Scouting small school prospects
NFL combine is invaluable way for non-BCS prospects to make impression
T Vladimir Ducasse is top prospect, but DE Junior Galette will create buzz
QB John Skelton has elite arm strength, but must show improved accuracy
Receiving an invitation to the NFL combine is like winning the lottery, because almost 85 percent of the players selected in each NFL draft had the privilege of participating in the combine beforehand. For players from non-BCS schools, that percentage is usually higher. Broken down by position, here's a look at the small school prospects who will be among the 325 combine participants in Indianapolis next week, and what they must try to achieve.
John Skelton, Fordham: Skelton boasts one of the strongest arms in the quarterback class. He can throw the ball a mile, but struggles to accurately hit targets 20 yards away. Scouts want to see better pass placement from Skelton, who's prone to sail balls over his receivers' heads.
Joique Bell, Wayne State: NFL scouts did not grade Bell as a draftable player six months, but Bell followed up a record-breaking 2009 season with a terrific Senior Bowl performance. The 40 will prove critical for the 223-pound ball carrier, as scouts need to know if he has the foot speed to play at the next level.
Patrick Paschall, North Dakota State: The elusive ball handler continued to establish himself as one of the top small school prospects in '09 and capped off a solid college career with a good showing at the Shrine Game. But Paschall has a thin build (200 pounds), and many doubt he has the ability to be a feature runner in the NFL. His body strength and shuttle times, which test the ability to quickly change direction, will be key.
Clay Harbor, Missouri State: Harbor was a terrific pass catcher throughout his college career, but though he gives effort blocking, it is not his strongest skill. He needs to arrive at the combine bigger and stronger, yet still able to run the 40 in the time scouts are expecting.
Preston Parker, North Alabama: The former Seminoles star comes to the combine nursing a sore heel, but scouts aren't concerned about his physical skills. Parker was dismissed from the Florida State program after a pair of arrests in less than a year's time. His interviews in front of scouts and honesty about the incidents in question are critical to his draft grade.
Donald Jones, Youngstown State: Jones draws a wide variety of opinions in the scouting community. He's sized well and can run fast, but must put on a show during the pass-catching segment of his combine workout. Jones must run good routes, and, more than anything else, consistently catch the ball with proper technique.
Chris Carter, Cal-Davis: Carter has been ultra-productive the past two seasons, combining for 154 receptions since 2008, but he's barely 200 pounds and does not possess game-breaking speed. Carter needs to run a good time in the 40 to prove he can be a legitimate NFL receiver.
Andre Roberts, The Citadel: Roberts is still basking in the glow created by his outstanding week at the Senior Bowl. But his weight in Mobile was almost 10 pounds heavier than scouts expected, so Roberts must prove that the added bulk has not come at the expense of speed or quickness.
Chris Bell, Norfolk State: Bell enters the combine a bit of a mystery. Dismissed from the Penn State program after two unproductive seasons, he notched 51 receptions last year and averaged 18.8 yards per catch. He's got a reputation as a sensational athlete and will have to prove as much when the stopwatches and measuring sticks come out.
Vladimir Ducasse, UMass, T: Ducasse, mentioned by us as one of the top tackles in the nation last September, heads into the combine as the highest rated non-BCS prospect. He played well at the Senior Bowl but did not wow scouts. Ducasse's ability to turn in a good overall workout will affirm he is an offensive lineman capable of playing in a variety of systems at the next level.
Jared Veldheer, Hillsdale, T: Veldheer is expected to post some eye-popping numbers in Indianapolis. The 321-pound offensive tackle previously ran the 40 in 4.88 seconds. His positional workout will be important, as scouts want to inspect the footwork and the blocking mechanics of this Division-II lineman.
Tony Washington, Abilene Christian, T: Washington ranked among the best senior tackles in the nation coming into the '09 season, but his play last year was disappointing. He must answer several off-the-field questions.
Dorian Brooks, James Madison, G: Brooks does not look the part, yet he always played like an NFL prospect while at James Madison. He's considered a marginal athlete with limited size, so the combine workout offers an opportunity for Brooks to dispel this criticism.
Austen Lane, Murray State, DE: Lane is one of the hottest names in the scouting community. He's an impressive looking player and a prospect with a great amount of upside. He checked in at 6-6, 267 pounds at the Senior Bowl. In Indianapolis he must prove he has the speed to be a pass rusher at the next level or the strength to be used as a two-gap defensive end.
Adrian Tracy, William & Mary, DE-OLB: Tracy was one of the most prolific pass-rushers on the small school level the past two seasons, posting 22 sacks and 37.5 tackles for loss. But he measures just under 6-3, 242 pounds, which is not the size teams look for in a defensive end. He must run well in the 40, then show the ability to make plays moving in reverse when put through a battery of linebacker drills.
Arthur Moats, James Madison, DE-OLB: Moats, who played in the same conference as Tracy, was another pass-rushing terror in college, notching 22.5 sacks and 42 tackles for loss the past two years. Moats barely stands 6-feet tall, and, like Tracy, must prove he possesses the ability to nail down a linebacker position at the next level.
Junior Galette, Stillman, DE-OLB: People will be buzzing about Galette the next two weeks. He's a sensational athlete who is expected to turn in terrific workout numbers at the combine. He's also a prospect with a long list of character issues that scouts want answered.
Akwa Owusa-Ansah, Indiana-Pa: The small-school corner came into the season with high grades from NFL scouts, but struggled with an injured shoulder throughout the '09 campaign. Owusa-Ansah will undergo surgery in mid-March to repair the injury, but still hopes to complete the entire combine workout.
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