Posted on: December 17, 2010 7:01 pm
Need to scratch that football itch?
There is an exciting game tonight in the FCS -- where they let playoffs determine the national champion.
Villanova and Eastern Washington meet tonight for the chance to play in the championship game. It should be an exciting game. If you haven't seen a game from Roos Field in Cheney Washington, you should tune in for a moment just to see the field. It's red.
NFL scouts will be tuning in for a different reason - the fact that 'Nova and Eastern each boast legitimate pro talent.
The greater talent lies with the defending champion Wildcats. Left tackle Ben Ijalana is the best of the small school linemen and ranks among the top ten senior tackles in all of college football, in my opinion. His quick feet, good balance and long arms could keep him outside in the pros, though some teams project him inside as a guard.
The most exciting prospect in the game is Villanova's do-everything weapon Matt Szczur . By do-everything, I mean take a peek at what he's done in the two playoff games so far: 25 rushes for 172 yards (6.8 yards per carry) and three touchdowns, 16 receptions for 153 yards and one score and 2-of-2 passing for 58 yards and another touchdown. Szczur earned a spot as Diamond in the Rough -- the most impressive small school player of the week -- earlier in the year. Oh, and he's a terrific baseball player too. So good, in fact, that the Chicago Cubs drafted him last year in the fifth round. He hit safely in 21 consecutive games over the summer for their minor league teams.
Ijalana and Szczur have each been invited to the Senior Bowl and are viewed as possible Top 100 prospects in the 2011 draft.
Eastern has a lot of talent, as well, but was dealt a blow last weekend. Their junior star running back Taiwan Jones broke his foot in the fourth quarter of Eastern's win over North Dakota State. Jones was spectacular in that contest, rushing for 230 yards and a touchdown before breaking the fifth metatarsal of his left foot. Jones, an All-American, rushed for 1,742 yards and 14 scores this year. There was some buzz in the scouting community that he was looking into leaving Eastern early for the NFL.
The Eagles feature another intriguing junior prospect in defensive tackle Renard Williams . The 6-2, 300 pounder posted 43 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks on the season. I love to see interior defenders that know how to knock the ball free and Williams did precisely that this season, forcing a team-high four fumbles on the year. Like Jones, Williams had a spectacular game against North Dakota State, registering three tackles for loss, including two sacks. Williams also forced a fumble and intercepted a pass.
The defensive player you'll hear the most about is linebacker J.C. Sherritt . Sherritt earned the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year award this season because, quite frankly, he's a tackling machine. Sherritt is Eastern's all-time leader 406 stops, including 15 last week. Scouts don't believe he has the size (5-10, 220) to remain at mike linebacker in the NFL and some teams are projecting him to strong safety. Sherritt does not appear to have the agility or speed to make this conversion in today's pass-happy NFL. Sherritt does play with spectacular instincts, however, and is fun to watch. Some team will give him a well-deserved chance to beat the odds.
This game will be played tonight (Friday) at 8:00 pm EST and televised by ESPN2.
They may be televising the game, but you should know by now where to get the best analysis.
As always, remember that for complete draft coverage, be sure to check out NFLDraftScout.com or simply click here.
Posted on: December 11, 2010 10:09 pm
On a day when most of the college football world was focused on four players dressed in suits in New York City, there was some exciting on-field action and legitimate pro prospects also on display.
Reviewing all of the quarterfinal FCS games this weekend, there were several standout performances.
The most impressive, not surprisingly, came from Villanova wide receiver and Wildcat quarterback Matt Szczur. Szczur, my reigning Diamond in the Rough as the best small school prospect of the week, scored five touchdowns -- rushing for three, passing for one and catching -- in the Wildcats' 42-24 victory over No. 1 ranked Appalachian State.
Szczur, who battled a high ankle sprain for much of this season, clearly has regained his explosiveness, impressing not only with his agility and speed, but with improved route-running from just last week (when he accounted for 196 yards as a runner and receiver and scored a touchdown against Stephen F. Austin.
Draft Slant fans know precisely how high I am on Nova's "other" draft prospect, left tackle Ben Ijalana. His quick feet and good balance again stood out against the Mountaineers.
