Posted on: April 12, 2010 8:08 pm
As we inch closer to the first primetime first round in NFL history, I continue to work the phone lines in an effort to best predict its outcome.
One of the more useful strategies I've come to rely on over the years is asking league sources to identify one or two players who are being severely overrated by the media.
Maryland offensive tackle Bruce Campbell got several votes, but the player who received the vast majority of them was South Florida defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.
Pierre-Paul's athleticism and lanky frame intrigue teams, but scouts are getting past the hypotheticals and are now focusing on the realities. Pierre-Paul started a total of seven games at the D-I level -- and these games weren't consecutive. In fact, the most games he started consecutively with the Bulls was the final three of his career. Earlier in the year, he'd start a game or two and then get benched for a game or two. He didn't qualify academically out of high school, played at two different junior colleges (College of the Canyons and Fort Scott Community College) and obviously left after only one season at South Florida. Furthermore, while his statistics with the Bulls (45 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks) are impressive considering his relative lack of starting time, scouts attribute at least some of his success to playing opposite an established pass rush threat in George Selvie and being protected by legitimate NFL talent in the secondary behind him.
Scouts don't question his upside, but tell me that Pierre-Paul is "at least" one year away from being a major contributor to an NFL team. He lacked the strength and toughness last year to provide much in terms of run defense for the Bulls and really disappointed at the Combine, struggling during interviews by showing very little understanding of basic football principles.
Considering the value of pass rushers, scouts still thought Pierre-Paul would "probably" make the first round, but weren't certain what teams could afford to devote millions to such a project.
"I wouldn't even use a second round pick on the guy," said one high ranking team official. "You see flashes, sure, but [the team that drafts him] had better keep things simple. Don't ask him to know gap assignments. Don't ask him to really play football. Just rush the passer."
Posted on: October 16, 2009 3:02 pm
In my preview to last night's South Florida-Cincinnati game I questioned Pike's downfield accuracy and whether he'd be successful against an athletic and experienced Bulls' secondary.
For the most part, South Florida held Pike in check. They even knocked him out of the game with a sprained left wrist in the 3rd quarter -- an injury that is expected to keep Pike out next week against Louisville and perhaps considerably longer.
Before the injury, however, Pike completed three legitimate NFL passes that were certain to impress NFL scouts.
The first one came on Pike's first touchdown. On the first play after a momentum-swinging interception, Pike fired a quick out to wideout Armon Binns for a three yard touchdown. The pass, thrown with good velocity, was perfectly placed, forcing Binns to make a finger-tip reception as he ran out of the side of the endzone, away from the defender.
Later in the second quarter Pike fired another impressive touchdown pass to Binns -- this time on a short drag route over the middle for an 8-yard score. Again, the pass was thrown with good velocity and perfect accuracy. Binns had to make a finger-tip catch to score on the play and he did so.
The most impressive play of the night for Pike, however, came in between these two plays and at the opposite end of the field. Pike, in fact, released the ball only a few yards out of his own endzone. One play after being sacked by George Selvie, Pike, showing surprising mobility for a 6-6 quarterback, stepped out of another Selvie tackle, rolled left, squared his shoulders and fired a 25-yard strike to DJ Woods on the far (left) sideline. The pass required legitimate NFL arm-strong and very good accuracy. It was a great catch for Woods, as well, as he secured the ball and dragged both feet to beat double-coverage by the Bulls.
According to the announcers of this contest there were upwards of 25 NFL scouts, including at least 5 personnel directors at this game. While much of Pike's production throughout this game came on the dink and dunk receiver screens and outlet tosses to backs and tight ends, these three throws left scouts in attendance impressed.
Posted on: October 15, 2009 6:31 pm
There is a lot more riding on tonight's Big East showdown between Cincinnati and South Florida than the lead in the conference standings.
National title implications, as well as the draft stock of several prospects are on the line.
