The book on the 2015 NFL season is closed and the focus of the football world now turns to free agency then the NFL Draft. And while most concentrated on this weekend's Super Bowl there was still plenty of draft buzz circulating among insiders.
1. Except for the Super Bowl participants most teams around the league are in the midst free agency meetings. During this period which lasts about two weeks, general managers, members of pro-personnel departments and even a few scouts spend time watching game film on perspective free agents then develop lists of players they hope to target and construct budgets on what they are willing to spend. Teams then develop game plans as well as a number of contingency plans on their strategy of attacking the free agency period, which almost always affects the draft.
2. Noah Spence of Eastern Kentucky is one of the more interesting stories in this year's draft. Looking like a first-round prospect for Ohio State in 2013, Spence was suspended then eventually dismissed from the program after twice testing positive for the drug ecstasy. The pass rusher took his talents to Eastern Kentucky last season and showed top form before putting together a dominant week of practice at the Senior Bowl.
So what's his game plan on addressing the off-the-field issues teams will surely quiz him on before the draft? I'm told Spence will take a page from the playbook of cornerback Marcus Peters, a first-round pick in 2015 who also had a lot of off-the-field issues. Spence will not turn down interviews or visits requested by teams and wants to prove the past is in the past and he's beyond the problems which plagued him two years ago. It should come as no surprise Spence shares the same agent as Marcus Peters.
On the Journey to the Draft Podcast presented by AAA, Fran Duffy and Chris McPherson offer six players who helped improve their stock the most at the all-star games over the past few weeks...
3.** Darius Latham of Indiana also has off-the-field issues he must answer, albeit to a much lesser extent. Scouts believe Latham ranks as one of the most underrated defensive tackles in the upcoming draft and give him a second/third round grade off film. Measuring in the area of 6-4 and 310 pounds, Latham was approached about joining the Hoosiers basketball team but passed on the opportunity. Expect the athletic tackle to put up some impressive numbers during the Scouting Combine later this month.
4. Last week, I mentioned Boise State safety Darian Thompson was receiving late first-round consideration by a number of teams. Another safety prospect who is also getting similar grades is junior Keanu Neal of Florida. Several teams believe Neal is the "best-looking safety in the draft" and love his explosive play. Neal struggled with a leg injury early last season and was a bit slow on his return. Several scouts mentioned the 2014 film is more indicative of his true next-level potential when Neal presented himself as a complete player at the position, deftly stopping the run and covering the pass.
5. Often times it's tough to gauge linebackers during all-star games such as the Senior Bowl, but one player at the position building a buzz around his performance in Mobile, Alabama is Stanford's Blake Martinez. Team's were impressed with his athleticism and the way Martinez quickly moved sideline to sideline. The fact he recorded six tackles during the game didn't hurt his cause either.