Washington G Matt Fraize only started for one season, but his aggressiveness and raw potential could make him an NFL starter
by Russ Lande, NFL Insider for NFL.com
By now, you've probably studied a mock draft or two and gotten a feel for this year's first round, maybe the second. But have you wondered what prospects might be of interest to the Bucs and the rest of the NFL a little further along on draft weekend? Russ Lande can help.
Lande worked in the Rams' scouting department from 1994-98 and has been a consultant for CBS Sports' The NFL Today show for the past two years. In this analysis column for NFL.com, Lande checks out some lesser-known players who could emerge from the shadows on draft day or as free agents.
R.J. Bowers, FB, Grove City College (PA)
Bowers received a surprising amount of publicity for a Division III player last season when he became college football's all-time leading rusher (7,353 yards) and scorer (562 points). At 27, he's older than most college seniors because he played six years of minor league baseball, including five in the Houston Astros organization.
Despite being primarily a ball carrier at Grove City, Bowers has the athletic ability and toughness to make the conversion to NFL fullback. He'll need a few seasons to develop because he did virtually no blocking in college, but in time he'll develop into a good blocking fullback who can catch passes out of the backfield. He's a smooth and fluid natural athlete who never looks out of control or off-balance and has good hands as a receiver.
Matt Fraize, G, Washington
Linemate Chad Ward received all the accolades before last season, but Fraize outplayed his better-known teammate. He doesn't have Ward's great size, but Fraize is tough and aggressive as a pit bull when he gets his hands on a defensive lineman. He stays after his man and doesn't stop blocking until the whistle has blown.
Fraize wasn't a full-time starter until his senior season, but once he got the opportunity to play regularly, he showed he belonged. Because he didn't play that much in college, he's still raw and needs game experience, but Fraize has the ability to be a quality starter in the NFL eventually.
Scott Harper, T, Marshall
This interesting prospect has very good feet for an offensive lineman, which enables him to slide and shuffle well from side to side to handle quick pass-rush moves. While he has enough flexibility to bend his knees, get low, and block with good leverage, he's raw and relies much more on athleticism and competitiveness than technique.
He has the long arms and competitive spirit to make it, however, and just needs an opportunity to learn and adjust to a higher level of competition. Harper may slip through undrafted because he hasn't gotten much publicity and wasn't on either of the preseason scouting lists NFL teams work off, but he'll end up being a solid starting left tackle in time.
Ryan Helming, QB, Northern Iowa
This dark horse already has made the leap from virtual unknown to a legitimate prospect. Helming has good size plus a strong arm, good technique, and the ability to make any type of throw. He can put mustard on the ball when he has to and accurately throw the deep touch pass.
Despite good athletic ability, he has trouble avoiding sacks consistently, but Helming has the strength and toughness to take some hits and stay in the game. He also identifies defenses well during his pre-snap read and does a good job of adjusting quickly to find his hot receiver and make the accurate throw. The big concern is his habit of making errors when he has pass rushers in his face. Without eliminating these mistakes, he'll have trouble lasting at the next level, but Helming is worth a late-round pick because he has the tools to be a starter in two or three seasons.
Bart Hendricks, QB, Boise State
Hendricks jumps off the game tape with his ability to consistently step up and make something happen when the play starts to break down. Although only 6-feet tall, he has a surprisingly strong arm, a quick release, and strides into his throws consistently. He also has the athletic ability to avoid sacks, buy second chances, and make plays when pressure forces him out of the pocket.
Hendricks is a lesser-known QB who likely will slide low in the draft because of his lack of height, happy feet, and inconsistent passing versus the blitz. However, given time to adjust to the higher level of competition, he eventually could be a solid starting QB who can make big plays with his arm and his legs.
Mathias Nkwenti, T, Temple
This young man really caught the attention of NFL teams after making the switch from defensive to offensive tackle before his senior season. He also has a tremendous physique and looked like a man among boys at the Senior Bowl. Nkwenti is tremendously raw right now and uses virtually no technique. He doesn't move his feet consistently and tends to lean, reach, and grab to make blocks. However, he has the long arms needed to lock up defensive ends and keep them right on the line when he doesn't lean and overextend.
Mathias could be drafted on the first day, but he qualifies as a sleeper because few outside the NFL know much about his strengths and weaknesses. Because he's so raw, he'll need time to learn proper technique before being thrown to the wolves as a starter. If he's forced to play too early in his career, his confidence will be destroyed before he can improve his overall game.
Dennis Norman, C, Princeton
Norman is one of those rare Ivy Leaguers who has a legitimate opportunity to play at the next level. He played tackle at Princeton and some believe he can be a decent backup at that position in the NFL, but his combination of smarts, strength, and natural athleticism should enable him to be a good starting center.
He has thick calves and thighs that enable him to set low, play with leverage, and anchor versus power rushers. He also has good natural athleticism, but lacks the top-level feet to be able to start as a tackle, which is why he's best suited to slide inside.
Kamau Peterson, WR, New Hampshire
This young man grew up in Canada and played club football in high school, which is why he's so raw and undisciplined. However, he's a good all-around athlete with rare jumping ability and fluid athleticism that cannot be taught. Peterson improved every year in college, but still is tremendously raw and will need at least a season or two on the practice squad to have a realistic chance of contributing to an NFL team.
Ricky Ray, QB, Sacramento State
Ray has the size and athleticism you look for in a QB, but considering the level of competition he played against, he has a long road ahead of him. He has the good arm necessary to make all the throws and a smooth and fluid delivery, but Ray needs to improve the consistency of his release and his accuracy.
On the plus side, he does a surprisingly good job of keeping his head up and eyes downfield when he gets flushed from the pocket and has shown the ability to find the downfield receiver. Bottom line: Ray is a talented small-school QB who is unlikely to be drafted but definitely should be signed as a free agent because of his natural ability.
Fearon Wright, LB, Rhode Island
Watching game film of Rhode Island, Wright clearly was their best football player and consistently stood out. This is the type of kid everyone wants to see succeed because he plays tremendously hard on every snap and never quits chasing and hustling after the ball. He's also a good athlete, with the quick feet and balance to adjust very quickly plus the speed to chase down the ball all over the field.
He has the natural flexibility to bend his knees, get low, and explode up into his tackles. He's such a ferocious hitter that he knocked four opposing players unconscious on special teams as a junior. Making the conversion from defensive end to outside linebacker obviously is very difficult and rarely successful, but Wright has the athleticism and work ethic to do it. He'll be best off if he goes to a team that plays a 3-4 defense and uses him as a rush linebacker because his biggest strength at the moment is his ability to rush the passer.