The Combine Still Misses on Many Smaller School Studs
Defensive backs from Football Championship Subdivision schools will be on display at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine. Fully half of the 22 FCS players who have been invited to the Feb. 22-28 showcase at Lucas Oil Stadium play in the secondary. The official list of invitations announced last Tuesday included seven cornerbacks, Asa Jackson of Cal Poly, Trumaine Johnson of Montana, Josh Norman of Coastal Carolina, Micah Pellerin of Hampton, DeAndre Presley of Appalachian State, Ryan Steed of Furman and Corey White of Samford.
Justin Bethel played cornerback at Presbyterian, but will be evaluated as a strong safety. He will be joined by Maine strong safety Jerron McMillian. McNeese State's Janzen Jackson, who is junior-eligible for the draft, and South Carolina State's Christian Thompson gained invitations as free safeties. Montana inside linebacker Caleb McSurdy rounded out the defensive prospects.
Quick seemingly is the cream of the FCS crop this year, perhaps a second- or third-round selection with his 6'3 1/2" 222 pound size, speed and skills are close to all ideal for an NFL wide receiver. Presley's invite is indicative of his versatility as well. Impressively he's now playing a position nobody at Appalachian State envisioned him at four months prior to the Combine - cornerback. With Presley and Quick’s invitations, six Mountaineers have been selected to participate in the prestigious event over the last three years, joining eventual NFL Draft picks Armanti Edwards in 2010 and Daniel Kilgore, Mark LeGree and D.J. Smith last year.
Presley, who finished third in voting for the Walter Payton Award (nation’s top NCAA Division I FCS player) as a quarterback as a junior in 2010, has been invited to the combine as a defensive back. The 5-11, 180-pounder was one of college football’s most versatile performers as a senior in 2011, beginning the season as Appalachian’s starting quarterback for five games before suffering a shoulder injury that caused him to miss one contest before finishing the season playing a wide range of positions including quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback and kickoff and punt returner. He concluded the spectacular campaign with 812 passing yards and four touchdown passes, 163 rushing yards and four scores, five receptions for 66 yards, 204 yards on nine kickoff returns, one punt return for three yards, 17 tackles (12 solo), one-and-a-half tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and two pass break-ups.
Last month, Presley made three tackles and returned four punts for 75 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown, to help lead his North squad to a 51-3 victory in the Battle of Florida all-star game in Boca Raton, Fla.
In 2010, Presley was the toast of Boone, N.C., when he stepped out of former quarterback Armanti Edwards' imposing shadow and led Appalachian State to a sixth straight Southern Conference title. He also finished third in the voting for the 2010 Walter Payton Award, which is presented to the outstanding player in the FCS by The Sports Network and sponsored by Fathead.com. He became just the fourth player in FCS history to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
But Presley had a subpar start to the 2011 season and then injured his throwing shoulder in the fifth game on Oct. 1. Following a bye, he missed a game against The Citadel while his replacement, Jamal Jackson, started taking control of the offense. Offensively, the FCS invites included quarterbacks B.J. Coleman of Chattanooga, Aaron Corp of Richmond and Patrick Witt of Yale. Southern Illinois running back Jewel Hampton, who is junior-eligible, and H- back Emil Igwenagu of Massachusetts also gained invites as did wide receivers Tim Benford of Tennessee Tech and Brian Quick of Appalachian State. Offensive tackles Tom Compton of South Dakota, Paul Cornick of North Dakota State and Dustin Waldron of Portland State were also invited.
Yet with all of that there were some notable omissions among the smaller school level. I will only discuss the most glaring amongst them. Most notably was-
Adrian Hamilton of Prairie View: a gifted pass rusher, a physical and athletic player that brings versatility to the table. After having a solid season last year after arriving by way a few stops after he'd signed his letter of intent to play for Oklahoma State; they asked him to grey shirt, he ended up walking on and playing for Texas Tech. He finished the 2011 season with 20.5 sacks, one of only three players in NCAA history reach the 20+ sack mark (Chris Gocong and Robert Mathis being the other two). He very quick and at the HBCU Senior Combine he ran in the 4.72-4.76 range. He will be drafted and will play in the NFL.
DE/OLB Ryan Davis of Bethune-Cookman, on the season he accumulated 65 tackles, 21.5 TFL, 12 sacks, 8 FF, and 17 QBH. Coming into this season Ryan was: First-Team Preseason All-MEAC, Preseason HBCU All-American, Preseason Box to Row All-MEAC team, College Football Performance Awards nation Defensive Line watch list, HBCU All-Star Bowl watch list. After the season he won awards including: MEAC’s standout defensive performer of the year. He also lead the conference in sacks with 12 and 21.5 tackles for loss as well as 8 forced fumbles. Ryan Davis is fast rising prospect with a burst, 33 ½ inch arms, good instincts and he has a plus motor.
