When the University of California — where his brother starred — failed to mount a recruiting effort, the youngster, boasting a 4.4 grade-point average, took his "field smarts" to the University of Minnesota. While the coaches were impressed with their recruit's exceptional athleticism, they could not find a role to have a guy who sometimes played like his "hair was on fire" settle into.
Vereen would end up playing every position in the secondary during his career, while also making a name for himself as an aggressive gunner for the special team units. Through 47 games as a Gopher, he would start 36 times. That would include four starting assignments as a left cornerback during his true freshman season. Vereen went on to start all 12 games at right cornerback the following year, and was again on the move, shifting inside to strong safety as a junior. The 2012 season would see him start seven games at the interior position, as he was hampered by a season-long knee injury that lingered well into 2013 spring camp. As a senior, Vereen would garner all-Big Ten Conference honors after taking over free safety chores.
Vereen comes from a sports-oriented family. Shane Vereen ranks seventh in Cal history with 556 carries for 2,834 yards, scoring a total of 35 touchdowns before joining New England in 2011. Their mother, Venita, was a member of the tennis team at Nevada-Las Vegas, where she met their father, Henry, who lettered as a receiver and tailback for the Rebels (1975-78) before being selected in the ninth round of the 1979 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Bucs.
Vereen suffered another knee injury during 2013 fall camp, but was fully recovered by the season opener, going on to have a banner final season to earn all-Big Ten Conference first-team recognition. In 13 starting assignments at free safety, he delivered 59 tackles (41 solos), picking off one pass (fourth of his career) and deflecting six others. That performance would earn the Gopher an invitation to play in the 2014 East-West Shrine Game.
That invitation followed another — an opportunity to show off his athleticism at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, where it would be an understatement to say that he opened quite a few eyes with his excellent performance. In the weight room, he performed 25 repetitions in the 225-pound bench press, the best for any safety or cornerback at the 2014 event, along with ranking seventh for all safeties to attend a Combine in the last 10 years.
In the speed drills, Vereen clocked 4.47 seconds in the 40-yard dash, the second-fastest time for a safety in 2014 in Indianapolis. He then turned in a 4.07 run in the 20-yard shuttle, which also placed second among the 2014 Combine safeties, the same place where he finished in the three-cone drill (6.90 seconds).
University of Minnesota Gophers
Vereen has a linear, developing frame with good overall muscle definition, thick hamstrings and good bubble. He has room on his frame for additional bulk, possessing low body fat, defined chest and arms, tight waist and hips and developing calves. He also has broad shoulders and adequate arm length (30-inches, with a 73 1/2-inch wing-span). However he has disproportioned and smallish hands (right hand measures 7 1/2-inches and left in 8 1/2).
Vereen shows the range needed to cover the entire field. He is especially effective at coming up to the line of scrimmage and delivering crunching hits in run support. He plays with very good leverage and shows the strength to deliver pop on contact. He has very good balance on the move, making smooth body adjustments in space. He runs with a normal stride and shows agility and body control closing on the ball. He has the plant-and-drive agility to redirect and accelerate. He plays faster than his timed speed (4.47 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and delivers solid open-field tackles, staying at a proper pad level to wrap and secure. He builds to top speed and shows the acceleration to stay with tight ends and backs working the short and intermediate areas. He has a sudden burst coming out of his backpedal, and does a nice job using his hands effectively to mirror the receiver, taking good angles to shorten the field. He has the agility to slip past and avoid blocks in pursuit, showing the hip flexibility needed to generate a quick twitch working in the short area. He maintains balance in transition and redirects quick to close on the ball in backside pursuit. He has very good strength, along with a frame that has room to add more bulk (can carry at least another 15 pounds without impacting his quickness.
Vereen shows good field awareness, quickly recognizing blocking schemes. He is smart enough to call assignments and is like a coach on the field, knowing everyone's assignments and getting his teammates lined up properly (likely because he has started at all four secondary positions for the Gophers). He has excellent ball-reaction skills and knows how to time his leaps to get to the thrown pass at its highest point (see 2013 Iowa, Nebraska and Indiana games). He makes good body adjustments on the move and is quick to sniff out the run when working inside the box. He does well in the classroom and has earned academic honors. His field smarts and instincts allow him to shorten the field by taking proper angles to the ball. He sees things quickly, especially in the running game. He is not the type that will bite on play action or misdirection and is rarely caught out of position. He has no problems retaining plays and had a very impressive Wonderlic test score.
