NFP's final look at the East West Shrine Game

After three intense days of practice, the Thursday and Friday practices are not as valuable for evaluation purposes. That is why nearly all the NFL personnel left before Thursday’s practice began. While how the players perform in the actual game on Saturday matters, the practices actually carry more weight with NFL teams. Below is a breakdown of five players who hurt their draft stock the most through this week East West Practices.

1. James Ferentz, C, Iowa (6007, 289 and 5.15 E): A coach’s son, Ferentz has clearly learned well as his use of hands, footwork and overall technique are excellent. However, his limitations are too great for his outstanding technique, great competitiveness and intangibles to overcome. Clearly under-sized at less than 6’1 and 290 pounds, Ferentz cannot hold ground versus “bull” rushers and is unable to get movement on in-line run blocks. To make matters worse, his short arms keep him from being able to jolt pass rusher with punch and from “getting a good fit” which is vital to being able to tie up and control his man. After this week of practice it is obvious that Ferentz does not have much of a playing future in the NFL, but with his smarts, intangibles and background he could turn out to be an excellent coach.

2. Garth Heikkinen, OG / LS, Minnesota-Duluth (6033, 320 and 5.50 E): Although Heikkinen made it look easy dominating defensive tackles at Minnesota-Duluth, it was clear he was over his head this week. While he has the bulk/size that NFL teams look for, he lacks the foot quickness, agility and athleticism to effectively block NFL caliber defensive linemen. During practice he could not adjust well side to side to handle quick change of direction pass rush moves. In addition, when he had to move his feet in order to make and maintain contact, more often than not he bent at the waist, ducked his head and ended up over-extending and losing block. Heikkinen also long snapped during practice, but he really struggled and did not show the snapping ability to warrant consideration as an NFL long snapper.

3. Erik Highsmith, WR, North Carolina (6004, 190 and 4.65 E): A smooth and fluid athlete, Highsmith’s issue is his lack of quickness, burst and playing speed. These limitations hinder his ability to get separation out of cuts on short/intermediate routes and to stretch the field to get separation deep downfield. Although he has good height and long arms, Highsmith is thin framed and lacks the playing strength to consistently fight through a cornerback’s jam to release quickly off the line and to maintain route integrity while cornerback plays physical with him throughout route. Based on his performance this week, I would be surprised if Highsmith gets drafted.

4. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State (6045, 218 and 4.77): Perhaps the player I was singularly most disappointed in this week, Klein will need to shine the rest of the spring for a team to draft him with intentions of trying to develop him as a quarterback. Prior to this week I viewed Klein as an outstanding developmental quarterback prospect because of his combination of good size, athleticism, running ability, toughness, smarts and intangibles. However, throughout the week of practice Klein displayed a slow release with definitive hitch that led to the ball coming out of his hand like a shot-put. When combined with his being late getting rid of the ball, his passes lacking zip and accuracy really had him looking bad throwing the ball. In the end, I do not believe Klein will be drafted before the sixth or seventh round, if he is drafted at all, and will have to spend the 2013 season on a practice squad trying to prove he warrants being developed as a quarterback. However, after this week’s poor passing display leads me to believe his best chance of success in the NFL is as a tight end.

5. Dann O’Neill, OT, Western Michigan (6071, 317 and 5.40): Even though he played primarily right tackle at Western Michigan, O’Neill struggled when asked to play left tackle most of the week. While he definitely has the height and long arms (Nearly 36 inch arms) that NFL teams desire, he blocked straight legged and upright much of the week, which greatly hindered his production. He couldn’t slide out to protect the corner from edge rushers consistently and struggled when asked to re-direct and slide back inside to handle quick pass rush moves back underneath. In addition, O’Neill struggled to sink hips to block with leverage, which allowed “bull rushers” to jolt and drive him backwards and kept him from being able to get movement on in-line run blocks.

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