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Breshad Perriman and Beyond: Small-Program Stars Poised to Make Pro Day Noise

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterMarch 26, 2015

Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today

Pro days are a great way for small-school sleepers to impress NFL scouts and evaluators one last time before draft season enters its endless final stretch. 

Just ask Breshad Perriman. The Central Florida receiver ran three 40-yard dashes Wednesday afternoon that were unofficially timed between 4.27 seconds and the half-life of boron-7. Perriman went from mid-major standout with a semi-famous father to Twitter-trending mega-prospect almost instantly.

A handful of football factories (including LSU and the big Florida programs) host pro days through the first days of April. But this week belongs to the mid-majors and top FCS programs. So if you are the son of a run 'n' shoot legend, a three-time NCAA champion (at a lower competition level) or Marcus Mariota's forgotten foil from yesteryear, this week is your chance to pull a Perriman.

So let's shine the scouting spotlight on Perriman and three other small-program stars whose pro days are scheduled for the end of the week. If any of the other prospects approach the speed of light in the 40-yard dash or throw a football through a practice-facility wall, remember that you heard about them here first.

Breshad Perriman, Wide Receiver, Central Florida (Pro Day March 25)

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
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Who Is He?

He's Brett Perriman's son, and the man of the hour in draftnik circles.

Brett Perriman was a Smurf-sized 5'9" star receiver for the Lions in the run 'n' shoot era. The elder Perriman caught 525 passes in 10 NFL seasons and caught 108 passes in 1995, when 100-catch seasons were still unusual.

His father wanted Breshad to follow in his footsteps at the University of Miami. He chose Central Florida instead and caught 39 passes as a sophomore (with Blake Bortles at quarterback) in 2013. He then led the Knights with 50 catches for 1,044 yards last season with Justin Holman pulling the trigger at QB.

Breshad Perriman at UCF
YearCatchesYardsTDs
2014501,0449
2013398114
2012263883
cfbstats.com

A hamstring injury kept Perriman out of combine workouts, but he measured in at 6'2" and 212 pounds. Even if time-keeping anomalies take some of the air out of 40-yard dashes that were reported as low as 4.22 seconds, Perriman went from "Day 2 prospect" to "guy to reevaluate" in well under five seconds Wednesday afternoon.

While Hail Mary catches don't make great scouting tools, Perriman was probably most famous for the catch against East Carolina shown here, at least before he ruptured the space-time continuum.

What to Like

Perriman is big, strong, fast and knows what he is doing. He ran a full route tree at Central Florida, with lots of posts, slants, comebacks and drags over the middle. He is not the "screens and bombs only" type of receiver that has become common at the college level.

Perriman has shown that he will make contested catches in traffic and in the middle of the field. He caught 18 third-down passes last season, 14 of them for first downs and eight for gains of more than 15 yards. Tape study confirms that he can be a chain-mover on shorter routes.

John Raoux/Associated Press

Perriman releases off the line of scrimmage well and can beat defenders to the inside when they try to jam him. He can also use his initial quickness to glide past defenders who do not get a hand on him.

Holman was not very accurate, and Perriman made several catches behind him or away from his body last season. Holman also left some likely catches on the field for Perriman; in a bowl game against North Carlina State, Perriman beat his defender deep on a few occasions, but Holman's passes were too short or just way off the mark.

What Not to Like

Perriman dropped a few catches right on his hands last season.

While Perriman runs a sophisticated route tree and releases well from the line of scrimmage, he rounds off the tops of his routes. He needs to snap off his cut at the top of the stem better, particularly on posts and downfield in-routes, where his long, looping turns are most noticeable.

Bottom Line

Perriman was not exactly obscure before Wednesday's workout. His family ties give him instant name recognition, and Central Florida has attracted a lot of attention thanks to Bortles, current Jaguars running back Storm Johnson and Rannell Hall, Perriman's speedy-but-inconsistent fellow receiver.

At the same time, Perriman gets lost in the shuffle of 6'4" super-specimens that have entered the NFL at wide receiver lately, and his statistical production does not jump off the page.

Perriman's fast sprint should not catapult him into the Amari Cooper/Kevin White category of first-round wide receivers. His fast 40 does verify that he has exceptional pure speed to couple with his size, and his ability to work the middle sets him apart from the typical "tools only" prospect.

With his unique mix of burner's traits and possession-receiver characteristics, Perriman could grow into a Jeremy Maclin type once he tightens his route running.

Bryan Bennett, Quarterback, Southeastern Louisiana (Pro Day March 26)

Jan 21, 2015; Mobile, AL, USA; South squad quarterback Bryan Bennett of Southeastern Louisiana (6) during Senior Bowl practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Who Is He?

Bryan Bennett is Marcus Mariota's former challenger for the Oregon starting job and the keys to Chip Kelly's heart.

