As those of you who have followed my wonky draft takes over the years know, I have an affinity for the underdogs: bring me your tired, your hungry, your small-schoolers, your under-the-radar big-school fliers… Well, this week I am covering the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl––once an afterthought on the All-Star circuits but quickly making progress towards the top-tier college all-star games. The prospects seem more talented as each year goes by, and the coaching staffs and scouts in attendance are as good as it gets. This year’s game features some sneaky prospects you will get to know during this draft season and some small-schoolers looking to make a jump in competition. These are my people.

My observations are obviously based solely on one practice and maybe some background familiarity with the player. Also, my views were limited to sideline views, so I didn’t get to break down a lot of information about interior line play. Of course, first impressions aren’t always perfect, but let’s see where it leads us as I tell you what I saw at Thursday’s practices––the last padded practices for either team this week before Saturday’s collegiate bowl.

NATIONAL TEAM PRACTICE
LB Russell Chapelle, Temple (6020 221 32 1/4 9 7/8 76 7/8) started team sessions with a bang, literally. In theory, this was a wrap-up-only 7-on-7 session, but Chapelle could barely contain his urge to hit someone coming into the middle. It made a rather loud BOOM sound that got everyone’s attention. If you get that in a random no-tackling practice rep, I get the feeling you’ll need to see him in games to fully appreciate his skill set.

Jaylinn Hawkins S California 6011 211 31 7/8 9 3/8 77 1/8 was calling out adjustments and presnap reads–definitely a positive to see the communication skills and tape study background. Big deal for a safety prospect.

Watching DL work the bag drill (striking each bag on the way through the slalom), you can see the guys with a little more fluidity of movement– who’s an interior guy and who’s a pass rusher. But the eye-opener was the difference in sound when #98, DE Ron’Dell Carter of James Madison (6025 265 33 1/2 9 1/2 80 3/8) went through. The sound of the bag was just different––LOUD. Like he wanted to be noticed and just badder than everyone else. And he did it with very little wasted motion. I’ll bet he tests as a very high-level athlete in the change of direction drills. The powerful hands, practice work ethic, and athleticism clearly carried over to team drills, where he has been a pain for the OL. This includes another practice star this week, OT Brandon Walton from Florida Atlantic (6042 311 34 1/8 9 81 1/8 ) who got tossed and rag-dolled by Carter on Wednesday.

In Thursday’s practice, Ron’Dell hassled multiple plays in the backfield. Knocked down a pass. Probably would have had a sack or two in live action. The lifelong Baltimore resident and Ravens fan is living up to his favorite team’s defensive profile, while making some serious noise in Pasadena this week.

Marquez Callaway WR Tennessee (6014 199 32 5/8 9 1/8 78 3/8) is just smooth. You immediately notice that he looks different than other guys on the squad– movements are graceful and has easy speed. Soft hands barely make a sound when catching. Made a lovely catch on a deep corner route that was run perfectly and made space for himself coming out of breaks. Pretty polished even among all-stars here. One of the best players I saw yesterday.

Reid Sinnett QB San Diego (6035 229 33 3/8 10 3/8 81)
Nick Tiano QB UT-Chattanooga (6041 231 32 5/8 9 7/8 77 1/8)
Sinnett & Tiano look completely different in warmups and drills… Tiano is very athletic and throws a very pretty ball with a nice blend of touch and zip. He looks to have good mobilty and looks athletic running the ball. Sinnett is a bit all over the place and looks like he’s working hard to throw on the move. Then they went live in practice and you can see how both succeed. Sinett seems tough and makes good decisions. Not the best mover nor the best arm… but he can play. Dropped an absolute dime on a deep corner to Callaway that was a great read and the best throw of any QB on the day. Tiano has great pocket feel and arm talent. He makes those little pocket movements that people talk about when breaking down Burrow/Brady or even Tiano’s good friend Dak Prescott. His game is pretty similar to Prescott’s; he exudes confidence and is very much in control of the offense. He’ll get a shot because it really doesn’t hurt a QB to look the part, have a live arm, & be football smart.

