NFL Scouting Combine Coverage: Big East & Independents Preview
The Big East has undoubtedly been the biggest victim of conference realignment and its current talent level shows why schools are moving elsewhere
By AJ Young - February 20 2013
You can’t say that we’re not comprehensive at Down at the One. With today’s final NFL Scouting Combine preview, we’ve covered 60 of the top prospects in the NFL Draft. Having looked at the other five BCS conferences, we finish today with the Big East.
For those unfamiliar with conference hierarchy, it should be noted that the Big East is by far the weakest of the six BCS conferences. We’re talking so weak that it’s on the cusp of losing its status as a BCS conference. In the last three years, the college football landscape has undertaken a dramatic transformation. I’ll try and keep things as simple as possible with a brief synopsis:
Part One (2010-2012): The Big 12 dropped to ten teams as Colorado left for the Pac 10 and Nebraska headed to the Big Ten. Utah, a non-BCS school, joined Colorado causing the Pac 10 to rebrand as the Pac 12. The Big 12 then temporarily fell to eight teams as Texas A&M and Missouri defected to the SEC before TCU and West Virginia bolted from the Big East to prop the Big 12 back up to ten. This brings us to where we are now; the Big 12 has ten schools, the Big Ten has twelve schools, the Pac 10 became the Pac 12, the SEC expanded to fourteen, the ACC remained unchanged whilst the Big East was weakened. Keeping up?
Part Two (2012-2015): Coming into effect over the course of the next three seasons, a second bout of realignment came to fruition in late 2012. Feeling left out of the initial realignment, the ACC decided to expand. Louisville, Syracuse and Pittsburgh left the Big East for the ACC whilst Rutgers left for the Big Ten alongside Maryland from the ACC. The Big East was left decimated and as a consequence, two non-BCS schools who were scheduled to join the Big East – Boise State and San Diego State – decided against their decision, instead preferring to maintain their non-BCS conference status. Exhausting stuff.
All this turmoil has resulted in a fundamentally different college football landscape to that of three years ago. Moreover, it’s left the Big East, an already weak conference, dead in the water. It’s a lame duck conference that’s surviving on life support and it’s only a matter of time before it ceases to exist as a BCS conference.
Back to the Combine. 24 players from the Big East will head to Indianapolis this week including a school record 6 from Rutgers. It’s the only BCS conference where every school is represented. Unfortunately this doesn’t count for much because the prospects who are attending are… well… how can I put this… not very good… To the extent that I’ve decided to expand this column to the Big East and Independents preview. Alongside Army and Navy, there are two schools who can’t be bothered with all of the aforementioned conference politics. Notre Dame and BYU opt to be independent; they belong to no conference and schedule who they please. They answer to nobody but the NCAA and themselves. Here are the five prospects worth talking about, heading to the NFL Scouting Combine from the Big East and Independents:
Justin Pugh, OL, Syracuse
As a redshirt freshman, Pugh started 13 games at left tackle and went on to start 34 games protecting the quarterback’s blindside over the course of his three year career. Considering his starting experience and 6-5, 301 lbs stature you would expect him to project as a tackle at the next level but his best position is likely at guard due to his lack of top end strength. He also struggles to control rushers at the point of contact due to average arm length and footwork that needs improvement. Nevertheless, his combination of speed and athleticism allows him to dominate defenders in the run game and opens holes for the running back to hit the second level. He has a high ceiling that with some additional work in the weight room, coupled with technique coaching, could result in Pugh being a Pro Bowl calibre guard. He currently projects as a third round pick and will hope to surprise scouts in the bench press to elevate up draft boards.
Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
With 140 catches for 1,840 yards and 11 touchdowns during his three year career, Eifert more than followed on from where Kyle Rudolph left off in South Bend. At 6-5, 252 lbs and a proven track record catching the football, Eifert is your prototypical tight end for the next level. Notre Dame lined him up both in tight formations as well as out wide against cornerbacks and his versatility was a big reason why Notre Dame ran the table on their way to the BCS National Championship last season. He’s a capable blocker in pass protection that could do with a little technique work but he shows good strength to sustain blocks and seal off the edge in the run game. He runs good routes and has the ability to make athletic catches, shows great ability to adjust to balls mid-air. He’s arguably the best tight end in the draft and in an era where teams are utilising big bodied receiving tight ends more and more, he could wind up being a first round selection. His forty time at the Combine could be the deciding factor for how high he goes in round one.
Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
Ansah entered the 2012 season without a single career start and a meagre 10 total tackles to his name. As under the radar goes, Ansah was a nuclear submarine. The Ghanaian native came to BYU on a track scholarship but soon took up football when coaches saw his supreme combination of size and speed. He played in all 13 games during his senior year, starting 9, and amassed 62 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks and 8 quarterback pressures. At 6-5, 274 lbs, coupled with his background and late start in football, he draws comparisons to Jason Pierre Paul. He formerly ran the 200 meters in 21.9 seconds and scouts will hope such speed will translate as a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme at the next level. He’s understandably raw given his lack of experience but is a physical specimen that shows sky high potential as he learns the intricacies of his position. He’s obviously somewhat of a risky pick but he’s being projected as a mid-first round pick regardless of the fact he has less than 10 career starts. I personally would be hesitant to spend a high first round pick on Ansah given the depth of defensive lineman in this draft but he’ll head to Indianapolis with hopes of tempting a team following big performances in the bench press and forty yard dash.
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB, Connecticut
At 6-1, 192 lbs, Wreh-Wilson looks the part if nothing else. As a four year starter, he has plenty of experience on his résumé and plenty of film on tape accordingly. The only trouble is, some of that tape isn’t all that great. He lacks the relevant speed required to play man coverage which is exacerbated by poor technique as he struggles to turn his hips quick enough to cover his man downfield. He shows excellent instincts and coverage skills in zone formations but his struggles in man-to-man likely mean that he’ll be limited to a third down nickel or dime back initially. He might be better suited to the safety position as he shows willingness to tackle in the run game and has the ability to take down the runner with a form tackle. He’s somewhat of a project but has a high ceiling and with the correct coaching at the next level, could become a starting cornerback. Conflicting scouting reports view Wreh-Wilson as a second to fourth round pick. The Combine will help make that projection more definitive.
Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers
Ryan was a two year starter at Rutgers who put up solid numbers with 31 pass breakups, 7 interceptions, 170 tackles and 11.5 tackles for a loss across his three years in Piscataway. He’s a physical corner who excels in press coverage and has the ability to stick to receivers in man to man. He has good timing and does a great job of getting his hands on the ball. He has experience playing special teams and has the versatility to cover receivers down field as well as play the run near the line of scrimmage. However he can struggle with faster receivers and can sometimes get unstuck by the deep ball due to a lack of elite speed. He can also be overly physical at times and could struggle to transition to a league much harsher on down-field contact. All in all, Ryan has the potential to be a solid starting corner at the next level and is a borderline first round talent. Good performances in position drills and the forty will be key to his draft stock heading into the Combine.AJ Young
is the editor of Down at the One.