Vernon Adams wanted to prove a point. And it was made.
The undersized Oregon quarterback was the best player on the field for the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 17 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
Though he’s a shade under 5 feet, 11 inches and 201 pounds, Adams might have been the best player in St. Pete. The other quarterbacks in the East-West game were pretty disappointing, but there were players who stood out as the West team, coached by June Jones, beat the Charlie Weis-coached East team 29-9.
The game also had an international appeal with Cameroon native Stephane Nembot, Nigerian native Romeo Okwara, and three Canadian players in Calgary’s Sean McEwen, Manitoba’s Ebuka “David” Onyemata and Laval (Quebec) guard Charles Vallancourt.
Vernon Adams, QB, Oregon – 5-10, 201 – While he doesn’t have the prototypical size, Adams is an excellent athlete and has a strong arm. He was the offensive standout, throwing for 191 yards and three touchdowns in the game. Adams threw for 2,643 yards with 26 touchdowns and six interceptions at Oregon after transferring from Eastern Washington. He uses the pump fake effectively, sees the field well and can make plays with his legs. He also puts a pretty good zip on the ball and showed that he can make accurate throws from the pocket.
Geronimo Allison, WR, Illinois – 6-3, 196 – Allison had a nice week of practice and earned an invite to the Senior Bowl. While he lacks top-end speed, Allison has good size and a complete skill set. He runs good routes, can block downfield and uses his big and reliable hands to catch the ball away from his body. He had a great game with six catches for 68 yards and two touchdowns.
Robby Anderson, WR, Temple – 6-3, 190 – Anderson is tall, but also very thin. While he caught 114 passes for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns in two collegiate seasons, Anderson struggled with drops on balls that were thrown pretty well. He also lacks top-end speed and will need to show well at the combine in order to get drafted.
Danny Anthrop, WR, Purdue – 5-11, 191 – Anthrop caught five passes for 120 yards, including a 93-yard touchdown from Adams. He showed surprising speed on his long touchdown. He doesn’t have great size, but could be productive as a slot receiver and on special teams.
Jake Brendel, C, UCLA – 6-3, 286 – Versatility and durability are both big for Brendel. He set a school record with 53 career starts and has the ability to play guard. A bit undersized, he isn’t the strongest lineman, but he is an extremely intelligent player who is adept at pulling. He’s also a natural leader and was a three-time captain at UCLA.
Chris Brown, WR, Notre Dame – 6-2, 195 – Brown had a nice week of practice and proved himself to be a polished route runner. He gets in and out of his breaks extremely well. He usually has dependable hands, but dropped a sure touchdown in the East-West game. He also lacks top-end speed and doesn’t have the frame NFL teams covet on the outside.
Devon Cajuste, WR, Stanford – 6-4, 227 – Cajuste is big, versatile and has good hands. He can be a viable red-zone threat and can be moved around in the different receiver positions. He’s also a good blocker downfield, and when he has the ball in his hands, he’s tough to bring down. Cajuste had 90 career receptions and averaged over 17 yards per catch with 14 touchdowns.
Fahn Cooper, OL, Mississippi – 6-5, 306 – Cooper struggled at guard and right tackle during the game. He’s big, but lumbering in his footwork and doesn’t slide well or use his hands effectively to keep rushers at bay. Despite having a solid practice week, Cooper was consistently beaten off the ball during the game. He has NFL ability, but needs to be more consistent in his fundamentals.
Cody Core, WR, Mississippi – 6-3, 205 – Core has good hands and is willing to catch the ball over the middle and take a hit. Core was a bit overlooked at Ole Miss because of Laquon Treadwell, whom most consider the top receiver in this year’s draft class. Core caught 83 passes for 1,297 yards and 10 touchdowns, including 37 receptions for 644 yards and four scores last season. To go with his big, strong, reliable hands, Core also has good speed and can be a nice deep threat.
