By Matthew Postins
The college all-star game season begins on Friday in Tucson, Ariz., at the Casino Del Sol All-Star Game. It’s the start of the next phase in player evaluation for the Dallas Cowboys, which ends Feb. 2 with the Texas vs. the Nation All-Star game in Allen, Texas.
The Dallas Cowboys, like the rest of the NFL, will have scouts at the game.
These all-star games are important for NFL talent evaluators because it’s not just a game. During the week the players go through scouting combine-like evaluations, several practices and team meetings. NFL talent evaluators can interact with players in a more casual environment and learn more about them on a personal level. Character, background and work ethic matter as much as talent nowadays.
For players – especially those that didn’t play Division I – an invitation is a chance to prove they’re worthy of consideration for a NFL roster.
Most of the players in Friday’s game are considered late-round picks or post-draft free agents, but a great performance could give them momentum toward improving their draft stock.
The game will be on ESPN’s family of networks. If you’re a Cowboys fan, here are some players to keep an eye on. Check back with RattleandHumSports.com after the game for a report on whose stock went up and down at the Casino Del Sol All-Star Game.
WR Nick Edwards, Eastern Washington: Edwards played for the FCS National Semifinalists. He finished this season with 37 catches for 436 yards. He was a FCS All-American in 2011 and finished his EWU career with more than 200 receptions and 2,500 yards. He also started all four years after walking on the team. At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, he’s a big target and could offer the Cowboys competition at the No. 3 or No. 4 receiver position.
RB Onterrio McCalebb, Auburn: McCalebb earned an invite last week and is coming off an Auburn career in which he gained 4,566 all-purpose yards. He’s a capable rusher, receiver and kick returner, so he offers value at special teams. He is on the small side, coming in at 5-foot-10, 176 pounds, but his skills and production might make him a late-round steal as a backup. The Cowboys could be looking for help if they lose Felix Jones.
QB Dayne Crist: The talented Crist will get a look from any team looking for a developmental prospect at the position. Crist has the size NFL teams want. He also has talent. But he has to overcome his checkered college career. This is a good chance for him to prove he’s worth a longer look. Crist would be strictly a practice squad pickup for a team like Dallas.
C Tevita Stevens, Utah: He’s the highest-rated center in the game. He’s a four-year starter who is capable of playing both center and guard, and NFL evaluators like versatility out of backup offensive linemen. Stevens, for now, projects as an undrafted free agent. But he has a reputation among talent evaluators as a physical, knock-back blocker who is above-average in tight spaces. Both Cowboys centers – Phil Costa and Ryan Cook – battled injuries in 2012.
OT Austin Holtz, Ball State: The 6-foot-5, 300-pound All-MAC performer was the chief blind side protector for the Cardinals the past three seasons. He anchored a line that ranked eighth in fewest sacks allowed in 2012 and helped quarterback Keith Wenning become the first quarterback in BSU history to throw for 7,000 career yards. Based on 2012, the Cowboys should put an emphasis on the offensive line, especially after giving up 36 sacks.
OG Chris Jacobson, Pittsburgh: The Cowboys need some road-grading guards and Jacobson is a prospect that could be had in the last round of the draft. Jacobson is a sixth-year senior who is near 300 pounds and opened up holes for running back Ray Graham in 2012. Scouts like his toughness. The problem is that Jacobson has suffered two season-ending injuries in his college career. The Cowboys had one of the worst run games in the NFL in 2012.
DT JaMarkus McFarland, Oklahoma: McFarland was a late addition to this game. It doesn’t matter if the Cowboys stay with the 3-4 or move to the 4-3. They need to address the defensive line in the draft. McFarland projects as a quick tackle who can stop the run and rush the passer. He finished 2012 with three sacks and six tackles for loss. He’s also a good value right now, projected as a seventh-round pick.
DE Cordian Hagans, Louisiana-Lafayette: He played end for the Ragin’ Cajuns. At 280 pounds, he could play either end or tackle in a 3-4. He’s adept at getting into the backfield, as he finished last season with 8.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. He was a two-year starter and improved markedly from his junior year.
OLB Terence Garvin, West Virginia: Again, this will depend on which way the Cowboys go at defensive coordinator. But Garvin, at 6-foot-2, 222 pounds, projects as a weak-side linebacker or a safety. He made plays in pass coverage, which is helpful at either position. He’s considered a good open-field tackler. His versatility makes him intriguing.
ILB Mike Gilliard, Georgia: Many NFL teams value experience at big-time conferences, even if the players weren’t necessarily “big-time” names. Gilliard falls in this category. He’s 6-foot-2, 230 pounds and has made real strides his last two years with the Bulldogs. He’s going to be overshadowed by Jarvis Jones, but Gilliard could be a quality player to claim late in the draft or as a free agent.
CB Moe Lee, Utah: If the Cowboys lose Mike Jenkins they’ll be looking for depth. Lee is a 6-foot-1 corner with 4.4 speed who led the Utes in pass breakups in 2012. He’s a converted wide receiver who put up big numbers catching passes at Palomar College as a freshman, so he has playmaking ability.
S Dexter McCoil, Tulsa: The highest-rated safety in this game, McCoil projects as a free safety in the NFL. He was a Thorpe Award semifinalist, led the Golden Hurricane with four interceptions, nine pass breakups and was second in tackles with 85. He’s a playmaker at a position where the Cowboys could certainly use one, as the secondary produced just six interceptions.