Senior Bowl 2012: 9 Young Stars Who Will Shine Brightest During the Game

John HickeyContributor IIJanuary 28, 2012

Senior Bowl 2012: 9 Young Stars Who Will Shine Brightest During the Game

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    Now that the Senior Bowl workouts are over and most of the NFL scouts have left—the cadre of professional scouts are much more interested in workouts than watching games as they prepare for the draft—it’s time for the rest of the football-watching world to check out players and the game.

    These are players who will be playing in the NFL next season, and their performances will be of more than passing interest to the NFL-watching public. This is a job fair played out on national television.

    And while it’s true that the word "senior"’ in the name "Senior Bowl" precludes players who will come out of college early, there is plenty to like as the North and the South kick off in Mobile Saturday afternoon.

    Here is a sampling:

9. Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State

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    Although he’s not projected as a sure-fire first-round pick in a year of good quarterbacks in the draft, Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins has improved his stock in the draft by a good week in Mobile.

    While prone to making aggravating errors for the Spartans, the 6'2", 209-pounder has looked more composed and qualified this week. He doesn’t have a lot of bulk to be sure, but he does the 40-yard dash at 4.85 and can elude the rush so may not have to take a lot of hits.

    More than that, he gets rid of the ball quickly, picks his receivers up fast and seems geared to running a high-powered offense.

8. Juron Criner, WR, Arizona

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    There may not be a player on either roster who has done more for himself in the last week than Arizona’s Juron Criner.

    Not particularly well known nationally or even in the Pac-12, Criner nevertheless showed himself to be the equal of any receiver on either roster this week with explosiveness at the snap and good route-running abilities.

    And his hands seemed to be made of glue, making him a receiver to be watched.

7. Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina

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    North Carolina’s Quinton Coples just might be the best defensive end not just in the game today, but in the draft, too.

    He has the size (6'6", 281 pounds) and speed (4.7 seconds in the 40) that have scouts trying to figure out just how high in the draft he should go.

    The fact that he can go at defensive tackle as well as defensive end doesn’t hurt. Offensive linemen are going to be at their best to blunt his pass rush.

6. Andre Branch, DE, Clemson

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    A defensive lineman who may have room to add some bulk, Clemson’s Andre Branch is blessed with both size (6'5", 260 pounds) and speed (4.65 in the 40).

    He also has agility enough to play at linebacker in a pro 3-4 defense.

    He’s got the chance to be a breakout pass-rusher today and down the line in the pros.

5. Courtney Upshaw, DL, Alabama

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    NFL teams like winners, and Courtney Upshaw, a defensive tackle out of Alabama, is fresh off a national championship season with the Crimson Tide.

    At 6'1", 270 pounds, he’s likely best slotted in the middle of the line, but he does that well, getting great drive into the offensive backfield.

    He’s strong and generates explosive power when tangling with offensive linemen, enough to force double teams. He’s a player to watch.

4. Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State

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    He’s 28, and that’s about the only thing that can be said of detriment about Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden, who might be talked about in the same breath as probable No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck of Stanford if he were closer to Luck’s age (22).

    Thanks to a minor league baseball career, Weeden is actually a couple of months older than Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has been playing in the NFL long enough to serve an apprenticeship and take his team to a Super Bowl title.

    Weeden does have a great arm, however, and he’s got the potential to put up great numbers today and into the future.

3. Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State

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    Maybe no one had a better week of work at the Senior Bowl than Adams, who could slot as one of the elite left tackles in the NFL in the next couple of years.

    Scouts this week have raved about his ability to keep defenders off the quarterback. He has long arms, and he is adept at using them to best advantage against pass-rushers.

    For Saturday, he’s pitted up with some of the best defensive linemen and linebackers in the game. The matchups should be worth watching.

2. Melvin Ingram, LB, South Carolina

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    This past week in Mobile has given Ingram the chance to make his case that he’s on par with the best in the land, and he seems to have done just that.

    His explosiveness off the ball is just what pro scouts look for in a rusher coming at the quarterback from defensive end or outside linebacker.

    He’s got a nice mix of pass-rush moves and gets to the quarterback more than any offensive coordinator would like to see.

1. Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia

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    While he came into the week in Mobile as just another good player, Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin put on a show this week.

    He was able to stay with even the quickest receivers on the most challenging routes. He seemed to have the instincts of a natural NFL cornerback.

    He’s not big at 5'9", 183 pounds, but he is extremely quick (4.35 in the 40), and he showed the ability to keep the ball from getting to the receiver time after time.