The Tropical Bowl took place over the weekend in Daytona — a three day event for FBS senior NFL draft prospects to prove themselves.
I was down there for the second practice and the game, and I was sure to keep my eyes open on players who could begin to shoot up draft boards as we get closer to the NFL Draft.
The Tropical Bowl was no Senior Bowl, as it’s a relatively new prospect bowl, but it was a good experience for me to meet with some prospects and certainly helped a couple of prospects’ draft stock. Several NFL teams had scouts there, including the Jaguars, Colts, Chargers, Eagles, Browns, Steelers, and the Jets based on who I saw.
After the game, I got to talk to several players who had a solid week in practice and/or an impressive game in Tennessee tight end Jason Croom, UCF linebacker Errol Clarke, and Connecticut cornerback Jhavon Williams.
I also spoke to Jacksonville University defensive end/outside linebacker Justin Horton, who was asked to play OLB during the week and handled the transition very well. According to Mike Kaye of First Coast News, an anonymous CFL scout at the Tropical Bowl had high praise for Horton:
On that note, let’s get to the interviews.
Jason Croom, TE, Tennessee — MVP of the Game
[On how Croom felt he played]: I did well, but my teammates really helped my out. On my second touchdown, the receivers were out there blocking for me and walked right to the endzone. They made it easier for me.
[On how comfortable he feels at tight end after making transition from wide receiver]: Yeah it’s gone well. You can put me at wide receiver or tight end, or coming out the backfield, I just want to be used as I’m a versatile player, like I showed today.
[On biggest strength as a tight end]: Well as a former receiver, I’d say route running and catching the ball.
Croom was awarded the Tropical Bowl MVP award, as he scored two touchdowns in the game.
Errol Clarke, LB, UCF - Defensive MVP
[On performance during the game]: I think I just came out here and played the game like I always do. I’m an energetic player, and I’m just coming out playing with all of the love for the game.
[On comfort in scheme, as UCF ran hybrid 4-3/3-4]: Well, really I can cover, I can rush off the edge, I can play inside [line]backer, and I can play the regular WILL (weakside) outside linebacker, so it doesn’t really matter where you put me at. Just put me on the field, I’ve got a nose for the ball.
[On if there’s one NFL team he wants to play for]: Wherever they wan’t me at, that’s where I’ll be at. I don’t have a pick for any team, whatever team wants me, that’s the team I want to be with.
Clarke won defensive MVP of the Tropical Bowl with three tackles, a half a sack, a tackle for loss, and an interception that he returned for 61 yards.
Jhavon Williams, CB, Connecticut
[On performance during game]: Today was a really competitive game, I feel like I definitely came out here and played at a high level. I just wanted to showcase my talent, you know, against a lot of great guys out here from all over. I’m just happy and thrilled and enthusiastic, we love competing, and we got to compete at a high level with a lot of great talent around us.
[On skills that will translate to the NFL]: Having ball skills is definitely something that helps me (defended a pass that ended up being intercepted by teammate in game), but actually I’m really physical, on a screen play, one on one, I had to defeat a block to make a tackle and I did that with no problem. I just feel like, you don’t start 41 straight games by mistake, and I’m just thrilled by the opportunity I have and I’m excited, just ready to start.
[On if there’s one NFL team he wants to play for]: That’s tough. I feel like every team, every organization, has something great to offer. I haven’t gotten a chance to meet with them, and every team has something unique to offer. I just need one team out of 32 to fall in love with me.
Williams started 41 games at Connecticut, where he had five career interceptions, 22 defended passes, and five forced fumbles. He batted a pass that led to an interception in the Tropical Bowl. In 2016, he made one of the best plays you will ever see on the ball, which you can watch here.
Justin Horton, DE/OLB, Jacksonville University
[On performance during game, considering recent transition from defensive end to outside linebacker]: I felt pretty good. When I went to Texas in the Gridiron Showcase, it [outside linebacker] was a little new, but since I’ve been playing it all week, it was a lot easier this weekend. So, I mean, it went really well. I was out in coverage a lot, and I don’t think people are really used to seeing that, so I’ll probably get teased because of that, but it was fun.
[On coming from outside, including wide-coverage linebacker packages, and still getting into the backfield]: That’s one of my strong-suits when playing outside linebacker and defensive end, I can play the run very well, guys can’t move me off the ball very easily, it’s all about how much movement you can get on the front line. So when I was able to get back down on the line, I was able to make the best of it.
[On scheme fit at the next level]: Honestly, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m willing to play anything. I think I have the ability to play in any system. 3-4, 4-3, hybrid type which is basically what I’ve been playing my whole life. It really doesn’t matter to me as long as I go in with the right mindset, football is football at the end of the day.
Horton had two tackles, including one of a loss in the Tropical Bowl. He finished his career at JU with 120 total tackles, 7.5 sacks, 12 TFL, and four forced fumbles.