My DVR is nearly full, so I'm going to have to try and clear as much space as possible before the college football season kicks off in little more than 2 weeks. Gonna try and do my best to watch some of the top prospects I have recorded. But for this one, I just needed to clear some space so I'm posting scouting about multiple mid-level players on two teams.
I watched the Southern Miss-Virginia replay on CBS College Sports Channel (from July). The biggest 2011 NFL prospect in this game was UVA's CB Ras-I Dowling.
Ras-I Dowling, CB
Listed at 6'2" 200, Dowling is a tall, lean corner. I've scouted him before, but I wanted to get another look at him. From this game, I see he is a guy that is physical, willing to throw his weight around, but isn't the soundest tackler, preferring to cut a runner's legs rather than wrapping up. He has good athleticism and shows the closing burst to undercut routes and break up the pass. But I'm not sure I see the footwork and technique necessary to be a good man corner. He played a ton of off zone coverage in this game and seems at home there (although in past games I have seen him do well in press coverage because he can jam). Because of that, and the dwindling number of pure-Cover 2 schemes like the Tampa-2, I think he'll have to move to safety on the next level. Or at least that's where he'll fit most schemes. Obviously, I think a team like Indianapolis or Tampa Bay may still be willing to roll the dice on him as a corner since he's in that Marlin Jackson mold. I think some might be quick to compare him to Malcolm Jenkins in terms of him being a big corner and a tweener. But he's not as good a tackler as Jenkins was at Ohio State. Jenkins was one of the better run support corners I've seen in years to come out of college. Dowling is good, but not as good as a player his size should merit. He doesn't get off blocks very well on the edge and I'm not sure he's a good enough wrapper to be reliable open field tackler. Now he wouldn't be the first starting safety that hits rather than wraps up, but it can lead to a lot of missed tackles and mistakes.
As for his 2011 draft prospects, it's hard at this point for me to see him as a No. 1 pick, unless it's as a free safety. A team like Indy could take him late in the first round, but he's going to have to sneak in like Jackson did back in '05 (29th overall pick). I think teams will like his athletic potential, but at this point he's too raw in man coverage to be expected to contribute right away in most schemes. I'd grade him as a 2nd round pick based off his upside.
On the other side of the field, a guy that I originally wasn't looking to scout, but his play drew my interest was Chase Minnifield. If the name is familiar, it's because his pops was Frank Minnifield, a Pro Bowl corner for the Browns in the late 80s.
Chase Minnifield, CB
He's listed at 6' 185, and he's only a junior. But his play stood out to me because he did some things that I didn't think Dowling did well in this game. And namely that was in run support. Unlike Dowling, he actually wraps up and is a very good at getting off blocks on the edge. He came upfield and made several stops behind the line when Southern Miss tried to run outside. He delivered several hard hits.He too played in off zone coverage almost every play. He looked comfortable there as well. He also works as their punt returner and showed nice speed there. Again, I really didn't see any sort of footwork/technique that would indicate he could be a good man cover guy. And unlike Dowling, he doesn't have great size for a safety, although I do think he's probably a more reliable open field tackler (although he missed some in this game) because he actually wraps up. He too will probably have to play in a Tampa-2 scheme to really impact as a corner. If he can bulk up, I think there is potential to move him to safety.
Minnifield is only a junior, so he has another two years of eligibility. We'll see if he comes out early. He does seem like a guy that could have a big year with Dowling playing opposite him and granting him more opportunities. If he does, it wouldn't surprise me to see him come out early. But unless there is significant improvement in his man coverage skills, then I think he's a marginal prospect even though there is a lot to like about him. He'd have to make a move to safety. At this point, I would say he's a middle round guy. If he was 10-15 pounds bigger, I'd probably give him a third or fourth round grade as a safety prospect. But for now, I say he's a 5th round guy that can probably impact on special teams, but only as a reserve on defense.
