The first phase of post-season scouting, the all-star games, is nearly complete.
With the Texas vs. Nation all-star game this week, the Vikings' scouting staff has already gone through the East-West Shrine Game, the NFLPA Bowl and the big daddy of them all – the Senior Bowl.
What players put on film during their college careers will always be most important to NFL scouts, but two big perks exist for the scouting staff at the all-star games. First, it gives them a chance to interview the players in person, ask about troublesome areas on and off the field and get a feeling if the player would be a good fit for that particular locker room. Secondly, the all-star games give the small-school players a chance to prove they belong against legitimate NFL prospects.
Several of the players in Mobile, Ala. last week fit into that category. There were players from Missouri Southern (DT Brandon Williams), Harding (LB Ty Powell), Chadron State (OL Garrett Gilkey) and Southeastern Louisiana (CB Robert Alford), to name a few.
Among them was receiver Aaron Mellette, a 6-foot-4 receiver from Elon in North Carolina. Asked about Mellette and evaluating small-school prospects, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman pointed to a former small-school prospect, Brandon Fusco of Slippery Rock, that the Vikings drafted, developed and turned into a starter after one year in the background.
"(Fusco) was down here and was raw and had only played center in college and all the sudden you've got a chance to see, does he have an opportunity to be a guard as well?" Spielman said. "He's a prime example of a young guy that came down that stacked up physically with these guys, and then that's why our coaches are down here, too: Hey, this guy has the physical ability. We're going to have to work with him. We're going to have to develop him, but he has the physical toolset we're looking for and then we still go through our interview process down here. Is this the type of kid that you want to bring in the building to work with?"
The answer, in Fusco's case, was "yes."
He started the process early, attending IMG Academies in Florida with Christian Ponder and other young players that were among those affected by the lockout during the spring and summer months in 2011. Fusco trained at IMG and also back in Pennsylvania, and then spent his first season with the Vikings making the transition from a small-school center to a big-league guard.
Although Spielman has talked in the past about taking a shine to players who have "been under the bright lights" of major college competition and used to the pressure that accompanies it, he said that wouldn't necessarily prompt him into giving the advantage to a prospect similar in talent who was from a football-factory type of school.
"It depends on where they are stacked up on your board. If there is a smaller school (player) ahead of a big-time program, then you're always going to go with the best player," Spielman said.
"I think as we get to our meetings and everybody discusses things, we're going to take what we think is best for us, regardless if it's a Division III or Division II or Division I player."
This year, it doesn't appear there are many small-school considerations in the first two days of the draft, but, as they did with Fusco, the Vikings could make a move in the later rounds of the draft, hoping to hit on a school-school prospect that can make a contribution in the big leagues.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Spielman: Small-school prospects in play
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