In the FCS Championship Game in Frisco, Texas, between North Dakota State and Towson, I expected two players to stand out: Bison left tackle Billy Turner and Tigers running back Terrence West.
And neither disappointed. North Dakota State routed Towson 35-7 to win its third straight FCS Championship.
When evaluating non-FBS prospects, I look for them to dominate their level of competition. After all, if they don't stand out against other FCS, Division-II or Division-III players, how can you expect them to match up against FBS prospects or NFL talent?
Here are my thoughts on both Turner and West.
North Dakota State LT Billy Turner (6-5, 310, 5.28, #77)
Physically, Turner looks the part and stood out on the field during pregame warm-ups next to his teammates. A team captain, he showed good shuffle in pass pro, staying light on his feet to mirror and protect the edge. Turner sets up quickly with good reflexes to adjust to the pass rush, using coordination, patience and body position to wall off the pocket. He is strong at the point of attack and extends a powerful initial jolt with his mean/nasty attitude. Turner displayed good vision and awareness at the second level to work off initial blocks and eliminate linebackers and defensive backs in the open field.
Turner will sometimes allow his upper half to overextend at times and has a bad habit of lunging at the waist. As a run blocker, he needs to do a better job with hand placement to latch and control defenders. In pass protection, Turner needs to keep his pad level low and dig his cleats in the ground, as he was sometimes knocked off balance by active rushers who were able to attack his body.
Projecting him to the next level, some around the league feel Turner is best suited inside at guard, but my guess is many teams would like to see him stay at tackle to see if he can hold up on the edges. His performance at the Senior Bowl will go a long way to answering that question. Overall, Turner, who is a big reason for North Dakota State's three consecutive FCS championships, has the frame to get stronger and is an energetic finisher with an on-field demeanor that will endear him to NFL coaches.
Towson RB Terrence West (5-11, 223, 4.59, #28)
Despite poor field conditions and stacked boxes, it was another productive performance by West as he finished with 22 carries for 99 yards and Towson's only touchdown. He finishes his junior season with the FCS-records in both rushing yards (2,509) and touchdowns (42).
West is solidly built throughout with an excellent combination of quick feet and power. He is tough, physical and lowers his pads to finish, making him a chore to tackle for anyone. West breaks tackles at all levels of the field and shows good vision to press the hole before attacking and making strong cuts.
While he's not slow, West isn't exactly fast either and doesn't flash much burst, usually needing a few steps to get his full momentum going downhill. He will run too high and needs to consistently keep his pad level low and make himself a small target for defenders. West needs to hold the ball higher and tighter as he often gets sloppy in this area, especially at the second level.
West reminds me of Detroit Lions running back Joique Bell, who was a small-school prospect himself out of Division-II Wayne State. West is similarly built, delivers hits and is a true workhorse who will wear down defenses with his balance and power. It would not be a shock if he is a rare FCS early declaration and looks to capitalize on his strong junior season in the 2014 NFL Draft.