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Draft Watch, Week 2: Looking to the Northwest


An invaluable resource for draftnik fans who want to begin familiarizing themselves with the prospects in next year's draft is the Senior Bowl Watch List, which tracks players who could be working under NFL coaches at the postseason all-star game in four months.

The biggest name on the list is Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who should be a first-rounder, but is the subject of critiques ranging from his ability to cope with a big, physical front four to being a product of the Ducks' quarterback-friendly, warp-speed scheme.

There's not much Mariota can do about the latter perception; that is the system in which he works. But he took a big step toward answering the other questions by adding 46 yards on the ground to the 317 he racked up through the air against a Michigan State defense that features four players who could be first- or second-day picks in the next two drafts. He was patient under a heavy pass rush and demonstrated a good feel for the pass rush.

Mariota is only the beginning of what the Ducks could bring to next year's draft.

Another player to watch is cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olumu. The only issue for the 5-foot-10, 185-pound cornerback could be the infrequency of passes thrown in his direction. He has to maximize every opportunity -- even when it requires a quick sprint, leap and dive from 11 yards away to catch a deflected pass inside the Oregon 5-yard-line, as he did with 7:56 left in the Ducks' win over Michigan State last week. There may not be a more athletic interception made by a cornerback all year.

Ekpre-Olumu's wizardry was made more notable because he accomplished it after injuring his ankle a week earlier. He also averaged 13.3 yards on three punt returns, which enhances his value. His size may not turn heads, but his speed and athleticism will.

We'll revisit the Oregon products later in the season; the Ducks should be too good to ignore. You can count on scouts from every NFL team making Eugene a repeat destination this fall.

If you scoot up I-5 a few hours, you'll reach Seattle, where the Washington Huskies have posted perhaps the most disappointing 2-0 start in the country, given closer-than-expected wins over Hawai'i and Eastern Washington.

UW's defense was a sieve against EWU last Saturday, allowing 52 points to a school known more for its red home field than its prowess on it. But one of the best individual games any defensive tackle can amass came from senior nose tackle Danny Shelton, who racked up four sacks and 12 tackles.

Shelton packs 327 or 339 pounds on a 6-foot-2 frame, depending on who you ask. (The Senior Bowl lists his weight at the former; UW maintains it is the latter.) Shelton needs a greater array of pass-rush moves, but his quickness off the snap and his power make him a possible first- or second-day selection last year. Interior players with that size and pass-rush explosion are hard to find, and he's alert and light on his feet.


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