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2014 Senior Bowl Pracrice Wrap-up

by Colin Lindsay and Paul Guillemette

January 24, 2014
    That's a wrap.... Practices have wrapped up in Mobile prior to Saturday's actual Senior Bowl game. In fact, most NFL personnel execs and scouts cleared town after Wednesday's full-pads workout as the remaining practice sessions are mostly glorified walk-throughs with some special teams work thrown in in preparation for the game. As well, NFL teams put far more emphasis on what happens on the practice field as opposed to the actual game.

    It is also important not to put too much emphasis on what happens at the Senior Bowl. With underclassmen not eligible to attend and several of the top-rated seniors passing on the event, only a fraction of the top prospects for the 2014 draft are actually in Mobile this week. Indeed, none of the players currently rated in the top 10 on the 'GBN 'Big Board' heading into Senior Bowl week, for example, was at this year's Senior Bowl, as were just 10 of the top-rated 50 prospects for the upcoming draft.
    As well, at least in broad statistical terms, what happens in Mobile is in fact a very small sample. When all is said and done, the players are really on the field for a only a total of only about 3-4 hours and will only be involved in a limited number of plays at game speed with real contact. It is also perhaps just as important to keep in mind that the ultimate goal of pro scouts is to try and project how well a player will perform in the NFL in 2-3 years rather than whether he necessarily makes a play today. As a result, pro teams are often as interested as much in the intangibles such as how coachable are the players, how quickly the assimilate the information tossed at them when they arrive in Mobile, and how well they relate to their teammates as in how well they actually perform on the field.

    It is also worth noting that the all-star game setting have a number of limitations for particular positions. QBs, for example, are asked to work with unfamiliar receivers in often unfamiliar schemes which are designed to test as much their ability to learn and adapt rather than their actual passing skills. Same story for RBs who will never get enough touches in an all-star week to get into any kind of rhythm, as well as LBs and safeties, who are almost by definition limited by the lack of overall hitting in an all-star game format. In contrast, all-star settings are probably better suited to evaluating positions such as offensive and defensive linemen. Indeed, the one-on-one pass rush drills, for example, can provide some pretty useful data about offensive and defensive linemen, although even that drill can be misleading because the pass rushers tend to have more space to operate than they normally would in a full-line situation.

    The bottom line is that the Senior Bowl is a useful part of the pre-draft process, but certainly not as important as the combine. And in the end neither is as important as the regular season tape evaluation. Indeed, few NFL teams will dramatically alter their grades on specific players based on what they see at the all-star games including the Senior Bowl. Instead, what most teams will do is head back to the game tapes when a player either exceeds expectations or disappoints at the Senior Bowl to check for what they may or may not have missed in their regular season evaluations.

    All that said there were a couple of general observations that came ut of this week's Senior Bowl practices:

    1) For the second year in a row, there was a solid group at QB as all 6 guys in Mobile this week showed at least some tools. In the end, though, there wasn't much change to the pecking order at the position. Fresno State's Derek Carr, fopr example, entered the week as arguably the top-rated player at any position at this year's Senior Bowl and did not nothing to hurt that grade. Carr consistently threw the ball with good zip and accuracy, even in the sometimes windy conditions, and was poised in the pocket. Same story for Jimmy Garopollo of Eastern Illinois who followed up on an impressive showing at last week's Shrine game to further solidify himself as a strong candidate to be best of the second-tier QBs at this year's draft. Meanwhile, pro personnel people continue to bve impressed with the off-the-charts physical skills of Logan Thomas of Virginia Tech, who is built like a TE and can throw the ball through a wall. The problem with Thomas, though, is he often couldn't hit the wall; indeed, there were sometimes questions whether he could even see it. Again, however, those physical tools only come along so often and there very wll may be a team, or teams, willing to take a chanceon Thomas with an early pick this coming May. At the same time, Clemson's Tajh Boyd had a quietly proficient week in which he was particualrly effective spinning the ballin the wind. On the other hand, its unlikely that either of David Fales of San Jose State or Miami's Stephon Morris did much to actually help their grades as neither was consistently accurate, but again showed some tools that pro teams will likely feel they can work with down the road.

    2) With the success of the Super Bowl bound Seattle defense all the rage in the NFL these days, all the big Seahawks' sized CBs in Mobile this week had pro people flocking to their end of the field during practices this week. In the end, the results were probably mixed as guys like Stan Jean-Baptiste of Nebraska, Utah's Keith McGill, Dez Southward of Wisconsin, NC State's Dontae Johnson, along with emerging small-school standouts Pierre Desir of Lindenwood and Liberty's Walt Aikens, each of whom measured in at at least 6-0 during Monday's measurement session, all showed flashes, especially when working in press coverage situations. However, there are still questions about the quickness and fluidity of a number of these players that may not be resolved until they actually hit trainingcamps next summer. Whatever, this year's Senior Bowl CB crop lacked the polish, not to mention feistiness, of last year's group that included Desmond Trufant, Jordan Poyer, Leon McFadden, Jamar Taylor, B.W. Webb and Robert Alford among others.

