Although it won't receive the same attention as the Senior Bowl or East-West Shrine Game, NFL scouts will flock to Allen, Texas, this week for the Texas vs. the Nation all-star game. The exhibition will showcase senior prospects hoping to be selected in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Following daily practices this week, the Texas vs. the Nation game is set for Saturday at Eagles Stadium in Allen. The contest will be broadcast by Fox Sports.
There won't be any top draft picks participating, but that doesn't mean future NFL stars won't be in attendance. After a productive collegiate career at Division III's Mount Union College, wide receiver Pierre Garcon impressed scouts at the 2008 Texas vs. the Nation game and has developed into a productive NFL receiver. Other notable players who starred in this event over the years include WR Johnny Knox (Bears), CB Lardarius Webb (Ravens), OT Jared Veldheer (Raiders) and OT Demetrius Bell (Eagles).
There likely won't be any early-round NFL prospects in this year's group, but scouts are excited for the talent on this year's roster. Below is a look at an intriguing prospect at each position.
QUARTERBACK – Ryan Griffin, Tulane
Tulane football hasn't had a winning season since 2002, including a dismal 2-10 record this past year. But that hasn't stopped the Green Wave from producing quality NFL talent, most recently running back Matt Forte in 2008. Listed at 6-5 and 206 pounds, Griffin looks the part of a prototypical NFL quarterback and has good-enough arm strength for the next level. Earning the name “Superman” by his coaches for his role on the team, he missed three games in 2012 due to a shoulder injury, but passed for over 300 yards in five of the nine games he started, including a school-record 476 yards against Rice. Despite being a four-year starter, Griffin still needs seasoning before he's ready for the pros, but he brings intriguing tools to the NFL.
OTHERS: Matt McGloin (Penn State), Matt Brown (Illinois State), Ryan Aplin (Arkansas State), Mitchell Gale (Abilene Christian), Seth Doege (Texas Tech)
RUNNING BACK – George Winn, Cincinnati
Quick, who led the Big East in rushing in 2012? Pittsburgh's Ray Graham? Rutgers' Jawan Jamison? The answer is Winn, who had a conference-best 1,334 yards on the ground, averaging more than 100 yards per contest. After losing Isaiah Pead and his 1,250 rushing yards from a year ago, Cincinnati entered this season with a lot of questions at running back. But Winn, who was a special teams ace as a junior, emerged as the starter and legitimate NFL prospect. He has quick feet with the balance and leg drive to lower his pads with a head of steam and shrug off tacklers, reminding scouts of a Doug Martin-type of back.
OTHERS: DJ Harper (Boise State), Matthew Tucker (TCU), Jermaine Cook (Youngstown State), Latavius Murray (Central Florida), Khiry Robinson (West Texas A&M)
FULLBACK – Willie Carter, Tulsa
Although he had just 14 carries as a senior, Carter finished second on the team in receiving with 49 catches for 382 yards and three touchdowns. With quarterback GJ Kinne moving on to the NFL, his production was slightly down in 2012, but Carter was still a crucial part of the Tulsa offense. He was used in more of a hybrid H-back role rather than fullback or tight end and projects similarly at the next level. Listed at 6-2 and 231 pounds, Carter has a thickly-built frame with good bulk and strength throughout and the natural power to run over defenders. He isn't the most fluid receiver, but his natural receiving skills will help his chances at the next level.
OTHERS: Lonnie Pryor (Florida State), Kendall Gaskins (Richmond), Ronnie Wingo (Arkansas)
WIDE RECEIVER – DeVonte Christopher, Utah
Although his 2012 production suffered due to inconsistent quarterback play (22 catches for 301 yards and 3 touchdowns), Christopher has been one of the more talented wideouts in the Pac-12 the past few years, leading Utah in receiving as a sophomore and junior. A former quarterback, he is a smart and savvy pass catcher with natural body control and confidence, tracking the ball with very good hand-eye coordination and making tough grabs look easy. Christopher tends to use his body too much and has admitted lapses in his practice habits, but his quick acceleration and soft hands will earn him a shot in the NFL.