DE/OLB Donovan Robinson-Jackson State 6'2" 229 lbs. Robinson isn’t far behind Hamilton is almost every major statistical category this season-2011 Stats: 55 tackles, 22.5 TFL, 14 sacks, 7 QBH, 4 FF, 4 PBU, 1 blocked kick. He will to show why he should be considered a NFL prospect. Robinson may be more of a 43 WLB in the NFL, but still had a great chance to impress some teams. The 40 and 3-cone will vital in his evaluation and he'll have to show he can drop in pass coverage.
DE/OLB Corey Hart 6'1¾" 234 4.75-40 (2011): Hart, a first-team All-SWAC selection, surpassed former A&M star Robert Mathis on the all-time list for tackles for loss. Mathis had 30 during his record-breaking 2002 season. Hart, a transfer from Marshall, finished the season with 57 tackles, 32 tackles for loss, 17 sacks, 12 quarterback hurries and an interception. He'll need to show he can gain 10-15 pounds without losing his quickness, if he can 3-4 teams will be intrigued with his pass rush abilities.
LB Rico Council of TN State is a powerhouse at 5'11 1/2" 249 his 2011 Stats: 81 tackles, 8 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT, 5 PBU, 1 FF, he is a leader, Council has a nose for the football and always seems to be around it. He flows extremely well does a good job avoiding traffic, he can take on blocks but prefers to slip them, he could be a 4-3 MLB or a 3-4 ILB.
LB Caleb McSurdy was named to The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS All-America first team after a senior season in which he was the Big Sky Conference's defensive player of the year. The 6'0 1/2" 252 lb. thumper
from Boise, Idaho, has 4.83 speed but he has tremendous instincts and is a genius at run fits. McSurdy was named to several All-American teams after making a team-high 131 tackles for the 11-3 Grizzlies. He had 9.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and two interceptions, he took his last 61 yards for a touchdown in UM's 31-28 FCS semifinal loss at Sam Houston State.
CB Chris Greenwood of Albion is not well known, except in scouting circles, but he is 6'1" 196lbs and runs a sub 4.4 40. I believe his fastest was 4.3 even, but he’s a consistent high 4.3 to mid-4.4. with that frame that is impressive. Greenwood, a Detroit product who prepped at Martin Luther King High School, was placed on the American Football Coaches Association’s All-America team and named the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association’s Defensive MVP in 2011. He intercepted two passes (returning one for a touchdown against Alma College) and wrapped up 24 tackles, but those statistics do not indicate the impact Greenwood had on the game. Greenwood’s teammates took advantage of having a side of the field shutdown as Albion tied for the MIAA lead with 15 interceptions. He finished his career as a three-time all-MIAA first team selection.
QB Casey Therriault-Jackson State 6’1 3/4" 199, 2011 Stats: 272 of 453 (60%), 3,808 yards, 27 TD, 15 INT, 94 carries, 103 yards, 3 TD. Therriault is a very interesting story and its one that I'll write about in more detail soon. The same red flags in that story that prevented him from attending a FBS school are going to cause some NFL teams to take a longer look. On the field Casey may be the best QB at any HBCU school. He has a live arm, he delivers a very accurate ball, and he has the agility to get outside the pocket and make plays. Therriault led the Tigers to a 9-2 record in 2011 while passing for over 7,000 yards and 58 career TDs. All after serving 6 months in prison, after a mishap during the Christmas break his freshman year at College of the Sequoias, a California junior college . This spring, Therriault leaves Jackson State as one of the most prolific passers in SWAC history.
RB D.J. McNorton of N. Dakota State could be the perfect running back for a zone blocking run scheme because of his elite ball carrier vision, patience as a runner to allow blocks to form, strong build and low center of gravity, good acceleration through the hole, and the stamina to be an every down back who wears a defense down throughout the course of a game . He's 5'9⅞" 205, this year he had 197 rushes for 1020 yards, 13 TDs and for good measure he had 24 catches, 245 yards and more scores. Get this, that was a 'down' year in 2010 he had a gaudy 1559 yards rushing 433 yards in receptions and 19 total TDS. At the least he should be drafted in the later rounds and could be a 3rd down back.
RB Jonathan Grimes, William&Mary, Grimes is a no-frills every down back with power and vision, he is not lightning quick, blazing fast or hugely powerful, however he churns out yards with his leg drive and desire. Last year he totaled 1431 yards rushing, his second thousand yard season, he's never rushed for fewer 887 yards, which came in an injury marred 2010. At 5'9 5/8" 206 he has just enough heft to run between the tackles and his toughness belies his frame.
TE Kavario Middleton, when he was coming out of high school, Middleton was the third ranked tight end in the country by scout.com. After a troubled stint at U. Washington where he started in 11 of 12 games and was the Huskies' fourth-leading receiver with 26 receptions, in 201 and had at least one catch in 11 of 12 games. He had a season-high five catches for 45 yards and a touchdown in the 2009 season opener against No. 11 LSU and played in 12 games as a true freshman in 2008 and started twice, he was fifth on the team with 12 catches. Middleton then transferred to Montana where his soft hands and 6'4 1/2" 249 pound frame was an immediate asset, while his production: 28 catches, 300 yards and 3 TDs was not very impressive, he is a smooth and fluid athlete with real potential.