Brian Herrien RB Georgia (5112 201 29 5/8 9 74 1/4) showed great quicks in the hole. He’s not the biggest but utilized his size to make the most of small creases. Having played behind some great RBs at Georgia, he’s one of those low-mileage, high talent RBs teams love.

Sewo Olonilua FB T.C.U. (6026 232 32 3/8 10 1/8 78 7/8)has so much more active feet than you’d expect from a big RB (he told me he played at 240 and looks quicker at a still-big 232). On one screen pass, he grabbed a throw, redirected all that mass upfield through a tiny crack, and then laid a spin move that made an onrushing defender whiff. Nifty moves and more juice than you’d think for his size. I think he’ll test well in the explosion drills––if he runs well, he’ll move up in the pecking order of the draft because, as a solid pass protector and good receiver, he can be on the field for three downs.

Victor Johnson OT Appalachian State (6040 285 35 3/4 10 85) made news here because of his ridiculous arm length and wingspan for his height, but I noticed he did a good job resetting his feet and completely sealing edge rush when the edge rusher tried to speed by. If you have 35 3/4″ arms and you can move your feet that way, my guess is you have a future on somebody’s roster. The biggest issue for him is he doesn’t seem to be filled out yet and may need some time to size up from 285. 4-year starter who helped App State win the Sun Belt Championship in 2018. I look forward to watching the game film from their defeat of North Carolina earlier this season.

I didn’t spend a lot of time watching DBs in real-time but I may have some more notes after I watch the footage I shot a little more closely. I did notice a couple of alert tip drill INTs in the 2-min drill, one of each QB. Sinnett threw a miscommunication ball to a DB who tipped the ball in the air, where a right-place-right-time S Devin Studstill from South Florida (6000 201 30 1/2 9 1/2 75 1/8) snatched the ball and made a nice return across the field to a rousing ovation from his defensive teammates and coaches. Moments later, Tiano tried to muscle a throw into a tight window on a seam route and the ball was contested into the air, where S Chris Miller from Baylor (5114 180 30 1/2 9 1/8 73 5/8) made a nice effort to grab the 2nd 2-minute drill drive-ending pick on the session.

Josh Pearson WR Jacksonville State (6033 202 32 1/8 9 77 1/4) did a nice job as the gunner on punt coverage. He used his length to split the double team and closing speed to get to the punt returner 10 yards earlier than the gunner on the opposite side. Showing out on Special teams in an All-Star week is a good way to earn a paycheck.

Matt Ammendola K Oklahoma State (5094 193 29 7/8 8 3/8 71 7/8) has a decent leg… not going to hit a bunch of 60 yarders on a damp, chilly day but he shows enough consistency to get a shot in someone’s camp.

Sterling Hofrichter P Syracuse (5096 199 29 1/2 8 5/8 71 1/8) had me worried for a while, there. Watched him hit warm-up kicks and repeatedly struggle to get the ball to turn over. Then they went live in ST drills and his first punt was a beauty of about 50 yards. He later worked on inside the 20 Aussie kicks and hit 3 in a row perfectly, including one that wasn’t fielded, hit inside the 5 and just died at the 1. Impossible to hit one better.

Marvin Lewis did a great job running the practice (he’s got a little experience in doing that) and he even showed patience with a totally botched hurry-up and rush FG team on to the field fire drill at the end of a 2-minute drill, where one player ran on late, another ran off while the clock ran down, a third OL didn’t make it off the field at all, the rushed snap was bobbled, and even the highly consistent Ammendola hit a dead fat, skulled ball that never got more than 7 feet off the ground. Ah, the tribulations of coaching up a brand new team in 3 days!

