FAU's Morris among Shrine Game players to follow for 2012 draft

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The third day of practice at the East-West Shrine Game provided scouts with another opportunity to see the top prospects work out in pads. The pace and tempo of practice was certainly pro-like in nature, and you could see players becoming more comfortable with their teammates and the playbook.

As a result, we witnessed several guys step up their respective games and make the kind of plays that caught the attention of scouts in attendance. Here are some of my observations from the day:

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As eyes begin to shift toward the 2012 NFL Draft, NFL.com draft analyst Bucky Brooks presents his top 50 prospects. More ...

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» I didn't know much about Florida Atlantic RB Alfred Morris prior to my arrival, but he has been a standout performer in drills. He is silky smooth slithering through traffic and has a game that is ideally suited for the pros. His ability to put together a series of moves in traffic leads to few negative runs, and his natural instincts will allow him to break off big gainers despite lacking elite speed. There might be other backs garnering more attention this week, but Morris is one to watch as we inch closer to the draft.

» Coastal Carolina CB Josh Norman has been the star of the week with his extraordinary display of ball skills. He has picked off at least six passes over the past three days, and gotten his hands on several others. What has been most impressive about watching him work has been his ability to thrive in off coverage. Most big corners want to jam at the line of scrimmage to use their superior size to disrupt the release of the receiver, but Norman has shown the footwork and quickness to blanket receivers from distance. He takes excellent cutoff angles and is rarely out of position on double moves. In speaking with him after practice, he talked about learning how to read the three-step drop (corners will align at eight yards, key the quarterback's drop before taking their eyes back to the receiver and jumping the route). This week has taken his game to another level. If he can continue to build on the momentum created by his strong performance here, Norman might make a strong push into consideration for the draft's second day.

» Illinois WR A.J. Jenkins has quietly flown under the radar this week, but his game looks pro-ready at first glance. He is one of the smoothest route runners in attendance and he displays a crafty feel for setting defenders up with head fakes at the top of routes. Jenkins has also caught the ball exceptionally well the past few days and looks like a keeper as a No. 3 receiver. If he can test well in workouts before the draft, I would expect to see Jenkins come off the board on Day 2.

Chase Ford is looking to follow the Saints' Jimmy Graham as the next great Hurricanes tight end in the NFL.
Chase Ford is looking to follow the Saints' Jimmy Graham as the next great Hurricanes tight end in the NFL. (Chris O'Meara/Associated Press)

» Miami TE Chase Ford has been impressive throughout the week. He has come down with several acrobatic grabs in traffic, and displayed the speed and athleticism scouts covet in deep-middle threats. He also has been one of the best route runners at the position, displaying crafty moves at the top of routes to create separation from tight coverage. Ford entered the week with little fanfare, but has certainly created a buzz in scouting circles with his play.

» West Virginia LB Najee Goode has opened eyes with his hard-hitting play in the middle of the East defense. He attacks the line of scrimmage against the run and is a heavy hitter at the point of attack. He stuffs blockers in the hole, but shows the quickness and athleticism to disengage and get in on the tackle. Scouts familiar with Goode's game have touted him as a gamer and the East's defensive coaches singled him out as one to watch at the beginning of the week. If he plays in the game as well as he practices, Goode could continue to boost his draft status leading into the NFL Scouting Combine.

» Wake Forest DE Kyle Wilber has enhanced his draft status with his strong performance as a pass rusher. He has been active off the edges in team drills, and displayed natural rush skills getting to the quarterback. Although his lanky frame leads to some ugly downs against big, physical offensive tackles, his combination of speed and quickness has led to several splash plays this week. An AFC scout familiar with Wilber told me that he could see him playing as a SAM linebacker in a 4-3 scheme or lining up as a hybrid rush linebacker in a 3-4. He also noted that Wilber should be a top performer at the NFL Scouting Combine, due to his impressive athletic traits.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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