The NFLPA Collegiate Bowl continued gaining traction and showcasing mid-late round NFL Draft talent Jan. 19 at the Rose Bowl.
This year’s 10-7 National victory over the American squad attracted 112 college football seniors from around the country for the West Coast’s premiere NFL Draft all-star game in sunny Pasadena, Calif.
Here’s what we learned from this year’s edition of the annual collegiate all-star showcase.
The American team can beat the National Team
Yes, the American Team defeated the National team for the first time ever.
Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano led the National team to their win in the eighth installment of the All-Star game.
“It meant a lot to these kids and it meant a lot to our staff.” Pagano said after the victory.
Special Teams Matters
Special teams ended up being the difference in the defensive battle. Both teams had missed field goals in the first half. Marcus Jones missed one from 27 yards out in the first quarter for the American squad.
Notre Dame career-leading scorer and National team kicker Jusin Yoon also missed two field goals in the first half including a 44-yarder in the first and a 60 yard field goal that was returned at the end of the half. Yoon was converting everything in practice and warm-ups but he also missed a 36-yarder in the third quarter that would have given his team the advantage.
Ultimately, it was former Wisconsin kicker Rafael Galianone’s 43-yard field goal at the end of the third that ended up being the difference in the score for the American team.
Playing QB is Hard
The NFL always needs QBs and this year’s less than stellar class will certainly have teams looking for diamonds in the rough including some of the NFLPA Bowl’s participants.
Former Washington QB Jake Browning was one of the more prolific names on either roster considering he helped the Huskies reach a CFB Playoff as a sophomore and the Rose Bowl as a senior. Browning finished 9-for-17 and threw two interceptions.
Despite the stat line, he helped the National team rally until the final seconds. He came up short but Browning did show good anticipation and arm strength. The Washington product’s accuracy might have been better if his receivers didn’t drop some balls too.
Otherwise, the rest of the group wasn’t too impressive. Former Vanderbilt QB Kyle Shurmur, son of current Giants head coach, was the next best passer with 10 completions on 19 throws. However, he didn’t throw a touchdown and did register an interception.
Jalan McClendon showcased his skills as a runner by leading the American team in rushing with 38 yards. Otherwise, Rhode Island QB JaJuan Lawson threw the only touchdown pass of the game which was an impressive dime in the corner of the end zone to Colorado receiver Juwann Winfree.
For the National Team, Brent Stockstill out of Middle Tennessee also showed out late. However, his 5-for-13 stat line doesn’t jump out.
Otherwise, the broadcast booth and Twitter-verse both wanted more of Bowie St. QB Amir Hall with the National squad. Hall only threw the ball once and he mostly handed the ball of when he was in.
We’ll see if any of these guys outside of Browning make an NFL roster
Defenders Stand Out
Of course, some of the struggles at QB can be attributed to the good play on defense.
The National team’s front seven jumped out. Randy Ramsey out of Arkansas was all over the field. He’s a little undersized and wasn’t super productive in college but he had some people buzzing over practice, according to the game’s broadcast booth. Ramsey showcased his speed on one play where he made the opposing tackle completely open up and then moved inside to finish the QB and create a fumble.
National edges Obinna Ieoma and Daniels Kahzin seemed like they were always the first off the ball and creating pressure when they were in. Aj Hotchkins out of UTEP and Quincy Williams (older brother of Quinnen Williams) also made a few plays sniffing out the ball for the Nationals. Darius Harris out of Middle Tennessee also lead all defenders with 12 total tackles in the game.
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Otherwise, Anree Saint-Armour made showcased an awesome counter spin-move inside that resulted in a forced fumble and recovery for the National team.
Pagano also shouted out some DBs from his American Team including Michigan corner Brandon Watson and North Texas corner Nate Brooks. Watson finished with seven tackles and Pagano said he did a good job. Brooks on the other hand, got an impressive interception and return which led Pagano to cite him as a prospect who looked like an NFL player in the post-game press conference.
Ultimately, we’ll probably see more players from the defensive side of both rosters making impacts on Sundays.
Wes Hills is rising
Speaking of great players, Slippery Rock RB Wes Hills had by-far the best individual offensive performance which earned him MVP honors in a losing effort. Hills 78 rushing yards and a touchdown on ten carries.
The former Delaware running back who ended up transferring due to what he called a bump in the road used this week to play himself into the Senior Bowl.
“You dream about calls like that,” Hills said about getting called for the Senior Bowl. “I dreamed about playing in games like this.”
In this game, he showcased his patience, vision and slipperiness in some of the Collegiate Bowl’s best highlights.
After earning NFLPA Bowl MVP honors, Hills said gained confidence in his abilities and has a head of steam headed to the Senior Bowl. The Slippery Rock RB plans to keep grinding, being patient and letting the game come to him when he heads to Mobile, Alabama.
The coaching was great all week
Hills other highlights from the game included the coaching. The NFLPA Collegiate Bowl seperates itself from other college All-Star games by inviting current players like Richard Sherman and Lamar Jackson to share insights.
However, Hills talked about learning a ton from his actual coaches including Clinton Portis and Josh Cribbs. He listed having Portis as a coach as a highlight of his week and described playing as him in Madden as a kid.
Other notable NFL players on the National coaching staff include head coach Mike Tice, tight end coach Alge Crumpler and way more.
The National side featured NFL legends like Ed Reed, Andre Johnson and Ricky Manning Jr. Reed dominated the FS1 TV broadcast with his colorful reactions and excitement throughout the game.
Rams Hall of Famer Jackie Slater also coached the National team’s offensive line.
Slater said he continues coaching in this specific bowl because it gives him a great chance to interact with a lot of young people. He enjoys sharing some NFL insights with his players including how to play aggressive, when to work hard and how to pace yourself.
You could see the players’ respect and admiration for their coaches just by the amount of pictures they all took with their position coaches when the results were finalized.
Everyone is trying to make it
Moreover, Slater cited Youngstown State center Vitas Hrynkiewicz as a player who jumped out at him because of his ability to play all three interior line positions.
Hrynkiewicz is trying to gain attention from NFL front offices just like everyone who plays or coaches in the Collegiate Bowl.
Other notables include a couple of local standouts. Former USC RB Aca’ Cedric Ware ran with a pep in a step that didn’t necessarily translate to the box score. UAB receiver Xavier Ubosi also looked good with a nice 19-yard grab.
Ubosi played high school football in Reseda and Junior College at Pierce, both in L.A. His family and friends came out strong for support. Ubosi has the speed and size to play in the NFL but even he admitted that he is raw and needs to work on blocking and route running.
Many of the players at the Rose Bowl still have a lot to work on as they prepare for the NFL Draft. Regardless, they will hope they can join NFL players like Bears running back Tarik Cohen, Lions tight end Luke Wilson and Seahawks defensive back Shaquill Griffin as notable NFLPA Collegiate Bowl alumni.
At the very least, they’ll hope to earn enough attention to make a roster. Last year’s edition resulted in 19 players drafted, 30 free agent signings, 24 players on active rosters and 20 players on practice squad.
Thus, the stage is set for prospects to build on the coaching and lessons over the next few months before April’s NFL Draft.