With the American team roster set, I have a few guys people should bear in mind this week with two practices being available to the media. There will be a lot of question marks all over the field whether it is a player from a big school or a small school. It will be interesting to see who is absorbing the coaching and capitalizing on this moment they have worked so hard for. Yes, combines and pro days will be a big part of their process, but the scouting starts now. There will be scouts from every team and every professional taking note of everything a player does. This is the time to get exposure and a time to get noticed.
Anthony Wales ran for 1,000 yards the last two seasons at Western Kentucky along with 27 rushing touchdowns as a senior. In two of the biggest games in his career, he ran from 206 yards in the Conference USA Championship and 245 in the Boca Raton Bowl game. Wales even ran for 152 against Zach Cunningham and Vanderbilt. He is versatile as a running back with his ability to catch passes out of the backfield. I am interested in seeing him in pass protection during the week at practice and in the game on Saturday. Wales could also help his case as a runner in between the tackles.
Teriyon Gipson ran for over 1,200 yards on limited carries out of the backfield. It boggles my mind on why New Mexico did not run him more or throw him the ball more. At 5’8 185 pounds, Gipson has the speed to break for a long touchdown anywhere on the field. He can answer some of those questions as a pass catcher this week and I would like to see him return some kicks or punts. Gipson has to be willing to do any and everything as a smaller back as the 2017 draft class is loaded with bruisers.
Brian Allen is one of the bigger defensive backs on the American team at 6’3, but I wonder if he is a safety or corner. He could capitalize on being a bigger corner with his length and physicality at the line of scrimmage. However, mainly against smaller receivers, will he be able to keep up with speedsters? At safety, Allen could use his coverage skills to cover tight ends, but will he be willing to tackle running backs? Utah used him everywhere in their defense so we will have to wait and see.
Michael Rector has speed and is believed to have run a 4.5 40 or faster. Remember when he housed a jet sweep against USC? He outran Adoree Jackson who is known for his world-class speed. I am interested to see how Bill Muir and the receiver coaches utilize his speed. I think he is better suited as a wideout, but he has a lot of question marks after having little production at Stanford. How good are his routes? How are his hands? Can he use his speed to create separation at the top of his routes? Rector is like Ty Montgomery when he came out of Stanford. He has loads of speed and upside.
Noel Thomas had one of the most prolific seasons at receiver as he racked up 100 catches, 1,179 yards, and three touchdowns. Now close your eyes and imagine him at Oklahoma or even North Carolina. Thomas would probably be a shoe in for getting selected in the 2017 NFL Draft. He has good size and build at 6’1 202 pounds. Thomas will have to separate himself with the pack of receivers with tough catches and winning one on one battles outside.
Ryan Higgins had a DWI incident in 2016 and he paid for it by sitting out the first game. This guy got overlooked in 2014 and 2015 as graduate transfers came in to take his job. Then in Week 2 of the 2016 season, he got his first start since 2013 and he led Louisiana Tech to the C-USA title game. Higgins fought hard in a tough loss to Wales and WKU as he threw for 501 yards and three touchdowns. He threw for 4,619 yards, 41 touchdowns, completed 66.3 percent of his throws, and had a top five passer rating in all of college football. Higgins added nearly 300 rushing yards with three touchdowns. He does not have prototypical size at 6’2 207 pounds, but his accuracy is what will get him drafted. Higgins has to display poise in the pocket and be able to drive the ball down the field on deep throws.
Pita Taumoepenu is undersized for a defensive end or a 3-4 stand up outside linebacker, but guys like Elvis Dumervil and Lorenzo Alexander are just fine in the game of football. He was extremely productive as a Utah Ute as he had 12 tackles for losses, nine sacks, and three forced fumbles. I would like to see what kind of technique he uses when rushing the quarterback. Is he a finesse rusher or bull rusher? I want to see how active he is in the run game. Is he a situational pass rusher? Finally, I want to see how fast he moves on the snap of the ball.
Lance Lenoir is my small school guy to keep an eye on after having three straight 1,000-yard seasons at Western Illinois. He caught 273 passes as a Leatherneck and 28 receiving touchdowns. I want to see how he competes against the guys from bigger schools as most guys form smaller schools typically play with a chip on their shoulder. I think he will turn a few heads as a guy way under the radar.
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