Senior Bowl: Positional Breakdown of 2013 NFL Draft Prospects in Saturday's Game
The marquee all-star game of the pre-draft season takes place Saturday, when many of the nation’s best prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft will compete against one another in the 2013 Senior Bowl.
The North and South rosters are both laden with future draft picks, including many potential first-round picks.
Central Michigan left tackle Eric Fisher, Texas defensive end Alex Okafor and Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib highlight the North squad.
Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson and BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah are among the many players scouts will be keeping a close eye from the South squad.
In fact, most of the players’ work is done, as the bulk of scouting evaluations from the Senior Bowl took place during practices from Monday to Thursday.
That said, Saturday’s contest in Mobile will be one final change for the players in this game to strap on the pads and play a game of football to make an impression on NFL teams.
Each NFL team will be focusing upon different players based upon their positional needs and system fits. Which players should you be focusing on at each position? The following slides highlight some of the top prospects to watch on both teams.
The Senior Bowl kicks off at 4 p.m. EST Saturday on NFL Network.
Disclaimer: Any and all practice evaluations mentioned are based upon the three televised sessions for each roster from NFL Network. I was not in Mobile, Ala. for the practices.
The three North quarterbacks all came into the week in a similar position. All three have impressive physical upside, but all three battled inconsistency throughout their senior seasons and collegiate careers. But in a class that lacks any sure top prospects at quarterback, the door is open for any of these quarterbacks to end up as a first-round pick.
Top Prospect: Ryan Nassib, Syracuse
Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib came into the week with the highest grade of any of the three North quarterbacks, and he continued to impress the most of the three quarterbacks in practice this week.
Nassib has the tools to be a very good quarterback. He gets good zip and velocity on his throws, and has both the arm strength and downfield accuracy to make any throw on the field. He is not a dual-threat but has good feet, moves well in the pocket and has sound mechanics.
Nassib’s arm strength is overstated—he does not drive the ball downfield particularly well—but he can fit intermediate-to-deep throws into tight windows, does a good job switching reads and he has good toughness. But while Nassib often looks very good, he does have a tendency to make head-scratching mistakes at times which he will have to cut down upon at the next level.
If Nassib can finish the week strong with a good performance in the game, he should cement his status as a top-4 quarterback in the draft class.
He grades out as a second-round pick, but could end up as a top-10 draft choice by the Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills or New York Jets.
Depending on how high quarterback demand is in the early rounds of the draft, North Carolina State’s Mike Glennon and Miami’s Zac Dysert—the other two North quarterbacks—could potentially be picked in Round 1 also. Both quarterbacks would be more appropriate value, however, in the third or fourth round.
Glennon has outstanding physical tools, which could cause a team to fall in love with him as a high draft pick, but he was far too inconsistent and mistake-prone in his collegiate career. Dysert is also an impressive player physically and can make tough throws downfield, but his footwork, accuracy and touch is inconsistent on both short and deep throws.
Top Prospect: Tyler Wilson, Arkansas
There may not be any prospect with more to gain in Mobile this week than Tyler Wilson. If the Kansas City Chiefs leave Mobile excited about what they saw from the Arkansas quarterback this week, he could be the No. 1 overall pick.
Wilson did not appear to do enough to set himself out as the draft class’ top quarterback this week, but he remains at the top of my quarterback rankings. He is the most polished downfield pocket passer in the draft class, and is the most NFL-ready signal-caller to take over as a rookie starter.
Wilson had a disappointing senior season after a terrific junior year, but he remains the safest bet among first-round quarterbacks. He needs to become more consistent with downfield accuracy and cut down on throwing interceptions, but has a strong arm, sound mechanics and can make tough throws under pressure.
As long as Wilson finishes the week strong Saturday, he should at least be in position to be one of the top three quarterbacks drafted.
Oklahoma’s Landry Jones and Florida State’s E.J. Manuel are both enigmatic. At times, each has looked like a first-round pick. Significant flaws in both of their games, however, make them more appropriately suited to be fourth-round selections.
Jones is a skilled pro-style pocket passer, but he is very shaky when pressure is coming at him, and ranged from being very good at times to frustratingly inaccurate and mistake-prone at others. Manuel is a physically-impressive quarterback with a strong arm and good athleticism, but he lacks downfield touch and struggles with decision-making under pressure.