Jared Dangerfield, WR, Western Kentucky – 6-3, 215 – Dangerfield is the one receiver who probably boosted his stock the most at the East-West game. He’s a good route runner and hand catcher. Dangerfield has excellent size and, while he lacks top-end speed, he has an adept ability to pick up yards after the catch because of his strength. He had one of the best weeks of any player in St. Petersburg and can have a long NFL career as a solid possession receiver.
Brandon Doughty, QB, Western Kentucky – 6-3, 212 – Doughty led all FBS quarterbacks last season with 5,055 yards and 48 touchdowns with just nine interceptions. He has the arm strength to make every NFL throw, but was inconsistent during the game. He was 11 of 17 for 87 yards, but threw two interceptions as a result of staring down his receivers.
Taylor Fallin, OL, Memphis – 6-6, 330 – Fallin has prototypical size, but his technique and footwork need to be developed. He does have upside with the right coaching staff. Fallin struggled during the game, especially against athletic pass rushers, who consistently beat him to pressure the quarterback.
Josh Ferguson, RB, Illinois – 5-10, 200 – Ferguson has good vision and excellent quickness. He takes the ball and has a nice burst through the hole. He also has good hands out of the backfield and can have an NFL future as a third-down back. He ran for nearly 2,600 yards and 18 scores in college and had two 50-catch seasons at Illinois.
Blake Frohnapfel, QB, Massachusetts, 6-5, 238 – Frohnapfel has the size and arm strength NFL teams want. But he also has a long release and is not a very accurate thrower. He threw for 6,300 yards and 39 touchdowns in two seasons after transferring from Marshall, but also had 23 interceptions. He was 3 for 9 for only 10 yards in the East-West game and his first pass was a deep throw that was underthrown and picked off. Frohnapfel might be able to get a job as an NFL backup, but needs some time on a practice squad to continue to develop his mechanics. He was a surprising combine snub.
Graham Glasgow, C, Michigan – 6-6, 306 – Glasgow is moving his way up draft boards and received an invite to the NFL combine. As other Big Ten linemen have done well in the NFL, Glasgow also has NFL potential. While Alabama’s Ryan Kelly and Notre Dame’s Nick Martin are considered the draft’s top centers, Glasgow might be the next one off the board. He’s solid in all aspects of his game and may have been the best lineman in St. Petersburg.
Darion Griswold, TE, Arkansas State – 6-5, 264 – He is a dependable receiver, but needs to work on his blocking. But in today’s NFL that uses both receiving and blocking tight ends, Griswold can be used in passing situations. He’s big and athletic and his basketball background helps him go up to catch the ball at its highest point.
Alex Huettel, OG, Bowling Green – 6-4, 301 – Huettel has a nasty streak and plays through the whistle. Adept at pulling, Huettel plays with great hustle and is versatile thanks to a high football IQ. He’s not a great athlete, but has enough athleticism to get to the next level and can provide depth for an NFL team.
Ted Karras, OG, Illinois – 6-4, 307 – Karras is a straight-up mauler in the run game. He’s strong at the point of attack and pulls well. Durable and aggressive, Karras made 43 career starts and has some nice football pedigree as the great-nephew of Hall of Famer Alex Karras.
Daniel Lasco, RB, California – 6-0, 205 – There are some durability concerns after Lasco suffered a hip injury last season. But in St. Petersburg, he displayed an explosiveness and athletic ability that translates to the NFL. He also has good hands out of the backfield and has the potential to be a third-down back at the next level. Lasco averaged better than 5 yards per carry in college and had 48 career receptions.
Alex Lewis, OT, Nebraska – 6-6, 302 – Lewis uses good technique as a pass blocker and had a solid week of practice. That said, he sometimes lumbers in his lateral movement and has some off-the-field issues.
Lene Maiava, OT, Arizona – 6-5, 301 – Maiava is a good athlete who shifts well laterally. While he slides well, he doesn’t get off the ball well and can get beat by speed edge rushers.
