As the Senior Bowl draws to a conclusion, the opening bell to draft season has rung as the undivided attention of 30 teams shifts to improving their roster in hopes of becoming one of the other 2. These winter and early spring months bring to the forefront with excruciating detail such events and observations that at any other time would seem strange to discuss—remarks on half-naked 300-pound bodies running standing in front of a room full of executives, interview details more intimate than anything in the outside world, and measuring of anything from arm length to speed to jumping ability. While these college seniors and few underclassmen are put to the test, there's a big pot of gold at the end of the rainbow if they can endure the demanding process. Here's a recap of the first leg in Mobile, Alabama—the Senior Bowl.
The quarterbacks on both sides were about as evenly matched coming into the week as can be expected—a number of names with a first round draft slot in sight only by the importance and demand of the position. With Geno Smith and Matt Barkley disappointingly opting out, focus was drawn to Mike Glennon on the North roster who possesses the arm talent to hit all of the NFL throws. Though he shined over his peers making several excellent throws to the sidelines and down the seam on game day, he built upon his reputation in practice. On Saturday he was inconsistent, sometimes inaccurate passer lacking the natural leadership skills and aura of the man who preceded him at N.C. State, Russell Wilson. Syracuse's Ryan Nassib was the best out of the gates, but tailed off as practices went on and missed throws and reads in the game. The least talented of the bunch, Zac Dysert, failed to impress this week. Though he hit easy checkdowns against a soft defense to pad his stats and lead a late scoring drive in the game, he missed throws high, low, and late with average arm strength.
Landry Jones left many impressed with his leadership, command, and arm talent, however, after the snap came off as less mature. He was a little slower to process defenses and looked dismal with a sloppy pocket, which is all he saw in the game. Though he has significant upside, it'll be difficult imagining a front office falling in love with him enough to throw the dice in the first round. However, his work ethic could instill enough confidence in an organization that he'll continue putting in the work of a great quarterback in hopes he can one day put it all together. EJ Manuel received the start for the South team and improved as the week went along, leading the South team to all 3 of their scoring drives. In the game he tossed a beautiful pass over the shoulders to TE Michael Williams displaying his natural passing ability. However, he too struggled with consistency throughout the week with inaccuracy. As a mid-round prospect, there's plenty of upside. Tyler Wilson showed the most improvement throughout the week with accuracy and anticipation, but lacks the tools of a top-end quarterback. His stat-line 8/11 for 40 yards captures his mentality under center leaving his prospect status as a high floor, low ceiling late-round option.
The Senior Bowl is generally set up to distinguish backs capable of contributing in the pass game catching and blocking. In that regard, UCLA's Jonathan Franklin did well to stand out this week among his peers. He was stout in one-on-one blitz pick-up drills against the backers and did well getting to his routes and catching passes. On the other end of the spectrum, 5'6 Robbie Rouse really struggled in the blitz pick-up drills on Tuesday whiffing once and getting driven back on a number of other occasions. He made some strides as the week went on displaying a willingness to stick his head in, but will leave behind scary tape leaving behind concerns that he'll be unable to meet the challenge against bigger, faster, strong linebackers at the next level. With his biggest contributions expected to come on 3rd down, it amplifies the issue. Kenjon Barner showed the most explosiveness on the group in running opportunities and finished with 7 catches for 59 yards and a late touchdown.
On the South squad, Stepfan Taylor showed up as the dependable, multi-faceted every-down back. He doesn't possess many special tools, which is expected to drop him to the late 2nd or 3rd round, but pass protects proficiently and reads his blocks very well, making the most of his opportunities. He finished with a game-high 53 yards on 5.9 per carry showing just that. Florida's Mike Gillislee showed good quickness in and out of cuts, getting the most in tight spots. Miami's Mike James, the latest in a long line of James backs at "the U", held his own this week. He doesn't have much upside, but ran hard and showed a willingness to do it all—including special teams.