Jones and Manuel would be great choices on day three as backup quarterbacks with the potential to develop into starters in time. Drafting either of them early as an expected franchise quarterback, however, would be a mistake.
North Running Backs
Top Prospect: Johnathan Franklin, UCLA
Johnathan Franklin is one of the best speed backs in the 2013 draft class. He is a dynamic open-field runner with the quickness to make defenders miss, and he is a very good receiving back out of the backfield.
Franklin also impressed during Senior Bowl in pass-protection drills. He had a tremendous senior season at UCLA, and has the all-around game to be a very good third-down back in the NFL. He has good size too for a quick back, and while he may not be a feature back, he could form a very dynamic backfield rotation if paired with a bigger power back.
Franklin should be selected in the third or fourth round of the draft.
Other Running Backs
Oregon’s Kenjon Barner is not quite LaMichael James, but he has many similar qualities to his game. He is a quick back with an explosive burst, and a good pass-catcher out of the backfield. Although small, he does a decent job running through contact, and should be an early Day 3 draft pick as a complementary back.
Fresno State’s Robbie Rouse is a well-rounded back with one major issue: his size. At only 5’6”, he is very small, and does not have the game-breaking speed or quickness to make up for his lack of size. He is a reliable back who bounces off and away from defenders well, and has good hands out of the backfield, but his lack of size will present problems for running between the tackles and in pass protection.
South Running Backs
Top Prospect: Mike Gillislee, Florida
An underappreciated prospect, Florida’s Mike Gillislee is the top running back in Mobile this week. While not the flashy speedster that Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps were out of Florida last year, he is a very solid all-around back with the potential to be a feature back at the next level.
Gillislee has terrific vision, and uses it well by exploding out of the backfield and hitting the hole quickly. Once past the line of scrimmage, he has very good open-field moves while also having the size and strength to take on contact.
Gillislee is a solid day two draft choice who could emerge as one of the draft class’ best running backs.
Other Running Backs
It would be remiss to talk about Gillislee as the top back in the Senior Bowl without also talking about Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor, who grades out as a third-round draft pick as well.
Taylor has been a very productive back for the Cardinal for three years running, and is a well-rounded back who hits holes efficiently, has good speed and can drive through contact. He won’t necessarily make defenders miss in the open field, but he moves the chains consistently.
The third back on the roster, Miami’s Mike James, came in as a replacement for Clemson’s Andre Ellington. He is a late-round pick at best.
North Wide Receivers
Top Prospect: Markus Wheaton, Oregon State
Markus Wheaton stood out among the North wide receivers in practice this week. Although small at only 5’11” and 183 pounds, he plays bigger than he is with physicality, and is a crisp route-runner with great athletic ability.
Wheaton is not necessarily a make-you-miss player in the open field, but with his route-running and speed, he should continue to do a great job getting open at the next level. He has potential as both a No. 2 or slot receiver, and should be a third-round pick.
More Practice Standouts
Two other wide receivers who were tremendous during televised one-on-one reps over the course of the week were Kansas State’s Chris Harper and Texas’ Marquise Goodwin.
Harper is a big receiver at 6’1” and 228 pounds, but he gets off the line with great burst and tracks the ball well. He has definite upside as a No. 2 receiver, and is likely to be an early selection on Day 3 of the draft.
The 2012 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials champion in the long jump, Goodwin is an outstanding athlete who could be the fastest player in the draft class. His pure speed gives him huge potential as a deep threat, but in Mobile, he looked much better as a route-runner and caught the ball much better than he did in college.
Goodwin remains a project who grades out as a sixth- or seventh-round selection, but considering his pure athleticism, a strong week at the Senior Bowl could easily end up vaulting him into the third or fourth round of the draft.
Other Wide Receivers
Marshall’s Aaron Dobson is a long receiver with great hands, a great stride and good athletic ability for his size. He is not a speed burner, but has the skill set to be a solid No. 2 receiver and red-zone threat. He is a likely third- or fourth-round selection.
Elon’s Aaron Mellette is a big, physical receiver who was very productive at the FCS level, but struggled to separate in practices this week, which will likely be the case at the next level. He catches the football well and has definite upside, but shouldn’t be selected before Day 3.
The wild card of the North group of wideouts is Michigan’s Denard Robinson. It was evident even in limited practice exposure this week that he is very raw in his transition from quarterback to wide receiver.
