Taber Small of NationalUnderclassmen.com continues his extensive evaluation of the 2014 NFL Draft class by examining some of the top prospects invited to the East-West Shrine Game. TFE brings you Taber’s reports and combines them with video game highlights created by DraftBreakdown.com to give you a platform to make your own evaluation of some of the best participating talent at this year’s Shrine Game.
The Football Educator
Rajion Neal, RB Tennessee:
Neal is a late addition to the Shrine game as he was scheduled to participate in the Inaugural Medal of Honor Bowl last week. He is an underrated RB prospect who should have received a Senior Bowl invite and still could with a good showing this week. The 5-foot-11, 212-pound back finished his senior year with rushing for 1,124 yards, 12 TDs and averaged 5.2 yards per carry in the SEC. He is an explosive player who shows lighting quick speed in the hole and also the acceleration to break off long gains. Neal runs hard downhill between the tackles showing a good combination of vision, power, balance and toughness. He is a viable receiver out of the backfield showing soft hands and also dependable in pass protection. Neal is a thick well-built athlete who looks like he can take the NFL pounding. He is a talented back that possesses the natural skills to eventually become a starter at the next level.
Will Clarke, DE West Virginia:
Clarke is a tall, athletically gifted player with long arms, quickness and speed. He is extremely quick off the snap and explosive in his pursuit of the quarterback. His fluidity as an athlete allows him to change direction, knee bend and stay balanced. Clarke uses his length to help keep the hands of offensive linemen off him and is strong at the point of attack. The defensive end led the Mountaineers with six sacks and 17 TFL’s. He shows good awareness and strength against the run. His hands are used to fight off blocks while making plays. Clarke has imposing size at 6-foot-7, 273-pounds but still needs to add more weight to his frame and get up to at least the 285-290-pound range. This will help him hold up better in the run game at the next level. He shows flashes as a disruptive pass rusher and is a middle-to-late round prospect that would fit in as a NFL 3-4 defensive end.
Preston Brown, LB Louisville:
Brown is a big, strong and physical middle linebacker who is the leader of the Louisville defense. He has led the Cardinals in tackles for three consecutive seasons. Brown is a good-looking athlete at a rock solid 6-foot-2, 260-pounds that really stepped up his play this year. He’s been more consistent with his tackling by not over pursuing his gap which in the past led to cutback lanes. Brown is a strong run stuffer who comes downhill and plugs the middle of the defense. He’s made more plays in the backfield during his senior season with 12.5 tackles for loss. His lateral movement has also improved his sideline-to-sideline range and ability to track down ball carriers. Brown is an instinctive linebacker who does a good job locating the football and shooting the gap for the defense. He shows some stiffness in the hips and is also a liability in the pass game having difficulty covering shifty receivers over the middle. Brown’s stock has steadily increased since the start of the season because of his improved play and potential as a starting inside NFL linebacker.
Tim Flanders, RB Sam Houston State:
The Kansas State transfer put up big numbers for the Bearkats during his career and is the schools all-time leading rusher. He rushed for 1,430 yards and 14 TD’s in 2013. Flanders is a short back with impressive vision, quickness and cutting ability. He possesses a stocky build (5-10/212) and doesn’t go down on initial contact. Flanders only caught six passes as a senior which makes scouts wonder why he wasn’t more involved in the passing game. This causes doubt about his hands and receiving skills out of the backfield. Overall, Flanders is a late round prospect that reminds me a lot of Bobby Rainey with the Buccaneers.
E.J. Gaines, CB Missouri:
Gaines had a break out senior year and is another player that should be in the Senior Bowl in my opinion. He was an underrated prospect coming into his final season with the Tigers that I noted to watch this fall. This defensive back made a big name for himself in the highly anticipated matchup versus Mike Evans of Texas A&M. He shut down the Aggies big play receiver holding him to four catches for eight yards. Gaines is instinctive while playing with great awareness and quickness. He stays low in his back pedal while showing fluid hips. His ability to turn smoothly while keeping stride with receivers is excellent. Gaines also has a nice burst of speed and uses his technique well to cover receivers in man coverage. He fights through blocks and comes up strong in run support. Gaines is a little undersized at 5-foot-10, 193-pounds, which is a concern for scouts. But he is a talented cornerback that is a top 5 rated cornerback prospect for the 2014 draft.
Cassius Marsh, DE UCLA:
Marsh is a defensive end that has caught the eye of scouts because of his athleticism and size (6-foot-4 268-pounds). He stood out in the 2013 USC rivalry matchup registering two sacks in the game. Marsh displays explosive upper body strength and quickness which he has flashed throughout the season, but he needs still needs to become a more consistent football player. He can bring quality value to a NFL defensive front seven because of his versatility. This defender hasn’t even come close to reaching his untapped potential. He needs to improve his technique, leverage and consistency. Marsh is a late round prospect that will need to impress scouts this week during workouts to increase his stock.