Szczur and Ijalana have already been invited to the Senior Bowl, the most prestigious all-star game in college football and one usually reserved for FBS prospects.
Friday night, scouts got their first nationally televised opportunity to see Delaware quarterback Pat Devlin, who also led his team to a victory.
Devlin wasn't flashy, but the 6-3, 220 pound Penn State transfer shook off a slow start to complete 27 of 38 passes for 261 yards and the Blue Hens' two touchdowns in their 16-3 victory over New Hampshire. Scouts like Devlin's mobility, short to intermediate accuracy and poise in the pocket. Delaware's spread offense is quarterback-friendly and rarely asks Devlin to make deep throws, but he showed better zip than he's often been given credit for. He, too, could wind up with an invitation to the Senior Bowl.
The most impressive player on the field in Eastern Washington's thrilling overtime victory over North Dakota State was the Eagles' junior running back Taiwan Jones.
Generously listed by Eastern at 6-1, 200 pounds, Jones looks a bit smaller, but scouts won't quibble about his size after this contest. The junior star rushed for a career-high 230 yards demonstrating a degree of explosiveness that simply is rarely seen at the FCS level. Perhaps most impressive is that Jones enjoyed his strong game in snowy conditions, which limited his effectiveness late in this contest. His lean build is similar to that of NFL star Chris Johnson and Oregon's Heisman finalist LaMichael James.
There has been some talk in the scouting community that Jones will consider leaving the Eagles early for the NFL. Considering the weak senior class of running backs, he could surprise as a middle round pick based on his big play ability.
Without an all-star game, however, to test his game against the FBS' bigger, stronger athletes level of competition questions will dog him, likely resulting in low enough grade from the NFL Advisory Committee to send him back to Eastern for another season.
Posted on: December 7, 2010 1:39 pm
With only one player drafted since the Eagles selected running back Brian Westbrook in the third round of the 2002 draft, Villanova has hardly been a hotbed for NFL talent.
This year, however, the Wildcats certainly have the attention of scouts, as they boast two of the more intriguing small school prospects in the country in left tackle Benjamin Ijalana and wide receiver Matt Szczur .
Ijalana was impressive enough to earn a spot in this week's Draft Slant, which you can check out here.
Szczur, however, was even more impressive, earning this week's Diamond in the Rough.
Szczur (pronounced "See-zer") has been a standout football and baseball player for the Wildcats throughout his entire career. A 2009 consensus All-American and the Colonial Athletic Conference Offensive and Special Teams Player of the Year, Szczur is perhaps the most widely accomplished "small school" prospect in the country. As such, it wasn't a huge surprise when the Senior Bowl made he and Ijalana earned two of their earliest invites to the prestigious all-star game.
As it turns out, there may have been another reason why Szczur earned a spot on the team, however.
As mentioned previously, Szczur is also a terrific baseball player. So good, in fact, that he was drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 draft by the Chicago Cubs. An outfielder with great speed and live bat, he played at three levels in the Cubs organization last summer, batting .347 with a .414 on-base percentage and a .465 slugging percentage in 25 total games.
Szczur has a significant decision to make. Part of his contract with the Cubs is that he has to decide by February 15 whether he's going to pursue baseball or football. By participating in the Senior Bowl (January 29), scouts will be able to provide him with an accurate idea as to his true draft status.
Based on his performance Saturday (9 rushes for 68 yards, 11 receptions for 128 yards and a touchdown) in Villanova's comeback victory over Stephen F. Austin to advance to the FCS quarterfinals, they'll like what they see of the versatile playmaker.
Szczur is a multi-purpose athlete who took snaps at the outside and slot receiver positions, as well as at quarterback in Wildcat formations. This was his first game back on the field healthy after missing seven games this season with a high left ankle sprain.
Quite frankly he appeared to still have the lingering effects in the first half against Stephen F. Austin. While he caught several passes and ran reasonably effectively out of the Wildcat, Szczur’s trademark big play ability just wasn’t there.
It was after half-time, however…
Szczur generated most of his plays operating out of the slot. While he isn't truly explosive out of his stance or breaks, he has very good build-up speed at a rock solid 5-11, 200 pounds has the bulk and toughness to handle maintaining this role in the NFL. He has reliable hands and the combination of body control and athleticism to contort in space to make the acrobatic catch.