Both teams enter the game with sparkling 5-0 records, thought they've accomplished their undefeated seasons in different ways. Cincinnati has been led by the high-flying offense led by senior quarterback Tony Pike and Mr. Versatility (and a former Player of the Week honoree in Draft Slant), wideout Mardy Gilyard. USF, on the other hand, has been led by their traditionally stingy defense, with seniors end George Selvie and safety Nate Allen earning most of the attention from scouts.
The 6-6, 225 pound Pike has been flying up boards this season. Quite honestly, I'm lower on him than most seem to be. He certainly has the size scouts are looking for, but his accuracy has been less consistent that his impressive production (1,493 yards, 66.7% completion rate, 13 TDs-3 INTs) would lead one to believe. He was often late across the middle last week, for example, against Miami (Ohio) and will be making the same adjustment to a traditional pro-style offense that all spread quarterbacks have to make -- learning to take the snap from center, read defenses more quickly, etc. He also has been helped greatly by Gilyard, who might be the country's best run-after-the-catch threat at the receiver position. In this spread offense, built on timing-based slants and post-corners, Gilyard (7 of Pike's 15 TD receptions) has been virtually unstoppable. I certainly recognize Pike's talent as NFL caliber, but so far I've seen a prospect worthy of mid-round consideration and not a true challenger to the Colt McCoy's and Tim Tebow's (and a host of underclassmen) at the top of the draft board.
Pike could shut me up quickly, however, with a strong game tonight against what is clearly the most talented defense he's seen thus far this season.
The Bearcats would be wise to focus their blocking assignments on pass rusher George Selvie. The 6-4, 245 pounder has exceptional burst off the snap and will easily chase down Pike, though his mobility is an underrated component to his game. Selvie broke out as a sophomore to post 14.5 sacks in 2007, but an ankle sprain last year and cease-less double and even triple-teams have shadowed him since. He enters this game with only 2.5 sacks, but is capable of matching that total in just this game if single-blocked by the Bearcats. Selvie has tried to add weight throughout his career, but hasn't been able to do so, prompting plenty of concerns from NFL scouts who question where he'll fit in an NFL defense. He has the burst off the edge to earn a first round grade from some teams, but others question if he'll be able to contribute on running downs at all.
Perhaps the defender who may have the most impact on this game is USF safety Nate Allen, an instictive, ball-hawking sort who already posted a two-interception game in the Bulls' only other Big East game of the year (a win over Syracuse). If Pike is late passing over the middle in this contest, Allen could make him pay. Some scouts feel he is a more reliable pass defender in the middle than USC superstar Taylor Mays.
There are certainly other prospects to keep an eye on tonight and plenty of other story-lines (not the least of which is the inspiring play of backup turned star freshman QB B.J. Daniels for USF), but these four are the ones NFL scouts will be keeping the closest eye on...
As such, you should be too...
Posted on: October 3, 2009 10:39 pm
As part of NFLDraftScout.com's weekly PDF, Draft Slant, I break down one player of the week, a Diamond in the Rough, and 8 other NFL prospects from the weekend's televised action.
One of the more enjoyable decisions I get to make as part of writing the ten player breakdowns is to determine just which senior prospect deserves Player of the Week honors.
The players I've highlighted thus far this season have been DTs Ndamokung Suh (Nebraska) and Arthur Jones (Syracuse), FS Taylor Mays (USC), ILB Brandon Spikes (Florida) and WR Mardy Gilyard (Cincinnati).
I've recorded over a dozen games this weekend and have a decision ahead of me, as Oklahoma OT Trent Williams, LSU WR Brandon LaFell, Florida State CB Patrick Robinson, Boston College OC Matt Tennant, and South Florida DE George Selvie are among the prospects I'll be considering.
Thus far, Williams' size, athleticism and upper body strength have been impressive. He's a bit heavier around the middle than scouts would like for a traditional left tackle. He's been susceptible to counter-moves inside by Miami's quicker defensive linemen -- the same struggles that BYU took advantage of in Week One to pressure (and ultimately knock out) Sam Bradford...