Bennett lost the Oregon job as a sophomore to freshman Marcus Mariota and transferred to Southeastern Louisiana, where he fell off the radar of all but the most thorough media draft experts. He blipped back onto the screen when he replaced Nick Marshall at the Senior Bowl. (Marshall switched to cornerback, then back to quarterback for the combine and is now a cornerback again. That's a whole 'nother article.)

Bennett looked athletic, toolsy and eager at the Senior Bowl, though not exactly polished. He impressed as a speed-arm prospect at the combine. His pro day was originally scheduled for Wednesday, but bad weather pushed it back to Thursday.

What to Like

Bennett has a fine arm and legs. He has an easy, quick throwing motion, and the ball flies off his hand. He is a quick, physical runner who makes good decisions on options and isn't afraid to slam into the line on 3rd-and-short or at the goal line.

Bennett has NFL-caliber velocity and can drive the ball deep without getting too much air under it. He gets into brief grooves where he fits lasers into tight places and looks like an undiscovered first-round pick.

Bennett punted 11 times in 2014 and averaged 45.8 gross yards per punt. He has a feisty, do-anything-for-the-team playing style and comes across as a no-nonsense competitor in interviews.

What Not to Like

If you can name a mechanical or fundamental flaw, Bennett will exhibit it at least once per game.

He consistently stares his primary receiver down. He overthrows many deep passes. He throws off his back foot. Sometimes, he does not appear to have a good grip on the ball when he cocks to throw. When he is not in a rhythm, his ball placement can be almost random. He throws interceptions or near-interceptions in bunches, because that's what happens when you stare down a receiver, then over- or underthrow him.

Bennett does not commit all these sins at once, of course (we would not be talking about him if he did). Every stage of his drop, set and delivery is just highly inconsistent.

Bryan Bennett at Southeastern Louisiana
YearCompletionsAttemptsYardsTDsINTs
20141432892,357188
20132153543,1652111
foxsports.com

Bennett fumbled a few times while handling the ball on options and scrambles. He has a thin, wiry lower body that does not look built to run the NFL option unless he imitates Colin Kaepernick and suddenly packs 25 pounds of muscle onto his calves and thighs.

Bennett shared the Lions quarterback job with Jordan Barnett, sometimes coming off the bench after Barnett started games. Oregon pedigree and Senior Bowl gumption aside, it's optimistic to project an FCS platoon quarterback/punter too far in the NFL.

Bottom Line

Bennett looks like the kind of player Bill Belichick drafts in the sixth round and turns into a nickelback/punt returner or something. Alternately, he's a guy a team can bring to camp as a fourth arm, give some punting reps and stash on the practice squad as a multi-position fire extinguisher in case of injuries. If a quarterback coach can tighten all the mechanics while a trainer packs on a little beef, Bennett could grow into a fiery backup quarterback, if not more. The raw ability is there.

Because of the Oregon connection, it is relevant to note that Chip Kelly kept Tulsa's G.J. Kinne through two training camps as an extra quarterback who also took reps in practice as a return man and special teams gunner.

Splitting reps among many positions won't turn Bennett into a consistent passer, but it may be the easiest way for him to translate his unique athletic skill set into a spot on a roster. This quarterback class is not exactly loaded, and Bennett's raw skills may make him more worthy of a late-round flyer than quarterbacks with better production and prettier throws.

John Crockett, Running Back, North Dakota State University (Pro Day March 26)

AMES, IA - AUGUST 30: Running back John Crockett #23 of the North Dakota State Bison rushes for yards past linebacker Drake Ferch #3 of the Iowa State Cyclones in the first half of play at Jack Trice Stadium on August 30, 2014 in Ames, Iowa. (Photo by Dav
David Purdy/Getty Images

Who Is He?

The Tasmanian Devil.

Crockett has rushed for over 1,000 yards three times for three FCS championship teams, capping his college career with 1,994 yards and 21 touchdowns for the Bison in yet another championship run.

Crockett earned the "Taz" nickname (Bugs Bunny's tornadic foe is also his Twitter avatar) as a relentless—and slightly incorrigible—junior high athlete. A battle with ADHD and his mother's health issues hurt Crockett's academic performance in high school and may have kept some bigger programs away. But Crockett overcame his academic problems to become one of the most prolific rushers in the nation at any level.

What to Like

Crockett is an old-fashioned, I-formation, one-cut runner. On power runs, traps and sweeps, he patiently follows his blocks and bursts when a hole is about to open. On zone-blocking or designed-cutback runs, he has very good vision and anticipation, particularly when cutting back against the flow of the play.

Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

Crockett is exceptional in the open field. He accelerates to full speed smoothly, outrunning linebackers at the second level. He is alert and aware when he breaks into the open field and will make economical cuts to avoid pursuers. Crockett is durable and has been very effective as a late-game clock-munching bulldozer.

