ability that NFL teams will covet. With plus length and flashes of strength away from his frame, Webster still lacks the bend around the edge (though his athleticism shows it’s likely more of a technique issue) and consistent hand placement/adjustments to be an instant impact in the NFL, and at times was neutralized at the D2 level. He’ll need to show even more flashes this week for teams to view him as anything more than a late-round project.

5. Chidera Uzo-Diribe, DE, Colorado
6. Zach Moore, DE, Concordia St. Paul
7. Justin Ellis, DT, Louisiana Tech
8. Beau Allen, DT, Wisconsin
*Evan Gill, DE, Manitoba

1. Max Bullough, ILB, Michigan State
A high IQ linebacker, Bullough has had success in college thanks to anticipation and timing on the interior. He collapses holes very efficiently on the inside, attacking with great pad level and holding his ground very well against fullbacks and interior linemen. He is, however, a bit limited athletic-wise in vertical coverage, and hasn’t displayed much range in man-pickup. He’ll have the ability to showcase both during practices.

2. Devon Kennard, OLB, USC
After suffering a season ending injury in 2012 (torn pectoral muscle), Kennard made the most of his final season by utilizing his burst initially, transition from speed to power as an edge rusher, and control in space to finish as a tackler. With the respect of his teammates and peers as a high energy, strong work ethic defender, Kennard should be one of the top performers in most of the drills this week, despite playing primarily a 3-4 outside linebacker role.

3. Shaquil Barrett, OLB, Colorado State
Barrett enters the 2014 class as an unheralded pass rusher, but he could leave the Shrine Game as a trendy 3-4 outside linebacker “sleeper” picked after the top 100 picks. Barrett has very active, powerful hands and adjusts his upper half as a rusher very well. Working primarily as a power rusher, Barrett sinks and slides laterally while engaged well. He does lack the second burst and pass rush development after he’s engaged, and doesn’t possess great quickness/bend to be an edge speed rusher, something he’ll likely be exposed on against quicker offensive tackles.

4. Jordan Zumwalt, OLB, UCLA
5. Tyler Starr, OLB, South Dakota
6. Nate Dreiling, ILB, Pitt State
7. Prince Shembo, ILB, Notre Dame

Defensive Backs
1. EJ Gaines, CB, Missouri
A big reason for Missouri’s defensive success this year, Gaines was the feature defensive back for the highly productive Tigers defense. Utilizing his physicality throughout his coverage, Gaines is patient when defending downfield. Able to lean and stay tight in pickup, Gaines has the quick feet initially in his back pedal to work in both zone and man coverages. He could improve his hip timing, transitions, and positioning, however, and he’ll either need to showcase developing fundamentals or get exposed at times during Shrine Game.

2. Carrington Byndom, CB, Texas
Despite being called one of the “best cornerbacks I’ve ever coached” by now former coach Mack Brown, Byndom has had an up and down career at Texas, especially this season. His lack of great size allows for bigger receivers to manhandle him at times, but his hip fluidity, balance, and quickness are consistently prevalent in watching him play vertically. Footwork and willingness to embrace contact is what scouts will be watching closely as he matches up against all types of receivers during practice.

3. Bene Benwikere, CB/S, San Jose State
Playing cornerback, nickel and safety in his career, Benwikere hopefully will play a bit of all three during the week of practices since he’s had success at each. His pedal technique and overall footwork could use ample work, as he tends to play on his back feet too often and allows far too much cushion underneath because of it. However, he possesses natural fluidity to attack upfield, which is why safety may be his better position at the next level. Still, he needs to show the ability to match-up in 3+ wide sets and hold up in more than just mid-field coverage if he hopes to maximize this week.
4. Sean Parker, SAF, Washington
Despite being a bit undersized for the position, Parker plays with great power in run support and quick feet across the field. While his hips aren’t a huge strength vertically, and he’s best suited playing more underneath, he’s improved this season in timing his turns and not being as susceptible to double moves/vertical receivers. With added work this year as a slot cornerback as a well, Parker’s added versatility should allow him to have success this week and thrive in this setting.

5. Rashaad Reynolds, CB, Oregon State
6. Marcus Williams, CB, North Dakota
7. Bennett Jackson, CB, Notre Dame
8. Shaquille Richardson, CB, Arizona
9. Alden Darby, SAF, Arizona State
10. Daniel Sorensen, SAF, BYU
11. Daytawion Lowe, SAF, Oklahoma State
12. Brock Vereen, SAF, Minnesota