Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Former NFL GM impressed with UConn prospects

                                                                                                                          (Associated Press photo)
Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Sio Moore could be taken in second round in the upcoming NFL draft

I reached out to Senior Bowl Executive Director Phil Savage, the former general manager of the Cleveland Browns for a couple of NFL Draft preview stories I am working on and I thought I would share some of his thoughts on the UConn players expected to be taken in the NFL draft.

Savage got to see cornerbacks Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson and linebacker Sio Moore as they all played in the Senior Bowl. Defensive end Trevardo Williams was also selected to play in the Senior Bowl before an ankle injury sidelined him but Savage was at the NFL scouting combine so he was able to see Williams put on an impressive show there.

"I was impressed with UConn’s prospects with those two (Gratz and Wreh-Wilson) and then Sio Moore who was a late add to our game and Trevardo Williams fits and he draws interest from teams who runs a 3-4 and the kid from Mobile Jory Johnson who actually played (in the Raycom Classic) who will probably end up being a free agent or a late-round pick at most. They are a good team to watch because they play a pro-style system under Paul (Pasqualoni). Most teams have one defensive back in the whole group that is a possibility of being drafted and they are going to have two corners and maybe even three linebackers too.

                                                                                          (Associated Press photo)
Dwayne Gratz, seen during the NFL combine, is one of four former UConn
players who could be taken in the first four rounds in the NFL draft.
"I thought Sio really elevated himself. He was a late addition to the game. He came in, was vocal, played with a lot of energy and really showed up in the game itself. He filled up the stat line. There were times when the tape of the season doesn’t match up with what we saw at the Senior Bowl practices and in the game. The positive is he definitely has the capability and I think he can fit in either scheme. I think he is scheme friendly as a 4-3 Mike (middle linebacker) or Will (weakside linebacker) or in a 3-4. I personally don’t see him as a pass rusher. I think he is a better blitzer than rusher but he will play on special teams and I think he is a good worthwhile prospect and I would venture to guess somewhere in the third or fourth round area as well based on what he did at the Senior Bowl and he had a good combine too, he tested well there. The tapes didn’t always reveal the ability he had but at the combine he stood out.

"He is 240 so he is big enough to play inside the box, he has enough quickness to blitz, he uses his hands well and he seems to have a nose for the ball. He has a knack for showing up around the ball and I think he drew quite a bit of attention this spring."

Williams was only able to go through one day's worth of drills before his ankle injury sidelined him. Ironically, Moore was brought in to take his spot on the roster.

"Unfortunately for him, he came in and had a little bit of a bum ankle before he got here and was only able to practice one day," Savage said. "I did watch a bit of tape on him during the season. He plays defensive end there and I think he projects well as a 3-4 outside linebacker. I don’t think he can be a full time defensive end in the NFL, he is not big enough but as a 3-4 outside backer he’s got some good qualities. He has good acceleration, good first step off the edge, he plays hard especially when he gets a whiff of the quarterback he seems to be able to finish the deal. I am not sure how he has worked out this offseason. I wasn’t privy to how his workouts went in terms of position drills went as an on his feet linebacker but based on his pass rush skill and the fact that he does look like he moves around pretty well I would think that he is going to be a mid-round guy for somebody looking for a 3-4 outside backer that might be a good developmental candidate."

Savage sees Wreh-Wilson as the better prospect among the two UConn corners although he is impressed with Gratz as well.

"I think with Blidi he has height, he has long arms, I think he is a good athlete but I think at times he can get a little leggy in terms of his change of direction. He is going to be attractive to those teams looking for the taller corner with long arms. My impression of him based on conversations with scouts in the league is that he is somewhere in the second or third round area. I know in some of the mock drafts, at least early on, they were putting him in the first round but I don’t think he is going to go in the first round. I think he is more of a second-round corner that will play on the outside. I don’t think he is necessarily a nickel or slot corner, I think he is more of an outside, cover 2 zone style corner.

"Dwayne Gratz he is physically built, he has some explosiveness in his body. For a vertical standpoint, he is a little tight in terms of the change of direction stuff. The good news is he is big enough and physical enough of being a safety if it doesn’t turn out at corner. I think he is another prospect who fits a bigger corner who plays predominantly cover two. He is a willing run supporter. He is a good prospect. I think he is rated a little lower than Blidi based on the conversations I’ve had and based what he did in the Senior Bowl game because he is a little tighter athletically. I think he is probably a third or fourth round."

Finally, I asked him about Meriden's John Jenkins, a defensive tackle out of Georgia, who could very well be the top Connecticut native taken in the draft.

"I like John," Savage said. "I went during training camp in August and watched all of their practice reps and pass rush because Georgia would take him out when it was a passing situation his junior year and even a lot his senior year. He was kind of an early down run defender and when I watched those practice videos, the one on ones in the pass rush and based on what he did at the Senior Bowl in the pass rush drill, I think he has a chance and I think he offers more than maybe what he has gotten credit for by some of the scouts. An obvious comparison is Terrence Cody who played at Alabama and ended up in the second round to the Ravens (with the 57th pick in the 2010 draft). I do the broadcasts for Alabama and I know Cody well but personally I like John Jenkins more. I think he is a better athlete, I think he has a better body. I think he gives you more potential in pass rush. I think he will go a little earlier than that (57th pick). I will be disappointed if he doesn’t. He is an ideal 3-4 nose candidate."

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