For fans, watching the post-season college all-star games is a pleasant enough diversion. But could the Los Angeles Rams mine them for possible roster additions? While the games do have a number of prospects that get their fair share of draft coverage, there are some that slip through the cracks. Some make barely a blip in the overall draft picture.
The reasons are varied. Small schools in smaller conferences and lower divisions struggle for media hype and coverage. The players are, as a general rule, considered less talented, slower, and not as physically imposing. Top that with the stigma of not showing their abilities against top competition and you have the optimal conditions for late round draft sleepers.
Sometimes when you are watching a game, a player or two really catch the eye and standout. Alone, it doesn’t mean they are necessarily of NFL grade or even a hold a draftable status, but it does create a baseline for deeper research. While the all-star games themselves can be a little dull and the week of workouts that lead up to them are much more telling about a prospect, there is something about seeing a player line up across from a rival and consistently beat him.
It seems that no matter how much effort a draftnik puts into research, there are those players that get lost in the numbers. I have a draft board of 400 players that I am constantly fiddling with and only had one of these prospects on it. In fact, it was watching the games that brought them to attention and set the path onto figuring which could fit in with the Rams AND fill up 1500 words.
All the aspirants have flaws, they are all strictly of late round and undrafted grade. But one of the painful lessons learned from the Rams injury-laden season is that depth is of the most utmost importance. With mixed results leaning towards the negative, L.A. was forced to dip heavily into its practice squad this past year. With the extended NFL seasons, not one roster spot can be wasted, whether it be active or the taxi squad.
Defensive end Jordan Ferguson- Middle Tennessee State
Originally recruited as a tight end, it is both a blessing and a curse. Ferguson is a highly agile, athletic prospect, but is a bit of tweener size-wise. As a defender, he has multiple snaps at defensive end, tackle, and edge/outside linebacker. He played on special teams and logged both pass receptions and run carries. He was voted as a permanent team captain and according to his coaches, ran workouts when coaches were not allowed to be present.
At 6’ 1” 266 lbs., he is a little light for the interior line at the NFL level and looks pretty filled out for his frame. Out on the edge, he can make up for his relative lack of height with good length at 33 3/8” arms and an 81 1/4” wingspan. Over his career he batted nine passes and picked off another two.
For a stocky guy, he has good bend around the corner. His first step and burst are stellar. He has a good inside counter move and on film shows a decent spin move. At his level of competition, he wins on speed, turning it to power, and effort. He will need to work on hand skills and pass rush technique at the next level. In space as a tackler, he is a relentless pursuer, agile enough to corral shifty backs, and wraps up well. Over the last three years and 35 games (which includes the COVID19 shortened 2020), he has collected 20.5 sacks and 39.5 tackles for loss.
The Rams have a history of drafting/signing athletic, versatile defensive linemen who are on the small side. Ferguson fits the mold of a 4-3 hot-motored pass rush specialist and his ability to be a special teams contributor would be enough to pay the freight o a 7th round risk. He obviously has played a lot on the opponents side of the line of scrimmage and plays with continuous intensity.
EDGE Jordan Ferguson (MTSU) was popular at the Hula Bowl meeting with a long list of teams including the Chargers, Bears, and Lions, per source.— Ryan Fowler (@_RyanFowler_) January 18, 2023
Ferguson racked up 96 pressures and eighteen sacks the last two years combined.
Center Eric Sorensen- Northern Iowa
Measuring in at 6’ 6” 320 lbs., Sorenson has good size and looks to have the frame to put on more mass, if needed. His arm length and wingspan are very good as well. A two-year starter at center, he swung between the pivot and guard early in his college career. A multiple academic award winner.
For a tall guy he keeps good pad level, and looks to have nice feet. Looks fluid pulling out of the pivot although not called on to do it often. Makes reach blocks comfortably and can move from double teams to the next level. He uses his length to advantage, has a good grip when he locks on, and has an accurate, if not elite powerful punch.
Sorensen would definitely benefit from a professional strength protocol, he’s not soft, but setting an anchor against bigger NFL players will be work. He’s not a true mauler, more of a technician and wins by positioning and locking out defenders. He does seem strong at drive blocks though.