Matt Conrath, DE
Conrath is another junior defensive prospect on UVA. He's listed at 6'7" 270. I've seen Conrath on a lot of lists of top junior defensive ends, but after watching this game, I'm not sure why. UVA plays a 3-4 scheme, and he fits well in that scheme. But only as a run stopper. Chris Long he is not. In the Southern Miss game, he was pulled off the field in most obvious passing situations. He lacks a quick first step to really provide any pressure on the QB and lacks the short-area burst and closing speed you like to see in a pass rusher. He is an effective run stopper at the point of attack, but he doesn't do a great job getting off blocks vs. the run. Basically I would compare him to Aaron Smith, but not going to come near Smith in terms of his ability to provide pressure on the QB. He's only a junior, but unless he shows much more burst and adds a good bull rush, then he's really just looking like a rotation player/reserve for a 3-4 team. His future in the NFL appears to be closer to Travis Kirschke than Aaron Smith.
The last UVA prospect is the lone offensive guy I scouted:
Joe Torchia, TE
He's listed at 6'6" 250. You like his size, and he's similar to past UVA tight ends that have gone on to play in the NFL. The eyeball test makes you want to compare him to John Phillips. But he's not as good as Phillips. He is not an everydown player which tells you a lot like there. Sure, UVA is a spread attack, but if a TE is really an asset then he'll be an every down player even in a spread attack. Torchia is not. He works inline, which is good (Phillips worked a lot in the slot), meaning he doesn't have a huge learning curve on the next level, but he's not a very good blocker. He'll show good pop off the snap to get position, but has very poor hand use and placement, and loses his feet under him. He whiffed on quite a few blocks in pass protection. Essentially, he's only effective at setting the edge on sweeps and end-arounds that UVA likes to use, but NFL-caliber defensive ends and linebackers would beat him all the time. As a receiver, he uses his size well in traffic. But he tended to body catch the few times he was thrown the ball, so I'm not sure he's a guy that is going to be a great option. He doesn't have good speed or quickness and doesn't get a good release off the line. So he's only really an option on short routes.
Overall, you like his size and he's a decent receiving option, but he's nothing special in either regard. I was surprised to see him highly ranked on some TE lists (in the Top 10), which either indicates he's overrated or it's a weak TE class (probably both). He only caught 15 passes last year. For comparison, Phillips had 48 as a senior, and 17 as a junior when he was the third stringer behind Jonathan Stupar and Tom Santi. Torchia was the starter. In the end, he's at best a late round pick that someone may like his size potential and capable hands, but he's not going to be valuable beyond being a No. 3 guy for a brief time.
Now onto Southern MIss's prospects...
I guess the most intriguing prospect is WR DeAndre Brown.
Brown is a junior that is listed at 6'6" 231. I would describe him as Demaryius Thomas-lite. He shows good size and speed to make plays downfield. I wouldn't call him a burner as his 40 speed is listed in the low 4.5s, but it's certainly faster than what is typically expected out of WRs his size. The problem with Brown that makes him very unlike Thomas is that his hands were poor in this game. I'll note four plays/passes to him. 1) Early in the game, they went deep to him and he did snag the ball but as he was bringing it down to secure it, the DB stripped him and it resulted in a drop. 2) Not much longer after, he caught another pass over the middle, double catching it, and then making a move to make a first defender miss, but the second defender came up and stripped him because he didn't again secure the ball against his body. 3) He was running a short crossing route over the middle in which he was uncovered. The pass was high, but certainly catchable because it was in stride, and it bounced off his fingertips for incomplete. 4) They ran a WR screen to him, he double caught it and turned upfield before he could secure the catch, and then Minnifield was there to meet him before he could juke him.
Basically all that means is I don't think Brown has good hands or concentration. A good receiver would have plucked that third pass out of the air, and continued onto big yardage after the catch. And on all of the other three plays he either showed poor concentration. As a blocker, I saw nothing that made me think he impacted there. His effort was perfunctory. I think he could be an effective blocker due to his size, but he doesn't seem interested much in it.
