|Fresno State's WR Devon Wylie is drawing Wes Welker comparisons. (US Presswire)|
During the season, NFL scouts are regulars in Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge, but places like Cookeville, Tenn., where Tennessee Tech is located, and Conway, S.C., the home of Coastal Carolina aren't regular stops for talent evaluators mining for blue-chip talent.
However, all-star games allow players from lower levels of competition to emerge and the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg -- in both practices and the game Saturday -- to prove they belong.
Over 100 prospects participated in drills, practice and interviews. It was small-school players who continued to stand out and prove they could hang with the big boys. Below are 10 of the top performers who helped themselves this week, including six non-FBS prospects. Players are listed alphabetically:
WR Tim Benford, Tennessee Tech: With long, skinny arms, Benford snatches the ball out of the air with soft, reliable hands. He is a precise, quicker-than-fast route-runner with smooth footwork in and out of his breaks and knows how to get open in the short-to-intermediate field. Benford has ordinary long speed and is a bit unproven as a downfield target, but he flashed athletic skills and is a near-certain draft pick in April.
G Brandon Brooks, Miami (Ohio): Despite heavy feet and limited overall range, Brooks has a massive 353-pound frame with dominant qualities. He carries his weight surprisingly well and showed the raw power to sustain and drive defenders out of the play. Brooks is a bit sluggish with his hands and needs to continue and develop his technique, but showed the natural strength to control blocks at the point of attack. He will be an attractive prospect for a team that values larger, mauling linemen.
QB BJ Coleman, Chattanooga: Physically the most gifted quarterback at this game, the Tennessee transfer displayed size, smooth mobility and a rocket arm. But perhaps the most impressive aspect of Coleman's skill set is his passion for the game of football and willingness to learn and improve. He looks comfortable commanding the huddle and is the ideal teammate. Coleman helped himself this week and could be drafted in the top five rounds.
TE Chase Ford, Miami (Fla.): With only 16 career catches at Miami the past two years, Ford was a bit of an unknown entering this week. But he quickly showed off his skills as a natural pass catcher with fluid body control and terrific hand/eye coordination. At 6-feet-6 and 258 pounds, Ford has the size and frame for the position with reliable hands, especially in traffic. He is a bit one-dimensional as a pass-catcher and needs a lot of work as a blocker, but certainly put his name on the draftable radar after his work this week.
DT Akiem Hicks, Regina: At 6-feet-4 and 324 pounds with an 84" wingspan, Hicks made an enormous impression on scouts this week. He is unpolished and needs a lot of technique work, but he flashed his raw potential with good quickness and overall range. Hicks is a bit stiff and plays upright, but scouts aren't interested in the prospect he is now, but rather the player he could be down the road after a year or two with NFL coaching -- will be a late-round developmental defender.
OLB Josh Kaddu, Oregon: Although he might not be the most technically-sound player, Kaddu has ideal size, frame and overall athleticism for the linebacker position. He is very lean throughout his body and needs to add some muscle mass, but showed off his fluidity and flexibility in practice with sideline-to-sideline range and very good closing burst. Kaddu has as much raw ability as anyone participating this week and could emerge as a top-100 player.
LB Shawn Loiseau, Merrimack: For teams looking for a hard-nosed, aggressive linebacker, look no farther than Louiseau who brings enough intensity to the field for the entire defense. He has average size, length and athleticism, but makes up for his shortcomings with instincts and overall toughness. Loiseau fills the run lanes hard and won't shy from contact, taking on blocks and using his eyes effectively. He should be a special teams standout at worst and will make it tough for pro coaches to cut him.
CB Josh Norman, Coastal Carolina: Perhaps the most impressive prospect of all this entire week, Norman turned heads every day in practice with his quick feet, closing burst and natural ballskills. He looks natural in reverse with good hip action and body flexibility. Norman intimidated physically with imposing size for the position at 6-0, 203 pounds with 32 ½-inch arms, showing safety size with cornerback skills. He was considered a late-round prospect entering the week, but now looks like a borderline third/fourth round pick.
DE/OLB Kyle Wilber, Wake Forest: With lean limbs and frame, Wilber doesn't necessarily look like a prototypical pass rusher off the edge, but he pursues the quarterback with a relentless attitude. He has tweener traits and needs to show better discipline against the run, but he has the flexibility and long arms to rip past blockers and change directions with coordinated footwork. Wilber won't be valued the same by every team and projects best as a hybrid DE/OLB in a 3-4 scheme.
WR Devon Wylie, Fresno State: Last names that begin with the letter "W" aren't the only similarity Wylie has with Wes Welker as the Fresno State receiver shows the short-area burst and quickness to work in the short-half of the field. He fights the ball at times and is a smaller target, but he makes sharp, decisive cuts and flashed an elusive quality in practices. Wylie looks best as a "Y" receiver in the slot and also offers value as a punt returner.