OTHERS: Kenbrell Thompkins (Cincinnati), Uzoma Nwachukwu (Texas A&M), TJ Moe (Missouri), Marcus Sales (Syracuse), La'Rod King (Kentucky), Ryan Spadola (Lehigh), Michael Smith (Connecticut), Justin Brown (Oklahoma), Lanear Sampson (Baylor), Taylor Stockemer (Arkansas State), Skye Dawson (TCU)
TIGHT END – MarQueis Gray, Minnesota
A former top quarterback recruit out of high school in Indianapolis, Gray's career at Minnesota wasn't exactly a fairy tale as the Gophers failed to finish with a winning record in any of his four seasons. He recorded 42 receptions as a sophomore receiver before moving to quarterback full-time as a junior. Gray started the 2012 season as the starting quarterback, but after missing a few games with an injury, he returned in a wide receiver role, finishing his senior year with just 12 catches for 121 yards. With limited experience as a pass catcher, Gray is still unpolished in several areas, but he has the size (6-4, 250), fluidity and athletic upside to shine this week.
OTHERS: Matt Furstenburg (Maryland), Colin Anderson (Furman), BJ Stewart (Cumberland), DJ Grant (Texas), Brian Leonhardt (Bemidji State)
OFFENSIVE TACKLE – Chris Barker, Nevada
Although he played most of his collegiate career inside at guard, Barker has the skill-set to kick outside and is listed as an offensive tackle on the roster. A four-year starter, he is an athletic mover who stays light on his feet and looks natural pulling and blocking in motion. Barker needs to improve his hand use and overall technique, too often appearing content simply getting in the way. He overextends himself and plays too high, but sets up quickly with good timing and flashes some NFL potential.
OTHERS: Elvis Fisher (Missouri), Carter Bykowski (Iowa State), Josh Kline (Kent State), Ivory Wade (Baylor), LaAdrian Waddle (Texas Tech), Terry McDaniel (Texas Tech), Jacolby Ashworth (Houston)
OFFENSIVE GUARD – Oscar Johnson, Louisiana Tech
Listed at 6-7 and 330 pounds, Johnson looks the part with the natural size and length to fit on a NFL offensive line, but his inconsistent footwork and technique are concerns that will likely push him inside to guard. A JUCO transfer, he started every game at right guard in 2011 before moving to left tackle as a senior. Johnson plays with a narrow base and lacks aggressive hands, allowing himself to be bullied backwards by defenders. He also needs to control his emotions after he was ejected from a game this past season. Johnson needs a lot of work, but he also has some strengths that can't be coached.
OTHERS: Travis Bond (North Carolina), Eric Herman (Ohio), Lamar Mady (Youngstown State), Lane Taylor (Oklahoma State), Jonathan Rush (Oklahoma State), Evan Epstein (Oklahoma State)
CENTER – Matt Smith, Kentucky
While guard Larry Warford receives most of the praise (and deservedly so), Smith was almost as valuable for Kentucky's interior offensive line. A three-year starter, he is a smart technician and savvy veteran who gets the most out of his ability and leaves it all out on the field. Smith has shorter arms and lacks a strong base, allowing defenders to bully him at times, but plays with excellent mobility and looks natural in space. He constantly keeps his head on a swivel and players with his football awareness usually find a way to stick on a NFL roster.
OTHERS: Braden Hansen (BYU), Patrick Lewis (Texas A&M), PJ Lonergan (LSU)
DEFENSIVE END – Collins Ukwu, Kentucky
Although the production isn't substantial for a three-year SEC starter (7.0 career sacks), Ukwu has an ideal frame (6-5, 260) with the length and closing speed that will attract some NFL attention. He extends his arms into blockers off the snap and keeps his eyes elevated to react quickly, but plays too high at times, relying too much on his upper body strength. Ukwu has a good motor and gives top effort, but needs to add some patience to his repertoire to not take himself out of plays. He is still rough around the edges, but the natural tools are undoubtedly intriguing.