But he's a guy that I think will be touted because teams will like his size, speed, and measurables, but I didn't see any natural receiving ability. Maybe it was because he was still rusty, as I overheard the announcers saying it was his 2nd game after being injured in the previous seasons' bowl game. But Brown looks like an upside potential guy that based off this single game, I probably would wait until the 5th round to draft. Maybe he develops, but I wouldn't count on him.
While Brown has the best upside, Southern Miss's most NFL-ready prospect was junior ILB Korey Williams.
At 6'2" 234 he doesn't have ideal NFL middle linebacker size. And it showed at times when he was tackling. He isn't a strong tackler and there was a time when he took on a running back head up and lost the battle. There were other times when he got a square hit on Jameel Sewell (UVA's QB) in the backfield, but Sewell shook him off (although Sewell isn't small at 6'3" 220 himself). But there were many other times when he showed good hitting potential. He does have good closing burst on the ball when he's able to run downhill. And he deliver some blows to ballcarriers, but he's a bit undersized as a tackler. He shows fairly good tackling technique for the most part, so I think he can be more reliable if he gets stronger (245 pounds?). Where he shined the most was as a blitzer up the middle. He is good when he's attacking upfield with good burst through gaps and able to deliver a hit to the QB. The problem is that he didn't show that same burst and speed when he was working laterally in pursuit. He was able to make plays in pursuit between the hashmarks, but anytime a running play went outside the tackle box, he didn't really do much. So I don't think he has great speed despite seeing him clocked in the 4.65 range, which is above average for an NFL linebacker. In terms of his ability in coverage, he showed some ability to get deep in zone coverage like a Tampa-2 MLB would. But he wasn't used much in man coverage, and didn't show the quickness nor hips to think he'd be good there. Instinctually, he has a good nose for the ball, but he did make some mistakes and mental errors. Sometimes he hit the wrong hole/gap, got caught out of position, bit on a play fake or zone read, or hesitated when he was working in pursuit. These are all indicators of not being a very instinctual MLB, but part of that is probably youth. With two more years of development, I certainly can imagine him improving in that area.
Williams isn't quite NFL ready right now. At this point, he'd probably be a 4th round pick at best for a team that wants to develop him. But he does look like he could be a good, if not limited fit in a 3-4 scheme at ILB. I just don't think he is good enough in coverage, nor does he have ideal range to play MLB in a 4-3 scheme. Where Williams will be at the end of 2011, I'm not sure, but if he improves his awareness in coverage, shows better range, and shows more instincts vs. the run, it's not crazy to think at some point he could be drafted as high as a 2nd round pick. Not sure if that will be the case in 2011, but 2012 is a possibility.
Anthony Gray, DT
The other Southern Miss prospect. A 6' 315-pound nose tackle. Gray was only a situational player for the Golden Eagles, playing mostly on run downs. And that is where he does his best work. He lines up at nose mostly in a 4-man front, but occasionally got work in a 3-man front. He doesn't have a great first step or burst to really impact as a pass rusher. But he did a good job pressing the line of scrimmage and pushing back UVA's center when defending the run. He made some good stops at the point of attack on the ballcarrier. But as a pass rusher, there were a few times where he had a scrambling Sewell in his sights and whiffed on the sack or tackle. He's a short area player, meaning he's not going to make many plays outside his wingspan, but he shows probably better range than most guys his size. I think he needs to improve his conditioning, because I don't think I saw him play more than three plays in a row before he was winded and had to come off the field. But he does show potential as a good fit in a 3-4 scheme at the nose. I don't see the upside to be a starter, but he could certainly be a rotational backup for some team that can eat some minutes. He's at best a late round pick, that will likely have to work his way into the lineup. But I could see him spending a few years on the practice squad, and then eventually working his way as a regular in the rotation down the road.
"Vincere scis, Hannibal, victoria uti nescis" -- Maharbal, 216 B.C.E.