All-star previews: Lots of talent to watch at NFLPA, East-West games

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Arkansas' Jarius Wright 'has a chance to really make a name for himself in Tampa this week.' (Getty Images)  
Arkansas' Jarius Wright 'has a chance to really make a name for himself in Tampa this week.' (Getty Images)  

The NFLPA Collegiate Bowl was looking for a way to stand out from previously established forums like the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl. Their solution was to move the game from San Antonio, Texas to Los Angeles and to permit underclassmen to participate, creating a larger and potentially more talented player pool. But the burgeoning all-star game alienated NFL scouts, who under the new collective bargaining agreement, are not allowed to attend functions involving underclassmen. NFL scouts won't be on hand to view prospects in person.

The prospects participating in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl will be operating under the watchful eye of former Super Bowl-winning head coaches Dick Vermeil and Tom Flores, who are sure to pass on their thoughts to their NFL brethren. Video of the practices and game will be sent to all 32 NFL teams. Further hampering the event is that it competes directly with the East-West Shrine Game this week. A standing postseason senior all-star game since 1925, the practices and event moved again -- from Orlando to Tampa, Fla. -- but talent evaluators will follow. Check back all week -- Dane Brugler of begins filing practice reports from Tampa on Monday.

For those unwilling to wait for film from the NFLPA practices, workouts at the Home Depot Center are being attended by senior analyst Rob Rang, who will provide daily reaction and analysis.

Here are the prospects to know entering the week:

Most Talented Player

NFLPA: The most highly regarded prospect on the NFLPA game roster is the most controversial. Miami left tackle Brandon Washington is graded by as a solid second-round prospect and was the first junior to officially commit to this game. Washington had initially told the media that he was going to return for his senior season and didn't even request a grade from the NFL Advisory Committee. A first-team All-ACC left guard prior to moving outside in 2011, Washington earned second-team honors after his first season on the blindside and could convince teams that he can remain outside with a strong performance this week. currently views him as a better guard prospect, ranking him third overall behind Stanford junior David DeCastro and Georgia senior Cordy Glenn (who also played left tackle in 2011).

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There is plenty of money to be made if Washington can convince scouts he can remain outside at left tackle. There is a steep drop-off in talent at left tackle following Southern Cal's Matt Kalil, Iowa's Riley Reiff and Stanford's Jonathan Martin. Whoever is able to establish himself as the No. 4 OT in this draft class could see a significant leap up the draft board as teams scramble for help up front. -- Rob Rang

East-West: With a lot of football ability on both the East and West rosters, it's tough to pick just one player when talking about the most talented. But for the sake of the argument, Arkansas' wide receiver Jarius Wright is certainly deserving of this distinction. Scouting the Razorbacks entering the 2011 season, I was anxious to see their stacked receiving corps with the return of Greg Childs (from a serious knee injury) and the ever-explosive Joe Adams. However, Wright was the player who stood out as a senior.

Wright is a savvy route runner and knows how to get open, selling routes beautifully. He competes for every pass and has elite body control and focus to adjust his frame mid-air and snatch the pass with his reliable hands. Wright has marginal bulk with a smallish frame and his lack of strength is exposed against physical cornerbacks, but he has the quick-twitch burst to redirect in any direction and shows an extra gear downfield. Wright is one of the top slot or "Y" receivers in this draft class because of his ability to manipulate the middle of the field and use his natural feel to find soft spots in coverage. He was a surprising omission from the Senior Bowl roster, especially with his teammate Joe Adams being taken over him, but Wright has a chance to really make a name for himself in Tampa this week. Other top talents to keep an eye on this week: Quentin Saulsberry (OL, Mississippi State), Markus Zusevics (OL, Iowa), Evan Rodriguez (HB, Temple), DaJohn Harris (DT, USC), Shaun Prater (CB, Iowa). -- Dane Brugler

Big names, big opportunities

NFLPA: Considering some of the big plays they produced for their high-profile BCS teams, it might surprise you to learn that Michigan State wide receiver Keith Nichol, Oregon wide receiver Lavasier Tuinei, Miami (Fla.) quarterback Jacory Harris and LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee are playing in this all-star game and not the higher-profile Senior Bowl next week. Nichol and Tuinei made huge plays for the Spartans and Ducks this season. Nichol, of course, famously caught Kirk Cousins' Hail Mary pass to defeat Wisconsin in the regular season. Tuinei riddled the Badgers, himself, to the tune of eight catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns in the Ducks' Rose Bowl victory. Harris and Lee struggled with consistency throughout their careers. Each has an opportunity to shed the label of college quarterbacks with all of the intangibles but missing NFL passing skills by adjusting to the different talent assembled in Los Angeles and playing well. -- Rob Rang

East-West: Pittsburgh DE/OLB Brandon Lindsey didn't blow anyone away with his performance as a senior, but he showed enough to intrigue scouts. Lindsey is a solid all-around athlete, but he doesn't have that sudden burst or violent hand use that teams look for in an edge rusher. He has tweener size and scouts want to see if he has the footwork and coordination to cleanly drop in space. I was very disappointed with Lindsey this season, but he can really help his draft stock with a productive week of practice.

BJ Cunningham is the all-time leading receiver at Michigan State, but scouts are all over the board as to where he projects in the NFL. He has a strong, solid frame with above-average body control and reliable hands. But speed and overall burst to create separation are big question marks with Cunningham. Just like arm strength for quarterbacks, speed isn't the be-all, end-all for receivers as they transition to the next level. However, Cunningham must display his strengths this week, catching everything in his area and showing he has enough foot quickness to create after the reception. -- Dane Brugler

Small school, big talent?

NFLPA: The most exciting function of senior all-star games is that players from lower-level programs get an opportunity to compete with the big boys. Eastern Washington quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell led the Eagles to a national championship in 2010 and was honored with the Walter Payton Award as the best player in the Football Championship Subdivision after the 2011 season, passing for 4,009 yards and 33 touchdowns against just 13 interceptions.

Mitchell is certainly the big name among the NFLPA game small-school prospects, but he's far from the only diamond in the rough talent hoping to catch the eye of talent evaluators. Cornerbacks, wide receivers and running backs from small schools traditionally are the most successful in turning a strong week of practice into a draftable grade making Southern University's receiver duo of Jared Green and LaQuinton Evans, Georgia Southern CB/KR LaRon Scott, Langston CB Antonio Dennard and Morehead State running back Desmond Cox among those to watch this week. -- Rob Rang

East-West: Breaking down "small school" players in these all-star games is a great measuring stick for evaluators as non-FBS prospects match up against players from the SEC, Big Ten and the other major conferences. There are a combined 20 small-school players participating in the East-West Shrine Game and the player I am most anxious to watch is QB BJ Coleman from Tennessee Chattanooga. The former Tennessee transfer has a lot of tools that pro teams look for at the quarterback position, including size, arm strength and determination. Coleman had better production last season than he did as a senior, but much of that is attributed to a shoulder injury that is near 100 percent healed. Every draft class seems to have a non-FBS quarterback who emerges as a mid-round pick, and Coleman is the frontrunner to be that prospect in the 2012 draft class. Scouts will be anxious to see how quick he can digest and decipher information, which will go a long way to determining if he belongs with the big boys.

WR Thomas Mayo out of California University of Pennsylvania warrants mention -- he had an extremely productive 2011 campaign with 79 catches for 1,359 yards and 16 touchdowns. Other small schoolers to keep an eye on include Tom Compton (OT, South Dakota), Josh Norman (CB, Citadel), Jeff Adams (OT, Columbia), Akiem Hicks (DL, Regina). -- Dane Brugler


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