OTHERS: Rufus Johnson (Tarleton State), Tourek Williams (FIU), David King (Oklahoma), Marquis Jackson (Portland State), John Youboty (Temple), Armonty Bryant (East Central Oklahoma), Emeka Onyenekwu (La. Lafayette)
DEFENSIVE TACKLE – Anthony Rashad White, Michigan State
A JUCO transfer, White was Jerel Worthy's backup the past few seasons before becoming a starter in 2012 as a senior. At 330+ pounds, he lacks ideal range, but he carries his weight well and eats up multiple blockers with his wide frame. Although it doesn't always look pretty, White has better-than-expected feet for a big man and plays with feisty hands to keep blockers busy at the point of attack. He fatigues easily and likely isn't much more than a two-down defender at the next level, but his natural size, power and short-area quickness are intriguing.
OTHERS: Stacy McGee (Oklahoma), Kendrick Payne (California), Jared Smith (New Hampshire), Romney Fuga (BYU), Nicholas Williams (Samford), DeQuinta Jones (Arkansas)
LINEBACKER – Meshak Williams, Kansas State
Although he's listed as a defensive end, Williams' best position in the NFL will likely be as a stand-up pass rush linebacker due to his size (6-3, 245). Playing with linebacker Arthur Brown, he was often overlooked on Kansas State's defense, but Williams has led the Wildcats in sacks (17.5) and tackles for loss (25.5) the past two seasons since transferring from the JUCO ranks. He has good initial burst off the snap and closes fast in pursuit, quickly recognizing run or pass before attacking. Williams lacks an ideal frame, but does a better-than-expected job with his arm and hand techniques to get past the initial blocker and be a factor in the play.
OTHERS: Ja'Gared Davis (SMU), Nick Clancy (Boston College), Danny Mason (Texas A&M Commerce), Alex Elkins (Oklahoma State), Devan Walker (Southeastern La.), Craig Wilkins (Old Dominion), Tremayne Scott (Ohio), Phillip Steward (Houston), Dan Molls (Toledo), David Nwabuisi (Northwestern), Evan Frierson (Illinois State), Demery Hawkins (Shorter)
CORNERBACK – Martavius Neloms, Kentucky
A hybrid cornerback/safety prospect, Neloms was a three-year starter at Kentucky and saw extensive action lined up on the outside and in the deep half of the field. He has a tall, lanky frame with intriguing length for the position, but needs to do a better job breaking down in space. Neloms is still raw in a few areas, including timing, technique and instincts, appearing to be more of an athlete than polished football player right now. But he plays with the aggressiveness and confidence that scouts love with the size/athleticism combination that can't be taught. Neloms was also a special teams' standout in college, which could help him earn an NFL roster spot.
OTHERS: Kip Edwards (Missouri), Vernon Kearney (Lane), Greg Brown (Kansas), Daxton Swanson (Sam Houston State), Devin Smith (Wisconsin), Dustin Harris (Texas A&M), Darius Winston (Arkansas), Dontra Peters (New Hampshire), AJ Bouye (Central Florida), Chibuikem Okoro (Wake Forest), Jumal Rolle (Catawba), Matthew Pierce (Valdosta State)
SAFETY – Ray Ray Armstrong, Miami (Fla.)
Perhaps no prospect will be more anxious to get on the field than Armstrong, who hasn't played a meaningful snap of football since November, 2011 while with Miami. A former top high school recruit, he played three seasons for the Hurricanes, but was dismissed from the program before the 2012 season due to improper contact with boosters. Armstrong enrolled at Faulkner University, but was ruled ineligible and was forced to sit out this past year. He has a tall, long frame with the range and natural athleticism that intrigues scouts. Armstrong has admitted making mistakes at Miami and will have to answer to NFL teams about those issues, but his skill-set will earn him a shot.
OTHERS: Rontez Miles (California PA), Jordan Kovacs (Michigan), Jawanza Starling (USC), Shelton Johnson (Wisconsin), Don Jones (Arkansas State), Brynden Trawick (Troy), Jeff Heath (Saginaw Valley State)