Playing across from Jadeveon Clowney
, Devin Taylor
(6’7/267) presents an equally imposing frame but plays so much tighter, especially in the hips. This doesn’t bode well for Taylor’s bend around the edge or change of direction, so his best chance to make it long term in the NFL is to put on good weight and strength to become a power rusher. If he can, Taylor has the necessary length to press the pocket as long as an aggressive mentality comes with it. Princeton DL Mike Catapano
(6’4/270) is top heavy, but uses that broad upper body to win on first contact and shed when pass rushing. He, too, lacks change of direction and struggles to bend, but Catapano gets after it, even against the run. Michigan’s William Campbell
(6’5/310) held his own at the one and three techniques this season due to a natural anchor, despite ducking his head against double teams. Campbell won’t press the pocket outside of winning with a motor, but the senior could give the West offensive line fits during run drills in practice if he refuses to be moved off his anchor in the middle of the defense.Linebackers
I preview a few linebackers in my top ten list below, but a couple more are noteworthy. First is Florida’s Lerentee McCray
(6’3/249), a do-everything player with the Gators asked to line up on the strong side, inside, and rush the passer from defensive end. I expect to see a lot of McCray on the strong side, where he can force runs back inside or get physical with tight ends at the line of scrimmage. His biggest issue is the lack of fluid hips in space, leading to missed tackles or poor angles. South Carolina’s DeVonte Holloman
(6’2/240) switched to Spurrier’s “Spur” position during the offseason and played well, which might help NFL teams decide which spot he fits at best. If Holloman could excel in coverage against tight ends or in space while using an armbar to stay out of blockers’ grasp in the running game, it would be a successful week. FInally, Iowa State’s A.J. Klein
(6’2/244) moved to the weakside when Jake Knott
was sidelined with an injury. There’s no flash to his game, but Klein has a sideline motor and will to get to ball carriers on the edge or weed through trash between the tackles. Defensive Backs
Four corners really caught my eye, and three are on the East roster. The first is Purdue’s Josh Johnson
(5’11/195), one of the few corners that loves to get after it on the edge and frequently makes plays on his own in space. Johnson does his best work in man coverage, where he can mirror and stick to the hip pocket of his receiver rather than use less than adequate closing speed. Georgia’s Branden Smith
(5’11/175), a prospect with limited experience after alternating between defensive and offensive snaps, is blessed with athletic talent. Smith played a lot of zone coverage for the Bulldogs, often times entering the game as the third corner, and his click and close speed is naturally fast. Comfort is the only thing holding him back, and it would not surprise me if Smith left this week as the top corner from the event. Georgia Tech’s Rod Sweeting
(6’0/187) gave up way too much cushion in college but flashed when pressing at the line of scrimmage, using a nice strafe to turn and run with downfield receivers. I was very intrigued by Illinois’ Terry Hawthorne
(6’1/193) prior to the season, but an early tackling injury combined with playing as part of an underperforming Illini defense left a sour taste in my mouth. Hawthornes isn’t afraid to attack the edge against the run or disrupt at the catch point. He cannot, however, get caught staring in the backfield and allow receivers to run right past him, unimpeded. Top Ten Players at the East-West Shrine:
1. RB Zac Stacy
(5’9/214), Vanderbilt - I love Zac Stacy
, and I think he will be an early third day selection that produces immediately for whatever team drafts him. This year Stacy looked far more decisive with his explosive cuts and rarely went down on first contact. He could thrive in a zone blocking scheme and isn't afraid to get after it in pass protection.
2. RB Ray Graham
(5’10/190), Pittsburgh - A knee injury in 2011 left Graham, the nation’s leading rusher at the time, sidelined for an extended period of time. He didn’t seem his old self until the Notre Dame this year, but Graham started hitting the hole more quickly while making effective upfield cuts to make defenders miss.
3. LB Keith Pough
(6’3/238), Howard - Surprised? You might not be after this week, as Pough could take over the West practices as the top defensive talent. He is still growing into his frame as a long outside linebacker in a four man front, but Pough’s speed around the edge to make tackles for loss is excellent. Add in some bend and a bit of experience in coverage and Pough could be the first player from this event selected. Added strength would help Pough shed on the edge and bring ball carriers to the ground with more power, but Pough can win in his current state.
4. TE Joseph Fauria
(6’7/255), UCLA - The Bruin was finally used correctly as a senior. Split wide or detached from the line of scrimmage in the slot, Fauria is a long redzone target that is only improving with his routes and strength at the catch point. Just don’t ask him to block.
5. LB Gerald Hodges
(6’2/251), Penn State- He was outplayed by teammate Michael Mauti
until the senior went down with a knee injury, but Hodges offers more athleticism to cover ground. Wasted steps hurt when overrunning plays, but Hodges flashes physical play and has been frequently asked to play in space and cover slot targets.
6. S Duke Williams
(6’0/200), Nevada - Williams loves to close on the edge and takes that aggression into coverage with strong angles. Few safeties consistently make contact with ball carriers at the line of scrimmage or behind it, but Williams can frequently be seen rushing in tight to disrupt and hit with force. Add on Williams’ experience in covering slot targets and the Nevada senior could be in for a big week.
7. LB Sio Moore
(6’2/229), UConn- Moore was asked to be a utility defender for the Huskies, rushing the passer with great speed around the edge and play the weakside linebacker spot in a run and chase role. The athleticism is there, but at times moore shows stiff hips when attempting to break down for a tackle in space.
8. T Manase Foketi
(6’5/325), West Texas A&M - A transfer from Kansas State, Foketi has an oddly shaped frame in terms of skinny arms and a thick core. Still, if he gets over some of his waist bending, Foketi shows the proper footwork to mirror in pass protection and a nasty attitude to bully his opposition in the running game.
9. S Shamarko Thomas
(5’10/208), Syracuse - Depending on his success, Thomas will be described as “reckless” or “aggressive.” Regardless, the Orange safety loves to throw around his body and set the tone physically, but that might cause him to bite on misdirection and play fakes.
10. G Jeff Baca
(6’3/295), UCLA - Interior offensive linemen that possess a mean streak and motor tend to stick, and despite not being the most physically gifted player, Baca gets after it and doesn’t give up on his blocks. He doesn’t move well to the second level, but as long as Baca can mirror laterally he should make a roster.