NFL Draft talk is in full swing, and with it comes the constant and often contradictory chatter about player after player. It can get exhausting as each player is systematically made to look like a Hall of Famer, then later a practice squad player at best, and the cycle starts over again. It can even be argued that many times, these showcase games do not show off the best players – many scouts are higher on early-entry juniors, and sometimes the superstars the scouts want to see will not risk injury or hurting their draft status. The players who want to prove their worth come to these games to show real NFL coaches what they're all about.
This year, six Buckeyes were invited to participate in collegiate all-star games. You can view the list here.
So far, so "meh" for our former scarlet and gray denizens. Orhian Johnson has received possibly the best reviews of any former Buckeye, but has also been playing at the least-heralded collegiate all-star game, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.
Few NFL scouts were in attendance, as the bowl game is not made up of the best draft prospects. There was some name recognition, however, as QB Dayne Crist (Kansas via Notre Dame), S Ray Ray Armstrong (Miami) and RB Sam McGuffie (Rice via Michigan via internet videos) were amongst the more notable players present. Johnson was viewed by many scouts as the best defensive back on the National team. Mostly, he was able to keep all the other DB's in the position to make plays. He showed the kind of veteran leadership that was on display at Ohio State, and for that, he was highly regarded by Herman Edwards and the other coaches at the event. Johnson also showed some athleticism and was able to make tackles for loss, and that has some NFL scouts thinking he could be worth a flyer pick in the later rounds after all.
At the East-West Shrine games, the reviews for both Travis Howard and Nathan Williams have been decidedly cool. Howard measured out at precisely 6 feet, and according to a profile created for him by former Cleveland Browns GM Phil Savage, grades out better as a "zone" corner than a "man" corner. Howard displayed ability to defend short routes, but was beaten on double moves by athletic receivers. He also did not display elite speed, but did show off some ball skills as he made plays on short throws and was able to grab an interception at Wednesday's practice. Howard, according to Savage, shows "more quickness than expected" and can be a starter. However, he did little to improve his 3rd-day grade at the event, as he did not stand out as either having a good or bad week.
Neither did Nathan Williams, who was working at linebacker all week and as one scout said struggled all week in coverage. Williams is a classic "tweener" who looks the part but is still working his way back into playing shape and is most likely to be a 2nd or 3rd day pick.
The Buckeyes struggling the most are the ones at the Senior Bowl. Unfortunately, both tackle Reid Fragel and defensive lineman (working at linebacker) John Simon pulled out of the game with injuries. Fragel's injury was sustained while training before the showcase, while Simon's was a carryover from the season which got worse the more he practiced at linebacker. Unfortunately, Simon was struggling in coverage as a linebacker anyway, which may make teams think twice about drafting him. He is undersized, but his best position is at defensive end. It looks like Simon may be treated as another "tweener" unless he packs on some pounds. Playing him at linebacker was, frankly, a waste of time for the Senior Bowl coaches, but at least NFL scouts know not to put him there. Simon showed what he couldn't be, and Fragel showed nothing. Both look like 2nd or 3rd day picks at this point.
After this past week, we cannot be too sanguine on the NFL prospects of this year's senior class, although Travis Howard and Reid Fragel certainly appear like they could be future players down the road. But between now and April, plenty of things can happen, and we'll see if any of these guys get healthier or impress some coaches either at the scouting combine or at Ohio State's Pro Day, coming up sometime in March. Remember when Nate Ebner was just another graduating senior?