Robinson is a great athlete and did well running routes, but he needs to become better at catching the ball away from his body. He has been used exclusively as a receiver this week, but although he has project potential as a slot receiver, he may be better suited to play running back in the NFL.
The final receiver of the group, a late addition in Syracuse’s Alec Lemon, is a big but inconsistent receiver, and a fringe draft choice.
South Wide Receivers
Top Prospects: Terrance Williams, Baylor; Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech
Terrance Williams and Quinton Patton stood out in practices as the two best wide receivers in Mobile. Both players should be selected no later than the middle of Round 2, and either could sneak into the latter portion of Round 1.
With great speed and downfield tracking ability, Williams may have the best pure deep threat in the draft class. While Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins has a more complete game among the draft’s top vertical receivers, Williams can really stretch the field, and is a shifty route-runner as well.
Patton isn’t a speed burner, but he is challenging USC’s Robert Woods as the most complete receiver in the draft class. Patton is outstanding at making plays on the football with great hands and body control, and he is a quick, sharp runner who does a great job of getting open from anywhere on the field.
The teams that add Williams and Patton this April will likely see immediate dividends on their passing offenses as a result.
Other Wide Receivers
Arkansas’ Cobi Hamilton also grades out as a second-round pick. He is a fast receiver with downfield playmaking ability and open-field quickness, and he could be a real vertical threat at the next level. Hamilton has had the benefit of playing with Tyler Wilson, who he formed a dynamic duo with at Arkansas, and could shine Saturday when his college quarterback is throwing him the ball.
Duke’s Conner Vernon is a good slot receiver who runs crisp routes, is a good athlete and can make plays over the middle of the field. Tavarres King was a very inconsistent player at Georgia, but he is an explosive downfield receiving threat with the potential to be a difference-maker. For different reasons, Vernon and King project to go anywhere between Rounds 4 and 6.
Russell Shepard, who is a long shot to be drafted after an underwhelming career at LSU, rounds out the group of wideouts after replacing Texas A&M’s Ryan Swope during the week.
The 2013 tight end draft class is full of junior talent, but the group of tight ends at the Senior Bowl this year is underwhelming. That said, there are numerous intriguing sleepers between the two squads.
Top Prospect: Michael Williams, Alabama
Michael Williams (South) is the best in-line blocking tight end in the draft class, and could immediately be one of the league’s best in that area. He has great size and strength and will be an immediate asset to a team as a run-blocker, but he does not offer much as a receiver.
Although only a situational player as a blocker, Williams could be a very valuable addition to fit a specific role. He would be well worth an early selection on Day 3.
Rest of the Tight Ends
The most well-rounded tight end at the Senior Bowl is San Jose State’s Ryan Otten (North). He is a good receiver who has good size and gets open well over the middle. He should be a solid Day 3 draft selection.
The most intriguing tight end in practice this week was Rice’s Vance McDonald (South). An athletic tight end who catches the ball like a receiver, he has good size. Although raw as a blocker, McDonald could be a riser in the next few months.
Tennessee’s Mychal Rivera (South) is an athletic receiving threat, but he does not offer much as a blocker. Colorado’s Nick Kasa (North) is a big, strong blocker who may be best suited to play as an H-back. Jack Doyle (North) is a big, athletic tight end who was productive as a receiver at Western Kentucky, and could have late-round upside.
Harvard’s Kyle Juszczyk (North) is an undersized tight end who is a solid blocker and projects as an H-back who can catches passes out of the backfield. Wake Forest’s Tommy Bohanon (South) is a big fullback who is a decent receiver out of the backfield. Neither player, however, is an overpowering lead run blocker, and may not have enough in their games to be drafted at a declining position.
North Offensive Tackles
Top Prospect: Eric Fisher, Central Michigan
Central Michigan left tackle Eric Fisher made it clear this week that he is not only the best offensive lineman at the Senior Bowl, but the best player at any position.
Fisher has great length, very good footwork and uses his hands well. He is a very good pass protector who can step in immediately as an NFL left tackle, and is also a powerful run blocker.
Fisher hadn’t had many opportunities to prove himself against top competition in college, but if he finishes a great week with a strong performance on game day, he will leave Mobile as the clear-cut No. 2 offensive tackle and almost certainly as a top-12 draft pick.
Other Offensive Tackles
Fisher has been on a level of his own separate from all the other offensive tackles on the North squad, but while he may be the only starting left tackle in the group, there were other impressive performers in Mobile this week.