AMERICAN TEAM PRACTICE
Darrell Stewart WR Michigan State (6002 215 33 1/4 9 5/8 76 7/8) showed off some nice hands in the first WR/QB drills. Made a grab of a fastball that was behind, up, and away and made it look easy.

Rashod Berry TE of The Ohio State University (6027 263 34 3/4 9 82 3/8) is playing TE but looks like a RB/H-Back. I mean, wearing number 43, he could easily have passed for a RB/FB because of his trim build, even though he’s 262. Very smooth route-runner and used his long arms to make a nice play reaching down for an errant throw and catching it without losing his upfield momentum. He also looked effective as a down blocker on the edge. Could be that he’ll be a good fit as a slot TE/H-Back for a team that favors 2 TE sets.

Omar Bayless WR Arkansas State (6005 204 32 5/8 8 7/8 77 3/4) and Tony Brown WR Colorado (6007 191 31 1/4 9 1/8 76) not as refined in route running when running drills. Nothing serious, but when you see a line of all-star players go through drills, little things jump out at you. Scotty Washington WR Wake Forest (6053 217 33 7/8 9 1/2 81 5/8) looked better running routes, especially considering his size, but also had a clean drop. Things to work on. Later, Brown did show great hops and ran a nice route vs zone coverage: found a hole in the middle of the field vs C2 and outleaped 2 DBs to snatch a great throw from Ohio QB Nathan Rourke (6012 203 30 5/8 8 3/4 72 7/8)

I expected Brian Lewerke QB Michigan State (6025 211 32 1/8 10 1/2 75 3/8) to look better in comparison with two smaller-school QBs but, although there’s nothing particularly problematic about his game, he didn’t stand out, either. Jacob Knipp QB Northern Colorado (6025 213 31 9 1/8 75 1/4) showed the most arm power, but he also struggled at times to get the ball out on time, including a late throw that was jumped beautifully by CB Raymond Buford, Jr. of New Mexico St. (6003 210 32 8 7/8 77 3/8) but Omar Bayless made an alert play to catch the tip and stay inbounds with nifty feet. Later, Rourke had the best ball of the American practice, with a perfectly thrown deep sideline ball to the seemingly uncoverable Juwan Green WR Albany (6002 181 30 1/4 8 7/8 74 1/8). Green got a great release, stacked the defender and caught the excellent throw in full stride. Call a line cook, because that defender was fried like Jalpeño hash browns at Waffle House.

Speaking of Juwan Green, the former Great Dane was one of the very best players in this practice. I made a note at one point. “Man, 84 sure does get open”. It was that kind of day for the young man from Albany. He ran curls, slants, go routes, posts, mesh routes… he was the target of almost every pass when he was on the field. I particularly liked that he made himself available to the QB– opened his body, looked for the ball–it’s a little thing that really makes you a better target. I guess it’s safe to say he’s handling the step up in competition from FCS conference CAA (which, don’t look now, but they have some great prospects the last couple of years). He stayed on the field long after practice talking with what appeared to be a scout. Good day for him.

Left Tackle Javon Mosley of New Mexico (6063 325 34 5/8 10 85 1/2) is big as a house and appears to be about as hard to get around as one. I didn’t see a lot of reps for OL play but there appears to be some OT talent here. Aside from the aforementioned Victor Johnson, Brandon Walton & Mosley, Josh Brown OT Idaho College (6057 292 32 1/2 8 7/8 79 7/8) seems to be handling the step up from D2 to great reviews and I’ve heard excellent things about the very tall Nick Kaltmayer OT Kansas State (6073 312 34 3/4 9 1/2 81 3/4).

Which casts a bigger shadow? The goal post or the giant?

I also saw a couple of scouts from the Ottawa Redbacks here, undoubtedly to keep an eye on Kétel Assé OT Laval (6057 315 34 3/8 9 5/8 81 1/8). I witnessed Assé taking for 15 minutes with at least 3 different people and never heard him say a word of English. He looks the part–long arms and seems naturally big. He’s not completely ripped but he seems like a guy you’d like to be one of the first to get off the team bus.