Quick in an out of breaks and capable of separating from corners, Markus Wheaton made himself some money this week. He caught passes well and with confidence. Standing between him and success in the next level lies in the first 5 yards. When he wasn't successful, it was because defensive backs were able to beat him at the line of scrimmage. Wheaton showed toughness, but need to continue working in the weight room for it to convert into results on the field. 5'9, 179 pound burner Marquise Goodwin has helped himself as much as any receiver at the Senior Bowl. With great vertical speed, he'll tempt even the firmest believers of collegiate production that his career-best 421-yard season isn't reflective of his ability. There isn't much diversity in his game yet, but he has teams and deep threat value, perfect for the middle rounds. In a different mold, Aaron Dobson released well against the press getting into his routes. He has some size and showed plenty capable of separating from corners this week. Denard Robinson struggled to impress. Battling numbness is his hands, he didn't look natural catching the ball, but his willingness to play here making a switch to a foreign position should be weighed in his favor.
With a lukewarm passing game stemming from inaccuracy and an inability to contain the pass rush on Saturday, it places more emphasis on the week of practice. There, Terrence Williams seemed to be in a class of his own during the week from a tools perspective with size, speed, and natural feel for the position. He's an intelligent route runner who was getting consistent separation, particularly on deeper routes. On Thursday's red zone portion, he beat corners and safeties on slants, fades, and backshoulder throws. Also standing out in those same red zone drills was Georgia's Tavarres King who had an excellent week of practice. He's another intelligent route runner capable of eating up cushion on the outside in a pinch. With great vertical and double move potential, King is a player who may make immediate contributions his rookie season if he can learn to break press coverage. Above all, perhaps Louisiana Tech's Quinton Patton earned himself the most money this week among wide receivers showing crisp route-running ability, strong hands in traffic, and suddenness in breaks and after the catch. Duke's Conner Vernon proved to be an crafty, polished receiver that will have value and a competing market later in the draft. He gave corners fits throughout the week and came down with balls where it seemed the defender may have had an angle to the ball. Tight end Michael Williams made a nice catch in the game on a better throw. In practice, he looked uncomfortable running routes with any sort of depth to them. He's a blocking, peel off tight end at the next level. Vance McDonald is more of the downfield threat, but dropped a couple balls throughout the week of practice.
In actual monetary sum, perhaps Eric Fisher was the biggest winner this week. A projected mid-1st round pick heading into this week, he'll leave Mobile expecting to be slotted inside the top 10. With clean sets, terrific feet, calm reactions to countermoves, and great size and athleticism, it shouldn't be long before he's mentioned with the great pass blocking left tackles at the next level. He may struggle with power pushers early on as he did with Alex Okafor a couple times this week, but he has the frame to comfortably pack on another 20 pounds. For unnatural left tackles, the Senior Bowl is a big opportunity to showcase versatility. Kyle Long, from the storied football family, did just that. Though he missed some time this week, he played both guard positions and right tackle in practice and displayed his potential at all three positions. Having started only a handful of games in his career, his technique will need to be ironed clean, but his strength and athletic ability are rare. He's physical, nasty, and aggressive—a mold any offensive line coach would love to work with. Syracuse's Justin Pugh also helped himself this week, though not at tackle. He was beaten for a sack-fumble on the left side in the game and lacks the length to play on the perimeter. Inside at guard, he has a future as a starter. Ricky Wagner looks to be a well-coached right tackle propsect showing great strength to sit and anchor and the footwork to drive guys past the quarterback. When he struggled, it was more often against the speedier rushers.
