By Russ Lande
The East-West Shrine game takes place Saturday afternoon but more than 95% of NFL personnel have left St. Petersburg, Florida as the practices have concluded and they have gleaned the information necessary to contribute to their player evaluations. It is always dangerous to place too much weight on a player's performance during an all-star game week, but some insights can definitely be gained and if the information is used correctly it can be a valuable piece of the evaluation process. Below is a breakdown of seven players that helped themselves with a strong week of practice and are players to keep an eye on if you watch Saturday's game. (Players are listed in alphabetical order and heights are four digits - feet, inches, inches and eighths of an inch).
Beau Allen, DT, Wisconsin, Height 6024, Weight 333
Viewed as the classic "over-achiever" throughout his college career, Allen displayed better quickness, agility and all around athleticism during practices. For a 330+ pound defensive tackle, Allen's ability to explode off the ball and get his hands on the offensive lineman first enabled him to either jolt and drive man backwards or defeat man's block consistently. He made it look easy anchoring at the point of attack vs run blockers and consistently held ground against double team blocks, although he struggled to shed in time to consistently make the tackle. Allen showed the physical traits of an NFL nose tackle this week, but needs to prove he can produce at that level consistently and improve his shedding ability to warrant being drafted before the late rounds of the 2014 Draft.
Zach Bauman, RB, Northern Arizona, Height 5072, Weight 196
A big reason all-star games exist is to give NFL teams a chance to evaluate small school players against better competition and Bauman no doubt took full advantage of that this week. From his first carry of the week, his ability to change directions in a flash, burst through the hole and make sharp cuts stood out from the rest of the backs. Obviously, short backs have to prove themselves repeatedly, but Bauman's performance this week convinced me that he can be a productive change of pace back, third down back and can contribute catching passes from a variety of alignments at the next level. While his size is definitely going to keep him from being a feature back in the NFL, his performance this week has most likely assured him of being drafted.
Jay Bromley, DT, Syracuse, Height 6032, Weight 307
Clearly the best defensive linemen at the game, Bromley improved his draft stock with his consistency throughout the week. Despite not being the biggest defensive tackle in St. Pete, he made it look easy jolting and driving pass blocker backwards into the quarterback's lap. Most defensive tackles are either productive as two gap defender or defeating blocks, however Bromley's production this week with any assignment gives him excellent value because he fits any defensive scheme. He proved he has the tools to be a quality starting defensive tackle in a 43 scheme or as a defensive end in a 34 alignment. If he carries over this performance and excels the rest of the spring (At the combine and his pro day) I expect that he will be a day two draft pick.
John Brown, WR, Pittsburg State, Height 5100, Weight 175
Even before practices began, Brown impressed as his physique at the weigh-in showed he has the muscular build to help him make up for a lack of ideal height. Once practices got under way, his quick burst off the ball accelerating to full speed caught my attention and despite his routes not always being sharp, his ability to burst out of his cuts to gain separation was. Whether a pass was within his frame or way off-target, Brown consistently reached out and plucked the ball away from his body. He no doubt needs to work on his routes, but he proved he has the quick twitch athleticism to make big plays when he has the ball in his hands, which is extremely valuable in today's wide open pass friendly NFL.
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, OT, McGill, Height 6050, Weight, 321
Duvernay-Tardif first caught my attention when I attended the Montreal at McGill game during the 2013 season and I was excited to see him at the East-West Game. Historically, offensive linemen who played college football in Canada really struggle at all-star games as they have trouble adjusting to not having the one yard buffer between the offensive and defensive lines. However, it was clear from the first practice that he had spent time preparing for this change and handled it remarkably well. His foot quickness and flexibility are both NFL starting caliber and combined with his ability to take coaching and improve throughout the week, I believe he is an outstanding developmental prospect with a real opportunity to become a starter in the NFL.
Nevin Lawson, CB, Utah State, Height 5095, Weight 188
Not regarded as a top athlete or prospect before this week in St. Pete, it is clear to me that Lawson proved he has the tools to make the jump. Although he lacks the ideal size, he shows no hesitation getting hands on and playing physical with receiver and can stay right on his hip in tight coverage. While he needs to improve his pedal by maintaining better knee bend throughout, when his technique is on he can "click and close" out of pedal to close fast on passes. Good coverage ability is great, but without the ball skills to break up passes it has little real value. This is not an issue with Lawson as he showed the instincts and ball skills to consistently get a hand in front of receiver to break up passes all week. Lawson will likely be a fourth or fifth round pick.
Jeff Matthews, QB, Cornell, Height 6033, Weight 225
When the week began, nearly everyone I spoke with expected Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garopplo to be the star quarterback of the week and although he had an excellent final day of practice, the best quarterback in St. Pete was clearly Cornell's Jeff Mathews. He proved quickly that he has the strongest arm of all the quarterbacks in attendance and can make the intermediate/deep throws with zip and accuracy at an NFL level. One issue he had at Cornell was taking too long to pull the trigger and this was an issue at times this week. He is going to need to improve on this to be successful against the faster defenses he will see at the next level. While Mathews has not done enough to assure he will be an early draft pick, if he throws the ball this well at the combine and his pro day he will likely be at worst a third round pick.
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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.