Vereen is an aggressive tackler with little regard for his body. He will not hesitate to mix it up in the trenches and plays on all special teams. He shows great effort getting downfield to break up the wedge and is not timid, relishing the contact when making plays vs. the run. He does a good job of keeping the action in front of him and comes up quick to fill the rush lanes. He is a highly productive player because he always seems to be in position to make the play (see 2013 UNLV, New Mexico State and Iowa games). Simply put, this kid plays with passion and shows very good urgency trying to get to the ball. He puts in the extra hours in the film room studying the upcoming opponent and is not the type that needs to be pushed in the training room. He has a solid blue-collar work ethic and is a leader by example, not needing to be a rah-rah type or talk trash on the field. He might need to add more bulk to play strong safety at the next level, but has very good strength (bench pressed 225 pounds 25 times at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine) and rock-solid upper-body tone. Still, he does everything the coaches ask and has been a respected team leader and starter throughout his career.
Key and Diagnostic Skills
Vereen has very good ability to sniff out the play and attack the ball. He is not the type that will be fooled by play action and shows urgency stepping into the box to fill the rush lanes. He reacts to the thrown pass well, doing a good job of keeping track of the ball in flight. He sees the field well and is especially effective at providing run force. He has the field smarts to react in an instant after making his initial run or pass read and few safeties in this draft are as quick to diagnose the pass play, whether aligned in man or zone coverage (does a great job reading routes). It is very rare to see him caught out of position and, while he lacks natural hands for the interception, he has textbook-like timing going up to compete for jump balls, but because of marginal hands, most of those opportunities result in deflections, rather than pass thefts.
Man Coverage Ability
Vereen knows how to maintain relationship with the tight ends and slot backs in the short and intermediate area, and thanks to his experience in man coverage as a cornerback earlier in his career, he has greatly improved his turning ability coming out of his backpedal. He looks fluid and loose in his hips when attempting to redirect and shows good acceleration when making plays in front of him. He has the hand usage and technique to press, which helps him stall the receiver's route progression. His impressive speed lets him easily plant and burst, but he also has a good concept for taking good angles to shorten the field. When asked to line up on the slot receiver, he stays tight on the opponent's hip. He shows above-average hip flexibility (his 4.07-second clocking in the 20-yard shuttle and 6.90-second three cone drill were both second-best among all safeties attending the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine) and timed speed to be effective covering on deep routes. He has good feet to adjust on the move, but appears best when playing the zone rather than in isolated situations.
Zone Coverage Ability
This is one of his better assets. Vereen shows outstanding route awareness and is rarely caught out of position. He looks very comfortable attacking the ball and has the ability to adjust and make plays on the move (see 2013 Nevada-Las Vegas, New Mexico State and Iowa games). He has an excellent feel for the routes and does a good job when he is the deepest player on the field. He has a good feel for handling the switch-off and takes good angles to shorten the field in his zone assignments. He has the acceleration to cover ground when a receiver gobbles up his cushion and does a very nice job of putting himself in position to make plays on the ball, as it is very rare to see him misdiagnose routes.
Vereen shows ease-of-movement in his backpedal, and rarely ever takes false steps when he has to redirect. He has worked hard to improve his plant-and-drive agility, and has also made steady improvement in opening his hips in attempts to change direction. He is very explosive coming out of his breaks and is fluid enough to take the short route to the receiver while staying on their hip in the short area. While he does explode out of his breaks, he also remains in control and has a fluid stride to cover ground going long distances. He keeps his pad level low throughout his backpedal, and looks smooth when transitioning deep or coming back up on short routes.
Ball Reaction Skills
Vereen gets an excellent jump on the ball. He just lacks natural hands for the interception, but does show tremendous fire in his belly competing for the jump balls (see 2013 New Mexico State, Iowa, Northwestern and Indiana games). He is quick to anticipate the quarterback's arm motion, which allows him to get into position to make the play (see 2013 Iowa, UNLV and Penn State games). He takes good angles to shorten the field and attack the ball, staying low in his pads to deliver forceful hits on the move. He has very good vision for tracking the ball in flight. He closes on the play with good urgency and has the speed to go long distances. He does a very good job of stepping in front of the ball and has the leg drive to break tackles on the rare occasions he secures the interception.