Scouts had an opportunity to see his acceleration and vision on a Wildcat run in the 3rd quarter for 37 yards. He read his blocks and burst down the near sideline, avoiding several defenders and out-running before being forced out of bounds.
Later in the quarter Szczur made his most impressive play, though it only went for 11 yards. Lining up in the slot, he caught a wide receiver screen on the far sideline, broke free of a tackle in which the defender had one arm wrapped completely around him, recognized the Lumberjacks crashing his way, so he reversed his field ran all the way back towards the near sideline, picked up a few blocks (including one from QB Chris Whitney) and scampered for the first down.
Szczur's touchdown reception came in the 4th quarter with the Wildcats already comfortably ahead. He lined up in slot against zone coverage and showed off his savviness as a route-runner, fooling the safety with a slow release before accelerating past him to collect a perfectly thrown pass from Whitney for 51-yard score.
Posted on: December 4, 2010 5:29 pm
Mississippi nose guard Jerrell Powe surprised many with his announcement a few weeks ago that he was considering returning for another season of college football.
Apparently he's reconsidered, as the 6-2, 320 pounder is indeed going to make himself eligible for the 2011 NFL Draft, as the University of Mississippi's official athletic website is reporting .
“I have struggled for a long time about this decision, but in the end, it’s time for me to move on,” Powe said. “I really appreciate everything Ole Miss has done for me. I plan on coming back and supporting my school and my team for the rest of my life. I am in my prime right now and I feel it is in my best interest to start using my ability to earn a living for me and my family.
“I am very thankful to the Ole Miss family, the coaching staff and my teammates for the support I have been shown these past few years.”Quite frankly, Powe would have been better served coming out after last season. Powe earned second team All-SEC honors in 2009, racking up 34 tackles, including 12 tackles for loss.
This season, with opponents focusing their blocking schemes on stopping him, Powe has seen his numbers drop. While he again earned Second Team All-SEC honors, he only posted 27 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks this year.
More important than his statistics, the explosive power and quickness that Powe had demonstrated in 2009 was only seen in flashes this year.
Powe's ability to clog up running lanes as a prototypical 3-4 nose guard makes him a very valuable commodity. Despite his hype , he is no lock to make the first round. A strong performance at the Senior Bowl, however, could turn around his stock quickly.
Posted on: November 8, 2010 9:15 pm
I listed Idaho safety Shiloh Keo as one of my five prospects to watch Saturday and I envisioned him as a potential Diamond in the Rough candidate. Keo played well enough to deserve the acknowledgement, but scouts had tipped me off about the impressive play of Lehigh offensive tackle William Rackley so far this season and with the Mountain Hawks' game picked up by Fox College Sports on Saturday morning, I focused my attention on this game.
A four year starter who earned First-Team All-Patriot League conference honors after each of the past two seasons, Rackley helped Lehigh double up Holy Cross Saturday with sound pass protection and strong run blocking from his left tackle position.
Rackley plays with good leverage, keeping his feet spread wide, his butt down and his surprisingly long arms out-stretched to control his opponent. Scouts will likely want Rackley moved inside to guard at the next level, as he doesn't have the elite foot speed or balance to handle pro pass-rushers and at a shade over 6-3, doesn't have the length preferred on the outside, either. As I mentioned, however, Rackley plays with good arm extension and his strong upper body helps him corral his opponent initially and he does a nice job of sliding laterally to remain square. With his good use of leverage, Rackley was able to handle the bull-rush of Holy Cross defenders, including defensive tackles stunting to him.
Offensive line coaches will like the tenacious style with which Rackley plays each snap. On quick draws, he provides a powerful right club to slap the defensive end upfield, but rather than release to block at the next level, Rackley makes sure first that his primary assignment (the defensive end) isn't able to make the play on the runner with good pursuit. He plays with some nastiness, appearing to enjoy the physical nature of the game and doing a nice job of not just starting his block, but finishing it.
Rackley is not an elite athlete. He lumbers a bit when asked to block downfield for screens and doesn't have the balance to re-direct and make the clean block on the moving target.