Cheyenne (C.J.) O’Grady TE Arkansas (6035 256 34 10 78 7/8) was interesting to follow. It appeared the coaches were giving him extra attention, almost as if he was a late arrival who was catching up to the others, or perhaps the TEs are being asked to learn a lot. On a couple of occasions, they called for him specifically for a coaching point or install information. Not reading too much into it, but it did seem like they were trying to keep him engaged. I know he’s had some issues with discipline in the past; maybe this is coaches trying to get him on a really positive track here. Smart.

In general, I can’t say enough about the quality of coaching here and the experience it creates for the players. It’s my first time at an All-Star game, but all the players I spoke with raved about former star players and coaching legends giving them advice and coaching points. The coaches here know there’s little tangible long-term benefit to coaching these guys for a few days, but they are really into it. I walked by Rod Woodson after practice and was afraid to even say hello to him because he was so intensely in thought that he looked ready to hit a defenseless receiver.

O’Grady had a nice catch and run on a skinny post in the team session… He looked okay on a few blocking attempts and occasionally struggled to keep speed out of his breaks but you can see the potential. Soft hands and makes a nice target of himself, especially in RZ drills. 12 TDs in only 27 college games for the former nationally-ranked #2 TE prospect out of High School.

There’s been a lot of buzz this week about Johnathan Ward, the well-rounded RB out of Central Michigan (5106 195 31 10 1/4 75 1/2). Didn’t see a whole lot of him carrying the ball today, but he did make a nifty grab of an off-target flat pass in a goal-to-go drill, and then spun his way into the end zone. The word is that he has a higher draft profile than it appears at the moment––seems like a back built for the NFL, especially for a team with a strong OL and a QB/offense with a preference for quick throws. Not sure he has the size to be an effective pass protector, but he can be a weapon for the right team fit.

On the D side, I paid special attention to ILB Christian Rozeboom South Dakota State (6020 228 31 7/8 9 1/2 76 3/4). Although they’re not using the in-helmet communication system here, Rozeboom was the guy with the proverbial “green dot”. He was relaying the playcalls, getting everyone into position––you can tell he’s an experienced MLB, used to running the show. His experience shows in his quick reads, although there were times when the angles he chose might have not worked as well at this level of competition as they might have elsewhere in his career. That will come with time and reps––anticipating and reading is harder to teach, and he seems pretty good in those areas. He also nearly came up with a diving interception that got knocked out when he hit the ground. A good practice for him.

Unsurprisingly, DE Christian Rector USC (6036 270 32 3/4 9 7/8 79 5/8) showed some great interior rush. At one point smothered a pass from the hands of Lewerke and nearly caught the deflection with a diving play– Lewerke from MSU made an even better play to dive and knock it away at the last second. I’m not sure about Rector’s position fit in the NFL but I like his motor and he’s got some power to his game.

CB Levonta Taylor of Florida State is not the biggest guy by any means (5085 176 29 1/2 8 69 7/8) but he displayed some great cover skills. On a rep facing the extreme size mismatch of the 6’5″ 213lb Scotty Washington, Taylor managed to re-route Washington toward the sideline and then stayed on top as they ran downfield. Didn’t look for the ball or might have had an INT. Coaches making that point to him on the way back to the LOS.

Lastly, I enjoyed watching the talkative and personable Louisiana CB Michael Jacquet III (6013 195 33 1/2 9 3/8 82 1/8). In a span of days, Jacquet has built an obvious rapport with coaches and teammates. I’m a sucker for guys with confidence and verbal skills. He also has the measurables to match, with prototypical shutdown corner length. He played with some swagger and yet seemed very likable and engaged with coaches. I’m anxious to see more of him in real game action.

I submit a hearty thank you to the NFLPA & Collegiate Bowl staff, who made for a great experience. Looking forward to the game on Saturday.

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