Syracuse’s Justin Pugh would be the best bet among the other offensive tackles to potentially play on the left side. He does not have great length, but he moves well and is strong. If not a left tackle, he looks like a great candidate to be a starting right tackle or kick inside to guard. Pugh is a potential Round 2 pick.
Oregon’s Kyle Long does not have a lot of playing experience, but has very intriguing potential. He moves his feet well and is a strong lead run blocker. He may be better suited to play inside at guard, which he did at Oregon, but has developmental potential as a tackle also.
Wisconsin’s Ricky Wagner projects as a right tackle only, but he is a powerful run blocker with great strength. He struggles with speed around the edge, but handles bull-rushers very well.
North Interior Offensive Line
Top Prospect: Hugh Thornton, Illinois
Hugh Thornton played left tackle as a senior at Illinois, but he is best suited to kick back inside to guard at the next level. For a guard, Thornton has good length and feet, while he is also big and powerful. He had a very solid week of practices, and could be a very solid pick early on day three as a potential starting right guard at the next level.
Thornton is not the only collegiate offensive tackle who displayed this week that he is a good fit to kick inside at the next level.
Kent State’s Brian Winters is a gritty mauler who is a strong and powerful run blocker. He would struggle with speed off the edge at the next level, but he had a good week inside at guard, where he should be a solid day three pick and could challenge for a starting spot.
San Jose State’s David Quessenberry was the big surprise of the week among North offensive linemen. He spent most of the week inside at guard, and was largely dominant. Quessenberry uses his hands well and is very strong, and could be a sleeper pick on Day 3 with the potential to be a quality starting guard at the next level.
Neither center on the North squad had a great week in practices, but in a very weak class of centers in the 2013 NFL draft, both players have a good shot of being late draft picks.
Notre Dame’s Braxston Cave is a strong run-blocker and a good snapper, but he struggles with quickness inside, which was exposed in this week’s one-on-one drills. West Virginia’s Joe Madsen does not have great length, strength or quickness, but he is a physical center who gets off the snap well and anchors well.
Cave grades out as a sixth-round pick, while Madsen is a fringe seventh-round choice.
South Offensive Tackles
Top Prospect: Lane Johnson, Oklahoma
While Eric Fisher established himself as the No. 2 offensive tackle in the draft class in North practices, Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson made himself a clear No. 3 at the position on the South squad.
A former quarterback and tight end, Johnson has outstanding feet for an offensive tackle. He has a long frame on which he can add bulk, and he re-anchors well off a very strong base.
Johnson is an excellent pass-protector, and although he needs to add strength as a run blocker, he has the skills to start right away on either side of the line. He should be a mid-first-round pick as one of the top prospects at a position of need.
Other Offensive Tackles
Johnson isn’t the only offensive tackle on the South squad with great feet and huge upside. Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s Terron Armstead was a late addition, but he is tremendously quick for an offensive lineman and has great length. He is a raw developmental prospect who has to make a big step up in competition, but has big upside as a left tackle, right tackle or to kick inside to play guard.
Virginia’s Oday Aboushi had a chance to challenge Johnson as the South squad’s top offensive tackle, but he had a disappointing week. Aboushi really struggled with speed off the edge, and although he has terrific length, he looks better suited to kick inside to guard than play tackle.
Florida’s Xavier Nixon is a long and powerful offensive tackle who is very strong with his hands. He struggles with quickness off the line, however, and is penalty-prone. He would struggle with explosive pass-rushers at the next level, and is best suited to kick inside to guard. He should be a Day 3 selection.
Louisiana Tech’s Jordan Mills had some impressive moments this week as a late addition to the roster, including stoning much-hyped BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah in multiple one-on-one pass protection repetitions. He struggled for the most part, however, and looks to be a very raw, fringe late-round selection.
Chadron State’s Garrett Gilkey spent most of his week in Mobile inside at guard, and at least on televised practice repetitions, he was unimpressive. There is nothing that particularly stands out about the Division II prospect’s game, and he is unlikely to be drafted.
South Interior Offensive Linemen
Top Prospect: Larry Warford, Kentucky
While Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson stand out as potential starting left tackles, Kentucky’s Larry Warford stands out among all interior linemen at the Senior Bowl.
