Stanford's Stepfan Taylor
The 2013 Senior Bowl's North Squad has already held a full day of practice and some Pac-12 players have already taken the opportunity to show why their 2013 NFL Draft status should go up.
Which two Pac-12 players from the North's roster have the best shot at moving up in the draft?
Oregon State receiver Markus Wheaton was one of the top receivers in the Pac-12 but he, like everyone else, didn't get nearly the hype as USC receiver Marqise Lee did. Wheaton racked up 1,244 yards, 11 touchdowns and averaged 95.7 receiving yards per game for the Beavers. The good news for Wheaton is that Lee isn't eligible to declare for the draft early, but the other half of USC's dynamic duo, Robert Woods, has declared for the draft. Woods is projected to go in the first or second round while Wheaton is a solid second-rounder, according to CBSSports.
The New York Times' Matt Waldman watched the first day of Senior Bowl practice and had this to say about Wheaton:
I thought Wheaton was the star among the skill players today. It’s only the first day of practice, so it doesn’t mean a ton, but I thought he was really sharp with his routes and releases. He uses his hands and feet well for a college player and had no problem beating corners in drills and scrimmage situations. He even forced one defender to tackle him on an out and up.
UCLA defensive end Datone Jones had an up and down career at UCLA—the Bruins' pass rush at times was ineffective and part of that was due to Jones' veteran experience not quite living up to expectations in 2011. Last year there was improvement on the defense under head coach Jim Mora.
Jones had 6.5 sacks in 2012 (the same as in 2011) and while that's satisfactory, linebacker Anthony Barr doubled that number at 13. Barr also beat Jones in tackles for loss so right now, Jones needs to prove he is just as ferocious as Barr, who recently announced he will return to UCLA for his senior year.
So far, Jones has impressed. CBSSports' Dane Brugler had this impression of Jones:
Which Pac-12 player will increase his NFL draft stock the most?
After impressing scouts with his striking physique during weigh-ins, UCLA's Datone Jones carried that momentum over to the practice field. He showed excellent short-area burst off the edge, winning with strength and quickness at the point of attack. Jones lined up all over the defensive line in college and it's tough to classify him at one position, but his scheme versatility will make him an attractive prospect for hybrid defenses like in New England. Considered a second rounder entering the week, he made a strong case on Monday as to why he should be considered a top-32 selection.
The South Squad also has one player to really keep your eyes on.
Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor will be practicing with some outstanding running backs including Clemson's Andre Ellington and Florida's Mike Gillislee. The North's Kenjon Barner (Oregon) and Johnathan Franklin (UCLA) will also be drawing a lot of attention.
Giovani Bernard (North Carolina) and Eddie Lacy (Alabama) are projected by many to be selected before Taylor but honestly, Taylor could be the biggest sleeper in the draft—Taylor is an every-down back and can both block and catch well.
Marcus Lattimore (South Carolina) and Montee Ball (Wisconsin) are also in the mix but they've got a lot of wear-and-tear on their bodies—neither of them, nor Bernard and Lacy, will be participating in this year's Senior Bowl
Stepfan Taylor probably won't go in the first two rounds but he could see third-round action if he makes a big jump. Interestingly, CBSSports has Taylor as the eighth best running back prospect behind both Ball and Lattimore—that's too low for Taylor.
This week we could see his stock rise drastically.