By Russ Lande
Although the primary basis for any prospect's final grade should be film evaluation, all-star games provide a unique situation for NFL teams to see first-hand how prospects handle themselves and perform in uncomfortable situations. When a player is at his school, he becomes comfortable with the people and environment around him, which helps him to produce at the highest level. However, all-star games are different as players are thrown in with coaches and teammates they have likely never played with before and have to practice together within two days of arriving and play a game in one week. These unique circumstances often are a good indicator of prospects' ability to adapt and adjust to continue to perform at a high level under chaotic circumstances. Below are six players NFL teams are interested in taking a much closer look at this week at the East-West Shrine Game, which will be played Saturday in St. Petersburg, Fla. (Players are listed in alphabetical order and heights are four digits -- feet, inches, inches and eighths of an inch.)
OLB, Colorado State, Height 6014, Weight 262
Throughout the fall, NFL scouts told me that Barrett is one of the draft's sleepers because he is not a premier athlete, lacks ideal size and is not strong in coverage. However, to a man they all expressed the belief that Barrett has good enough athleticism and combined with excellent use of hands and a natural feel for how to defeat pass blocks that he could develop into a starting outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. If Barrett is going to be considered before the late rounds of the draft, this week he needs to prove that he can maintain his pass-rush ability against better competition and that he is effective playing off the ball in coverage.
ILB/MLB, Michigan State, Height 6027, Weight 265
Bullough was highly productive throughout his college career, but NFL teams have questions about his quickness, agility and playing speed. While he received a lot of national attention for being suspended for the Rose Bowl, the reality is that NFL teams are not overly concerned, as he is regarded as a high-character kid who works extremely hard and has a passion for the game. He surprised many by weighing in at 265 pounds, and now he has to prove he can be effective playing at that weight. While he is viewed as a smooth player, he needs to show NFL teams that he can flip his hips to change directions and adjust in pass coverage and has the playing speed to carry a tight end down the seam and to chase down outside plays in pursuit. Viewed as a likely third-day draft pick, a strong week could give him a chance to slip into the third round.
CB, Lindenwood, Height 6007, Weight 197
One of the best small-school cornerbacks in the country, Desir gets the chance to prove he can play with the big boys this week. Already possessing the great height NFL teams covet at nearly 6-foot-1, he needs to show that he can use his size and strength to be effective when playing physical with the bigger and stronger receivers he will face this week. More importantly, at Lindenwood he likely never covered a receiver who could run under a 4.50 40-yard dash, so this will be his opportunity to demonstrate that he has the foot quickness, turn ability and speed to stay with fast receivers. A strong week could put Desir more on the radar and start an upward trajectory to potentially get him into second- or third-round consideration.
OT, McGill, Height 6050, Weight, 321
Laurent passed the first big test on Monday when he looked the part of an NFL offensive tackle during the weigh-in. Now he has to prove he can handle the important on-field stuff. Having evaluated him live at a McGill game, I have no doubt that he has the foot quickness, flexibility and natural strength to play in the NFL, although he is no doubt a developmental prospect. While many Canadian offensive linemen have been invited to all-star games in the past, most of them struggled greatly as the adjustment to having a defensive lineman lined up across from you with no buffer zone was too much to handle. In the CFL the defensive linemen must allow a one-yard buffer between the ball and where they line up, which gives offensive linemen much more time to get out of their stance and set to block. If he can prove to NFL teams that he can handle protecting the corner vs. edge rushers without the one-yard buffer he had in Canada, Laurent will get drafted. If he struggles in this area, his only hope will be as a free agent signing.
QB, Cornell, Height 6033, Weight 225
Mathews dominated the Ivy League, and scouts are interested to see if he can do the same when the speed of players around him jumps drastically. Blessed with good height and a strong arm, Mathews has to display more consistent footwork striding into passes and aggressiveness making his throws, and most importantly he must prove he can be quick and decisive identifying where to throw the ball. Viewed as one of the more physically gifted quarterbacks in the draft, Mathews has a chance to prove that he can jump into the day two mix on draft weekend.
QB, Ball State, Height 6023, Weight 219
Unlike fellow quarterback Mathews, the big questions surrounding Wenning have little to do with level of competition and being more decisive as a passer, but rather if he has the physical tools to be more than a backup at the next level. Also a smart prospect, Wenning does a good job of getting set in the pocket, moves around with ease and can get rid of the ball quickly once he finds an open receiver. However, the question surrounding him is whether he has the necessary arm strength to make all the NFL throws with good zip and accuracy, or if his lack of arm strength will limit an offensive playbook. A good week in Florida could make Wenning one of the first quarterbacks selected out of the second tier of quarterback prospects.
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Russ Lande writes about college scouting and the NFL draft for Sports on Earth. He is GM jr. scouting and college scouting director for the CFL's Montreal Alouettes and the Big 10 Network. He is a former scout for the Cleveland Browns and former scouting administrator for the St. Louis Rams. You can follow him @RUSSLANDE.