Biggest Boost in Stock…
Jalen Embry – The winner in this category was clear. The Best of Midwest event just may have signaled Embry’s coming out party. Once regarded more as a receiver, The Detroit King standout demonstrated once again his full embrace of the cornerback spot. While we did see him get beat once on the day, it was an example of improper technique as opposed to poor skill. The 5-11, 185-pounder is still learning the nuances of playing off-coverage and got lost when the receiver he was shadowing on the play in question shook him with a sharp move. But that was the exception and far from the rule. In press coverage Embry was outstanding. His superior strength allowed him to consistently stymy receivers at the line of scrimmage. Those that managed to get off the line were often knocked them off their routes. He also could turn and run with every receiver there. Granted it wasn’t the most decorated receiver group, but Embry’s 4.44 forty and 4.12 shuttle suggests he could have kept up with any All-American pass catchers that may have shown up also. Michigan has been among those pursuing him very hard to this point, and don’t be surprise if that pursuit intensifies. Though high on the Wolverines, Embry makes no bones about Miami being his childhood favorite. If the Maize & Blue decides to move on the talented youngster expect them to enlist the help of former Michigan safety, Chuck Winters… who happens to be Embry’s uncle.
Living up to the hype…
For years Cleveland Glenville has boasted outstanding defensive back prospects, and 2014 will be no different. Tarblooder stars Erick Smith and Marshon Lattimore lived up to their four-star rankings with stifling performances. We didn’t see Lattimore in as many reps on the day, but in the few that he did participate in he showed great lateral quickness and an exceptional ability to break on the ball. On one memorable play a receiver lost him on a move to the outside and then cut back across the field. Lattimore quickly recovered, however, and with a burst of speed closed to knock down the pass. Smith, meanwhile, is the bigger more physical of the two prospects. He did his best work when he got his hands on receivers, and at one point pushed one pass catcher off the line of scrimmage and rode him all the way out of bounds. He is considered a safety prospect, but on this day looked like he wouldn’t be totally out of place as a boundary corner. It should come as no surprise that both youngsters grew up Buckeye fans, but they each insist that they aren’t close to making decisions and that Michigan will be among the schools that they’ll. Smith also made mention of his strong relationship with former Glenville star, Willie Henry. The Wolverines face a clear uphill battle in the race for the Glenville duo, but with Henry and Frank Clark in the program, and with Brady Hoke’s strong reputation at the high school, Michigan stands a much better chance of turning the tide than they have in past years.
Starting to garner more Attention…
Nathan Braster – If you haven’t heard this name before, don’t worry not many have. The Ft. Wayne South Side defensive end is just starting to garner high major attention, and if his Best of the Midwest performance is a sign of what’s to come, he’ll work his way up some Big 10 target lists. At about 6-6,230, he showed a nice burst off the edge and was often able to blow right by slew footed linemen in one-on-ones. What he lacks right now is power and alternate pass rush moves. He is obviously on the raw side of his development, but a school willing to take a chance and put in the time may be getting their hands on a pass rusher whose brightest days are ahead.
Tim Cason - Cason’s swagger was obvious. Despite a cancelled bus ride to Indy earlier Monday morning, and his late arrival after impromptu audible by his dad to drive him the five hours to the event, the Clarkston star showed up with his game face on. When the dust settled he was one of the top performers on the day. Cason’s length makes him particularly intriguing. He has loose hips for a longer corner, decent speed, and really good ball skills. He certainly appears capable of manning the position in college, but actually may be a more ideal fit as a rangy safety. On the other hand, some scouts cite his pass-catching skills as his best attribute and believe he may be a better fit at receiver. Either way, his stock is on the rise.
Darryl Long - The big Westerville South tight end is definitely worth of this distinction after turning in a strong performance on the day. The first thing one notices when watching him is based on his sheer size, he looks like he can be a real factor in the run game. Secondly, despite that size he is not one-dimensional. While he isn’t the fastest tight end you’ll see, he speed is good enough to threaten defenses and he does a great job of making plays with the ball in the air. Long showed really good body control and very soft hands, as time after time he found ways to come down with the ball when defenders were right on him. Whether that meant walling off defenders with his big frame or going up high to get the ball, Long consistently made plays.
Guys that just know how to play football…
Dorian Hendrix – The Huber Heights Wayne star doesn’t possess the prototypical height at 6-1, 215 lbs., but that didn’t stop him from being one of the most noticeable players at the event. Hendrix’s excellent quickness aided him in blowing by running backs in pass rushing drills and he was able to stick with running backs in coverage.
Brandon Lee - Simply put… Lee passes the look test. Standing legit 6-3, 210 pounds with outstanding power, he wasn’t thwarted once in pass rushing drills. He bulldozed every running back put in front of him. The question that many scouts have about him concerns his speed. His forty-time wasn’t one that he boasted about, but “Boss man” went out during one-on-ones and showed the he could more than hold his own in pass coverage. Moving forward the key for him will be getting to various campuses this summer to work out in front of many of the coaches pursuing him. The Indianapolis Lawrence Central star plans to do just that in Ann Arbor later in the year.
Darius West - Every time we see this young man he appears to have gotten bigger. West has packed on even more muscle without sacrificing speed. A youngster that at one time thought to be a potential cornerback prospect is being now being recruited by everyone as a safety. His game is done a disservice by padless exhibitions, but by showing that he won’t be a liability in coverage he is proving that he can be imposing presence that can play for a high level BCS program.
Remember these names (2015’s to keep an eye on)…
Jashon Cornell - Another standout prospect from one nation’s preeminent football powers. The St. Paul (MN) Cretin Durham Hall sophomore is a speed rusher right now with good power for his size. But much like Braster, this 6-4, 220-pounder needs to add strength and pass rush moves to his game. He clearly has plenty of time to improve in those areas, will receive excellent coaching, and will undoubtedly be among the highly rated players in his class.
Rob Dowdy - The 6-5, 260-pounder showed good feet and lateral quickness but was susceptible to the bull rush at times. That’s not surprising given his age. The Westerville South star’s upside is clear and Michigan is among the programs keeping watch.
Tyriq Thompson – The Detroit King transfer was one of the best looking prospects in attendance. He looked every bit the 6-2, 210-lbs. he is listed at, if not bigger. And much like his father Clarence, runs extremely well for his size. With two years of football ahead, there is a distinct possibility that he grows out of being a safety and grows into being a ball-hawking linebacker.
For a broader view of the combines top performers, check out the following recaps from Allen Trieu.Best of the Midwest - Defensive Notes
Best of the Midwest - Offensive Notes