On the South squad, Oklahoma's Lane Johnson played the part of the North's Fisher. The former quarterback convert looked smooth on his feet carrying his 302 pounds as well as any. While Fisher is more technique-sound, Johnson's game has a little more power and aggression to it. He'll take the fight to a defender with a strong initial punch and enough in the lower half to anchor against power. He didn't have a single bad day this week and will look to be a solid 1st round pick in April. In the middle, Brian Schwenke batted near 1.000 in 1v1 drills. He anchored better than expected, handling a variety of moves with ease. In the game, he was beaten once or twice on moves to the quarterback, but made a key second level block in the 4th quarter. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Larry Warford is a mauler inside whose performance will catch the eyes of teams with more power-blocking schemes. He doesn't move as well as some of the other guys here though, making him a bit of a throwback guard. Xavier Nixon was a little more up than down this week, which is good because the talent is all there. Oday Aboushi was a little more down than up this week, struggling in 1v1s, team, and the game. To his credit, he spent significant time at left tackle with a future that seems to be more inside at guard. Though he looks heavy-footed outside, his power and strong base make for a good recipe on the inside.
In a week that seemed dominated by defenses for both teams, the interior linemen stood out above the rest for the North side. With his quickness and instincts, Purdue's Kawann Short had a remarkable game on Saturday. While he was a difficult assignment in practice, he took his game to the next level making plays behind the line in the run game and applying ample pressure on the quarterback. Putting him in an NFL rotation could be hugely beneficial to him. Small school Brandon Williams from Missouri Southern flashed a lot in the backfield throughout the week of practice. For a 6'2, 341-pound tackle, he sure looked quick off the snap. In team drills midweek, he excelled at holding the point and shedding blocks at opportune times to ruin a couple of draw plays. Sylvester Williams appears to be the next North Carolina defensive lineman battling for a spot in the first round. At the very least, he's a first round talent with powerful hands and quick feet, a foundation upon which greatness can be built. He was a bit up and down this week, but did well to help himself on the whole. Perhaps the most impressive throughout the week was UCLA's Datone Jones whose quickness became the demise of many an offensive play. Whether he plays inside or outside, Jones should have a spot in a rotation based upon his instincts to find the ball and ability to get into the backfield. At end, Alex Okafor was a consistent force. He doesn't have a wide array of moves, but plays with strong technique and discipline which will be coveted day two. Jordan Hill slipped under the radar, but put together a good week of work culminating in half a sack and an additional tackle for loss in the game. Margus Hunt, a heavily talked about name didn't have the week expected out of him. In the game, he was victimized several times with misdirection.
Ezekial Ansah was the talk of the town coming into the week with freakish size and athleticism. For the most part, he was kept quiet and unable to win many battles in 1v1s or make recognizable plays in team drills throughout the week. 1.5 sacks, 2 stuffs, a forced fumble, and a deflection later, Ansah left his mark on Mobile. With explosiveness and tremendous closing speed, he appeared to be all over the field, which leads me to believe he was over-thinking practice. At 6'4, 360 pounds, Georgia's John Jenkins was the other discussion early in the week. For a man his size, Jenkins has great movement skills, but has a motor that dies easily. Jenkins is a player that will need to trim a little weight and/or improve conditioning, but will be among the most helped by an NFL rotation. Off a little rest, Jenkins was impressive, but less so when forced to string together a couple consecutive reps. His teammate Cornelius Washington was another one on the plus side of this week. He plays with great power and was a difficult block for many this week, but his limited arsenal makes him one-dimensional. Clemson's Malliciah Goodman was among the most impressive specimens on Monday's weigh-in at 6'4, 277 pounds with 35 ¾ inch arms, but that was the apex of his week. From there he sort of disappeared. Under the radar a bit, Josh Boyd also did well to help himself this week as a run-stopper with quickness and the ability to shed blocks at the point of attack.
At 6'2, 256, it may have been fairer to group John Simon with the defensive linemen because he looks far more comfortable at the line of scrimmage than in space or when asked to drop into coverage. As a tweener, defensive coaches will have to be careful to put him in spots where he can excel as he also has some athletic limitations. He produced well in college, but the weigh-in alone may end up costing him a couple rounds. On the other end of the spectrum, Rutgers' Khaseem Greene played the position about as fast as anyone and was constantly around the ball in team drills. He has a great nose for the football and an understanding of the position that allows him to react quicker than his peers. He was beaten in 1v1s in isolated instances—stoned by Robbie Rouse in blitz pick-up and beaten for a catch by Johnathan Franklin—but looked far better in space than the other backers. UNC's Kevin Reddick looked just as natural flowing to the football around the line of scrimmage, but a little tighter in coverage. Conversely, he looked a little more polished than Greene as a blitzer.