In televised repetitions, Warford was absolutely dominant in one-on-ones, and it is not hard to see why. Warford is a massive guard with overpowering strength, and he also has surprisingly good feet. He can solidify himself as a second-round draft pick with a strong performance on Saturday.
California’s Brian Schwenke was the surprise performer among South offensive linemen in Mobile this week, having a great week in one-on-one drills.
Schwenke isn’t particularly big, quick or explosive, but when he gets his hands on opposing defensive linemen, he does a good job of turning them to open up holes in the run game, and he gets good leverage as a pass-protector up the middle.
Schwenke likely solidified himself as a Day 3 draft pick in Mobile this week, but the better center on the South squad may actually be Clemson’s Dalton Freeman. Freeman is undersized at only 286 pounds, but he has good feet, is quick off the snap and has good strength.
North Defensive Ends
Defensive end may be the strongest position on the North roster. All four defensive ends have a good shot of being selected within the first three rounds, and two of them could be first-round picks.
Top Prospect: Alex Okafor, Texas
Alex Okafor isn’t nearly the most-hyped defensive end at the Senior Bowl this week, but he is the best defensive player in Mobile. A well-rounded pass-rusher who uses his hands well and has great technique, Okafor solidified his value as a first-round pick during practices.
Okafor does not have great speed, but he is very quick off the line and plays with great posture and discipline. He needs to get stronger against the run, but as a player who relies on his hand-play and pass-rush moves rather than his measurables, he is ready to be productive immediately at the next level.
Other Defensive Ends
SMU’s Margus Hunt is also a potential first-round pick, but he is the opposite of Okafor. A 6’8”, 277-pound lineman with an 82-inch wingspan and who also has great speed and athletic ability, Hunt may have the most impressive measurables of any prospect in the 2013 draft class.
Hunt’s technique, on the other hand, is undeveloped. He was an inconsistent performer at SMU, and his motor/endurance is also in question. He has the potential to be a star, as he is effective as both an outside and inside rusher, and is one of the best 3-4 defensive end prospects in the draft class. He is a project who should be a second-round pick, but could be a first-round pick based on his massive upside.
Another player with a similar skill set to Hunt is UCLA’s Datone Jones. Jones does not quite have the measurables of Hunt, but he is very explosive off the line of scrimmage as both an outside and inside rusher.
Jones did not dominate at UCLA, but as a quick 280-pounder who is also solid against the run, he is a solid Day 2 draft pick with big potential especially as a 5-technique defensive end in a 3-4 scheme.
Michael Buchanan’s production dipped in his senior season at Illinois, but he is a long, athletic pass-rusher who explodes off the line of scrimmage. He would need to become stronger and bulkier to play as a defensive end against the run, but is a good fit to convert to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Buchanan should be a third- or fourth-round pick.
South Defensive Ends
Top Prospect: Ezekiel Ansah, BYU
In a ranking of boom-or-bust prospects in the 2013 draft class, BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah would be at or near the top. An explosive and strong defensive end with great size and athleticism, Ansah has the potential to be a star, but has a long way to go in his football development.
Ansah had a very productive senior season in what is only his third year of playing football, which has scouts very excited about his upside. That said, buyers should be wary of him as a first-round pick. He is an incredibly raw talent whose technique is mostly undeveloped, and he did not look nearly as explosive or fast off the edge as expected at the Senior Bowl.
Ansah could develop into a star as a 4-3 defensive end, but has limited scheme versatility and will require patience from the team that drafts him. His upside could entice a team to draft him in Round 1, but he would more appropriately be a day two draft selection.
Other Defensive Ends
Neither LSU’s Lavar Edwards or Clemson’s Malliciah Goodman had great productivity in college, but both players have significant upside as likely early day three picks.
Edwards came off the bench as a rotational player behind potential first-round picks Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery at LSU, but he likely could have started for any other team in college football. A big and fast defensive end who can rush from outside and inside, and is also solid against the run, Edwards would be well worth a fourth-round draft choice.
Goodman was an inconsistent performer, but had special flashes during his Clemson career. He is an athletic 272-pound end with a massive 88-inch wingspan, and has explosive quickness as an edge rusher. His motor is a concern and his technique is raw, but he has big potential as a likely early day three selection.
North Defensive Tackles
Top Prospect: Sylvester Williams, North Carolina
The group of the interior defensive linemen on the North squad is nearly as strong as their defensive ends, and that group is led by a potential first-round pick in North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams.