Crockett caught 30 passes last season. While many were screens, he has shown downfield receiving ability, sneaking out of the backfield on a wheel route for a huge gain against Sam Houston State in the FCS playoffs. Crockett has also completed two passes in his college career and threatens to throw option passes frequently, often deciding to run for productive yardage instead.

What's Not to Like

Crockett is not creative, overpowering or blindingly fast. He rarely creates yards that are not blocked up for him until he is through the line of scrimmage. He finishes well, but most of his broken tackles and defender-dragging occurs late in the game against beaten-up opponents. Crockett looks faster against FCS defenders in the open field than he will look in the NFL. Nothing about his size-speed profile stands out.

Crockett is a willing pass protector, but his technique consists mainly of getting down on all fours and lunging sideways at his defender. It isn't always quite that bad, but his cut block needs a lot of work; otherwise NFL pass-rushers will simply hurdle him.

At the FCS level, North Dakota State is like Alabama and Ohio State rolled into one. Crockett spends a lot of time waltzing through holes you could drive a forklift through. Deflating some of the "wow" factor from his game tape is tricky.

Bottom Line

In a draft class overloaded with talented rushers, there is no need to reach for an FCS player who lacks a 230-pound frame or 4.45 speed. That said, Crockett is a tough, durable and effective rusher with NFL-caliber cutting ability and burst.

He is worth a late-round selection to see if he can be effective with narrower rushing lines and faster defenders in pursuit. He could shine in a Pep Hamilton (Colts) or Greg Roman (Bills) system that emphasizes following blockers to the point of attack and accelerating when you see daylight.

Wes Saxton, Tight End, South Alabama (Pro Day March 30)

Wes Saxton.
Wes Saxton.G.M. Andrews/Associated Press

Who Is He?

Wes Saxton is one of the workout stars of the combine.

Saxton finished second among tight ends to MyCole Pruitt of Southern Illinois (another small-school standout) in the 40-yard dash at 4.65 seconds (Pruitt ran at 4.58) and finished second or third in many other drills. Major programs recruited Saxton out of high school, but academic issues forced him to go the JUCO route and then transfer to South Alabama, where he caught 96 passes in three seasons.

Saxton is Tony Nathan's cousin; Nathan was a star rusher-receiver for the Dolphins in the early 1980s.

What to Like

Saxton runs like a wide receiver. At 6'3" and 248 pounds, he has the standard "pumped-up receiver" physique of the modern pass-catching tight end. Saxton is quick off the line and fluid when moving in the open field. He threatens safeties up the seam in a hurry and could glide past Sun Belt defensive backs.

Wes Saxton 2015 Combine Results
40-Yard Dash4.65
Vertical36"
Broad Jump119"
20-Yard Shuttle4.49
60-Yard Shuttle12.52
nfl.com

Saxton is cagey about throttling down and adjusting his routes underneath. He runs start-and-stop "shake" routes well, and he sells wheel routes by trotting into the flat and then stomping on the pedal when he turns up the sideline. Saxton stays active when his quarterback is scrambling and works to get open.

Saxton gobbles up passes in his breadbasket and displays some after-catch power and elusiveness.

What Not to Like

GM Andrews/Associated Press

While South Alabama sometimes lined him up as a standard tight end or H-back, Saxton was essentially a slot receiver for much of his career. He is not an effective or nasty in-line blocker. He looks better blocking in the open field on screens, options and scrambles, but he will be of limited use if lined up next to the right tackle.

Saxton is not a great bad-ball catcher. He will whiff on passes behind him, away from his body or over his shoulder. This can be a major problem for a tight end selling himself as a deep burner, of course.

Saxton caught just 20 passes in 2014; he also has just one career touchdown reception, giving him a very strange stats profile for a receiving tight end.

Bottom Line

This is a bad year for tight ends, which is why the Dolphins and Bills battled over Charles Clay as if he held the key for curing male pattern baldness.

I studied MyCole Pruitt's tape while breaking down Saxton's. Both small-program tight ends have similar weaknesses—if you can block, run and catch, you probably aren't playing at this level. The stocky Pruitt is much better at making tough catches and saw more action as a traditional tight end or H-back. Saxton, despite the 40 times, looks faster on the field and more instinctive when plays break down.

If you assume that each spends a year on the bench and project really hard, Pruitt could become a player like Clay or Delanie Walker, a fullback-to-slot multi-tool who burns defenses that try to cover him with a linebacker.

Saxton's high-ceiling upside is Julius Thomas, a fast and crafty midfield target who kinda-sorta-maybe blocks sometimes. Again, those are massive projections, but with so little talent in the tight end draft pool, both of these raw talents are worth a late-round look.

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