The stars of tomorrow were out in full force Thursday in Pasadena, Calif. as draft prospects took to the field for their final practice at the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) Collegiate Bowl.
The game, scheduled for Saturday, is a display of senior athletes coached by Marvin Lewis and Hue Jackson. The offense shined in practice. Several players stood out on the National and American teams, but each team had one remarkable player, so here they are:
Wide receiver Chris Rowland from Tennessee State University was named OVC Offensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-OVC selection. He was one of the few receivers to break the 100-catch mark with 104 receptions for 1,437 yards receiving and was second in the conference with 2,110 all-purpose yards. His versatile style has many at NFLPA Bowl thinking of the plays that he could make at the next level.
Rowland made explosive plays all morning long. Due to his smaller size, it might be a tough road to the NFL. Even so, there are players Rowland can pattern his NFL play after. Darren Sproles, Trindon Holliday, and Tarik Cohen (to name a few) have made respectful careers for themselves.
Rowland has outstanding speed and quickness to make up for his smaller frame. In open space, especially from screenplays and as a kick/punt returner, is where he’s most dangerous. He could easily make his way onto a roster early in his career as a return specialist. He can then work his way up a receiver lineup due to his speed and quickness. Another knock against him is the level of competition he played against. But, he has put those doubts to rest practicing against other top school prospects.
Running Back Raymond Ward from Louisiana Lafayette earned All-Sun Belt honorable mention after rushing for 754 yards this season. He was on full display during practice. He showed he’s an excellent punt returner. His speed, vision and poise to cut defenses up may secure him a roster spot. He also has great footwork and agility.
His power to break tackles has come into question, however, and that will be answered Saturday with pads on. Still, he is a shifty player and made numerous catches out of the backfield during the scrimmage. While he had to share the load at Louisiana Lafayette, he showed enough of his style of running to garner more playing time during Saturday’s game.
Ward’s ability to block and catch passes out of the backfield may enhance his changes of getting a spot on a roster. His best chance will be as a punt returner where he can show he could at least be a third down back on passing downs. Even if he isn’t drafted, Ward has shown enough talent to be signed and possible become a special teams ace.
The NFLPA is the labor organization representing the professional American football players in the National Football League (NFL). The NFLPA, which has headquarters in Washington, D.C., is led by president Eric Winston and executive director DeMaurice Smith.