With the Conference Championships over, and 11 days until the final game of the 2014-15 NFL season, the focus is beginning to shift to NFL Draft prospects. College All-Star games are in full swing, and today marks the second day of Senior Bowl practices.
On Sunday we spoke with NFL Draft analyst and Draft Insider publisher Tony Pauline regarding the players who impressed him most during the East-West Shrine Bowl practices last week (the game was played Saturday afternoon). He also gave us some of his underrated prospects and explained who he has at No. 1 on his draft board:
All-Out Blitz: You were at the East-West Shrine Game practices last week. Could you give us a few guys that impressed you the most?
Tony Pauline: “Tawain Jones, linebacker from Michigan State. I thought he was really terrific. I think he’s underrated and he’s got a chance to be a top three round player. He’s versatile, he’s had a good college career. He was the most athletic and complete linebacker in attendance. He was outstanding.
I thought Darrian Miller of Kentucky did a very good job. A lot of people, including myself, have projected him at guard but he played left tackle all week, and he did a great job. Throughout the week he handled Za’Darrius Smith (Miller’s UK teammate and defensive lineman), who I read won Defensive MVP of the game.
David Parry of Stanford was another guy who was tremendous. Slightly undersized, but he was unstoppable. Just kept getting penetration, did a great job using his hands. I got to speak with him a little bit afterwards, he’s a very level-headed guy.
And Xavier Williams of Northern Iowa I thought also did a very good job, he really helped himself. He’s got some great power, he’s quick.”
AOB: Were there any players that you felt were a disappointment and that maybe hurt their draft stock during practices?
Pauline: “The quarterbacks were awful. Cody Fajardo (Nevada), he’s a good athlete but he’s not a passer. The ball was all over the place. I knew from film he had accuracy issues and at that point it was just driven home.
Chucky Hunter of TCU (DL) I thought had a tough go of it. He was constantly getting destroyed at the point of attack.
Andre Davis of South Florida (WR). The guy looks great in drills, but when it came to one-on-one and full scrimmage he couldn’t come away with the difficult grabs.
So those are three guys I thought were some of the most disappointing in practices.”
AOB: When scouting college players, would you say there are certain things you focus on most?
Pauline: “I mean, you look for everything. When you’re looking at the lineman, do they bend their knees, do they play with good head-level, do they sink their hips at the line of scrimmage? People look for power. Power’s great but if you’re playing tall, as George Young (former GM of the Giants) used to say “low man wins in football.” If you can’t play low with good pad level you’re not going to win at the line.
The running backs, are they seeing the holes? There’s different things for different positions. Are they quick to react? Obviously, quarterbacks you’re looking at their accuracy, footwork. Is it something with their technique or are they just inaccurate?
The receivers, you wanna see guys run good routes. It’s great to be a 4.3 guy and run fast down the field, but if you can’t run good routes you’re going to have a problem. You want to see good techniques, you want to see the technique applied in drills and it’s great when they’re running good routes in the pitch-and-catch drills but when it’s time for one-on-one drills you want to see it applied.”
AOB: In addition to some of the guys you saw in the East-West Shrine Game practices, do you have any other underrated guys that are flying under the radar and that people may not have really heard of?
Pauline: “Well his name is out there now, but I think I’d say quarterback Chris Bonner, the QB from Colorado State-Pueblo. He reminds me of Dan McGwire. He’s tall (6’7”), he’s got a huge, massive arm and gets the ball down the field.
Tight ends like C.J. Uzomah of Auburn, who I think could be a late-round pick. They didn’t use a tight end all that much, but he’s big, he’s very athletic, catches the ball well. I’m excited to see him in the Senior Bowl. Those are two guys I would say I really like a lot.”
AOB: I know there are a few different guys at the top. Different analysts are putting different players at the top of their draft boards. But who would you say, right now, would be your No. 1 overall prospect?
Pauline: “Marcus Mariota (Oregon QB and Heisman winner). He didn’t play well against Ohio State, but you know what, he torched Trae Waynes (top CB prospect) earlier in the season against Michigan State. I don’t think you evaluate a guy who’s had such great success as Mariota did based on one game, when the whole team collapsed (in Oregon’s National Championship loss).
I think people are saying Jameis Winston is the No. 1 quarterback, but I don’t know where that’s coming from. If you’re going to downgrade Mariota because of his performance against Ohio State, what do you to Winston with his performance against Oregon?
I like Mariota. He’s smart, he’s incredibly athletic. He’s got the arm to make all the throws, he can play in and out of the pocket with his feet. I like him physically, I like him mentally, I like his attitude, and the fact that he went back for another year at Oregon really shows a lot as far as his character and his desire to mature both on and off the field. People will say ‘well Winston is a little bit bigger, he’s more athletic.’ But Winston in my mind has got a much greater downside.
I do like Leonard Williams (USC DL), I just don’t like Williams as much as I like Mariota.”