The damp weather couldn't deter nearly 250 prospects from up and down the East Coast from competing at M&T Bank Stadium, the home of the Baltimore Ravens. The last stop on the 2009 Under Armour combine circuit had a strong overall showing despite the dreary weather and lack of premier talent in the Baltimore area and across Maryland.
As usual, the vibe and energy were outstanding throughout the night for the new prototype of football combines, and the competition was intense. Despite gusty winds, there were some very impressive testing marks followed by a circuit of well-coached positional drills that concluded with an ultra-competitive one-on-one and seven-on-seven passing circuit. The combine was very balanced in terms of positional strength, making for great competition and scouting.
Although Maryland may not boast a top national defensive prospect like it did with Under Armour All-American linebacker Jelani Jenkins (Florida) in 2009, one of the region's top 'backers was in attendance.
Furman is off the charts
From a pure measurement standpoint, Josh Furman (Millersville, Md./Old Mill) may have had the single best outing out of any prospect on this year's Under Armour combine tour. He posted a wind-aided 4.39 40-yard dash, a 42 inch vertical jump, a 4.12 short shuttle and a modest broad jump of 9 feet, 8 inches. His 16 reps of 185 pounds were also very impressive and a bit surprising given his longer, rangier frame (6-foot-2, 192 pounds).
While he did look a bit lean, his great wingspan and overall body length suggest continued physical development. We believe he will eventually have a well-developed frame that will tip the scales in the 225-pound range while he'll maintain the great quick-twitch burst and speed we saw Friday night.
In terms of skill set, Furman was a bit less extraordinary. Still, he showed good footwork in mirroring backs in one-on-one passing drills and overall athleticism pursuing and matching up in space. We did feel he looked a bit straight-lined in certain drills and also showed some stiffness and inflexibility at times. He projects best in a heavy-pressure defense in which he can attack vertically -- similar to the one he currently creates havoc in on his high school team.
Furman backed up his evaluation on film. His acceleration, range and overall speed measurables are very impressive, but he still needs a lot of bulk and improved technique to continue racking up tackles-for-a-loss at the next level. While he did tell us some schools are recruiting him at running back, we feel this performance, both the good and bad, justifies our assessment he will end up on the defensive side of the ball in college and develop into a disruptive perimeter defender.
Defensive end Zack McCray (Lynchburg, Va./Brookville) was head and shoulders the best defensive lineman and overall up-front prospect on either side of the ball in Baltimore. A combine setting may not be the best place for this highly graded (79) defensive end with an intense motor to demonstrate his disruptive perimeter ability, but we thought the Virginia native looked the part of a nationally regarded defensive end; he showed flashes of upper-tier skill set and ability.
He measured in at a lean but well-built 6-foot-3, 240-pounds and looks to have the room to add at least 20 more pounds of good muscle to his frame. Our question after this showing is whether he is a better fit for a strongside or weakside end position. His great chase speed and athleticism for his size -- he was very fluid through bag drills -- are coveted in the latter position, but he will need to work on sinking his hips and improving his bend off the edge to develop into a great weakside pass-rusher at the next level. It could start with his stance and get-off, which were high and a bit inconsistent. His hand technique when slapping to keep blockers off his body was less violent than we expected. This is another component of his game that should come with continued physical development and coaching. If employed on the strong side, he will need added bulk and to continue to improve upper-body strength/leverage to anchor the run. McCray displayed all the physical tools to mold into a versatile defensive end at the next level, but he may take a bit more time to develop than we originally expected.
Passing the eyeball test
We did not have a chance to see ESPNU 150 Watch List linebacker Javarie Johnson (Washington, D.C./Dunbar) go through drills and seven-on-seven competition -- he left right after testing for a previous engagement. However, on the hoof, there might not have been a better-looking prospect. Johnson is tall (almost 6-foot-4) with a frame that looks like it was carved out of clay for an outside linebacker. He is long and lean but is also layered with chiseled muscle and looks far thicker than the 210 pounds he weighed in at. This kid could be close to 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds when it's all said and done in college.
His testing marks were fitting to what we have seen on film. He posted a 10-foot, 2-inch broad jump, showing his good lower-body explosion and burst off the line as an edge-rusher, and a 37.5-inch vertical revealed his great athleticism. Big Ten, Big East and ACC programs seem to being showing the most interest -- check out our "Overheard in Baltimore" piece Tuesday, for more info -- but SEC schools are starting to make their way around Dunbar High School for their own eyeball test during the spring evaluation period. What they could be eyeballing is whether Johnson has the size and frame to continue to play end at the next level. After what we saw today, combined with his film evaluation, it doesn't matter. This kid could develop into an end, a disruptive, vertical-attacking outside linebacker in a 4-3 or maybe ideally in a 3-4. While some schools view him as a hybrid tweener (potentially hurting his status), we see a future disruptive perimeter defender with coveted scheme versatility. Johnson could be the next big star to come out of Dunbar.
Stokes: from ATH to QB
It was valuable from an evaluation standpoint to watch Malik Stokes (Philadelphia/Northeast) perform strictly as a passer Friday night. Evaluated as an athlete in our Scouts Inc. database, Stokes, the younger brother of 2009 ESPNU 150 receiver Je'Ron (Michigan), played in a run-oriented offense and attempted only 150 passes last fall in a scheme that did not showcase his athleticism or his underneath passing skills. His knee injury also limited production.
