The Senior Bowl is the beginning of the path to the draft for many top prospects.
Last year, it was Eric Fisher (OT Kansas City Chiefs) and EJ Manuel (QB Buffalo Bills) who saw their stock skyrocket during their time in Mobile, Ala. Many years ago, David Carr worked his way into the top overall pick thanks to a fantastic week here. His little brother, Derek Carr (QB Fresno State), will try to do something similar.
The week starts with an eerie session of weigh-ins that are open to the media. We all sit through it, but it's weird sitting in a room with hundreds of silent men watching prospects parade across the stage in their spandex.
From there, the week is a blur of practices, hobnobbing and delicious barbeque thanks to the great accommodations of the city of Mobile. All the while, we have one eye pointed to New York City and to the Super Bowl—the kind of game each of these prospects wants to one day find himself in.
Weigh-In Notes and Observations
Look, no one really helps themselves significantly in the weigh-in portion of the Senior Bowl. While the media might see some things they didn't know, the teams couldn't give any less attention to how a guy looks if he can play (see: Cincinnati Bengals offensive lineman Andre Smith). However, a prospect can hurt himself if he ends up out of shape or all of a sudden has a knee scar no one knew about.
Basically, the weigh-in is a check mark on the box, not something that will raise or lower a guy's grade dramatically.
I was surprised at the physique of Jordan Matthews (WR Vanderbilt). He's always struck me as a slight receiver, and I have expressed worry that he might get pushed around a bit at the next level because of it. Pads off, however, Matthews has a chiseled upper body that drew some remarks from team scouts sitting around me. Any concerns about him being weak are off the table.
Jared Abbrederis (WR Wisconsin) is another receiver who impressed me just by walking up onto the stage. As a player who has been given the "sneaky athlete" (or similar) tag all the time, he showed that his performance on the field was helped, not hurt, by his physicality.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, but still a positive in my book, was Cyril Richardson (OG Baylor). This is a big man at 343 pounds, but he's clearly carrying some extra weight in the barrel. That said, he looks like the kind of guy who flips tractor tires for fun, and I know he can play football with the best of them. As a team, you draft him, buy him a few meal replacement bars and never say another word about his weight.
Among players who could have hurt themselves, Tajh Boyd (QB Clemson) and Wesley Johnson (OL Vanderbilt) may have been the two in my book. Boyd came in just under 6'1", and 6'2" is where teams like their quarterbacks. Yes, I know Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is short and in the Super Bowl, but that doesn't change what scouts typically look for. Johnson, at 290 pounds, is awfully small for an NFL lineman.
Quarterbacks Look to Separate from the Pack and Make Their Mark
The first day of any All-Star week is usually spent on quarterbacks for me. Without pads, it's really difficult to get a read on any other players. Overall, this is an impressive crop—mostly in the South—with a lot of draftable (read: moldable) prospects.
Who is the top Senior Bowl quarterback?
Winner of the first day has to be Carr. Although I thought he looked a little stiff in pocket-movement drills, I loved the way he turned his shoulders on the run to deliver the ball where he wanted it to go. By contrast, the other quarterbacks floated their passes more toward the sideline, resulting in more difficult catches.
Jimmy Garoppolo (QB E. Illinois) and David Fales (QB San Jose State) both looked impressive spinning the football, though Fales doesn't have the fluid motion one would look for. Garoppolo was called up following the Shrine Game, so he'll spend the week trying to prove he can be just as successful under stiffer competition. Remember, this is a whole new crop of receivers he has to learn with on the fly.
For the North, things were a little less solid. Boyd is who he is. He succeeded in Clemson's system, but he's not an accurate passer. There's clay there to be molded, but this week will be important to prove he can exist out of Chad Morris' scheme.
Tajh Boyd came in at 6006, but has an adjusted release point of someone 6040.— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) January 20, 2014
Stephen Morris (QB Miami) is terribly small for an NFL quarterback and was wildly inaccurate at practice. Logan Thomas (QB Virginia Tech) looks more like a tight end than a quarterback but was just as inaccurate. For these guys (like Boyd), it will be important to show they have the physical tools and can take to coaching.
Tall Cornerbacks and Small Receivers In Vogue in Mobile
With Seattle and their massive cornerbacks headed to the Super Bowl, as well as the Jacksonville Jaguars trying to run "Seattle South" under Gus Bradley (not to mention current defensive coordinator Dan Quinn fielding offers), the era of smaller/faster cornerbacks may be over.
It was only a matter of time.
Think about it: As receivers get taller and taller, someone has to cover them—same with tight ends. Now, take most of the tall receivers you can remember who couldn't really catch the ball, and realize that nowadays, college coaches are asking them to play cornerback to cover the Sammy Watkins (WR Clemson) and Mike Evans (WR Texas A&M) of the world.
The days of the sub-5'10" CB are over.— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) January 20, 2014
In Mobile, the two bigger corners who immediately stuck out were Stanley Jean-Baptiste (CB Nebraska) and Keith McGill (CB Utah). Both of these guys can play football in addition to being tall drinks of water. They're not the only ones, though, as the cornerback crop just seem to get taller and taller as the years go on.
Ironically, there aren't a lot of tall receivers for them to cover, however. Abbrederis, Kain Colter (QB Northwestern, playing receiver here), Solomon Patton (WR Florida), Jalen Saunders (WR Oklahoma) and other prospects are trying to win jobs by proving they can out-quick people rather than out-jump them.
Follow Bleacher Report as we continue our coverage and see how these perimeter players match up in the next couple of days.
Odds and Ends
—Former NFL general manager Phil Savage took over the football operations portion of the Senior Bowl a few years ago and has done a fantastic job running this event like NFL teams want it to be run. Two quick examples: Last year, the weigh-in moved into a large event hall rather than a small (read: cramped) ballroom. This year, scouts won't be forced to pick between consecutive first-day practices for the first time.
—By an informal head count, the Detroit Lions may have sent every single person who works for their organization this week. There may actually be some popcorn vendors here. Tim Twentyman of DetroitLions.com told me that Lions general manager Martin Mayhew finds a ton of value in the Senior Bowl, maybe even more than in the combine.
—It seems like I tell people this every year, but it bears repeating: The front offices from teams whose respective fanbases hate each other tend to hang out more. It's just a weird quirk of draft season where we're reminded that most of these people are normal guys who love to hang out with the guys they know. Play a team twice in a season, and you get to know them pretty well.
—More and more people show up to Mobile every single year. Here are some guys you should be following this week for live notes and analysis: Matt Miller (B/R), Matt Bowen (B/R), Andrew Garda (B/R), B.J. Kissel (B/R), Eric Galko (Optimum Scouting), Dane Brugler (CBS), Josh Norris (Rotoworld), Cecil Lammey (ESPN Denver).