Even though the Cowboys have one of the nation’s best offenses, Evan Epstein is struggling to catch the eyes of NFL scouts.
By Scott Boyter
You would think the starting center of a major college football team putting up these kinds of stats would get a little notice, and be mentioned as a legitimate NFL Draft prospect:
Total Offense No. 9 in the country (553.7 yards per game)
Points Per Game No. 3 (45.4)
Passing Yards Per Game No. 6 (337 YPG)
Rushing YPG No. 18 (216.7)
Sacks Allowed Tied for third fewest in the nation with seven.
(By comparison, Alabama has 113 fewer pass attempts and has allowed 20 sacks. Several Crimson Tide linemen are projected as early- to mid-round draft picks.)
But you’d be wrong.
Oklahoma State’s Evan Epstein, who attended Bishop Lynch High School in Dallas, isn’t even on the watch list for the Rimington Trophy, which honors the country’s best center – and that list encompasses 50 players.
But when you look at the stats the Cowboys have accumulated this season, wouldn’t you think Epstein has to be doing something right? Considering the fact Oklahoma State has had to use three quarterbacks this season due to injury, those stats stand out even more.
Apparently that’s still not enough to get Epstein much pre-draft love.
“He had never really played. He didn’t have much film, so he didn’t show enough to be written up,” said Ourlads.com general manager and national scout Dan Shonka, referring to the fact Epstein has only been a starter his senior season. Ourlads provides scouting and evaluation services to agents, media members and NFL clubs.
That has been a huge reason for Epstein’s anonymity. He simply didn’t have enough playing time heading into 2012 so that he could get on anyone’s radar. The Cowboys’ offensive production, however, is slowly starting to get Epstein some notice.
“I’ve seen him twice and he’s looked good, especially for being a first-year starter,” said draft analyst Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com, which supplies draft information to The Sports Xchange, which in turn provides that information to some of the largest publications and websites in the country. “He seems to be a quick learner and he’s tough. He’s shown good range, and does a good job of getting to the second level.
“He needs to improve in a few areas, because he’s inconsistent,” Brugler said. “He needs to do a better job with his hands to control defenders, and use blocking angles to wall off defensive linemen.”
Kelvin Garmon, a former NFL offensive lineman with the Dallas Cowboys, San Diego Chargers and Cleveland Browns, said he thinks Epstein should be looked at as a Top 5 center prospect. Garmon runs a summer camp that specializes in working with college linemen to hone their skills, and he’s worked with a number of players who have gone on to NFL careers.
Garmon said Epstein has more upside than Jake Kirkpatrick of TCU, the 2010 Rimington Award winner. “I think Evan definitely has the talent,” Garmon said. “Over the next few months, scouts will look at film and see how good Evan is. I think that will help him get to the (NFL Scouting Combine), and then he’ll have to take it from there. He definitely has the talent and the want-to to play at the next level.”
So you’re saying there’s a chance, huh?
While Brugler also said Epstein has problems anchoring at times, and needs to work on his base strength, he believes Epstein will have a chance at an invitation to a postseason all-star game such as the Texas Vs. The Nation game that will be played in Eagle Stadium in Allen on February 2. Such an invitation would be a huge boost to Epstein’s chances of getting a legitimate NFL shot.
According to the game’s website, NFL scouts and front office personnel attend each year to evaluate talent. More than 500 players who have appeared in the game have signed NFL contracts, and 100 have been selected in the Draft.
“They may be more apt to bring in a kid like Evan who has local ties and who has had a good year,” Brugler said. “Plus, he’s doing it for one of the nation’s top offenses
“These all-star games are heavily driven by who the scouts want to see,” he said. “I think Epstein is one of the guys who scouts want to see more of, because there’s not a lot of tape on him since he’s a first-year starter.
“It’s going to be tough for him, and there will be no guarantee, but he’d have a chance to get to that game.”
Shonka said an appearance in an all-star game would not only be Epstein’s best chance of catching the eye of a scout, but also getting an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, which will be held Feb. 23-26. If he can’t get to that stage, Epstein may still have a shot at an invitation to one of the 10 regional combines held to evaluate players who are not invited to Indianapolis. One of these regional combines will be held from April 7-8 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
“In the spring, the big scouting services (that invite players to the Combine) grade guys. Then they’ll go back through and look at guys who are first-year starters,” Shonka said. “One guy who is a perfect example of a guy who blossomed his senior year was Kurt Warner. Tommy Kramer is another guy who wasn’t written up. He had a great senior season and then became a first round draft choice.
“Evan has played enough games this year and there’s enough tape,” he said. “Chances are, several scouts have already been through Stillwater a second time to evaluate him. Plus, Oklahoma State’s going to be in a bowl so he’ll have a chance to show what kind of football player he is.”
On the negative side…
Charlie Campbell, a draft analyst with WalterFootball.com, one of most respected draft sites on the Internet, said Epstein could simply fall into the trap of being a really good college player who isn’t yet viewed as a pro prospect.
“I’ve watched Oklahoma State a number of times this year, and I think he’s done a good job of blocking for (running back Joseph) Randle and the different quarterbacks they’ve had in there,” Campbell said. “Evan is listed at 6-3, 295, and for the NFL that’s pretty undersized – and that’s assuming those measurements are on the money. It’s very common for schools to inflate those listed measurements.
The bottom line
The consensus among the analysts interviewed for this story is that, in one way or another, Epstein’s more than likely going to get a shot.
And in the long run that’s about all any NFL hopeful can ask for – a chance.
“If the scouts do their due diligence, they’ll look at Evan,” Shonka said. “There are a lot of teams that are very thorough in regard to evaluating players who didn’t play until their senior year.
“While there are some teams that won’t really look at him because he only played one season, most of the teams will evaluate him on what he’s done this year,” he said. “If they like what they see, they’ll proceed accordingly.
“Whether he’s drafted or he’s signed as an undrafted free agent, the bottom line is getting an opportunity to play in the National Football League.”