Reviewing my notes and recalling practices from last week’s Player’s All-Star Classic, I came up with a list of 20 players who most impressed me. This list isn’t ordered in terms of draft stock, but rather in order of who impressed me the most. All 20 players listed along with 5-8 players from the North and South rosters, have a very good chance at being drafted, which speaks volumes to the excellent job done by the selection committee of this event. Hats off to those guys, and hopefully next year the event will be more advertised for a better showing to the actual game.
The North squad won 24-19, and though I was unable to see the game, Michael Smith of Utah State and Brandon Joiner of Arkansas State won Offensive and Defensive MVP’s respectively.
1. Brett Roy, Nevada, 3-4 OLB, 6025 273
-The most fundamentally sound, best all around football player, Brett Roy does it all; can set the edge as an outside linebacker in 3-4 scheme or even as the end in a 4-3. Can get after the passer with an array of moves, battling with excellent leverage, maintaining a powerful core, and utilizing his hands extremely well to stack, shed, and make a play. Would fit perfectly into the New England Patriots system, comparing quite favorably to Rob Ninkovich.
2. Antoine McClain. Clemson, OG, 6055 335
-A thick bodied though not overweight guard that sits into his stance with plus bend and positioning, keeps his hands inside at all times, has a great initial punch, and can ride out speed rushers with ease. McClain looks like a plug and play type of player that can be a more than serviceable starter at the NFL level.
3. Coty Sensabaugh, Clemson, CB, 5112 187
-Sensabaugh is arguably the most intelligent ball player on this list; understands formation tendencies, makes pre snap reads from the corner position, relaying information to his teammates before the play, and deciphers post snap information extraordinarily well, recognizing route concepts, driving on underneath patterns, and getting into perfect position. Pair those intangibles (although they are quite tangible when you’re on the field listening to him) with plus recovery speed, plus long speed, and good enough size, and you have yourself an instant starter in nickel/dime packages.
4. Derrius Brooks, Western Kentucky, CB, 5094 188
-Derrius Brooks is another fundamentally sound player, but what impresses me the most, is his confidence and control with his pedal; very tidy in his backpedal, Brooks keeps his feet underneath his base, trusts his pedal until the very last moment, and flips his hips smoothly to turn and run in the receiver’s hip pocket. Proved he could cover bigger targets outside the numbers, in addition to covering up the slot; a do-it-all cornerback that any coaches would like to have play for his team.
5. Jeremy Lane, Northwestern State, CB, 5116 183
-From a talent perspective, there weren’t many players at this event that were Jeremy Lane’s equal. Long armed, lean bodied, explosive athlete that can jam with success against any type of receiver, turns and runs off the jam with sticky man coverage, and aggressively attacks the ball in air. Has the frame to get up to 190 lbs. and still hasn’t reached his potential in coverage, needing to clean up his footwork in off man coverage.
6. Aston Whiteside, Abilene Christian, OLB, 6013 265
-The best pass rusher at the event, Aston Whiteside showed off a bevy of pass rush moves including the swim, inside dip and rip, and had the bend and speed to run the arc. Really can do everything you want as a rusher, and even displayed coverage skills; played from the bubble at “Sam” backer position and looked a bit like Matthias Kiwanuka (albeit 3 inches shorter). Really convinced me that he can play as a 4-3 “Sam” backer, 4-3 defensive end, and at either side as a 3-4 outside backer. Ran down the seam with the tight end all week in practice, runs well and moves extremely for his size; needs to work on depth to coverage drops and overall ball skills, but overall an excellent prospect that can make an immediate impact as a 3rd down pass rusher and rotational 3-4 OLB.
7. Julian Talley, UMass, WR, 6010 184
-Having a superb week of practice and allowing hardly any passes to hit the turf, Julian Talley did all he could to solidify a draft selection. Looked very natural out of the slot, using subtle head fakes and shoulder shimmies at the stem of his route, quickly decelerating into and accelerating out of his breaks, and creating separation with relative ease. Ran almost the whole route tree, has the long speed that defenses will have to respect, tracks the ball exceptionally well, and catches just about everything thrown his way.
8. Daryl Richardson, Abilene Christian, RB, 5103 195
-One of the fastest running backs in the entire 2012 NFL Draft class, Richardson really showed off his homerun speed, big play ability, and plus acceleration to and through the hole. Straight-line runner with some one-cut ability, has very good feet to pick through trash, can accelerate and decelerate fluidly, and ultimately looks the part of an NFL back. I was thoroughly impressed with how Richardson stepped up versus top tier talent and with NFL scouts in attendance.
9. Darius Reynolds, Iowa State, WR, 6016 212
-Wasn’t dropping any passes all week until Thursday’s toned down practice and would’ve been slightly higher on this list save for that one practice; consistently dug out passes from the dirt, plucked the ball high and away from his body smoothly, used his hands very well to stay balanced and clean throughout the route, and showed some suddenness in short passing tree. Could be an intriguing receiving prospect for any NFL team, as he shows route diversity and ability to attack defenses at all levels.
10. Michael Smith, Utah State, RB, 5081 207
-Some scouts in Little Rock saw Michael Smith as the best prospect there; this bowling ball runner has an outstanding physique and build, has very good burst to and through, has some wiggle to his game at the second level, sees the play develop quickly, and is decisive with his cuts. Won’t dance in the backfield and always picks up positive yardage. Not a great but not a bad blocker, same goes for his hands; a change of pace, backup runner that will work his way into more and more carries as his rookie season unfolds.