There are obvious questions about his level of competition and as to whether he can handle remaining outside at the next level. If invited to a higher level all-star game, however, I believe Rackley could impress enough to earn a mid to late round draft selection. His pro future likely be inside at guard, though his experience and competitiveness might make him capable of sliding back outside in a pinch.
Posted on: November 8, 2010 1:38 pm
Edited on: November 8, 2010 2:12 pm
One of the more entertaining parts of my typical Sunday viewing of NFL games is to see announcers stumble when an unheralded rookie makes a surprising play.
This was the case in several games yesterday, most notably among wide receivers for the San Diego Chargers, Arizona Cardinals and Oakland Raiders.
Loyal readers of NFLDraftScout.com and our weekly PDF Draft Slant certainly knew that the big plays from Seyi Ajirotutu, Andre Roberrts and Jacoby Ford , respectively, were no surprise.
I've been accused of tooting my/our own horn on occasion, and perhaps I do it too often. When I do it, though, I provide the evidence that what I say is true.
Ajirotutu, an undrafted free agent from Fresno State, impressed early last year in a Bulldog loss to Wisconsin (six catches for 83 yards, two TDs) and again at the East-West Shrine Game. Here is what I wrote in Slant about him:
Ajirotutu intrigues scouts in much the same way as former WAC standout Legedu Naanee (San Diego) did for Boise State - with great size, raw speed and physical play. His underrated straight-line speed (reportedly has been timed in the 4.3s) forces corners to respect him deep and his size and crisp footwork gives him easy separation on slants and dig routes. Ajirotutu has shown the ability to high-point passes, using his size advantage to "box out" smaller cornerbacks (see Wisconsin, 9/12). Ajirotutu's physicality also lends itself well as a downfield blocker. In fact, as his blocking Saturday night against the Warriors can attest, Ajirotutu is a significant contributor to the success of junior Ryan Matthews, the nation's leading rusher. Fresno's focus on the running game will keep Ajirotutu's number modest (4-48 yards against UH), but with patience, he has the raw talent to blossom in the pros.
Ajirotutu caught four passes from Philip Rivers for 109 yards and two touchdowns in the Chargers 29-23 win over Houston.
Andre Roberts and Jacoby Ford, two undersized receivers mischaracterized by some as strictly big play threats, impressed me during Senior Bowl practices. In fact, in this Senior Bowl practice (Tuesday) review I lavished praise on both.
A receiver on the rise is [Andre] Roberts . Scouts expected him to be closer to 5-10, 180 pounds, but he measured in at 5-11, 192. His quickness has not been hurt by the added weight, and his routes were outstanding. Roberts has the feet to run effective comeback routes, the suddenness to free himself on slants, and the vertical to leap up and grab a high pass on the sideline. Typically one FCS receiver is selected in the top 100, and it looks like Roberts fits that ball in the 2010 draft.
Roberts played very well during the Senior Bowl practices. He only caught two passes for the Cardinals in their 24-27 loss to the Vikings, but his 30-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter gave the Cardinals a 14-10 halftime lead.
Ford flashed a week earlier in the Raiders' blowout victory over the Seahawks. Against the Chiefs and one of the better young cornerbacks in the league (Brandon Flowers), Ford was dynamic. Ford returned the opening kickoff of the third quarter for a 94-yard touchdown and caught six passes for 147 yards. If you can believe it, he was even better on tape than he was on the stat sheet, as several of his catches were highlight reel-worthy.
Again, this wasn't a surprise. Here is what I wrote about Ford following the same Tuesday Senior Bowl practice:
Clemson's Jacoby Ford is proving among the more secure handed receivers at the Senior Bowl this week -- a bit of a surprise to some who had labeled as only a big-play threat. Though short, the 5-9, 181-pound Ford has good strength to gain his release off press and has the speed to eat up the cushion. He has impressed scouts so far this week with his ability to adjust to poorly thrown passes and haul in tough catches.
Rather than focus any more attention on these rookies, let's look ahead to this year's senior crop of wideouts. A few underrated receivers that I see slipping a bit on draft day, surprising with a big day (or five) as rookies causing NFL announcers to stumble a year from now include:
Denarius Moore, Tennessee
Vincent Brown, San Diego State
Greg Salas, Hawaii
Posted on: October 28, 2010 10:24 pm
Edited on: October 28, 2010 11:57 pm
With all six of the FBS undefeated teams on the road and two games pitting Top 20 teams against each other, there is certainly plenty of intrigue in college football for the upcoming Halloween weekend.
