The 10 Hottest Prospects in the 2013 Senior Bowl

Marc Lillibridge@NFL_BridgeContributor IJanuary 25, 2013

The 10 Hottest Prospects in the 2013 Senior Bowl

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    The 2013 edition of the Senior Bowl is geared up to be played this Saturday in Mobile, Ala. The game can be viewed on the NFL Network at 4 p.m. ET.

    Every year, NFL executives, personnel, scouts and coaches descend upon the Gulf Coast to take in practices of the top-rated college All-Star Game. The Senior Bowl committee, headed by former NFL general manager Phil Savage, works to bring the best talent together.

    There are numerous holdouts every year, but this year especially seemed to lack overall talent. Two top-tier quarterbacks, USC’s Matt Barkley and WVU’s Geno Smith, were notable no-shows. 

    Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, and Florida State’s defensive end Bjoern Werner, also chose not to participate.

    Those seniors who decided against competing opened the door for players who were excited to showcase their talents and skills to NFL personnel. 

    Here is a list of the 10 players who helped themselves the most by taking part in the 2013 Senior Bowl. These are names that will stay in the headlines until the 2013 NFL draft in late April.

Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib

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    If Barkley and Smith decided to partake in the Senior Bowl this year, there is a very good possibility that Ryan Nassib would have been excluded. Not only did Nassib get to showcase his talent, but the signal-caller from Syracuse was the best quarterback of all six players selected.

    Nassib has good arm strength, but what scouts and coaches love about him is his command of the offense and the huddle. Nassib acts like he belongs, and he gained the respect of his coaches and teammates. 

    In individual drills, the other quarterbacks may have shown better touch or accuracy, but in team and competitive drills, Nassib stood out. 

    When a play broke down in seven-on-seven or team drills, Nassib showed the ability to adjust on the fly and make a play out of nothing. That skill set will come in handy in the NFL, and it made scouts and coaches who were not as familiar with Nassib heading into the week take notice.

Kansas State WR Chris Harper

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    The Oregon transfer may not get the national publicity that other receivers in this draft class get, but Chris Harper put himself in the conversation as a top-five wideout after this week. 

    Harper did not have great numbers at Kansas State due to the type of offense run by head coach Bill Snyder. But in Mobile, Harper proved he could consistently get open against press coverage.

    Harper is explosive out of his breaks and drops his weight very well getting in and out of his routes. He is one of those players who does not look fast, yet somehow when the football is in the air, he is open. 

    Harper did not have a drop recorded in any team or individual work viewed and showed soft hands to snatch the football at its highest point. The Kansas native consistently got better each day and showed his willingness to compete and take hard coaching. 

    Harper is a very intriguing prospect, and with a good 40 time at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, he should position himself in the upper echelon of wide receivers selected in the 2013 NFL draft.

Oregon State WR Markus Wheaton

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    Not having watched a lot of Oregon State football this year, I did not know much about Markus Wheaton before the Senior Bowl. 

    As soon as he started to warm up in the pat-and-go drill, my first thought flashed of another OSU alumni: Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson. Both players have smooth gaits, and both players had a lot to prove coming out of college.

    Wheaton showed why the comparison is viable as soon as the whistle sounded for the first individual drills. He is an excellent route runner who sells his route very well. His body control was the best of any wide receiver in Mobile, and he consistently made a circus catch each day.

    The Oregon State star was quick off the line of scrimmage, and though he will need to get stronger to work off press coverage in the NFL, he had the lateral quickness to get off the football and into his route quickly. 

    Wheaton has very good deep speed and understands how to press the cornerback to the center of the field before leaning to the sideline to make the over-the-shoulder grab.  

Louisiana Tech WR Quinton Patton

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    By far the best wide receiver of the group on either the North or South squads, Quinton Patton made himself a lot of money this week. 

    I am not a huge believer that All-Star Games have that much overall effect on a player’s draft position. That being said, Patton proved he belonged with the best in the country, and he put himself in a position to be considered one of the best.

    A physically well-built prospect, Patton put on a display of speed which was hard not to be mesmerized by. He consistently made cornerbacks who will be playing in the NFL next season look out of sorts. More than once, Patton completely turned around a player trying to cover him in space.

    Patton has the uncanny ability to get in and out of his breaks without having to slow down. His explosiveness and quickness are quite evident in his route running. 

    Patton will allow the football to get to his chest on slant routes, but he showed good hands to pluck the football on comeback and out routes. He made the quarterbacks in Mobile look good.

Central Michigan OT Eric Fisher

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    There is nothing better to watch at the Senior Bowl practices than one-on-one pass-rushes between the defensive linemen and offensive linemen. The crowd of on-lookers rivals that of any drill ever put on display.

