For the past two years, the NFL Player's Association has invited Cincy Jungle contributors to their annual scouting event held in January in Los Angeles, California. Mickey Mentzer, Anthony Cosenza and Cody Tewmey have all attended the event, interviewed prospects, current players and NFLPA employees while also taking notes on draftees entering the upcoming class.
The 2015 NFLPA Bowl seemed to have marked a pivotal point in the event's growth. Aside from having former Hall of Fame and prominent coaches heading up the teams, good players from prominent programs, both large and small, participated and a number of them have landed on NFL rosters.
The highest-selected player in this year's draft was University of Georgia wide receiver, Chris Conley. The enigmatic player was selected in the third round by the Kansas City Chiefs after a solid showing at the NFLPA Bowl and an eye-opening workout at the Combine. His meteoric rise up draft boards began in January in Southern California. Utah wide receiver Kaelin Clay was also selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the sixth round after participating in this event.
Steve Radicevic, the west coast scout for the Cincinnati Bengals attended the event this year and he obviously reported back to the front office on players. Why? Between draft picks and undrafted free agents, the team reportedly (either officially or unofficially) nabbed six players who they brought in for rookie minicamps and likely Training Camp.
Hall of Fame NFL executive Bill Polian and ESPN's draft guru Todd McShay were covering the event and in the review of the weekend, Polian noted that two of his top players at the event were West Virginia wide receiver Mario Alford and Oregon cornerback Troy Hill. And, wouldn't you know it--they were announced as picked up by the team last week.
Others that they reportedly grabbed include Clemson defensive tackle DeShawn Williams, another Oregon defensive back in Erick Dargan (failed a physical), Wisconsin-Whitewater tight end Jake Kumerow, and the game's MVP, Terrell Watson of tiny Azusa Pacific.
There are already rumblings of Alford potentially supplanting Brandon Tate for the kick return duties because of his speed and electricity, while Hill and Watson should at least be Practice Squad players for a team. We spoke with Hill at the event, and though he's small by NFL standards and has some off-field issues, he easily could have been a draftee and should contribute as a slot corner for someone. Watson is a physical specimen that dominated the lower levels of the NCAA and has a skill set that teams covet. In fact, one of the greatest players in Rams history, Jackie Slater, pushed for Watson to be in the game.
Though it's a younger event compared to the Senior Bowl and the Combine, the event has been gaining momentum. One focus of the event when we talked with Executive Director DeMaurice Smith was to give some of these talented players a spotlight that they might not have been given otherwise. According to Smith, the week also sets a precedent for youngsters and what's expected of them at the next level.
It's also no coincidence that this event started five years ago, coinciding with the signing of a new Collective Bargaining agreement. Teams are able to keep more players on the Practice Squad, including veterans that have more experience than was allowed in the past agreement. With teams emphasizing finding cheaper talent in the draft, finding "diamonds in the rough" has come at a premium.
The Bengals have kept an underrated free agent or two on their 53-man roster in recent years too. With a plethora of talent they have amassed from the NFLPA Bowl, we could see the same again in 2015.
Los Angeles, we'll see you next January.