Williams has great size for a defensive tackle at 313 pounds, while he also has fantastic quickness and athletic ability. He is strong and sound against the run.
Williams can beat his opponent off the line very quickly with a sharp move and make plays in the backfield, but his biggest limitation is that he usually does not make an impact on the play when his first move is blocked. He needs to become a more complete technician, but has big upside and should be at least a second-round pick.
Other Defensive Tackles
Another defensive tackle who should be a day two pick is Purdue’s Kawann Short. Short is a thick, powerful interior lineman, and he complements his size and strength with good quickness. He is a stout run-stopper who can also be disruptive as an interior pass-rusher.
A small-school prospect who is on the rise after a strong week at the Senior Bowl is Missouri Southern State’s Brandon Williams. At a well-built 341 pounds, Williams is a true 2-gap nose tackle who has big upside to play the middle in a 3-4 defensive front.
Williams is not a pass-rusher, but has decent quickness for a nose tackle and is very powerful. True nose tackles are hard to find, which could push Williams up into the second or third round.
Rounding out the defensive tackle group is another disruptive interior lineman in Penn State’s Jordan Hill. Hill is a smaller but quick tackle who has potential as a interior rusher as either a 4-3 under tackle or as a 5-technique defensive end in a 3-4. He should be an early day three selection.
South Defensive Tackles
Top Prospect: John Jenkins, Georgia
Weighing in at 359 pounds, John Jenkins is a truly massive nose tackle who can fill gaps and is a load to move, but also has great quickness for a man of his size. Both 3-4 and 4-3 teams alike who use a 2-gap nose tackle will be intriguing by Jenkins’ upside, which could make him a late first-round pick.
The biggest concern with Jenkins are his motor and endurance. As is common for players of his size, Jenkins seems to get tired easily, and while he can make big-impact plays, there are too many plays that he does not impact at all. Jenkins will need to improve his conditioning to be a three-down player at the next level, which may make it a benefit for him to actually cut some of his girth.
Jenkins’ conditioning could drop him to Round 2, but he is a big talent in more ways than one.
Other Defensive Tackles
Jenkins is the only top prospect among the South defensive tackles. The most intriguing guy among the other four is Tennessee-Martin’s Montori Hughes, a talented defensive tackle who is very big but is also quite disruptive and quick for an interior lineman. Hughes is a definite project, but has upside that could entice teams in the middle rounds.
South Florida’s Cory Grissom has great quickness for a defensive tackle, but he is short at only 6’1” and a rotational player at best. Mississippi State’s Josh Boyd and Florida State’s Everett Dawkins are both fringe draft picks.
Top Prospect: Khaseem Greene, Rutgers
If Khaseem Greene was two inches taller and 10 pounds bigger, he’d be a likely first-round pick. But even at only 6’ and 236 pounds, Greene is a very good all-around linebacker who could be an early second-round pick.
Greene is a great athlete who moves very well laterally, makes tackles all over the field and has terrific instincts. He is a sound tackler, drops into coverage well and creates turnovers both by knocking the ball out and making interceptions.
Other Outside Linebackers
As a result of injuries over the course of the week to Kansas State’s Arthur Brown, Ohio State’s John Simon and Connecticut’s Trevardo Williams, all three outside linebackers on the North roster were late additions over the course of the week.
The best among them may be San Jose State’s Travis Johnson. Johnson is not particularly big or fast, but he is good at making plays off the edge as both a run defender and pass-rusher. He is a situational player only at the next level, but was very productive at SJSU, and could be a solid addition for a 3-4 team’s outside linebacker rotation as a Day 3 pick.
Connecticut’s Sio Moore, who like Johnson played in last week’s East-West Shrine Game, could be a Day 3 steal also. Moore can make plays against the run all over the field, and he is effective at covering tight ends. He should draw interest from 4-3 teams as a rotational outside linebacker who can also contribute on special teams.
The wild card of the group is Harding’s Ty Powell. Powell is a very athletic linebacker who could draw a lot of intrigue on Day 3, especially as a pass-rushing outside linebacker.
North Carolina’s Kevin Reddick is the best inside linebacker prospect in Mobile. Reddick is a very good run-stopper who tackles very well, has great instincts and is decent in coverage. He could play either middle or strongside linebacker in a 4-3 defense, or inside in a 3-4, and would be a solid third-round choice.
