Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE
Coming off an incredibly exciting weekend of Divisional Round playoff games, the official start to the NFL pre-draft season gets underway this week in St. Petersburg, Florida, with the 88th East-West Shrine Game. This post takes a look at some prospects on the East roster, while the corresponding piece on the West roster will be up in the early afternoon.
I can't help but get the feeling the Eagles search for a new head coach will come to a conclusion by the end of this week. Let's just call it a gut feeling. Anyway, if you feel like getting your mind off all that drama, if only briefly, tune in and watch some hopeful NFL draft prospects square off during the East-West Shrine Game festivities. Practices take place this week, and the game will be played at lovely (see: shitty) Tropicana Field on Saturday, January 19th, at 4 PM EST. What follows is a list of some prospects on the East team who I'll be keeping a close eye on. I'll take a look at the West roster in a post to go up this afternoon.
Corey Fuller - WR - #83 - Virginia Tech - 6'2" / 196
Former track athlete at Kansas, which you'll be able to tell immediately as he starts running. Speed is electrifying, could even be sub-4.4. Long, graceful strides, like a gazelle; if Fuller gets a step, he won't be caught. Oozes raw talent, has soft hands and showed tremendous progress this season as a WR. Really high ceiling, strikes me as a player who could take off with the natural synergy of more playing time and pro coaching. I think Fuller is a better pro prospect than fellow Hokie WR and East-West Shrine participant Marcus Davis, who's big and will entice with his 4.4 speed but barely uses his God-given talents and isn't impressive on tape.
Zac Stacy - RB - #2 - Vanderbilt - 5'9" / 214
Stacy is a player I expect to garner more attention as the draft process gets underway, especially in a very average class of RBs. You can be sure NFL scouts are well aware of him. Love his build, love his style; compact, quick, athletic, runs with wiggle/shake AND power, always seems to lower shoulder and fall forward for extra yards. Flashes long speed, and though not used much as a receiver did prove he could fill that role ably when called upon. In addition to impressive burst through the hole, Stacy shows ability to press the hole and bounce outside to break big play. Fun player to watch, and I think he can be a feature back at the next level.
Rodney Smith - WR - #84 - Florida State - 6'5" / 219
Can't help but be intrigued by Rodney Smith given his size and ability. Over 6'5", long-limbed and uses arms to his advantage by high-pointing the ball. Athletic with a rangy build and tremendous body control, impressive after the catch. Not a burner nor explosive, but his play speed is more than adequate and he shows a second gear that's achieved with long strides. One thing I like about Smith is how often he catches with his hands instead of his body, which is an encouraging and transitional trait. Has a ton of natural skill but is still in the process of putting it all together. Problem is, that process has stalled the past two seasons. Want to think Smith will blossom in the pros, but the stagnation as a junior and senior is concerning... seems most likely to just continue leave you wanting more, but it's always hard to give up on players with his combination of size and soft hands.
Brandon Turner - WR - #86 - Navy - 6'3" / 225
Unfortunately all I know about him is his size and what few YouTube highlights exist. That's at least enough to interest me. Tough to play in that Navy offense and show off your skills as a wide receiver.
Cooper Taylor - SS - #1 - Richmond - 6'4" / 230
One of the more interesting prospects in the entire draft to me, especially since I haven't been able to watch him play. First discovered Taylor back in late October while doing some preliminary research on FCS prospects. He began at Georgia Tech in 2008 and started as a freshman, even earning Freshman All-ACC honors (69 TT/45 solo, 2 FF, 2 PD, 1 INT). Taylor's biggest moment was forcing a fumble at the goal line (fast-forward to 4:10 mark) to thwart the comeback attempt and seal a wild victory over Florida State. A rare heart disorder, Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, robbed him of his sophomore season. By the time Taylor was cleared to play again, he had lost his starting spot, so he transferred to Richmond, where he's dominated the lower level of competition. Built like a linebacker and sure as hell hits like one, but he runs like a DB (4.5 range) and, according to reports, has improved coverage skills since transferring (that was the knock on him at GT). Was credited with 78 TT, 5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 4 INT (which, according to an article I read but cannot find at the moment, could've been as high as 7 if not for having to play with a cast on his broken left wrist the final 3-4 games).
A.J. Francis - DE/DT - #96 - Maryland - 6'4" / 310
From my alma mater, so I've watched him quite a bit. Francis came on this season after showing flashes before. Athletic big man who moves very well for his size, has played DT in 4-3 and DE in 3-4. Combines power and quickness, got into the backfield a ton in 2012. Smart player on the field -- does a great job getting his hands up at the line of scrimmage to distract QB or bat down passes -- and off -- I once checked his Twitter and he was eloquently opining on politics -- who emerged as a leader, along with the next player I'm about to profile, on the Terps defense. Excellent on special teams kick blocking unit (had 3 this season).
Joe Vellano - DE/DT - #92 - Maryland - 6'2" / 290
Easily one of my favorite players in the draft; #72 for Maryland on the field (that's him in the article cover photo), but #1 in the hearts of Terps fans everywhere. While versatile due to extensive experience as a 4-3 DT and 3-4 DE, Vellano won't be sexy in terms of NFL measurables, and I'll be surprised if he runs better than a 5.0 in the 40. For those reasons, he's underrated (especially his quickness) and undervalued, but I guarantee you won't find a guy in college football who plays harder and with a better motor. It's not uncommon to see Vellano run down a screen pass from behind or blow it up around the line of scrimmage because of recognition and pursuit (think Stephen Bowen in the second Eagles/Skins game this season). Profiles as a late round pick who'll earn a roster spot in training camp and then work his way into a team's defensive line rotation. A supremely fun player to watch and root for, trust me. I was in the stands for the season opener in 2011 against Miami when Vellano rumbled, bumbled, and stumbled a fumble recovery 30 yards for a touchdown at the end of the first half, so I'll always have that lasting impression.
Sio Moore - OLB - #3 - Connecticut - 6'1" / 230
First jumped off the screen when watching the Maryland/UConn game from September, and I was able to review three more of his games thanks to the wonderful folks at draftbreakdown.com. Moore has the ability to dominate when engaged and flashes potential, but his motor runs hot/cold way too much for my liking. Doesn't finish enough, either. Otherwise a versatile player who can rush the passer one down and drop back in coverage the next; skill set should translate well to NFL. Sio is better and more comfortable when tasked with going after the QB, using leverage to get under offensive tackles and push them backwards or a devastating blend of quickness and balance to blow by around the edge. That said, he's certainly shown himself to be functional in coverage and projects as a potential three-down linebacker.
Lerentee McCray - OLB - #34 - Florida - 6'2" / 249
One player who continually caught my eye whenever watching Florida's defense both in live action and on tape. Quick AND fast; McCray is a fluid athlete with explosive pass rush ability off the edge, but he's still very raw and remains in the "flashes" stage. Also dealt with an assortment of injuries for three seasons before finally staying healthy for all of 2012. At the moment, he definitely profiles best as a 3-4 OLB and I think could help an NFL team immediately in that capacity. It was the second game of this season, and Luke Joeckel hadn't become a consensus top-5 pick lock yet, but McCray gave him a lot of trouble.
Mike Catapano - DE - #77 - Princeton - 6'4" / 270
He's from Princeton, and his height/weight/speed (4.76) combination is attractive for the position. That's all I know.