By Matthew Postins
The Raycom All-Star Game in Montgomery, Ala., was a showcase for mid- to late-round NFL talent for the 2013 Draft, and the Dallas Cowboys most certainly had scouts at the game. In fact they’ll probably make the drive to Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl next weekend. No need to go home.
It sounds like the Raycom All-Star Game will be back next year. But who saw their stock rise this year? Here’s RattleandHum’s analysis of which players shined and might be of interest to the Cowboys.
RB Michael Hill, Missouri Western State: Hill probably got the most out of his late invitation to this game. He rushed for 148 yards on just 12 carries and scored two touchdown as he led the Stripes to a 31-3 win. Hill played for a Division II school, but he was productive his senior year, rushing for 2,168 yards and 16 touchdowns. That earned him notice on three All-America teams. In his career with the Griffons he rushed for nearly 5,000 yards. He’s exactly the type of player who needed an opportunity like this. At 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, there will be durability questions that Hill must answer. Stripes coach Dan Reeves acknowledged that after the game, but said he saw a back that runs with power and explosiveness. If the Cowboys go after a running back, it’s one to compete with their backups, not DeMarco Murray. I could see Hill giving Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner a run, as I don’t expect Felix Jones to be back in 2013.
DB Charlie James, Charleston Southern: The cornerback was named the defensive player of the game. What’s interesting about the selection is that it’s made by the NFL scouts in attendance, so that means James made an impression. James made a bone-rattling hit that broke up a pass, deflected another pass that led to an interception and had 79 return yards, so his special teams ability adds extra value. Here’s the problem if you’re Dallas – he’s only 5-foot-9. The shortest corner I remember Monte Kiffin working with in Tampa was 5-foot-11. Kiffin likes his corners larger and physical. James was certainly physical. The question is whether his talent would trump his height in the Cover 2.
DT Gilbert Pena, Ole Miss: Pena did something that Kiffin values highly in this game – force a turnover. Pena came from behind to knock the ball loose from quarterback Robert Marve to create a turnover. His size – 6-foot-4, 317 pounds – and his skill makes him an interesting prospect as an interior lineman, specifically a run stopper. He has shown a knack for getting behind the line of scrimmage, both at Ole Miss and during junior college days at ASA College. He was a part-time player with the Rebels and he probably projects as such to start with in the NFL. But right now the Cowboys don’t have a young defensive tackle that can match his size. If he can prove during the scouting process that he has the speed to shoot the one-gap – or the run-stopping gap – at the NFL level, the Cowboys, along with other teams that play the Cover 2, will keep an eye on him.
DT Michael Brooks, East Carolina: Speaking of tackles that can shoot the run gap, Brooks had a big play early in this contest when he burst through the line and sacked the quarterback for a 5-yard loss. It was impressive. The quarterback barely had time to turn around before Brooks was on top of him. It was an explosive play that showed off his burst from a three-point stance. Unlike Pena, though, he’s a quicker nose tackle playing at 6-foot-3, 276 pounds. He’s been productive his entire college career, but one thing he hasn’t done is produce a lot of sacks. Given his size he projects as a three-technique, or the pass-rushing tackle, in the Cover 2. It will be interesting to see if the Cowboys show interest, because he has a quick first step and backfield disruption is a large part of what the Cover 2 does.
Players we profiled before the game: Maryland linebacker Kenny Tate had a productive game, netting five tackles and surely some attention from scouts looking for a late-round flier. His size makes him a fit for the Cover 2, but did he answers questions about his speed? … QB Robert Marve had a solid afternoon and showed that his surgically-repaired knees are in good shape. He made some good plays, but also had some ball-protection issues. That second quarter fumble hurt. … Saint Augustine wide receiver Tyron Laughinghouse caught a 22-yard touchdown pass from Marve, a catch that probably put him on the radar of some scouts. He fared well in the return game, and his value is as a player with wide-receiver/special teams combo potential.