A bit chillier than the first day of practices, Wednesday saw very few scouts on the sideline and a packed out press box. Using the space outside to roam around, I kept my eye on the skill positions for the Nation squad and the trench players for the Texas squad.
Winners from today’s practices included East Oklahoma Central defensive end Armonty Bryant once again, Lehigh wide receiver Ryan Spadola and Missouri wide receiver T.J. Moe.
In a day filled with blustery wind and cold weather, only Ryan Griffin proved capable of delivering with consistent velocity, spin and placement downfield. Not altering his approach in the practice, Griffin surprisingly filed the ball between the 2nd and 3rd levels with touch and accuracy. Griffin is later round quarterback, but should be drafted for his obvious combination of size and arm talent.
Running like a man on a mission, Jermaine Cook out of Youngstown State is out to prove he belongs on the NFL stage. Cook can be elusive laterally and agile outside the numbers, but seems to prefer physicality over straight-line speed; bringing the action to the defense, lowering his pads to and through the hole, and finishing each run falling forward. Short, but by no means small, Cook’s thick, stocky frame makes him tough to hit and surprisingly tough to bring down.
The only other back that stood out for me, was TCU’s Matthew Tucker. Very unimpressive on the first day in receiving drills, Tucker came back on the second day and stepped up with reliable hands out of the backfield, and finishing power on his runs. Capable of delivering punishment to the defender, Tucker also has a physical running style and likes to finish each run with contact. On tape, Tucker appears to have more subtle elusiveness and can climb through tight creases, which only furthers his stock as a taller, bigger and more exposed tailback.
At receiver, Ryan Spadola of Lehigh stood out the most, making catch after catch in one-on-one’s, 7-on-7’s and team reps. Winning both in the slot and on the perimeter, Spadola reminds me a lot of former Texas receiver Jaxon Shipley, in that he can be quick and sudden with in-cuts, stride out for vertical plays and win along the sidelines with focus and concentration. Very much a complete receiver with a well-rounded skill set, Spadola is a good fit for just about any team in the NFL and can be a reliable third or fourth option early into his career.
Missouri’s T.J. Moe continued his dominant play from the slot, separating underneath with crisp jerk routes (slant-and-out) and vertical seam patterns. More importantly building his resume as an outside receiver, Moe even won on a 9-route, where he ran right by Wake Forest cornerback Kenny Okoro for a long touchdown in 7-on-7’s. Moe compares himself to current St. Louis Ram Danny Amendola, and that comparison certainly fits based on the way he’s played this week.
Struggling mightily today, Marcus Sales of Syracuse could not find a way to reel in the football, dropping target after target. Low, high or on the numbers, Sales fought the football in the biting wind. Also concerning was how long it took Sales to build up to speed in his route running, as a long-striding receiver.
Also dropping passes today was Utah wideout DeVonte Christopher. Despite working himself free of defenders downfield and tracking the ball with balance and coordination, Christopher had an issue with focus drops throughout the practice. Not overly comfortable extending and exposing his midsection, Christopher needs to learn how to fight for the ball and immediately secure the reception.
After an up and down first day that showed positive signs, Marqueis Gray looked like he didn’t belong on the field today, slipping at the top of the route, losing his footing consistently and lacking any separation skills. Moreover, Gray was wildly inconsistent at the catch point, snaring a pass away from his frame on one play and allowing a pass to bounce off his chest for an incompletion the next. Gray is much more raw from a route running perspective than I previously evaluated and needs to improve his hands from a consistency standpoint.
On the interior, center Patrick Lewis excelled in one-on-one pass protection, mirroring with ease, punching, while resetting and locking out to direct the point of attack. Polished and prepared in his technique, Lewis won every one of his bouts versus a variety of speed, power and quickness moves. Lewis is a player I feel comfortable drafting and plugging into my lineup, should I need a center in the middle of the draft.
