ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The East-West Shrine Game is scheduled for this weekend, so I had to pack my bags to head down to St. Petersburg to watch some of the this year's draft prospects square off in a series of competitive practices that will play a significant role in determining their draft position in a few months.
As an evaluator, you relish any opportunity to see draft hopefuls competing in a pro-like atmosphere, and these spirited practice sessions provide plenty of chances to make solid assessments. From watching players work on the fundamentals during the individual period to observing one-on-ones and various team drills, this five-day snapshot serves as a preview for their pro potential.
Top 50 prospects
Although scouts will certainly keep these workouts in perspective, the insight gained from observing these practices will undoubtedly lead to countless debates in draft rooms across the league.
Here are my observations from watching the first day of workouts:
» Iowa CB Shaun Prater is making quite an impression on scouts with his impressive all-around game. He displayed outstanding footwork and movement skills in drills, and was consistently in proper position in coverage. He made several plays on the ball, including an over-the-shoulder interception on a deep ball that showcased his awareness and ball skills. After watching Prater consecutively lock down receiver after receiver in one-on-one drills, I had a high level AFC East official tell me that he might need to revisit his mid-round grade on the former Hawkeye.
» Arkansas WR Jarius Wright is one of the more impressive receivers in attendance, but he struggled at times on Day 1. He dropped several passes during drills and his lack of concentration was disappointing. While he certainly possesses the speed, burst and route-running ability scouts covet in slot receivers, he needs to do a better job of finishing with clean catches to earn high marks for the week.
» Oregon TE Dave Paulson has a crafty game that translates well to the pros. He is a patient route runner, adept at setting up defenders with head fakes at the top of routes, and uses his body well to create separation. He displays strong hands catching in traffic and is one of the best pass catchers at the position. While he doesn't appear to have elite speed, his movement skills and savvy could make him a difficult guard at the next level.
» BYU's Matt Reynolds has a lot to prove this week. He must show scouts he is capable of handling rushers with speed and quickness, while also displaying better finish at the end of blocks. He struggled against elite rushers during the regular season, so this week serves as a make-up test.
» Josh Norman of Costal Carolina made quite an impression on scouts on Day 1. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound corner displayed outstanding quickness and footwork. He glides in his backpedal and shows swivel hips in his turns/transitions. Norman put all of those skills together in coverage while registering several break-ups and a pair of interceptions during the morning session. When asked about Norman's pro prospects, an NFC South official proclaimed Norman as one of the top small prospects at the game, and talked about his ability to work into Day 2 consideration with a strong effort this week.
» Hampton's Micah Pellerin didn't wow scouts during the fall, but his prototypical size and athleticism will prompt a team to draft him solely on potential. The 6-foot, 195-pound Pellerin looks the part physically and athletically. He is smooth in his pedal and flashes a burst coming out of his breaks. Although he didn't get his hands on many balls during the practice, his consistent coverage caught the attention of scouts and made him one of the most discussed prospects following the East's practice session.
» Citadel WR Kevin Hardy is far from a polished product at receiver, but his speed and explosiveness could make him a coveted commodity on draft day. He is the fastest player on the field and his ability to run past corners on deep routes makes him an ideal vertical threat. An NFC scout marveled at his speed and quickness after watching Hardy blow by defenders on successive plays, and told me that he will be a fast riser up the charts if he can display more consistency catching passes this week.
» One name to follow this week is Najee Goode of West Virginia. The linebacker prospect made a strong impression on the East's coaching staff and he was cited as the player who might surprise with his performance this week.
» Tim Benford of Tennessee Tech had a strong performance on Day 1. He caught the ball well during drills, displaying strong hands and impressive concentration. He also impressed scouts with his disciplined route running and burst. Several scouts mentioned Benford as one of the standouts of the day, and he has certainly created a buzz with his strong start.