Steve Beauharnais was a good leader of the Rutgers defense next to Greene, but he is not a big playmaker or a great athlete. He could be a late-round pick to provide middle linebacker depth and contribute on special teams, but does not have big upside.
Top Prospect: Chase Thomas, Stanford
There are no sure bets among the South outside linebackers to be Day 2 picks, but Stanford’s Chase Thomas has a good shot.
Thomas is a good fit to play as a 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level, the position at which he excelled with the Cardinal. He does not have great measurables, but he is a physical player who is quick off the edge and is very sound against the run. He has some issues dealing with speed in coverage, but he can play on any down in a 3-4 and is worth a third-round pick.
Other Outside Linebackers
Texas A&M’s Sean Porter stock dipped along with his production in his senior season, but he remains a great athlete who can make tackles all over the field and is effective in coverage. He was much more effective in a 3-4 his junior season than in a 4-3 his senior season, but he is small to play 3-4 outside linebacker, making his best scheme fit as a weakside linebacker.
Porter could be a late day two or early day three selection.
Southern Miss’ Jamie Collins, Missouri’s Zaviar Gooden and Georgia’s Cornelius Washington are all very impressive players physically who could all end up being great value on day three.
The best prospect among them is Collins, who has a very good combination of size and athleticism, and can both rush the passer and drop into coverage. That makes Collins a scheme-versatile playmaker who is a likely fourth-round selection.
Gooden runs like a safety, but needs to become a more sound tackler to make it at the next level. He has potential as a coverage linebacker and on special teams, and could contribute on special teams.
Washington is a big linebacker and explosive athlete who can rush with both power and speed off the edge. He is an intriguing outside linebacker prospect for a 3-4 scheme, but was not particularly productive at Georgia. He could be a late-round steal.
The last outside linebacker on the roster, Houston’s Phillip Steward, is unlikely to be drafted.
Both inside linebackers on the South squad are likely late-round picks, but there is definite intrigue to Florida State’s Vince Williams. Williams was not a consistent producer at FSU, but he is an instinctive, hard-hitting and quick linebacker who could be good value in the late rounds of the draft as a run-stopper and special teams contributor.
Coming off a disappointing senior season in which he had a reduced role and did not break out as expected, Alabama’s Nico Johnson is a likely late-round draft pick.
Top Prospect: Jordan Poyer, Oregon State
Jordan Poyer followed up on a terrific senior season at Oregon State with a strong showing in Senior Bowl practices. He does not have great measurables, but is an instinctive, physical cornerback.
Poyer plays the run well as a tackler, has great ball skills and is quick at reacting to plays in front of him. He should be a solid No. 2 or nickel cornerback in an NFL secondary, and is a likely second-round pick.
Boise State’s Jamar Taylor and Washington’s Desmond Trufant are two other cornerbacks who had very strong showings in Mobile, and are physical cornerbacks like Poyer.
Taylor is among the draft class’ best cornerbacks in press coverage, and does a great job reacting and making plays. He won’t wow scouts with size or speed, but is a very capable No. 2 cornerback who would be a great third-round choice for a team who utilizes press man coverage.
Trufant is an athletic cornerback who does a great job breaking on the football, but battled inconsistent play throughout his career at Washington. He had a strong week in Mobile, however, which should vault him into day two of the draft.
Will Davis didn’t look good during televised one-on-one reps this week, but he had an impressive career at Utah State. He is an athletic cornerback with good ball skills, but is better in press than off coverage, and is a thin player who needs to become more consistent. He is a likely early day three choice.
Rounding out the cornerback roster are two Connecticut Huskies. Blidi Wreh-Wilson is a long, athletic cornerback with big upside, but has to become a more physical defender. Dwayne Gratz is the opposite: he does not have great physical attributes or playmaking skills, but he is instinctive and physical.
Top Prospect: Leon McFadden, San Diego State
San Diego State’s Leon McFadden solidified himself as a mid-round week with a solid week of practice at the Senior Bowl. He is not a big cornerback, but he is one of the top nickel/dime cornerback prospects in the draft class.
McFadden is a physical cornerback with great instincts. He is not a great tackler, but he reacts well to short passes and has the speed to cover deep. He also has terrific ball skills.
Two of the best small-school players at the Senior Bowl are cornerbacks on the South squad. William and Mary’s B.W. Webb and Southeastern Louisiana’s Robert Alford were both second-team FCS All-Americans as seniors, and they held up well against top wide receivers in practice this week.