And having another solid day of practice, Lamar Mady of Youngstown State continued to bend at the knees, absorb initial contact and anchor down into an athletic pass set. Receiving a combine invite and beginning to build buzz among scouts, Mady appears off the cuff to be worthy of a 6th or 7th round draft selection.
Three small school pass rushers, Rufus Johnson of Tarleton State, Marquis Jackson of Portland State and Armonty Bryant of East Oklahoma Central stood out in one-on-one’s for differing reasons while producing similarly positive results.
Armonty Bryant continued to build off a strong performance in the Monday practice, displaying the natural ability to work to the outside of his opponent, bend and run the arc. Though he can be a bit reckless in his approach and waste movement with his arms off the snap, Bryant is the most natural edge guy at this event and should be valued in the mid-rounds as a developmental rusher. Called “sweet feet” by his position coach, Bryant can win with an outside-in or inside-out pass rush, setting up each move and cut before accelerating upfield. Bryant’s length, bend and edge speed have been impressive to say the least and he’s been one of the more dominant players here in Allen, Texas.
Rufus Johnson is more of a one-trick pony, winning primarily with violent, heavy hands and a quick disengage move to the inside. While the power moves he utilized in the pit drills likely won’t work versus starting level talent at the NFL level, Johnson’s ability to translate speed into power still stood out during drills. Additionally, Johnson competed with consistent effort throughout the afternoon, showing an excellent motor and active hands versus both the run and the pass.
Marquis Jackson also turned some heads in practice today, with a plus first step and natural ability to run the arc. Similar in his rush style to Bryant with a bigger body type, Jackson can win with speed and bend versus the tackles at this event but will have to develop some semblance of a counter move. When cutoff from the arc, Jackson was tied up easily, as he attempted spin moves to no avail. Unpolished but very explosive, Jackson has the tools to develop into a legitimate end at the next level.
At defensive tackle another trio of prospects stood out, with David King from Oklahoma, Dequinta Jones out of Arkansas and Kendrick Payne of Cal dominating 9-on-7 run drills.
David King, though not overly dynamic as a pass rusher, used his hands very well today by creating an initial jolt and quickly putting into use short-arm, rip through moves to penetrate into the backfield. King’s claim to fame will be as a run stopper, as he showed in today’s drills that he could defeat single blocks and tie up double teams. King has a two-down skill set but has the ability to contribute in his first year as a rotational piece.
Dequinta Jones flashed a little more power than King, while also having the technique to break up double teams and wreak havoc in the backfield. Drawing praise from the defensive line coach for his run fits and pursuit to the football, Jones had himself a solid day of practice. Long for a defensive lineman with 34” arms and an 81” wingspan, Jones understands how to stack and shed effectively at the point of attack.
Kendrick Payne also drew praise from the defensive line coach, but for his hand usage, leverage and high level of activity in 9-on-7’s. Quick to initiate the action, create separation from he and the blocker and attack upfield, Payne performed well at both the one-technique and three-technique positions, despite being a bit undersized at 6’1, 280 pounds. Payne
Standing out with physical hand checking and balance in flipping his hips, Catawba cornerback Jumal Rolle actually performed well in off-man coverage, an area where most corners tend to struggle in an all-star setting. Latching on with his hands and keeping his feet underneath him, Rolle did an excellent job of turning and running once his cushion had been taken by the receiver. Rolle needs to develop better anticipation in his backpedal, as he is dependant upon contact in-route, but regardless of possible interference calls, Rolle competed and played well today.
Safety Rontez Miles once again stood out in a positive light, being a quick-twitched, explosive athlete that can beat up receivers down the seam and redirect to the throw after landing his hands. Knocking Marqueis Gray to the ground on multiple occasions, Miles physicality helped him win close to the line of scrimmage, where he’ll likely be projected as a strong safety.
Injuries To Note:
Meshak Williams, DE, Kansas State: OUT –compound fracture in pinky finger
Nick Clancy, ILB, Boston College: OUT –wrist injury
Nick Williams, DT, Samford: OUT –elbow arthritis