Tyler Marz, OT, Wisconsin – 6-7, 325 – Marz has great size and is technically sound. He’s an excellent run blocker and finishes the play through the whistle. He can be a solid starting right tackle in the NFL, but lacks the athleticism to be more versatile.
Sean McEwen, OL, Calgary – 6-3, 297 – A former defensive lineman, McEwen is a good athlete with the versatility to play just about any line position. A four-year starter and captain for the Dinos, McEwen is intelligent and durable. He probably won’t get drafted, but should get a camp invite.
Paul McRoberts, WR, Southeast Missouri State – 6-3, 197 – McRoberts is one of this year’s small-school sleepers. He has excellent speed, instincts and hands. He caught 76 passes for 940 yards and nine touchdowns last season to go with 14 punt returns for 162 yards and one touchdown on a 69-yard punt return. He also returned four kick returns for 78 yards. He’s got the height/weight/speed combination teams want and his experience as a returner will likely land him a roster spot next fall.
Stephane Nembot, OT, Colorado – 6-7, 318 – A former basketball player from Cameroon, Nembot is a great athlete. He’s a tenacious run blocker with excellent length. He’s also pretty versatile, starting at left tackle last season after playing two seasons on the right side. Nembot started playing football late, but has a big upside in the NFL. He has NFL ability, but may have to spend a year or two on the practice squad to develop into what could be a solid NFL starter.
Keenan Reynolds, QB, Navy – 5-11, 185 – Reynolds had really good practice week, but back spasms prevented him from playing in the game. After setting NCAA Division I records with 88 career rushing touchdowns and 4,559 rushing yards – the most ever by a quarterback – Reynolds could have an NFL future at running back. He was used all over the place in St. Pete, even as a returner. He was a surprising omission from the list of invites to the NFL combine.
Jake Rudock, QB, Michigan – 6-3, 208 – The former Iowa quarterback was inconsistent all week and missed open receivers in the game. When given time, he can make accurate throws, but had a hard time connecting under pressure. To make up for a lack of arm strength, he puts his entire body behind throws, but when he doesn’t have the time to sit in the pocket to do that, he can’t make NFL throws. If he’s going to make it in the NFL, he really needs to work on his mechanics and speed up his release.
Rashawn Scott, WR, Miami, Fla. – 6-2, 203 – Scott has good hands, but he’s a lazy route runner who doesn’t cut very well and instead rounds routes off. He’s got the desirable height/weight/speed combination for NFL teams, but will have to run crisper routes to be a viable NFL receiver. He’s also got some injury concerns after missing a game last season with a shoulder injury and suffering a pair of season-ending injuries in 2011 and 2014.
Tajae Sharpe, WR, Massachusetts – 6-2, 189 – Sharpe is tall and lean, but his speed could present matchup problems. He’ll have to get stronger to better get off press coverage, but he has dynamic playmaking ability in the open field. He’s a meticulous route runner and has great hands. He caught 111 passes last season, 196 the last two years, caught a pass in every UMass game in which he played over the last four years.
Brandon Shell, OT, South Carolina – 6-6, 325 – Shell had a very nice week. He maintains solid footwork and technique while still playing with an aggressive style. Shell has great size, durability evidenced by 47 collegiate starts, and versatility with the ability to play either side of the line. Because of his size, Shell can be heavy-legged sometimes while trying to slide in pass protection. It’s something he’ll have to work on, but he’s a mauling run blocker with good initial quickness.
Joel Stave, QB, Wisconsin – 6-5, 219 – Stave may be the all-time winningest quarterback at Wisconsin, but he does not have NFL skills. Stave lacks the accuracy needed to make an NFL roster. Even when he completes passes, his throws are usually off-target and he rarely hits a receiver in stride. Stave was picked off by Badgers teammate Michael Caputo in the East-West game.
