After three intense days of practice, the Thursday and Friday practices are not as valuable for evaluation purposes. That is why nearly all the NFL personnel left before Thursday’s practice began. While how the players perform in the actual game on Saturday matters, the practices actually carry more weight to NFL teams. Below is a breakdown of six players who helped their draft stock the most through this week East West Practices.
1. Mike Catapano, DE, Princeton (6033, 270 and 4.85): After dominating the Ivy League, Catapano came to Tampa needing to prove he could be as productive against better competition and he definitely did that. Quick off the ball, Catapano displayed strong and aggressive use of hands to jolt and defeat pass blocks with surprising ease. Able to consistently beat the offensive tackle around the corner and inside allowed him to regularly pressure the quarterback in every drill. Not only productive rushing the passer, his ability to defeat run blocks allowed him to make plays against the run at him and away. His strong week of practice has put Catapano in position to be a third round pick if he continues to perform well the rest of the spring.
2. Brandon McGee, CB, Miami (5106, 195 and 4.58): Although a number of cornerbacks came to Tampa viewed as better prospects, McGee clearly had the best week of practice of any cornerback. In every practice his quick feet and agility showed up in his ability to transition and close fast on passes on front of him. Additionally, his loose hips, fluid movement skill and timing let him flip hips to turn and run with receiver without losing a step. While many cornerbacks can cover well, McGee’s consistent ability to break-up and intercept passes proved he can be a playmaker. Although, he still will need to work-out well this spring, his showing this week could put him in position to be a third round pick.
3. Terron Armstead, OT, Arkansas – Pine Bluff (6050, 304 and 4.83): A player that scouts have been telling me about all season, Armstead’s size and natural athleticism jumped out during the first practice. Blessed with quick feet, Armstead’s ability to slide out to protect the corner versus edge pass rushers was impressive this week. Able to pass block with base and leverage, Armstead could stay over feet to maintain pass block after initial contact when he maintained his shuffle. Although he at times made technical mistakes, like stopping shuffle after initial contact and leaning and reaching to make contact, his ability and effort to recover and keep man from blowing the play up was good to see. With his display this week Armstead confirmed what scouts thought of him and has him on the rise. He could be one of the surprises of the Draft as he has a chance to be a second round pick.
4. Earl Watford, OG, James Madison (6036, 300 and 5.10): After struggling on the first day of practice I did not expect to be including Watford on this list, but his athleticism combined with his improvement from Monday to Wednesday has me excited about his future. Excellent body control, balance and coordination combined so that he could adjust to block a moving target with remarkable ease out in space. Quick out of stance to set to block, Watford can “get a good fit,” kept feet moving and could keep man pinned on LOS in pass pro. Perhaps most impressive was Watford’s ability to re-set and anchor when he was jolted backwards initially by power rusher. Watford is not likely to be a high draft pick, but after what I observed in Tampa I am confident that he will develop into a quality starting guard in time.
5. David Bass, DE, Missouri Western State (6036, 263 and 4.74): Similar to Catapano, Bass was a dominant small school pass rusher who needed to prove himself against the big boys this week. Bass jumped out and grabbed my attention during the first practice with his quick burst off the ball and his ability to dip shoulder and turn the corner. More impressive was his excellent hand use which helped him to keep the pass blocker’s hands off him and beat OT inside and outside. The one area Bass will definitely need to improve is against the run as he tends to get upright and loses leverage against run blockers, which allows them to tie him up and ride him out of the play. While Bass’ struggles against the run and lack of bulk/strength are an issue, his natural pass rush skill and athleticism will likely lead to him being a fourth or fifth round pick as good pass rushers are difficult to find.
6. Cooper Taylor, SAF, Richmond (6042, 229 and 4.59): NFL teams are always leery of 6’4+ safeties as they usually struggle to change directions quickly and can be liabilities in coverage, which has NFL teams wondering if Taylor would be better making the move to linebacker. However, after a good all-around week of practice where he displayed better hip flexibility, agility and foot quickness to flip hips and change directions, teams now feel he has what it takes to stay at safety. Quick reading and reacting to plays in front of him, Taylor showed the quickness to close on passes in front of him and the range to help with outside coverage. In addition to his good play against the pass, Cooper was active and constantly around the ball on run plays. Taylor’s performance this week has teams convinced he can definitely be a backup safety and elite special teams player with the potential to become a quality starter, which is why he will likely be drafted in the fourth or fifth round.
Email Russ at Russelllande@yahoo.com and Follow Russ on Twitter @RUSSLANDE