NFL Draft Scout’s Rob Rang is quite versed in the ins and outs of this year’s draft-eligible prospects. He spends a serious amount of time breaking down film and analyzing potential NFL players.
We caught up with him in Mobile, Ala., to hear his thoughts on the 49ers draft prospects and reached out to him again this week to hear his Senior Bowl synopsis as well as preview this week’s NFLPA All-Star game (formerly known as the Texas vs. the Nation game).
Q: Now that we’re back from the Senior Bowl, what was your overall impression of the week in Mobile?
A: My general thoughts were that a lot of what I saw on tape was only confirmed at the Senior Bowl. In fact, the strength of this year’s senior class is certainly among the defensive line and the depth of the quarterback position. There are a few pass rushers that are capable of making that transition from a defensive end in the collegiate game to the outside linebacker position, whether it be in a 3-4 or 4-3 defense. The most prominent being Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller. He was every bit the superstar that we anticipated. And at the quarterback position, Jake Locker was every bit the player that we thought he was. He’s a guy who has struggled with his accuracy throughout his time at the University of Washington and had the same type of concerns last week in Mobile. There wasn’t a great deal of surprises. If there were some surprises, it’s a positive when you see players like Vincent Brown, a wide receiver from San Diego State, step up and enjoy a really strong week of practice. Then to see some of the offensive linemen asked to move around and get out of their comfort zone. Anthony Costanzo is a great example. The Boston College tackle was asked to come in and play in at guard. And while he doesn’t have the frame to really be successful in that way, to see him jump at the opportunity to compete and try a different position, I think is something the NFL coaches are certainly going to like about him.
Q: How much influence do the player’s personalities have on your grades?
A: It does influence your grade at least a little bit. The reality is that any player who is going to be invited to the Senior Bowl is certainly an athletic talent. They’ve been productive; they have the height, weight, speed and all those types of things you’re looking for. But at the same time, you have to make the decision on who you’re going to trust giving millions of dollars to. You want a player who can go out in the community and represent your franchise. Let’s face it, it’s a very rare individual who can do that after signing a million dollar contract or in some cases, a multi-million dollar contract. It’s a natural inclination to ease off the gas pedal so to speak. You’re asking these players to do the exact opposite once they get into the NFL to really become even better players. That’s where the interview process comes into play. NFL teams want to feel like they can trust these players to be a face of the franchise and make sure they put in the work to capitalize on their athletic ability.
Q: How much stock do you put into the player’s performances in the actual game versus Senior Bowl practices?
A: I’d put more value on the practice. The All-Star game itself is exactly that. Coaches want to get everyone on the field, it’s not necessarily who is playing the best. You can’t really dictate all the things that are happening on the field so to speak as much as you can during the practices. You want the players to perform well in the game. You don’t want to draft players who only perform well in practice. But some players are legitimate gamers and they are able to ratchet their intensity when the lights are on. It is a process, but you want to see are they the same player in practice as they are on gameday.
Q: Who were the guys you watched on film that didn’t do much for you then, but seeing them in person really jumped out to you?
A: There were two players and both of them you saw flashes on tape, but I thought they were much more consistent throughout the week of practice then they had been. Louisville running back Bilal Powell was one of them. He’s flashed ability this year and enjoyed an impressive senior season. But let’s face it, Louisville isn’t playing the elite teams in the country. I was impressed with his week of practice and I thought while other running backs received much of the buzz, Powell was in my opinion, the most impressive running back from day-to-day. I thought I might be in the minority on that opinion, but in talking to some scouts, that was an opinion they shared as well. Then, Nebraska wide receiver Niles Paul impressed too. He’s a receiver, who at 6-1, 225 pounds is a big, strong kid. He’s a guy who impresses you with his physicality as a blocker, but also a route-runner. He’s able to get off press coverage. You want to see more consistency from his hands and that’s something he struggled with throughout his career in Nebraska. He’s not someone who would warrant a first or second-round selection, but he’s someone with upside. What you see is most of the drops he had throughout his career have been concentration issues. If you can coach him up a little bit on that, then you truly have a diamond in the rough prospect that you can get in the middle rounds.
Q: What did you take away from the game itself?
A: I thought Christian Ponder had a strong game. But the big play he made early on, a long pass that quite frankly was a pretty poor throw on his part. But he was fortunate that Miami wide receiver Leonard Hankerson made a great play on the ball. It looked great in the stat book, but if you really watched the play, it was an ugly duck of a pass that really should have been intercepted. Had it been, a lot of people would be knocking him. But the fact that he was able to make some adjustments throughout the game, read defenses and really thread the needle through some tight holes in coverage was really one of the more interesting things about the game. Ponder had two different arm surgeries this year and that was a question about him. Does he have the arm strength to be effective in the NFL? I thought he showed evidence that he did throughout the week of practice and I thought he does have the arm strength to at least fit into a traditional West Coast offense.
Q: What should our draft-hungry fans be looking out for in this weekend’s NFLPA All-Star game?
A: For San Francisco 49ers fans it’s going to start with the quarterback position. One of the guys I’m very interested to see how he does is Nathan Ederle. We saw flashes of ability while he was at the University of Idaho. We saw flashes at the East-West Shrine Game too. He’s the arm strength to be successful and has legitimate size. He’s 6-5, 240 pounds, a big kid. He’s a player I think a head coach like Jim Harbaugh would certainly be intrigued by. If the 49ers elect to go with another position at the No. 7 pick, then of course they’ll have to find a quarterback a little bit later. Ederle is a prospect to keep in mind. Also another quarterback, North Carolina’s T.J. Yates is a player to watch too. He doesn’t necessarily have the arm strength, but North Carolina’s season was rocked by scandal and the leadership Yates showed throughout the season was impressive. You can’t really put a number on something like it. But that type of intangibles made Harbaugh a successful player when he was in the NFL and I think he’ll value that as well.
Q: It seems to be a pretty talented group of participants compared to year’s past, would you say there are a lot of draft-worthy players in the NFLPA game?
A: There are and that’s one of the things that’s most exciting about this year’s game. It’s a strong class and there’s talent at virtually every position. Probably the highest-touted player is Mississippi defensive tackle Jerrell Powe. He’s a guy who entered the year as a possible first-round pick and if the 49ers or any other team should be looking for a nose tackle, then he’s a player who might be a fit in the middle rounds. He’s 6-2, 330 pounds and has the physicality that you’re looking for. You’d like to see more consistency from, but he’s a player to consider in the middle rounds.
Q: In closing, what can our fans expect to see from you leading up to the 2011 NFL Draft?
A: I’m going to be doing a mock drafts just about every single week throughout the rest of the process. I find by doing it that often, it allows me to explore different possibilities. I’m one of those people by writing things down, it helps me understand what might happen if there’s a run at a certain position in to the top-10 and how it affects everything. It also allows me to see how things have changed. I certainly appreciate anybody who checks out our mock draft at this point of the year, but realize as well, we’re trying to make these projections based on how things will unfold in April. And we’re a long ways away from that. It is a work in progress, but at the time we get to mid-April, I’ll have it locked down as best I can.
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