Both cornerbacks are small, but they make up for it with their physicality. Both players have shown the ability to make great plays on the ball, are good in press coverage and have very good instincts.
Alford gets a higher rating from me—he is the more consistent cover corner and better player against the run from the tape that I’ve seen—but both players project as early day three draft picks who should be productive players in an NFL secondary.
Unlike the other cornerbacks on the South roster, Georgia’s Sanders Commings has imposing size at 6’ and 223 pounds. Commings needs to become more consistent in coverage, but he has good athleticism for his size and is good at making plays on the ball. He has big upside and could be used in covering tight ends, and should be an early day three selection.
Rounding out the South cornerbacks is California’s Marc Anthony. Anthony struggled with blown coverages in his senior season, but a good finish to his week on Saturday could help him get drafted in the late rounds.
Top Prospect: T.J. McDonald, USC
T.J. McDonald is a versatile free safety with big upside. He is not great in deep pass coverage, but he has very good size (6’2”, 211 pounds) and athleticism. He can line up all over the field, and if not a starting free safety, he could be a perfect fit to play as a hybrid “star” safety/linebacker.
McDonald is effective in short-to-intermediate coverage, and he is both a hard hitter and sound tackler in the box. He has big upside as a playmaker, and should end up as a day two draft selection.
Fresno State’s Phillip Thomas was a Jim Thorpe Award finalist because of his ability to make plays on the football, including a nation-leading eight interceptions. He is not always a consistent cover safety and is a poor tackler, but he is an aggressive playmaker with good size. His playmaking ability and upside could make him a day two draft choice, although he grades out to me as a fourth-round pick.
Duke Williams’ week got off to a bad start when he measured in at only 5’11”, and it never got better for the Nevada safety, at least with what was shown on NFL Network. He struggled in coverage, and was generally inconsistent in that regard in college as well. He is a hard-hitting tackler and can be a playmaker on the back end, but probably will not go before the fifth round.
Florida Atlantic’s Johnathan Cyprien drew a lot of buzz from draft media in attendance during the week of practice. He is a very active in-the-box safety who tackles soundly, but will have his coverage ability and speed tested on game day.
Top Prospect: Bacarri Rambo, Georgia
Bacarri Rambo is a playmaking safety who is known for hard hitting and physical coverage. He is a good athlete with good size, and he has very good ball skills.
He needs to become a more consistent cover safety and more disciplined, but he has the upside to be a difference-making free safety for an NFL team. He should be a day two draft pick.
Georgia’s other starting safety, Shawn Williams, is also one of two strong safeties on the roster. Williams flashed serious ability at times as a big hitter, tackler and good athlete, but he is very inconsistent and struggles in coverage. With high upside, he should be an early day three pick nonetheless.
Alabama’s Robert Lester really struggled down the stretch of his senior season, and he continued to struggle in the Senior Bowl. He is a talented, ballhawking safety with good size, athleticism and hitting ability, but his play has been too consistently plagued by missed tackles and blown coverages. Lester has the talent to be a top prospect, but is more likely a late day two or early day three selection.
Georgia Southern’s J.J. Wilcox is another intriguing small-school talent. He has good size and athleticism for a strong safety, and is a good playmaker both tackling in the box and with good ball skills in coverage. He has to make a big step up in competition, but could be an early day three pick.
South Alabama’s B.J. Scott, a local late-week addition, will have to make a big impression to change his status as a draft long-shot.
Both South kicking specialists would be well worth using a day three draft selection on.
Louisiana Tech’s Ryan Allen, a two-time consecutive Ray Guy Award, is arguably the best punter in the draft class. He led the NCAA in punting average last season, has a very strong leg and gets great hangtime on his punts. He would be a great choice for a punter-needy team on day three.
Florida State’s Dustin Hopkins has a very strong leg, and made big kicks throughout his FSU career. He is the best kicker in the 2013 draft class, which could easily make him an attractive choice in the late rounds.
Quinn Sharp was one of the nation’s best kickers and punters at Oklahoma State, and he should draw looks for one or the other from NFL teams also (he is on the North roster as a kicker).
UCLA punter Jeff Locke is not among the draft class’ best punters, and is a long shot to be drafted. Hawaii’s Luke Ingram or Alabama’s Carson Tinker will get looks in this game from any team in need of a long snapper change.
Dan Hope is an NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
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