Nate Sudfeld, QB, Indiana – 6-6, 236 – Sudfeld immediately got scouts’ attention with an impressive week of practice. Sudfeld threw for 3,573 yards with 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season while adding another five rushing scores. He’s got a solid grasp of route progressions and a strong arm, but when it the East-West game arrived, Sudfeld was disappointing. He went 6 of 13 for 46 yards and a score, and was off-target on throws to the sideline. He didn’t set his feet well and rushed throws. There are things that will have to be corrected at the next level. In a slim quarterback class, however, he will get drafted higher than he should.
Joe Thuney, OL, North Carolina State – 6-4, 299 – Thuney is versatile after playing tackle in college and seeing time at guard in St. Petersburg. He had a really good week of practice, but doesn’t bend particularly well and tends to put his head down. A first-team All-ACC selection, he’s a tenacious run blocker with good instincts and reactive athleticism. Because he’s not great with his hands, he can get beaten with cross-face rushes and he sometimes gets off-balance because of poor footwork.
Charles Vallancourt, OG, Laval – 6-4, 332 – A three-time All-Canada selection, Vallancourt is still raw but has great size and ability to play any position inside. But he’s a bit of an unknown and it will take a pretty brave GM to take a flier on him in the NFL.
Derek Watt, FB, Wisconsin, 6-2, 236 – A surprising snub at the NFL combine, Watt is a solid blocker, good runner and excellent receiver out of the backfield. He also has the athleticism to be moved all over the field, whether it be fullback, tight end or H-back. He even has experience as a long snapper. The younger brother of Texans defensive end, J.J. Watt, Derek has a high football IQ and does everything well, including blitz pickup.
Storm Barrs-Woods, RB, Oregon State, 6-0, 207 – Woods has a good burst and runs with patience. He had 10 carries for 50 yards in the East-West game to show he’s healthy following an injury-plagued senior season. He ran for 2,674 yards and 25 touchdowns at Oregon State and has great hands out of the backfield with 111 career receptions for 932 yards. He’s rangy and athletic, but doesn’t run with power.
Briean Boddy-Calhoun, CB, Minnesota – 5-9, 189 – He’s small, but is a good open-field tackler with excellent cover instincts and ball skills. Not only does he do a good job defending the pass, he catches the ball well and had 10 career interceptions – including five as a junior. He returned one of his four interceptions last season back for a touchdown. He’s a high-energy player with quick feet and hips, but a lack of size and strength may give him trouble defending NFL receivers.
James Burgess, LB, Louisville – 6-0, 229 – He’s a bit undersized, but has a good football pedigree and instincts. Burgess, the son of a former San Diego Chargers linebacker, made 43 career starts, but his final game lasted just 11 seconds after he was ejected following an extremely questionable targeting call. Burgess is a big hitter and was an All-ACC selection last season, but he misses a lot of tackles because of poor technique. His pass coverage also leaves a lot to be desired and he sometimes struggles to shed blocks.
Justin Burris, CB, North Carolina State – 6-0, 213– Burris has been durable as a big, physical corner who is reliable in the slot. While he is solid in coverage and can step up to play the run well, he is not a good tackler in the open field. He plays too high and was called for pass interference four times last season.
De’Vondre Campbell, OLB, Minnesota – 6-4, 240 – One of the best athletes at the East-West game, he’s got great size and excellent speed. Campbell has a lot of potential as an NFL player. He was a two-year starter, with some spot starts as a sophomore, and finished his college career with 92 tackles, 6.5 for loss, and a team-high four sacks last season. While he’s got the NFL-caliber size and athleticism, what’s lacking are instincts and a better understanding of angles. Once he has that down, which he could learn with the right coaching, the sky’s the limit.