We saw a different side of Stokes on Friday: During seven-on-seven, offenses were run out of the spread, allowing quarterbacks to display their passing skills in the short-to-intermediate range. Stokes did not disappoint. He started off a bit rusty -- showing inconsistent accuracy -- but warmed up quickly, hitting receivers in stride and making sound decisions. His touch was very good. The lean, 6-foot-1 quarterback's zip on the football was above-average underneath, but he will need to refine his short-armed delivery and the hitch that hinders a quick release. He completed a few downfield throws but we do not see pocket-passing arm strength or the requisite size for the next level. Stokes exhibited good footwork, poise and the ability to throw on the run, despite no pass rush. His skills are ideal for a spread offense in which he can create his own throwing lanes and move the ball with his quick feet.
Without a doubt the biggest surprise of the night was from a shorter receiver out of North Carolina. Tehvyn Brantley (Durham, N.C/Mount Zion Christian Academy) tested moderately well, but this kid was a gamer when the lights went on for seven-on-seven competition. Although he checked in at only 5-foot-8, Brantley consistently came down with the big catch amid bigger defensive backs and created great separation on any corner who tried to match up one-on-one in man or off-man coverage. A very explosive receiver with great burst and balance out of his breaks, Brantley also is a savvy, polished route-runner who attacked leverage and burned some of the better corners in attendance with his sharp footwork and body control on the double move.
Marginal size may be deterring some major BCS programs from taking a peek at this kid, but tonight's strong showing could change that in the near future.
The defensive back group was one of the deepest of the night. It was led by two quality prospects, corner Don Hursey (Washington, D.C./Howard D. Woodson) and safety Lamonte Williams (Newport News, Va./Warwick). Although Williams took reps at quarterback and claims he is being recruited as both a defensive back and a signal-caller, the Virginia native appeared more natural taking reps as a safety. He looked a bit bigger on film than what we saw in person (5-foot-10, 171 pounds), but he ran well (4.6 range) and showed his ability to high-point the football with a 37-inch vertical. During brief drills he flashed good range and overall athleticism
Hursey, on the other hand, looked thicker (181 pounds), particularly through his powerful lower body. While he got crossed over and beat a couple of times when locked down in man-to-man, we really like what he brings to the table as a hard, underneath Cover 2 corner. He showed a good understanding of zone concepts in reading the quarterback, seeing high-low routes develop and leveling off. Hursey looked much better playing the ball in front of him in underneath coverage than flipping his hips in man-to-man or mirroring in off-man coverages.
Look to the future
We were hoping to see nationally regarded offensive guard Arie Kouandijo from Maryland power DeMatha High School on Friday, and for a moment we thought we did. When a 6-foot-6, 300-pound lineman with the last name Kouandijo walked onto the stadium turf we were in awe of his colossal size and how well he carried it. We were even more impressed when we found out it was Arie's younger brother Lyras Kouandijo -- who is just a sophomore.
The younger Kouandijo already holds two offers from Maryland and Pitt, and we expect that number to increase dramatically next year. He should at least be one of the region's best in 2011. The young pup played with good balance, leverage and a flat back despite his large frame -- a combination that is the foundation of good offensive line play. He demonstrated very good power, balance and a strong base anchoring the bull-rush and should only get better as he works on his footwork in pass protection, continues to physically develop and gets coordinated with his massive frame, which is well-layered at 300 pounds.
Rising junior cornerbacks Raheem Walker (Norfolk, Va./Maury) and Darryl Jackson (Spencer, N.C./North Rowan) also showed good promise on the night. Both lack great size and explosiveness at this time, but they were fluid in their hip, turns and transitions during passing drills and seven-on-seven competition. Recovery quickness from the two out-of-state prospects also opened our eyes.
At tight end, 2011 prospect Darius Redman (Washington, D.C./Woodson) passed the eyeball test with his tall and well-built 6-foot-2, 225-pound frame. He was a mismatch on linebackers with his height and large catch radius and was able to stretch the seam and come up with a couple of difficult grabs. He needs to work on improving his power and explosiveness off the line as well as his long striding speed (4.9 40), but we thought Redman showed a lot of promise on the night.
Linebacker Chris Jones (Washington, D.C./Coolidge) showed good downhill burst throughout drills and testing Friday. He lacks great height but has a solid, compact frame and closed well on the ball in front of him during seven-on-seven drills.
Other notable performances
In a well-represented linebacker group, Joshua Alaeze (Baltimore/Parkville) did not test particularly well running but posted strong bench press numbers. He looked very thick and durable in person and matched the physical, downhill presence we saw on film. During drills he did a good job staying square to the line of scrimmage and limiting cutback space. He has a few non-BCS offers but could get a sniff from some programs at the major level that are looking for a stout, downhill run-stopper versus two-back, power-running schemes.
Quarterback Jerry Lovelocke (Baltimore/ Edmondson-Westside) looked great on the hoof with his long but well-defined 6-foot-4, nearly 200-pound frame. The Baltimore native passed for more than 2,500 yards and 25 touchdowns last season while leading his team to the second round of the state playoffs. His mechanics are still a bit rigid but his arm looks to be stronger from last fall, with improved touch and deep-ball accuracy. Hi footwork still needs some polish as a projected pocket-passer, but we think this kid has some great tools to mold and develop if a team is patient. No offers now, but a potential late bloomer on the recruiting trail.
Running back Sterling Walton (Cumberland, Va.) did not measure in with great size but this diminutive skill player was one of the quickest and fastest backs (4.38 40) of the night in a not very deep group.
While we feel Ali Scott (Portsmouth, Va./Churchland) will need a year or two in a full-time college strength and conditioning program to develop, transform and distribute some of his massive size, we thought the offensive guard out of Virginia anchored very well versus the bull rush and struck well with his raw upper-body power at times.
Defensive back/athlete Paul Morant (Hampton, Va./Phoebus) looked very smooth and fluid and was part of a strong showing by Phoebus High School on Friday night.
Billy Tucker is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc.