Earlier this week, I read an article that compared and contrasted the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl to each other in terms of nostalgia, media attention, atmosphere, and most importantly the talent level. Let me answer that comparison with a follow up question, why is it that the NFLPA Bowl isn’t apart of this scale? While the NFLPA Bowl might not have as much annual build up to its counterparts; many scouts/GMs will gather in the now Rose Bowl selected venue as FOX Sports 1 will televise the showcase at 4 ET/ 1 PT on Saturday afternoon.
Along with the front office oversight, the national media broadcast, and the nostalgic venue; the NFLPA will have some serious NFL talent participating, looking to increase their total of 23 draft selections in 2017. While surpassing the Jordan mark would be a significant achievement, there are at least seven prospects participating in the 7th annual NFLPA Collegiate Bowl who can become serious NFL talents. Here’s the list of guys I believe will make their mark when I join them in Pasadena on Saturday:
Parry Nickerson, CB, Tulane
If the “higher-tiered” All Star games were truly about showcasing the “top” talent, then Nickerson would be preparing for a trip to Mobile instead. Nickerson however has a chance to showcase himself as the top talent at the game on Saturday. He was one of the finest shutdown cornerbacks in all of FBS football last season, making opposing quarterbacks post a 43.2 passer rating when throwing his way (according to Pro Football Focus). Nickerson had 6 interceptions in 2017, and was the fiery defensive leader of the Green Wave football team.
The Spotlight: Nickerson’s play style reminds me of Brent Grimes in many ways. He won’t pop off the screen with his athleticism or physical measurements (5’10”, 176 lbs), but both guys always position themselves to make a play on the football at the precise time. Nickerson prides his game on instincts and being a technician of the position, which will warrant him great value off the bat in an NFL training camp.
Working on some prospect prep for the @NFLPABowl. Cornerback Parry Nickerson of @GreenWaveFB might be one of the top prospects in attendance. His sharp coverage skills and leadership of his defense have my attention.
Third Team All-American in 2017. pic.twitter.com/tkxSlVNbYq
— Cagen Cantrell (@CeeingTheDraft) January 14, 2018
Martez Carter, RB, Grambling State
HBCU faithful will have to stand high for this one, because Martez Carter is a product they should be proud of. Carter’s career playing for the Grambling Tigers was a successful one. He posted a career total of over 3,500 yards from scrimmage on only 470 career touches. His production was limited at times, but he always made the most of his opportunities. Listed officially now at 5’7” and 205 pounds, Carter will be seen as a smaller back; but that certainly shouldn’t scare off NFL scouts.
The Spotlight: Carter’s superb agility and ability to make crisp cuts makes him intriguing as a mid to late round RB prospect. Whether it’s from a carry or a reception, expect electricity whenever Martez has the ball in his hands. While I think he and Tarik Cohen are two slightly different players (giving an advantage to Carter’s strength downhill and in pass blocking) he could see a similar spike in draft perception and stock value after this showcase. Remember that Cohen was actually the MVP of the NFLPA Bowl in 2017, which helped cement his value and lead him to a fine rookie season with the Chicago Bears.
Only two prospects left in my @NFLPABowl Spotlight Prep. This guy is more familiar w/ the people, @GSU_TIGERS RB, Martez Carter. An elusive back who’s going to see plenty of 3rd down snaps at the next level & make big plays. Could be this year’s Tarik Cohen (2017 @NFLPABowl MVP). pic.twitter.com/H7zkkzIbZk
— Cagen Cantrell (@CeeingTheDraft) January 17, 2018
D.J. Calhoun, LB, Arizona State
If I had describe D.J. Calhoun in one word, I would have to chose: A Freaking Bully. Okay, I know that was actually three words; but much like Calhoun’s play style, you cannot limit him. Watching Calhoun’s film will make you intimidated of him. His aggression and desire to make an impact at any given moment are seen on every snap he plays. That aggression doesn’t get in the way of his willingness to be a student of the game as well. Along with his 99 tackles (12 tackles for loss) in 2017, he also went from being the 8th worst to the 3rd best inside linebacker in the nation in regards to tackle efficiency rating (via PFF).
The Spotlight: Calhoun will also be seen as a bit undersized and stout for his position, officially measuring at 5’11”, 244 pounds. That low center of gravity in his frame only contributes to his play style; which is an edgy run-stuffer who’s speed coming out of blitzes will catch you by surprise. Expect Calhoun to potentially tally the highest tackle amount on Saturday.
P.S. Watch this guy do mat drills, how can you not want this type of football player on your team?
Treating everyone today to two “Must Watch” players for the @NFLPABowl. Next up, @FootballASU LB D.J Calhoun. Calhoun is an edgy thumper, always the initiator of contact and flies to the ball wherever it may be.
Solid range and awareness in pass coverage too.
HM for the @Pac12. pic.twitter.com/ryeTNjif4v
— Cagen Cantrell (@CeeingTheDraft) January 15, 2018
Austin Allen, QB, Arkansas
My days of raving about older brother Brandon Allen being a future NFL starting quarterback might be done (for now), but Austin brings as much upside to the quarterback position, if not more. While accumulating about half a missed season in 2017 with a lingering shoulder injury, Allen still showed promise as natural passer behind a piss poor offensive line unit (wasn’t Bret Bielema supposed to be a good developer of that position).
The Spotlight: Nevertheless, Allen has a real opportunity to show he’s more than just a multi-year project to a coaching stuff. While Allen needs refinement as a poised and patient passer, he possesses all the natural skills needed to be successful at the position, and he has a clutch gene (watch TCU 2016). Receiving the starting nod for the National Team on Saturday, I’m expecting Allen to set the bar for all the participating QB prospects.
The final but certainly one of the best players in my @NFLPABowl Prospect Prep, @RazorbackFB QB, Austin Allen. Brother of @BrandonAllen_10 (one of my favorites from 2016). Allen possesses natural arm strength & touch. Tough SOB.
He’ll be starting for #TeamNational on Saturday.. pic.twitter.com/beYrOVKHQa
— Cagen Cantrell (@CeeingTheDraft) January 18, 2018
Charvarius Ward, CB, Middle Tennessee
Cornerbacks prospects are usually the most worthy of selecting strictly based off upside. While the position is the most difficult on the defensive side of the ball, fundamentals can be tag teamed with natural skills to develop a fine player. With Charvarius Ward, his physical upside is already tag teamed with fundamentals. The emergence of Kevin Byard (Tennessee Titans) on his way to NFL stardom in only two seasons, the Blue Raiders of Murfreesboro prove they send their DBs to the league developed and ready to be great. Speaking of great, Ward is the cousin of both Malcolm Butler (Patriots) and Glover Quin (Lions), both who are respected defensive back veterans.
The Spotlight: While Ward has shown to be fundamentally sound, he’s still yet to fully grow into his body. The 6’0”, 191 pound corner has yet to grow facial hair, but has plenty of room to grow into a starting caliber CB. I expect him to generate more buzz, and even receive a late invite to the NFL Combine (because snubbing Byard proved to be a mistake).
More on @MT_FB cornerback Charvarius Ward from yesterday. His upside flashed in bunches in his final collegiate game against Arkansas State. Not surprising though, he’s the cousin of NFL star DBs Malcolm Butler and Glover Quin (all former JUCO players). Upside runs in the family. pic.twitter.com/tsIKCHX5D0
— Cagen Cantrell (@CeeingTheDraft) January 17, 2018
Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR, South Florida
Valdes-Scantling might be the most unknown of this group, but posted the most NFL appealing measurements at weigh-ins. Not only does he present good looking height and weight (6’3”, 204 pounds), he also measured at a crazy 79.25” wingspan, which was the longest among skill players for the American Team. Valdes-Scantling also shows to be a class-act citizen, as he spent his Christmas morning donating bags of supplies to dozens of homeless people in the Tampa area. He holds himself high with the media as well, so there’s no doubt scouts will be enamored with his physical attributes along with his formality and high character.
The Spotlight: Valdes-Scantling looks like an impressive vertical threat to keep a tab on during the draft process. I enjoyed watching him stack and stem on deep routes, along with his aggression to create separation. His 40 time will be key in determining his draft projection, but I can see him running a 4.5 and emerging as a winner in Indy during the NFL Combine.
The next player in my @NFLPABowl prospect prep, WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling of @USFFootball.
-excels at creating separation
-works well at stacking DBs on vertical balls
-expected to run in the low 4.5s
There’s some upside, grew over 2 inches between the 16′ and 17′ season. pic.twitter.com/lzUGGu9SAz
— Cagen Cantrell (@CeeingTheDraft) January 15, 2018
Darius Jackson, EDGE, Jacksonville St
The final prospect for the article was the best defensive player in the FCS during the 2017 season, literally. Jackson was awarded the Buck Buchanan trophy, which is given to the top FCS defensive player. He earned that right as well, ranking in the top 5 in both tackles for loss (a whopping 20.5) and quarterback hurries (23). His 6’3”, 233 lb frame is a bit small, but still has NFL scouts buzzing over him in Pasadena this week.
The Spotlight: Jackson has actually been one of highest motored edge rushers I’ve watched film on this draft season, and he also possesses a nice looking repertoire of rush moves (he’s got a killer swim move). While his ability to bend and be quick off the snap has been in flashes rather than consistentcy, I believe that under the right coaching staff, Jackson could be the next Robert Mathis for a fortunate team on Day 3.
This year’s @NFLPABowl participants began practice this afternoon. Another prospect that could dominate the week, EDGE Darius Jackson of @JSUGamecocksFB. One of the FCS’ finest potential draftees, Jackson has:
•Clean rush repertoire
He’s worthy of eyes. pic.twitter.com/jBgqewLmSV
— Cagen Cantrell (@CeeingTheDraft) January 16, 2018