11. Antonio Leak, Henderson State, OLB, 6012 252
-Wearing an Alabama shaded helmet, Leak certainly looked the part of an SEC linebacker; thick and powerfully built, carrying the extra weight very well, Leak has an excellent first step as an edge rusher (began collegiate career at defensive end), can make plays off blockers from the bubble, and chase down runners on 7/9 stretch plays. Does everything well, not many weak points in his game, and is still learning the position. A high upside, athletic backer with plus size, girth, and explosiveness, Antonio Leak certainly looked worthy of a draft selection at the Player’s All-Star Classic.
12. Jamie Blatnick, Oklahoma State, DE, 6027 270
-Though I’ve never questioned Blatnick’s strength or power at the point of attack, I did have questions regarding his ability to stand up and move in space. The defenses only ran 4-3 schemes so we never were able to see him in a standup role, but during movement drills and bag drills, Blatnick impressed greatly with his balance, foot speed, and overall athleticism. Can be an instant contributor as strong side, base 4-3 end that sets a hard edge versus run, and occasionally ring up a sack or two. Should be one of the earlier picks on Day 3 of the NFL Draft.
13. Marcus Rivers, Buffalo, WR, 6026 211
-Snared the ball away from his body and in traffic all week long, sported the longest wingspan of any wideout at the even (82 1/8’s inches), and showcased plus body control. Builds up to speed and won’t create a ton of separation, but has sneaky downfield speed if given a free release; runs smooth, effortless routes, and has the size to develop into a #2 at the next level.
14. Ronnie Cameron, Old Dominion, DT, 6020 299
-The most impressive defensive tackle from what I saw, Ronnie Cameron was equally active versus the run as he was rushing the quarterback. Won his battles in the pit drills by firing off the snap with low pad level and violently attacking with his hands to initiate contact; gets his man off balanced and has multiple rush moves at his disposable. Will work into a defensive line rotation early next season and can develop into a starter role down the road.
15. Jacqiues Smith, Missouri, DE, 6023 255
-Coming into weigh-ins, Smith impressed with powerful arms, solid physique and girth at 6’2, 255. Didn’t change my season evaluation and reaffirmed my 4th round grade on him with very good hand placement and consistency in locking out to create separation. Had his way with the group of tackles in pit drills and in team drills; played the run with more intensity, displaying more suddenness in the “phone booth”. Doesn’t come across as a purely dominant player who will ever become a perennial pro-bowler, but certainly has the technique and tools to work himself into a starting role in his second or third season.
16. Kelcie McCray, Arkansas State, S, 6015 197
-Kelcie McCray has a ton of upside with a long, lean frame that needs bulk up to 210, is a fluid moving athlete with plus ball skills, sideline to sideline range, and impressive foot speed for such a tall player. Will need a year in the weight room before he becomes a solid starting free safety, but has skill set and tools rare for the safety position.
17. Damon Harrison, William Penn, DT, 6023 347
-Another high upside prospect, Harrison is a raw, big bodied, nose tackle that has a very good first step, generating a lot of power with his initial punch, and able to create a push up the middle. Needs to be more consistent with his hand placement, as well as firing his hands and hips simultaneously to create a powerful snap at the point. Flashes ability to roll up underneath opposing linemen and blow up double teams, but struggles to do so from snap-to-snap due to raw technique. With NFL coaching and teaching, Harrison could develop into an excellent starting, impact nose tackle that leads his position in sacks.
18. Corey White, Samford, CB/S, 5113 205
-A versatile defensive back is a must-have in the growingly pass oriented NFL game. White has a compact, stout, and strong body composition, is well balanced throughout his pedal, effectively latches on in trail man coverage and uses hands well for leverage throughout the route. Can lock up in man coverage versus slot or outside receivers, and can step back and play zone coverage as a safety defender. All around solid football player that will present huge value in round 5 of the NFL Draft.
19. Rennie Moore, Clemson, DT, 6031 266
-An undersized defensive tackle, Rennie Moore was the most impressive defensive tackle in pit drills, exploding off the ball, quickly attacking blockers with active hands and showing off a multitude of pass rushing moves. Brought a spin move, dip and rip, and over the top swim move to the party and was virtually un-blockable. Looked a bit overweight and pudgy in the midsection, so I’m not sure where his best fit is; skill set wise he looks like a smaller Geno Atkins (if that’s possible). An in-betweener (meaning he’s an interior tweener; I fully claim this scouting phrase as my intellectual property from here on out), too small to hold the point from the DT spot and not fast enough to play effectively as a DE or rush OLB. A “phone booth” athlete, but explosive, quick twitch guy that coaches will find a spot for.
20. Taylor Thompson, SMU, TE, 6061 266
-Having played defensive line his entire career at SMU, Thompson made the leap across the line to offense in Little Rock, Arkansas for the Player’s All-Star Classic. Thompson looked incredibly natural at the position, using his hands at the line to release quickly into his route, running the seam well, and showing soft hands at the point of the catch. Even though he’s a developmental, projection draft pick, there’s a slight chance Thompson gets taken as early as the 4th round of the NFL Draft.