Michael Caputo, S, Wisconsin – 6-0, 205 – Caputo is an excellent tackler with decent ball skills. He had a great week and picked off two passes in the East-West game to earn defensive MVP honors. He’s a big hitter, but also fundamentally sound. There is some caution about Caputo because of a spinal cord injury in his second year and a concussion last season. He’s played through other various injuries, and is one of the toughest players you’ll find. Caputo was a two-time All-Big Ten selection and had two interceptions with two forced fumbles and 58 tackles last season. He was an All-American in 2014 after registering 106tackles. He’s better against the run than he is the pass, but makes up for a lack of athleticism with great instincts.
Trevon Coley, DT, Florida Atlantic – 6-1, 307 – Another explosive player off the ball, Coley lived in the backfield at the East-West practices and in the game. He uses his hands well and, while shorter than you’d want, he understands how to get leverage on taller offensive linemen. He was one of the better defensive linemen in St. Pete and should be drafted in the later rounds.
James Cowser, DE, Southern Utah – 6-3, 250 – Cowser is a smart player with good instincts and assignment discipline. He was extremely productive at the FCS level with 42.5 sacks and 80.5 TFLs over his career. He had 13 sacks with four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and 68 total tackles, 19 for loss, last season and owns the Big Sky Conference record for tackles for loss in a single season (28.5 in 2014). He performed well against linemen from bigger schools during the week and was dominant in the game. He was the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year thanks to his high-motor tenacity. He still needs to work on technique if he wants to be successful in the NFL. He also needs to get stronger because he used his speed to compensate against FCS opponents, but the NFL is whole other level.
Travis Feeney, LB, Washington – 6-4, 226 – Feeney plays well in space, but isn’t great at the point of attack. He can be a great special teams player, but lacks things you’d want to see from an every-down linebacker. A two-time All-Pac 12 selection, Feeney’s college productivity consistently improved. He’s got great length and speed, but is also rather thin and lanky for a linebacker. He might be able to settle in as a 4-3 weakside linebacker or nickel backer and special teams player, but he also has a history of shoulder injuries.
Clayton Fejedelem, S, Illinois – 6-0, 200 – Fejedelem was a tackling machine with 140 stops last season to be a second-team All-Big Ten selection. He was flying all over the field during East-West practice and had an interception in the game. He doesn’t have great speed and plays the run better than the pass.
Jamal Golden, S, Georgia Tech – 5-11, 193 – Golden tackles well in the open field with good instincts and a nose for the ball. He had three interceptions and three forced fumbles in 2014. He had just one pick last season after picking off three passes in each of the three previous seasons. He’s also a very good return man and can be especially valuable on special teams. He does struggle sometimes to gain body position against bigger receivers and tight ends. But because he’s able to diagnose plays and has great read-and-react instincts, he’s rarely out of position.
Javon Hargrave, DT, South Carolina State – 6-2, 295 – Hargrave has a great burst off the ball. He’s quick and explosive and gets penetration. He had a great game and knocked down several passes. He was highly productive for Bulldogs with 29.5 sacks over the last two seasons.
Anthony Harrell, LB, Florida – 6-1, 237 – Harrell spent his final collegiate season in Gainesville after transferring from Georgia Tech. He had a nice week in St. Pete, capping the week with an interception in the game. Injuries slowed his career with only 18 games played in college. If he gets drafted, he may have to sit on the practice squad as his development continues.
Tyrone Holmes, DE, Montana – 6-2, 250 – Holmes had a solid week and nice game. His ideal fit in the NFL would be as a situational pass rusher. He was highly productive at Montana with 18 sacks to earn All-Big Sky recognition last season. He was also the FCS Defensive Player of the Year. Holmes set FCS all-time records with 80 tackles for loss and 43.5 sacks. He doesn’t have great speed, but good instincts and could be a steal late in the draft or as an undrafted free agent.
Cory Johnson, DT, Kentucky – 6-2, 300 – Johnson had a tremendous week of practice and played well in the game. He’s a solid run stuffer with quickness and pass-rush ability. He’s surprisingly limber on his feet and likes to play with an aggressive style. C.J. has a future in the NFL after living in the opponent’s backfield at Kentucky. He gets off blocks well and maintains his balance. He’s got good lateral quickness, but his instincts and vision need to be upgraded. He gets fooled by play-action fakes and doesn’t quite know how to use his hands at the point of attack. He had just one season of high productivity at Kentucky.
Cre’von LeBlanc, CB, Florida Atlantic – 5-9, 194 – LeBlanc had 43 tackles last season for the Owls with a C-USA-leading four interceptions and 11 pass breakups and 15 passes defensed. He plays with hustle, even though he’s not fast, and understands how to use the sideline as an extra defender. He’s aggressive and can play in the nickel. He had an excellent East-West game to cap a good week.
Antonio Longino, LB, Arizona State – 6-2, 230 – Longino was all over the place during the East-West game and opened some eyes with his athleticism. He understands how to shed blocks and earned All-Pac 12 recognition by leading the Sun Devils with 22.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks. Where he struggles is on the edge against power and sometimes lets blockers get into his body. He blitzes well because of his timing and instincts, but he lacks an elite burst off the ball.
Victor Ochi, DE, Stony Brook – 6-1, 244 – Ochi had an excellent week of practice and was voted a captain for the game. He’s a relentless, high-motor player who was nearly unblockable all week. He consistently provided quarterback pressure during the game in St. Petersburg with a great burst off the snap. While he might be a bit of a raw project coming from the FCS level, Ochi will likely find a spot on an NFL roster because of his athleticism and tenacity. He can help himself even more with a good showing at the combine.
Romeo Okwara, DE, Notre Dame – 6-4, 258 – Okwara is big and strong, but not very athletic. He’s stiff in space and has trouble changing direction. He led Notre Dame in sacks with eight last year, but is more of power rusher. He lacks top edge-rush ability, though he did have 12.5 tackles for loss last season. Okwara is extremely intelligent and graduated high school at the age of 16. Because of his strength and understanding, he’s got some upside despite his athletic limitations.
David Onyemata, DE, Manitoba – 6-4, 300 – Onyemata has a good get-off and pass-rush ability. He put a hit on Rudock with a pretty slick swim move on Fallin to force an interception. He’s pretty raw, but an intriguing prospect who opened some eye balls. He’s not going to be drafted, but should land in a camp and could wind up on a practice squad while he develops.
Brian Poole, CB, Florida – 5-9, 211 – Pool is a playmaker with good instincts and ball skils. He had six interceptions in two seasons as a starter and returned an interception 98 yards for the East’s only touchdown. He’s smart, but is short and doesn’t have great speed and did get beat deep quite a bit in college.
Justin Simmons, S, Boston College – 6-3, 194 – Simmons has good length and and is strong, but can put on some size. He has the ability to play free safety or corner. He likely boosted his draft stock with an excellent week of practice. He’s tall and rangy and a good tackler, but he can sometimes get out of position in one-on-one matchups. He does recover fairly well and has good instincts and vision. He lacks high-end speed and athleticism, but makes up for it by taking good angles to the ball.
Terrance Smith, LB, Florida State – 6-3, 230 – Smith showed very good coverage skills during the East-West practice week. He has good, not great, speed and can be a solid special teams contributor. He struggles as a consistent tackler and is slow to react. He doesn’t attack the ball, but instead too often lets the ball carrier come to him. He’s also got a history of injuries, taking a medical redshirt in 2011 and missing six games over the last two seasons. He can play sideline to sideline tends to over-pursue.
Aaron Wallace, LB, UCLA – 6-3, 240 – Wallace had an excellent East-West game to cap a solid week. He had 12.5 TFLs, and seven sacks in his only season as a starter at UCLA to be an All-Pac 12 honorable mention selection. He can develop into a more instinctual player, but right now thinks more than react. He is a very good athlete with an explosive burst and lateral quickness. He definitely has the potential to be an elite pass rusher, but it just may take some time to get there.
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