In terms of the NFL draft, however, the place to be is Seattle, Washington where the two top quarterback prospects in the country will face off.
According to sources within the league, the expectation is that there will be "at least" 15 NFL scouts attending this game. That total would almost surely double the number of scouts that have attended any college football game in Seattle in quite some time.
Stanford redshirt sophomore Andrew Luck has emerged this season as the clear top passer in the country. Some will argue that Washington's Jake Locker has fallen out of the first round. ESPN's John Clayton has reported that he's spoken to scouts who have dropped him into the second or third round.
That might be true -- but I believe that for however low Locker has dropped early this year, he'll earn back a great deal of that lost stock if he is invited (and accepts) a Senior Bowl invitation, as expected. In that environment, Locker's rare physical tools will stand out.
This isn't a life-long Seattle area resident talking... It is from the experience of covering Senior Bowl practices since 2000.
Having scouted this long, I've learned that many NFL talent evaluators believe (as I do) that one can gauge the talents of most prospects based on film - but not necessarily quarterbacks.
Most scouts believe that to truly gauge a quarterback, one has to see them throw in person. They have to see how the ball comes out of the passer's hand; get a feel for just how much zip is on his fastball; if the quarterback recognizes when to throw with touch; how he interracts with his teammates when the cameras aren't on him.
It is why I saved my final analysis of Sam Bradford (Pro Day) , Tim Tebow (Senior Bowl) , Mark Sanchez (Pro Day) and many others over the years until after I'd seen them in person.
It is also why I won't be scouting the myriad of games I normally do this Saturday, but instead will be evaluating Stanford-UW in person this weekend.
Because to truly judge a quarterback, there is nothing like being there in person.
Posted on: October 25, 2010 6:31 pm
Edited on: October 25, 2010 8:12 pm
Appalachian State free safety Mark LeGree has won so many awards over his career with the Mountaineers that perhaps earning this week's Diamond in the Rough as the top "small school" NFL prospect won't even register as an award.
The recognition certainly pales in comparison to being a finalist for the Buck Buchanan award twice. Or, for earning consensus All-American accolades twice. Or, for being the only FCS representative on the official watch list for the Bronko Nagurski trophy.
It isn't difficult to understand why LeGree has earned such acknowledgement. After backing up three-time All-American Corey Lynch (now a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after being a 6th round pick by the Bengals in 2008), LeGree has started every game of his career, racking up an eye-popping 17 interceptions in his first two seasons as the Mountaineers' starting free safety.
I focused on LeGree in Saturday's 37-14 win over Western Carolina. Not surprisingly, LeGree came through with yet another interception, his fifth of the season and 22nd of his career. LeGree also notched eight tackles.
As is often the case with dominant FCS players, LeGree doesn't necessarily look the part of a future NFL standout. LeGree, who is listed at 6-0, 200 pounds, looks smaller on film and more like a cornerback than the lanky, big hitting free safety most NFL scouts are looking for.
That said, LeGree proved willing and able to mix it up near the line of scrimmage and the body control to break down in space and make the secure open field tackle. Scouts will be interested to learn his actual time in the 40-yard dash, but he's such an instinctive player, LeGree consistently made the play despite appearing to be out of position, at times.
LeGree's second quarter interception was an example of this. Western Carolina quarterback Zac Brindise attempted a long bomb down the left sideline from approximately the 50-yard line. He failed to look off LeGree, who easily drifted to his right to make the interception at his own 5.
I can't imagine that LeGree has had many interceptions over his career any easier than this one. However, when you have 22 (and counting) to choose from, perhaps he does.
Expect to hear LeGree's name as the season ends. He'll almost certainly be again recognized as an All-American and Buck Buchanan finalist. A savvy all-star game personnel director or two will most likely pick up on his accolades and legitimate NFL potential to invite him into compete at the East-West Shrine Game or Senior Bowl. And, of course, you'll hear his name again... when he's drafted.