    This week’s winner on the offensive side of the football was Eric Fisher. When NFL coaches and senior NFL executives are nodding in approval of the way a player handles his business, you know the guy is good. 

    Fisher had some epic battles with UCLA’s defensive end Datone Jones and won a majority of them. Fisher showed he could handle speed-rushers, and his flexibility in his knees and hips is outstanding. 

    Fisher has a solid punch and can shadow the rusher inside and outside with great lateral quickness. While standing over 6’7”, Fisher will get high in his pass sets at times, but he still showed the lower-body strength to anchor and hold the point of attack. 

    Fisher came into the week as a top-three offensive tackle prospect. He may have left No. 1.

Oklahoma OT Lane Johnson

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    If your team needs an offensive tackle, the 2013 NFL draft is the place to get a solid one. There is the possibility of five franchise tackles available, and Lane Johnson is one of them. 

    The former high school quarterback continues to impress with his athletic ability. What stood out the most for me in his practice sessions in Mobile was his ability to finish. Johnson flashed a nasty side and worked his blocks to the whistle.

    Johnson is athletic enough to play right or left tackle in the NFL and could probably kick into guard if called upon. He has natural strength. When he fires off the football with low pad level, Johnson can rock the defender back and will create the point of attack.

    When his arms are locked out in pass protection, Johnson showed the ability to stonewall the rusher and hold the integrity of the pocket. Johnson will test very well at the NFL combine. When combined with his Senior Bowl performance, he put himself in position to be a top-10 selection come draft time.

Kentucky OG Larry Warford

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    When thinking of Kentucky, horse racing and basketball come to mind. Larry Warford is a combination of both. While standing as monstrous as a thoroughbred, Warford moves his feet like a future NBA star.

    Easily the best interior lineman for both squads, this mountain of a man was explosive and powerful off the football. Playing with good hip flexion and lower-body strength, Warford showed he could dig the defender out of the hole. He consistently drove his feet and worked to gain inside hands on the defender.

    As a pass-blocker, Warford uses his strength more than he needs to because he does have the foot quickness to move laterally well. But at times, he will get lazy with his feet because he knows once he gets his huge hands on the defender's chest plate, he can simply out-muscle him. 

    Warford is a top-three offensive guard, and he did nothing to lose that status in Mobile.

UCLA DE Datone Jones

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    As crazy as this sounds, FSU’s DE Bjoern Werner’s stock rose by NOT showing up in Mobile.

    The lack of another dominant and consistent pass-rusher was evident, and it was a reason why Datone Jones’ stock soared so rapidly. Jones was the only pass-rusher on either the North or South team who produced each time on the field.

    Jones was explosive and showed a powerful first step in one-on-one pass-rush drills. He worked more than one pass-rush move, and when he was blocked, he still showed hustle to finish.

    Jones has a very good stab move, and when he could use his arm length to separate from the blocker, he made the play.

    Jones is not going to be the fastest, strongest or quickest defensive end in the 2013 NFL draft. But Jones is a hard-nosed player who took the coaching he received to heart and worked every day on his craft to get better.

    Scouts and coaches took notice, and that effort will help Jones get drafted high come April.

Connecticut LB Sio Moore

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    The group of linebackers at this year’s Senior Bowl left a lot to be desired. It was not until Sio Moore showed up on Wednesday that there was a player flying around the field making plays. 

    Moore was an injury replacement after a dominant week at the East-West Shrine Game, and he brought that same level of intensity and effort to Mobile.

    Moore shows the ability to cover tight ends down the seam and running backs out of the backfield. A willing hitter, Moore was constantly thumping pads with the offensive players throughout the drill work just to remind them he was there.

    While Moore impressed in Florida last week, more NFL coaches are on hand in Mobile. His infectious nature was not missed by many coaches in attendance at practices. 

    Moore is the type of player who rises to the occasion, and he should see his star continually rise throughout the NFL draft process.

Washington CB Desmond Trufant

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    The secondary play in the Senior Bowl practices was subpar this year, and many of the wide receivers used this stage to take advantage of the safeties and cornerbacks. One cornerback who did stand out was Desmond Trufant. 

    Not a physically imposing player, Trufant was outstanding with his technique work and showed a wiry strength to re-route the receivers off the line of scrimmage.

    Quick with his jam, Trufant uses excellent foot quickness to mirror the receiver off the line and into the route. He has the hip looseness and speed to get in the hip pocket of the receiver and run the route for the wideout. 

    Trufant will not be in the discussion of the top five cornerbacks available for the NFL draft, but he did more than enough to secure his place in the top 10 cornerbacks to be selected. Trufant at worst will be a starting nickel cornerback in the NFL in 2013.

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