Zierlein: 5 game-film stars to watch closely at the NFL combine

When I was born, my dad was a football coach. As I write this article today, my dad is still a football coach. Being the son of a coach afforded me opportunities that didn't come along for other kids, like watching game tape on a reel to reel in my dad's makeshift "film room" at our house.

I'll never forget, as a 10-year-old, having my dad call me into the room to show me what a pick play rub route looked like. If you are waiting for a nostalgic story, forget it.

The person who owns the clicker also owns the room, and my dad's clicker wouldn't stop as he would watch each play more than a dozen times. Frankly, the repetitiveness turned to boredom for me and drove me away to the basketball court.

Today, I have my own small office with two years of college tape and a coaching clicker to help me unearth the strengths and weaknesses for this year's draft prospects as I piece together profiles for each of them on this site.

While film review can be monotonous, there is nothing quite like stumbling onto players with either great tape or exciting traits. Here are five of my favorite players to watch on tape. I can't wait to see each of them up close at the NFL Scouting Combine next week in Indianapolis.

Tre McBride, WR, William & Mary

I started tape work on McBride in early January in preparation for the East-West Shrine Game and I was blown away by the acrobatic catches he was making on his 2013 tape. I couldn't wait to get from target to target because McBride's body control and concentration was on display so frequently. He had a solid week at Shrine practices and needs to build on that with a serviceable 40-yard dash at the combine, as his play speed and ability to get separation on the NFL level is in question. Watch these McBride highlights and thank me later.

Brandon Bridge, QB, South Alabama

Bridge has very little starting experience and he has what I call "coin-flip accuracy" on his passes (receivers have no idea where the ball will go when it leaves his hand). Bridge also has a slingshot for a throwing arm with an ability to feather in accurate, catchable deep balls to his receivers in stride. He's big and should test well at the combine, but needs to show improvement with his footwork and touch in passing drills.

Thomas Rawls, RB, Central Michigan

Rawls had me texting scouts excitedly while running through his tape. He can shake a loose defender at the line of scrimmage and will create yards for himself, but he also finishes his runs with determination and anger. At one point against Purdue last September, Rawls kept hitting the safeties like he was the tackler rather than the ball carrier. He is something of a one-year wonder after transferring from Michigan and he has to answer to teams about some character concerns.

Paul Dawson, ILB, TCU

In November, when I first started my draft profiles, I had a scout text me to "go watch the TCU linebacker, No. 47." I did and it was memorable. Dawson has become a bit of a cult figure in scouting circles because of his extraordinary instincts and playmaking ability. Forced fumbles, interceptions, fumble recoveries, sacks, tackles for losses, passes defensed -- these all come much more easily to linebackers that are moving in the direction of the play before the ball is snapped, which is Dawson in a nutshell. If he runs in the 4.6 range in the 40 at the combine, he could find himself in the first round, despite character red flags I have noted.



Shane Ray, DE, Missouri

This certainly isn't an under-the-radar prospect like a few of the other players on this list, but watching Ray was so much fun for me. Teams love physical traits for early draft picks, and Ray doesn't have the length that teams typically covet from edge players. That said, it won't be easy to find a player who plays with more consistent intensity than Ray. When watching him on tape, I noticed he never gave the opposing offensive lineman a break. Ever. It was captivating to watch Ray's advanced hand usage and understanding of how to alter his pass-rush plan during the game based on his opponent. And his pursuit of the ball? Think of the infected in the zombie movie "28 Days Later." I think I cheered for a running back to actually get away from Ray at one point while watching tape.

Follow Lance Zierlein on Twitter @LanceZierlein.

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