2014 Senior Bowl: 5 Draft Prospects with the Most to Gain in Mobile
It's hoop-jumping time for college football's best and brightest.
With draft season getting underway in earnest, the next couple of months will be a blur for many youngsters preparing to make the jump to the NFL.
The whirlwind begins with this weekend's East-West Shrine Game, and continues rolling one week later when the nation's top seniors descend on Mobile, Alabama for the 2014 Senior Bowl.
The game means more to some than others. Whether it's a small-school star looking to shine in the spotlight or a player looking to revive his falling draft stock, several youngsters head to Alabama with a ton to prove.
Here's a look at a handful of players for whom there's not much margin for error at the Senior Bowl.
Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
There all but certainly isn't a player with more to gain from a strong showing in the Senior Bowl than Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr.
It wasn't that long ago that Carr was being discussed as a potential top-10 pick, propelled to those heights by throwing for over 5,000 passing yards and an eye-popping 50 touchdown passes in 2013.
However, the rumblings about the level of competition Carr faced at Fresno State grew to roars after the 6'3", 218-pounder struggled mightily against USC in the Las Vegas Bowl.
That lackluster performance against Southern Cal knocked Carr well behind the other highly touted signal-callers in this year's draft class, but Bucky Brooks of NFL.com thinks Carr can get back in the hunt with a big game in Mobile.
"If he goes down to Mobile, if he lights it up and performs well in practices and in the game, I think he certainly can jump back in the conversation as one of those top guys," Brooks said.
Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
Much like Carr, Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde posted solid numbers in 2013, gaining over 1,500 yards on the ground despite being suspended for the first three games of the season.
The 235-pounder will have some rehabbing of his draft stock to do in Mobile as well.
Hyde topped 100 rushing yards in his last collegiate game, but after averaging over seven yards per carry for the season, his numbers dropped in that area by over 2.5 yards in Ohio State's Orange Bowl loss to Clemson.
Fair or not, there's a perception among some pundits that Hyde's stats say as much about the Buckeyes' soft schedule and the sorry state of the Big Ten as they do his abilities as a runner.
With that said, Hyde has supporters as well. In fact, Zack Meisel of the Northeast Ohio Media Group reports that ESPN's Mel Kiper projects Hyde as a possible first-round pick in May.
With a good week of practices and a strong game in the Senior Bowl, Hyde can bring more people around to Kiper's point of view.
Jordan Tripp, LB, Montana
The Senior Bowl can play an absolutely crucial role in the draft process for small-school stars such as Montana linebacker Jordan Tripp.
The 6'3", 237-pounder was a star for the Grizzlies, but playing at the FCS level raises questions about how Tripp would fare against more formidable opponents.
Tripp is aware that it's imperative he put his best foot forward in Mobile, telling Derek Buerkle of KPAX Sports, "I am going to be prepared 100 percent and go out there and do it, and play well."
There are plenty of draftniks who believe Tripp has what it takes to excel in the NFL, including Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Matt Miller:
It's fun to imagine how dominant Jordan Tripp could have been at a major program or even at Montana if used better. A fluid, impressive athlete in space, Tripp was never unleashed on the offense. His numbers may not be special, but his upside is.
Tripp is an attacking player off the edge, and I see a future NFL starter in his range, instincts and three-down ability as a linebacker.
Seantrel Henderson, OT, Miami
Once upon a time, Seantrel Henderson was the most coveted high school football player in the nation.
However, Henderson's career at Miami didn't quite go as planned. Injuries, suspensions and inconsistent play all combined to leave Henderson's Hurricanes career as a relative disappointment.
With that said, it's also not hard to see why Henderson was invited to Mobile, or why NFL teams might have interest.
At 6'8" and 340 pounds, Henderson is a mountain of a young man who possesses excellent quickness given his enormous size. That combination affords Henderson immense potential, but as of now he's yet to fulfill it.
If Henderson can pull off a "wow" week in Alabama, it will do wonders for the NFL draft stock of a player who Scott Wright of Draft Countdown (via Andy Greder of The St. Paul Pioneer Press) called "probably as volatile as any in this entire class because on talent alone he is probably a top-10 overall pick. He is that type of raw talent."
Michael Sam, DE, Missouri
On some level, it may seem odd to say that Missouri defensive end Michael Sam has anything left to prove. After all, the 6'2", 255-pounder was just named a unanimous All-American and won the SEC defensive player of the year award.
However, while teammate Kony Ealy is widely regarded as a first-round pick, many pundits are split about Sam's future in the NFL.
As productive as Sam was in college, he's on the small side for a 4-3 end in the NFL. Sam also isn't especially fast or athletic, which could hinder a potential move to outside linebacker in a 3-4 front.
That didn't stop Sam from leading the SEC with 11.5 sacks last year, and a solid week of practices could go a long way towards alleviating doubts about Sam's ability to carry that production over into the pros.