Senior Bowl Recap: North
By: Robert Davis
More Senior Bowl Coverage: South recap, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday practice
The Senior Bowl is the last game action players get to experience before the draft. So it gives players one last opportunity to leave a lasting impression for NFL scouts. The game attracts a lot of big name players, and this year is no different. This year's game features such top prospects as D'Brickashaw Ferguson and DeAngelo Williams, among others. The North took this year's game 31-14, but the outcome really does not matter. We'll take a look at both the North and South and discuss some notable performances.
On the North side, the talk all week in Mobile was that there may be a new quarterback leaping to the top of the charts. Vanderbilt QB Jay Cutler had an impressive showing and many people started saying he was the best available quarterback in the draft. Let's end all of that right now; Jay Cutler is not the best QB in this draft. He did have a solid showing however. He had a very good week of practice, displaying all the natural talent to play at the next level. He came back down to earth a little during the game, where he was erratic with his accuracy and made some poor throws. He was 6-19 for 69 yards, and had one touchdown and one pick. The pick was an excellent defensive play by Texas' Cedric Griffin, but it was an easy touchdown if he continued to lead Derek Hagan across the end zone. Cutler is a solid bet from the middle of the first on, but there is no way he should be mentioned in the same breathe as Leinart or Young.
Clemson's Charlie Whitehurst had the best game performance of any QB in the game this season. Inconsistent throughout his career, Whitehurst left NFL scouts with a very good final game. He was 7-9 for 90 yards and a touchdown during the game. He made quick reads, threw the ball well, and was on point all day long. Whitehurst entered week with a shot at going in the middle rounds, and he at least solidified that ranking. If he continues to impress in workouts, he could crack the end of Day One.
The other quarterback for the North squad was Penn St's Michael Robinson. He was very impressive athletically, but he did nothing to show that he is a quarterback prospect. He only threw the ball thee times and was 1-3, but he ran for 63 yards on nine carries. Teams also tried him out at receiver during the week, but he did not look very good catching the ball. Robinson's only shot in the NFL may be at safety or running back.
Jerome Harrison of Washington St. was a bit of an unknown before this season, but made a name for himself after rushing for 1,900 yards this season. People still questioned his talent as a legitimate prospect, and he helped ease some of those questions in Mobile. Harrison ran for 51 yards on 11 carries, displaying excellent quickness and cutting ability during the game. The smallest back on either side at 5'9 196, Harrison does not pack much of a punch when he runs, but he is tough to get a hold of with the ball in his hands. He currently carries a borderline Day One grade.
Arizona St's Derek Hagan came to Mobile hoping to push himself to the top of a weak wide receiver crop this year. He left the week however with more questions than he entered with. Hagan made a living all over the field with his consistency and soft hands. Thats what hurt him this week. All week long Hagan had problems holding on to the football, and it carried over to the game. He had a couple nice grabs; a nice job of extending his arms to pluck the ball out of the air on the games opening drive, and two nice catches where he was hit immediately after hauling it in. But he dropped countless other balls by allowing it to get into his chest and not securing it. This was a disappointing week for Hagan, but he won't fall too far because the other wideouts still have things to prove as well.
Two tight ends on the North squad had impressive showings; Dominique Byrd of USC and Joe Klopfenstein of Colorado. Both have always been knows as receivers more than blockers, and each proved that during the week. Byrd carries a little too much weight at the moment, but still put on a show during the week catching the football. He showed the ability to make the difficult grab and make plays after the catch. During the game Byrd caught four balls for 67 yards. Klopfenstein displayed very good body control and the ability to go up and get the ball. He had three catches for 39 yards, including a touchdown grab where he outjumped UTEP's Thomas Howard for the ball. It is a deep tight end class this year, but both players helped their stock this week. Byrd could go as high as the second round, and Klopfenstein could go in the third or fourth.
On the defensive side of the ball, Tamba Hali had a great week. He lacks ideal size for an end at 6'2 267, but he impressed with his quickness and tenacity on the field. After a good week of practice, he went out and had two sacks during the game. For his second sack, he split a double team to bring Croyle down. With Mathias Kiwanuka not playing because of a shoulder injury, Hali did a very good job closing the gap on Kiwi for the second best DE spot.
Michigan's Gabe Watson has always had the talent and body, but never played with much fire. He put on a show during the week with his combination of size, strength, and agility and carried it over to the game. He is a load to handle and consistently crushed the pocket from the middle.
Will Blackmon of Boston College hopes to forget his performance during the game. Blackmon, who is caught between two positions - wide receiver and corner - only hurt himself this week. As both a corner and return man, Blackmon struggled. While fielding a punt, Blackmon misplayed it and led to a turnover to the South side. As if that wasn't bad enough, in the fourth quarter he was beaten by Auburn's Devin Aromashadu for a touchdown. One of the more intriguing players in the draft because of his talent and versatility, Blackmon has a lot of work to do to bring his stock back up. He may not even carry a first day grade on some teams boards at the moment.
Jahmile Addae of West Virginia took a shot early in the game and sat out for a bit, but returned to the game. Not only did he show the toughness to return, but he had an excellent game on the field as well. Addae had an interception, and showed excellent tackling ability. He layed the wood a couple times, and had an excellent open field tackle on the games MVP Sinorice Moss.
Tye Hill solidified his stock as the top pure corner in the draft. The Clemson standout has seen his stock rise steadily throughout the year, and it continues to do so. He is on the small side, but has excellent cover ability. After an excellent week of practice, Hill was ready to shut down his side of the field during the game. His game performance was not as good as he had hoped, but he still had a decent showing. He was beaten by Moss for a touchdown early on, but rebounded to play well the rest of the day. His week of practice though may have cemented him as the top true corner in the draft.
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