With a new offensive coordinator and a yet unfilled line coach berth, it’s difficult to project changes in the Rams run schemes for 2023. If new OC Mike LaFluer coaches to form, the running game may go back to a predominant outside zone scheme. If so, nimble linemen will be warranted and while Sorensen would likely not challenge for an active roster spot, he would be an upgrade over some of the past practice squad members. With a year of weight training and lining up across from Aaron Donald in daily workouts, he could offer low cost value to L.A.
NFLPA Collegiate Bowl
Guard Sidy Sow- Eastern Michigan
Experienced and well-built lineman who started 54 0f 56 college games and earned post-season accolades in three of four seasons. His play earned him a invite to the NFL Combine. In workouts prior the all-star game, Sow received high marks for his footwork, athleticism, and range.
The kind of mauler that fans love, at 6’ 5” 329 lbs., Sow has the load and the nastiness to bring it. He has good length as well, with 33 7/8” arms and an 80 1/2” wingspan. He is much farther along as a run blocker. He has good get-off, keeps his legs moving to overpower defenders, and enough burst to work double teams and on to the next level.
Against the pass, Sow has a tendency to play too high and bend at the waist, losing proper leverage and balance. This leaves him susceptible to speed and inside counters. His pass blocking shows where a pro strength and conditioning regimen would help his game. You are hard-pressed to bullrush him and overall he stays in good position to pass block, but if the defender gets an advantage, he lacks the quickness for quick recovery.
Watching Sow over a stretch of games, finding where he fits with the Rams is the toughest of all these prospects. If L.A. continues the trend of inside and mid zone schemes with some gap mixed in, then his power and ability to drive defenders out of the hole makes his case, but If run schemes revert to the primarily outside zone, it’s a tougher sell.
Safety Jason Taylor- Oklahoma State
Taylor began his college career toiling on special teams, before working into a starting role in 2021. He broke out last season, chalking up 99 tackles, 13 passes defended, and six interceptions from various safety alignments. He also had 10 tackles for loss over the past two seasons. According to NFL.com, he is an “intriguing prospect” who was “turning heads on the practice field” during NFLPA collegiate Bowl workouts.
Stellar ball skills and hand/eye coordination are his highlights in coverage. He has experience in single high and both two and three deep zones plus a fair amount of off-man underneath. He has good read-and-react skills and when in man appears to break strongly to the ball. It will interesting to see how he tests, because he looks to have the speed to cover swathes of ground at high safety.
Against the run, he is a willing tackler. He will have to wrap up better in the NFL, but overall, is a solid run defender. In 2021, he was used more like a strong safety and looked really solid coming downhill into the action. That season he also was used to blitz and showed good timing and awareness in logging 2.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss.
The Rams could lose both starting safeties for 2023 and adding a late-round 6’ 208 lb. safety who can cover in both man and zone, while helping out in run support is a sound move. Taylor has long arms (33”) and good wingspan (78”). He played on special teams all through his four college years and could help out there right away in L.A.
Defensive tackle Scott Matlock- Boise State
If the Rams don’t sign a free agent defensive lineman or grab one early in the draft, the holdovers lack size with only Bobby Brown tipping the scales at over 300 lbs. Matlock has the requisite NFL measurements at 6’ 4” 308 lbs. His arms are adequate at 32 1/2”, as is his wingspan at 78 1/4”.
After a slew of post season accolades and starting 32 straight games, Matlock will try and carve out a pro role as a relentless effort rotational player. A high school tight end, he moves well laterally down the line and has good burst off the edge and on stunts/twists/loops. He used his stout lower body to show good anchor ability while facing many double teams in college and he sheds blockers adequately.
A big week at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl led to an invitation to tonight’s East-West Shrine Bowl. Emory Hunt at cbssports.com said of his NFLPA workouts,
“Matlock was virtually unblockable throughout the week. In my opinion, he was the best defensive lineman on the American squad. On Day 2 of the OL/DL 1-on-1s, his repertoire of moves were on display, constantly drawing praise from both players and scouts alike”.
Matlock brings versatility, size, and grit to the table. He won’t be a high ceiling player, but has a higher floor, the kind of player who can come in and do the dirty work to free up others. The Rams could use his size, strength, and ability to play up and down the line. His motor, athletic upside, and football IQ fits the developmental mold of recent late round picks.
Boise's Scott Matlock works a stunt and gets the sack pic.twitter.com/DXOa6Fj6xS— Billy M (@BillyM_91) January 29, 2023