2012 Senior Bowl Performance Reviews: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

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2012 Senior Bowl Performance Reviews: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
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Arizona's Juron Criner was the best wide receiver at the Senior Bowl.

With the conclusion of Saturday’s game in Mobile, Ala., the 2012 Senior Bowl officially became complete, and with that, a large step in the pre-draft process for all of the players who participated and for all the team personnel that attended.

Of course, evaluations should always be based primarily on game tape, not on performance during an All-Star game week. That said, the Senior Bowl is a great opportunity for many of the top prospects for the NFL draft to all compete on a level playing field against one another, making it a great tool for scouting evaluation and a great venue for every prospect who attended to boost their stock.

After watching all of the televised coverage of practices as well as the game, thanks to NFL Network (and my Slingbox, since the basic cable here at Ohio State does not include NFL Network), I present my full evaluations of the week based on what I could watch. Due to the comprehensiveness and length of the article, I have split the performance reviews into six positional groupings.

 

Wide Receivers

Arizona’s Juron Criner was the best wide receiver at the Senior Bowl. Criner is a big wide receiver at 6’2’’, 220 pounds, and he carries his weight well. He does not have great long speed, but he is a terrific route runner, is quick in and out of breaks and uses his size and strength to his advantage.

Criner ran great routes and also has great hands, evidenced by the many tough catches he made throughout the week, including a terrific one-handed catch in which he looked like a baseball outfielder extending to bring the ball in. Criner may have established his worth as a third-round draft pick.

The South receiving corps also featured two of the most dynamic athletes in the draft, both of whom had big weeks.

Arkansas’ Joe Adams was the offensive standout of the game with eight receptions for 133 yards. Adams started the game poorly with a lost fumble on one of the game’s first plays, but everything was positive from that point on. Adams had three plays of more than 25 yards with the majority of his yards coming after the catch on short passes.

Adams has terrific speed and quickness, and he uses that to his advantage. Once the ball is in his hands, Adams becomes very dangerous, as he has the ability to make defenders miss and turn any small play into a big play. Adams has displayed this ability throughout his collegiate career, but by doing it again in the Senior Bowl, he likely secured his status as a fourth-round draft pick.

The other dynamic wide receiver on the South squad was Florida’s Chris Rainey. Rainey played running back at Florida, but he worked primarily at wide receiver during the week, and it quickly became clear that he is primarily a receiver prospect for the next level.

Rainey consistently made big plays in practices. His most impressive highlight of the week came in one-on-ones on Tuesday. Working against former teammate Janoris Jenkins, a likely Day 2 draft selection, Rainey reached top speed and put a tremendous double move on Jenkins to burn him and get open to catch a deep ball.

While Rainey did not make an impact in the actual game, his performance throughout the week of practices displays that while he is raw, he has the attributes to be a big playmaker in an NFL passing game. Because of that, he is worth a fourth-round draft choice.

North Carolina’s Dwight Jones came into Senior Bowl week with a third-round grade, the highest among wide receivers in attendance. He is big and athletic, but did little to stand out in Mobile.

His stock should stay steady in the third round, but the same is less certain for Texas A&M’s Jeff Fuller. Fuller certainly has great size at 6’4’’ and 217 pounds, and he is a very strong receiver, but he did not look athletic at the Senior Bowl. He struggled accelerating off the line of scrimmage. He also had problems with drops, which have plagued him throughout his senior season. Fuller is a fourth-round pick at best and may fall further.

If there was another player at the Senior Bowl whose speed rivaled that of Chris Rainey, that player would be North Carolina State’s T.J. Graham. Graham also made a big impression this week. Graham’s best asset is his ability to use his speed as a kickoff and punt returner, and he did very well in those aspects this week.

Graham also did a good job beating opposing defensive backs with his speed and ran crisp routes. Graham also showed his ability to make a tough catch on game day. On a broken play in which quarterback Russell Wilson had to pick up a snap off the ground, Graham was able to break off his route, turn back and lay out for a short throw to make an impressive catch.

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Graham is one of the fastest players in the 2012 NFL draft, and he showed this week that he carries considerable promise as a kick returner and slot receiver. Graham may have solidified himself as a sixth-round draft pick.

Arizona State’s Gerell Robinson had an up-and-down week. Robinson is a big receiver with the skill to make big plays. He made two catches on game day: The first was a 23-yard catch, and on the second catch, he found open field off a short crossing pattern and ended up with a 41-yard touchdown.