Vereen has an explosive burst to close, along with the ability to take proper angles and build to top acceleration, making him very effective delivering tackles along the sidelines (see 2013 UNLV and Iowa games). With his above-average timed speed, he has the ability to cover ground when the ball is in the air (carries his equipment well). He is the type that can generate explosion to close and his stride allows him to build his acceleration quickly. He gets a good jump on the ball once he sees the play develop and is very good at getting into the receiver's route progression to disrupt his opponent on deep patterns. He covers ground in a hurry, and excels at keeping plays in front of him (on more than one occasion, he's had to race from deep in the zone to the line of scrimmage to make the play vs. the run — see 2013 UNLV, New Mexico State, Northwestern and Penn State games).
Vereen is good at timing his leaps, but lacks the natural hands to be much more than a pass deflector on jump-ball situations. He does a very good job of tracking the ball over his shoulders and is quick to get his head turned around on the move. He just does not show natural hands for the interception, even though he has the athletic ability to adjust to the ball at its high point. When he sees the ball released by the quarterback, he is usually smart enough to get into position to make the play (see 2013 New Mexico State, Iowa, Nebraska and Indiana games). The thing you always see on film is that he shows good aggression competing for the ball.
This is his worst area, as Vereen will never be regarded as a natural hands catcher. He does a good job of extending for the ball, but when trying to pluck the pigskin away from the body's frame, more often than not, the pass will end up being deflected rather than picked off. He zones in on the pass once it is thrown and will do whatever he needs to attack the pass and prevent the reception, but do not expect him to come up with the ball. He might be the fastest man coverage defender the Gophers have had in years and he knows how to strike with forceful hand usage, knowing how to reroute tight ends and slot receivers when jamming them at the line. He also uses his hands effectively to ward off blocks aimed for his legs when working through trash. His lack of interceptions might be a possible result of smallish and disproportioned hands, though.
Vereen is a strong player, especially one for his size, as he led all defensive backs (corners and safeties) at the Combine with 25 lifts in the 225-pound bench press, a figure that ranks seventh for all defensive backs that participated in a Combine since 2004. He knows how to slip past and avoid blocks on the move, but also has the hand punch to shock and jolt a lethargic big blocker. He is quick to come up and fill the gaps and stays low in his pads to prevent the lead blocker from blowing him off the ball. He is best when working in the box, as his ball anticipation skills and instincts make it very hard to fool him on draw plays or misdirection plays. Simply, he plays smart. Once he is able to locate the ball working through trash, he is quick to close. He comes up to hit with urgency and is not the type you will see playing along the fringes much. Anyone that says this kid is reluctant to fill needs to only sit back and watch 2013 UNLV, New Mexico State, Northwestern and Penn State film. He does have above-average strength and knows how to use it to take on blocks and knock the receivers down.
Vereen has the ability to be an effective wrap-up tackler, but the coaching staff seems to preach taking a low side in their approach, which does not suit his talents well. This causes him to occasionally lunge and slip off tackles. He has enough strength to thump on contact and will throw his body at the ball-carrier. He used to duck his head a bit when driving into the receiver (when he played cornerback), but is best when allowed to make plays in front of him rather than taking a side. When he can keep the action in front, he is a reliable tackler who can explode into the opponent, and it is rare to see him fall off those hits.
Devin McCourty-New England: Like McCourty, Vereen is a versatile pass defender who can fill a variety of positional needs in the secondary. He has above-average speed and is as strong as an ox, but lacks natural hands to be an efficient pass thief like the Patriots' defender. Vereen is a very intelligent athlete with excellent size and range. He is especially effective defending vs. the run and shows very good timing battling in jump-ball situations. He is an instinctive player with the feet and desire to make the plays. He scans the field and reacts quickly to the ball. Vereen has also excelled in the classroom, boasting a 4.0 grade point average.
Dave-Te' Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft.