Over the last couple of weeks, I spent time watching practice and game film from the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, East-West Shrine Game, and Senior Bowl. Some players stood out, for reasons good and bad. I haven’t gone back and watched their regular season film yet. I didn’t see more than the usual number of college games last year. Southeastern North Dakota vs. Cuttlefish Tech just doesn’t grab me for some reason.
The all-star games themselves were the icing on the season’s cake. Most scouts have moved on. They’re back home. They’ve cued up the software, prepping for combine. They’re watching film of the players they thought highly of in practice.
I noticed that NFL Network has gotten better with their coverage. They’re starting to do a little more with player stories and exposure, with a little less obsessive repetition on one or two players. Last year it was Jadeveon Clowney and Michael Sam. The Combine is where that really gets tiresome. I find that watching with the sound off helps. I’m hoping NFLN's good sense will continue to blossom. If not, another year of watching the drills on mute is fine. It’s kind of soothing.
The NFLPA Collegiate Bowl was founded in 2012, after the players' union had sponsored the Texas vs. the Nation game in previous years. The goal is to prepare draft eligible players for a career in the NFL.
This bowl is a chance for the seventh round/CFA level players to get a shot at national exposure. Perhaps, they can earn a shot at the Senior Bowl and/or national combine. The East-West Shrine game gives exposure to the fourth-to-seventh-round rated draft picks. These are the players needing continuing exposure.
Some players get a late invite to play in the Senior Bowl and/or attend the national combine. The Senior Bowl always gets a few players from the East-West game. Its focus is ostensibly on the middle-ranked seniors, but it ends up running the gamut from the first round to college free agency. Combine is for the 300 or so players that the committee feels are the best bets for the NFL.
So saying, these are some of the players whose names I learned because their performances were solid at one or more of the games and practices. These are often players whose names will come up as we approach the draft. Most will also be at the combine. Those fans who have the interest will start to hear more familiar names.
Clive Walford, TE, Miami - Stop me if you’ve heard this one. There’s this fellow who plays basketball in college, but realizes that he’s not going to the next level with it. He spends a season with the school’s football team, playing TE. He’s got great hands, catches out in front of himself. He has the build to be too tall for most corners and safeties to cover. He’s too quick for the linebackers to handle. This year, his name is Clive Walford. I think he’s the real deal.
He’s 6-4, not 6-7, but he’s 258 lb. He has more skill in blocking right now than Julius Thomas has after four years of work in the NFL. If Clive can stay away from those Thomas-esque ankle injuries, he’ll give someone four years of excellent blocking and solid, soft-handed receiving before they will have to chose whether to pay him again or move on to the next one.
He’s not as athletic as Julius, but is more of an all-around player. The U of Miami has a good reputation for turning out quality tight ends. Walford is one more in that tradition. He often stood out on the field. I liked what I saw from him on game film, too. In 2014, he caught 44 passes for a team-leading 676 yards, along with seven touchdowns. He’s one to keep an eye on.
Tre McBride, WR, William and Mary - McBride is one of the small school players that the East-West Shrine Game was designed to show off. He took full advantage of it. At 6-2 and 205 lb, he’s got good size. He was one of the standouts all week in the EWSG practices. He obviously needs to sharpen his routes, but so did Demaryius Thomas when Denver drafted him. McBride wasn’t well known until the EWSG, but made up for it.
Jamon Brown, OT, Louisville - At 6-6, 328 lb, Brown is the kind of player who exemplifies why you don’t get attached to certain stats. There’s no question that he’s huge. He’s not that athletic, though, which isn’t a factor of size. Terrance Knighton outweighs and outplays Brown. Jamon does have some athletic ability. It’s still an open question of whether it’s enough for the NFL.
Jamon’s major problem is that he has poor knee bend. That’s often the case with college tackles. His tendency just stands out more. He tends to reach out rather than move his feet (so long, zone blocking). Due to that, he can’t dominate the center line. He can’t mirror as well. He’s not using his hands and his punch effectively. If he’s coachable and you have a roster space, he’s got potential. If you need the position filled sooner, he’s a less interesting prospect.
Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota - This is the player you hope will fall to Denver, but know that he won’t. Williams is the #1 TE in a very weak class. That doesn’t diminish his skill, though. He’s a 6-4, 250 lb player who has the skills to be an exceptional receiver. Unlike most modern draft picks, he also has some significant blocking skills. They’ll need to be tuned for the NFL, but that’s about normal. He’s estimated in the 4.63-second range for his 40-yard dash. Both his father and grandfather played in the NFL. For those who favor genetics, this guy’s an example of why that can make a difference.
Denver will likely need to replace 1-3 TEs (please bring back Virgil Green!). Williams and Walford are the TEs that have impressed me the most.