    3) Deepest position at the 2014 Senior Bowl appaers to have been the offensive line.Indeed, while the defensive linemmen are generally considered to have the advantage in the 1-on-1 pass rush drills with their OL counterparts, this year the offensive guys more than held their own and in total may actally have won the day. For strarters, the top-rated offensive linemen coming into Mobile such as Notre Dame G/T Zach Martin, Virginia OT Morgan Moses, Arkansas C Travis Swanson, and Mississppi State OG Gabe Jackson more than held their own, while a number of lesser known prospects up front including Michigan G/T Michael Schofield and Cs Weston Richburg of Colorado State and Utah State's Tyler Larsen also had very solid weeks. However, it wasn't all positive for the offensive linemen as several struggled especially Baylor's Cyril Richardson.Same story for big Miami OT Seantrel Henderson, who may have left as many questions unanswered after a career full of unanswered questions.

    Here's C.L. and Pigskin Paul's Top ten guys who helped themsleves at this year's Senior Bowl (in no particular order ...)

    Notre Dame G/T Zach Martin - Career LT for the Irish lacks prototype measurables for the position in the pros as he about measurd in at @ 6-4 and with gator arms, but showed great feet and impeccable technique at this week's practice sessions. Martin still may end up OG at the next level, but the fact that he more than held his own at OT this week, likely solidified a mid-to-late first round call for the former Irish star.

    Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald - Pro scouts still don't know where he'll play at the next level as he's another guy who lacks prototype size at barely 6-0 and just 288 pounds. After this week, though, pro scouts know for sure that he's plenty quick with a strong hands and a devastaing punch alsong with a great motor and attitude. Indeed, Donald, the best defensive player in college football this past season was in the backfield all week in Mobile and has started to drawcomparisons to dynamic Cincinnati 4-3 DT Geno Atkins. 

    Auburn DE Dee Ford - Another tweener sized guy (anyone starting to see a trend here!) at 6-2, 243 was unblockable at times playing DE although his pro future is likely as a rush LB in a 3-4 scheme. Came to Mobile rated as an early third day pick but could ultimately be an even better prospect at the position than Seattle's Bruce Irvin or Shea McClellin of the Beras who went 15th and 19th respectvely at the 2012 draft.

    Michigan OT Micheal Schofield - Didn't get much nationalpub at all playing opposite top 15 prospect TaylorLewan, but nobody in Mobile improved more on a day-to-day basis than Schofield. He's a rangy guy with long arms whose always been good in a short-area, but showed surprising quick feet and lateral agility.

    Florida State LB Christian  Jones - Was quick and explosive all week.

    Virginia OT Morgan Moses - Like Michigan's Schofield has prototype size and strength, but showed a whole lot more foot speed and agility than pro teams were maybe expecting coming into the week and may have established himself as the next best thing at OT after the top 5 or so first-round guys.

    Washingon State S Deone Buchanon - Safeties seldom shine in the drills where quickness is at a premium and instincts and physicalility aren't, but more than held his own in coverage and always seemed to be around the ball in team situations.

    Wisconsin MLB Chris Borland -  Another somewhat undersized guy made like the energizer bunny all week although with an attitude as he showed ealnice instincts and awareness. Same story for UCLA MLB Jordan Zumwalt, who was dinged late in the week and may not play in Saturday's game, but was always around the ball when it mattered in team practice situations.

    Utah CB Keith McGill - Maybe the one long tall CB - and at 6-3 he is definitely long and tall - in Mobile who also showed the kind of quick feet and fluid hips to also be effective in off coverage.

    Texas WR Mike Davis - The receivers geneally struggled in Mobile this week, but Davis was able to able to consistenly beat press coverage, did a nice job catching the ball, and showed plenty of deep speed.

    And a few honorable mentions include RBs Charles Sims of West Virginia, arguably the best all-around back in Mobile this week, along with unheralded Lorenzo Taliaferro of unheralded Coastal Carolina and Western Kentucky's Antonio Andrews who both excelled in the pass-blocking drills; WRs Josh Huff of Oregon, Ryan Grant of Tulane and Mike Campanero of Wake Forest, Arkansas DE Chris Smith, DTs Ra'shede Hageman and Tennessee's DT Daniel McCullers, and safeties Jimmie Ward of Northern Illinois and Florida State's Terrance Brooks. 

    On the other hand, guys who likely didn't do a whole to help their draft stock this week included Arizona State DT Will Sutton who just didn't show much quickness or explosion; Baylor OG Cyril Richardson, who did get off the snap with authority on most plays, but didn't show much in the way of lateral agility and tended to give upon plays way to early; Stanford DE Trent Murphy who neededto show pro scouts that at barely over 250 pounds had the strength for adown DE, but didn't, although he did show decent quickness and a good motor; UConn DT Shamar Stephen, Tennessee State G/T Kadeem Edwards, and LBs Adrian Hubbard of Alabama and Florida State's LB Telvin Smith, .

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