Robinson also had another big opportunity in the game: He burned Janoris Jenkins down the sideline, but Kirk Cousins missed the downfield throw. However, Robinson had a big problem of his own this week: drops. Robinson had problems throughout the week with drops, and that has been a problem for him in his collegiate career as well. Robinson’s combination of big-play ability and size make him an intriguing prospect, but his inconsistency hurts his draft stock.

California’s Marvin Jones had a strong week. His one catch in the game was a touchdown, and he looked very good in one-on-one drills. He has a good combination of size and speed and looked good against good cornerbacks all week. He may have worked his way up into the Round 5.

Ohio State’s DeVier Posey had as much to gain as any wide receiver in Mobile, but he was a big disappointment. During the week, Posey failed to standout in drills and was very weak in blocking drills. On game day, he dropped a sure touchdown pass from Kellen Moore, and later in the game he decided to give up on an overthrown pass to the end zone, allowing Casey Hayward to make an easy interception.

He did have an impressive 33-yard receiving play in the game, but he needed to be much more consistent through Senior Bowl week after only playing the final three games of his senior season. Posey should be selected no higher than Round 6.

Appalachian State’s Brian Quick was another player in need of a big week, as a small-school prospect going up against much tougher competition. Quick was solid and should remain a fourth-round prospect, but he had a chance to work his way up into Day 2. He failed to stand out, and it would be tough to justify him being selected in the top three rounds.

Iowa’s Marvin McNutt had a very solid Senior Bowl week. He displayed a good combination of size and speed, and he put that on display over the course of the week in practices. He may not have been a standout, but should have solidifed his stock as a fourth-round pick, with a consistent week following an inconsistent career.

Houston’s Patrick Edwards left the Senior Bowl early with a hamstring injury. Edwards looked very good running routes while he was in action, but was inconsistent with catching the ball. He remains a Round 6 or 7 draft pick.

Alabama’s Marquis Maze also left early following a hamstring injury. Illinois’s A.J. Jenkins was a late addition to the South roster as a result and had little opportunity to impress scouts.

 

Tight Ends

Although he did not have a single catch in the game, Louisiana-Lafayette’s Ladarius Green had the best week of any tight end at the Senior Bowl. Green has ideal size for the position and is a tremendous athlete. Green is known for his vertical receiving ability, and he looked very natural running routes and making plays downfield this week.

Green’s blocking ability was also very impressive this week. Green did a good job making blocks in the run game, and shows that he does not only have great size, but strength as well. With a great week, Green has a good chance to be a third-round draft pick.

Missouri’s Michael Egnew had the highest grade among tight ends coming into Senior Bowl week. Egnew did not make a big impression this week, but he is a big, athletic tight end who had a very productive collegiate career. Egnew rarely ever played as an in-line blocker at Missouri and did not look particularly comfortable doing so this week, but that is a skill he will have to learn. He remains worth a fourth-round draft pick.

When it comes to being drafted at all, the two tight ends who really needed to make a big statement at the Senior Bowl this week were Massachusetts’s Emil Igwenagu and Alabama’s Brad Smelley. Both players are combination H-backs who will have to play a mix of fullback and tight end at the next level. The good news is that both players had very strong showings in Mobile.

Igwenagu was a late addition to the North roster coming off a very strong showing in the Shrine Game. Igwenagu displayed very good hands as a receiver, an ability to run with physicality after the catch, and was effective as a run-blocker. Igwenagu lacks the height and athleticism to be a starting tight end, but he has shown over the past two weeks that he has the potential to be a solid role player at the next level. He has a good chance of being a sixth-round draft pick.

Louisiana-Lafayette TE Ladarius Green made a big statement in Mobile.

Smelley was a very pleasant surprise this week. Smelley is undersized and lacks athleticism for an NFL tight end, but he caught everything that came his way this week. He struggled in pass-blocking as well, but did a good job as a run-blocker. Smelley still should be a seventh-round draft pick as well, but by putting on a clinic in catching the football, he could warrant a selection in the draft.

After an inconsistent collegiate career, LSU’s DeAngelo Peterson needed a good week at the Senior Bowl, but like his days at LSU, he showed little more than flashes of brilliance. Peterson struggled as a blocker this week. His upside makes him worth a seventh-round draft pick, but he should be selected no higher.

Michigan State’s Brian Linthicum looked to be a decent receiving threat and a skilled blocker this week, just as he has on game tape. He did nothing to stand out, but with a good combination of size and athleticism and collegiate productivity, he is worth a sixth-round draft pick.

 

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Thanks for reading!

Click the following links to read the remainder of my 2012 Senior Bowl performance reviews:

Quarterbacks and Running Backs

Offensive Line

Defensive Line

Linebackers

Defensive Backs

For more 2012 NFL draft coverage, follow me on Twitter @Dan_Hope.

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