From the moment the South team stepped on the field, it wasn't difficult to locate the freakish Zaviar Gooden on the field. Though he has a long way to go as a WILL linebacker, his natural fit at the next level, his straight-line speed will be sure to turn heads at the Combine. While some players don't live up to their timed speed, Gooden looks fast. He's active and finds the football quickly, but can be beaten on fakes. The man the defense looked to for an emotional lift was middle linebacker Vince Williams. His size and strength show up in any type of hitting. He laid a memorable hit to finish the team portion on Wednesday that ignited the entire defense. Williams' presence was again felt on Saturday recording another big hit, on one of his 6 tackles on the day. If there's a weakness in his game, it's in lateral movement and man coverage, which will make the Combine even more crucial for him. Also a little athletically-limited was Stanford's outside backer Chase Thomas who struggled against the pass for much of the week. He's far more comfortable around the line of scrimmage. Alabama's Nico Johnson showed similar limitations.
2 of the big overall winners of this week were North corners Jordan Poyer and Desmond Trufant. Not a day went by where Poyer didn't finish his day of work without a nice read and break-up. From early in the week, he established himself as a strong underneath corner making nice flat-footed reads with excellent acceleration to break on routes, deflecting passes in 1v1s, team drills, and the game. Though it didn't show very often this week, he'll be challenged vertically where his deep speed is somewhat in question. The Combine will be crucial for him. Trufant was a blast to watch in practice, specifically in his match-ups with Markus Wheaton. He's a competitor always looking to be challenged and certainly impressed defensive coaches with his enthusiasm throughout the week. He'll need to learn to take his hands off after five yards where he'll get in trouble at the next level, but he embraces physicality and does a nice job of sticking to receivers. Blidi Wreh-Wilson is another physical corner who always seems under control. His name didn't surface much throughout the week, but for corners, that's almost always a good thing. He played well on Saturday. With safeties put in a lot of the same spots as corners in 1v1 drills, Phillip Thomas and TJ McDonald looked a little stiff and less sure of themselves in coverage. Then again, this event isn't very safety-friendly.
Less star-studded than the North squad and facing the better crop of receivers, the South defensive backs didn't have any singular, exceptional performance this week. Of the bunch, Marc Anthony was probably the strongest corner on hand. Displaying good anticipation and burst, he consistently won at the top of the route. Playing without fear, he put himself on the radar against good competition, sending scouts back to the tapes. BW Webb from William & Mary similarly introduced himself this week. Hanging with some of the premier competition, he didn't allow the moment to overwhelm him, instead showing some calm and never backing down from any match-up. He was never really beaten badly all week, which is more than can be said for most corners here. The other small school corner Robert Alford from SE Louisiana put together a good week of practice and made an even bigger impact in the game where he nearly returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and iced the game with an interception on the conversion. Robert Lester and Sanders Commings looked a uncomfortable with their back to the line of scrimmage, as many college safeties generally do this week.
Brian Schwenke [C, California]
Desmond Trufant [CB, Washington]
Eric Fisher [OT, Central Michigan]
Jordan Poyer [CB, Oregon State]
Khaseem Greene [OLB, Rutgers]
Lane Johnson [OT, Oklahoma]
Marquise Goodwin [WR, Texas]
Mike Glennon [QB, North Carolina State]
Quinton Patton [WR, Louisiana Tech]
Tavarres King [WR, Georgia]
Vince Williams [ILB, Florida State]
Chase Thomas [OLB, Stanford]
John Simon [DE/LB, Ohio State]
Landry Jones [QB, Oklahoma]
Oday Aboushi [OL, Virginia]
Zac Dysert [QB, Miami(OH)]