The Senior Bowl can be a great proving ground for draft prospects. The weak can be trimmed from the herd, while the strong rise to the top. And this year is no different.
Plenty of college stars are putting their talents on display in Mobile, Ala.
Among that group, these four players stand out. They either came into the Senior Bowl with grades outside the first round, or they're using this week to go from a mid-to-late first-rounder to inside the top 10, much like Eric Fisher did last year.
Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Derek Carr has a lot working against him, whether it's his brother's disappointing career or the perception that he's only putting up huge numbers in a favorable offensive system.
However, Carr has managed to work his way near the top of many draft boards, and so far, he's done nothing to hurt that position. In fact, if anything, he may be much better off by the time he leaves Mobile.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller said that Carr was the best player at the Senior Bowl:
Carr isn't just the best QB here. He's the best player here. Absolutely looks the part of franchise QB.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 21, 2014
Let me clarify, because there's been some confusion. Carr is top rated senior QB. Not my top rated QB overall.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 21, 2014
A lot of teams need quarterbacks heading into the draft, but it's important to stake a claim in the top three because after about the eighth pick, there aren't a lot of places to go until the second round.
For Carr, doing well in Mobile can mean millions more in the bank.
Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Aaron Donald had a decorated senior season, winning the Lombardi, Bronko Nagurski, Chuck Bednarik and Outland Trophies.
Despite that, some are wondering about Donald's potential, especially since he's only listed at 6'0" and 285 pounds. It's not the ideal size for a defensive tackle.
One drill in Mobile could have put any doubts to rest, though, per Packers.com's Vic Ketchman:
Donald, a smallish defensive tackle who swept every major defensive honor in college football this past season, authored a Fisher-like moment in the North practice when Donald pancaked Baylor guard Cyril Richardson, a man five inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than Donald.
“There was always bad talk about me because of my size, but if you can play the game, you can play the game,” Donald said.
Pittsburgh defensive lineman Aaron Donald was outstanding in morning one-on-one drills. Although he measured only about 6-1 at the weigh-in Monday, Donald showed technique, leverage and lots of raw power in getting underneath offensive linemen, and holding his own in double-team drills as well.
Donald may well have played himself into the first round with the Senior Bowl practices.
Charles Sims, RB, West Virginia
Once again, there isn't a running back you'd consider a lock for the first round. Unless you're Adrian Peterson, there's little chance you're getting selected in the first 32 picks, so the goal is to go as early in the second round as possible.
With no standout prospects at the position, the door is open to be atop the draft board.
It's a race that Charles Sims may be winning in Mobile.
It's a great comparison, because Sims is a fantastic do-it-all type of back who doesn't waste a lot of motion in his running. As such, he ends up moving faster than he looks and drives through contact. Scouts call that "converting speed to power" and Sims does it as well as any back I've seen.
More impressive, during practice today, was Sims' ability to accelerate through his breaks. That's a rare ability for a traditionally built running back, and gives Sims the chance to really make things happen even when the blocking hasn't been perfect.
Sims is helping himself a lot in Mobile, and he may be able to parlay this momentum into a major move up the draft board.
Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin
There are a wealth of top wideouts in the draft. Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Marqise Lee and Kelvin Benjamin all look like first-rounders, while Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandin Cooks could slip in there as well.
On the outside looking in is Jared Abbrederis.
He had a great career at Wisconsin, but questions as to his speed and athleticism will persist. While that limits his potential, Abbrederis can become a solid possession receiver in the league, as the Senior Bowl practices have illustrated.
Josh Collacchi of Pro Football Focus thought the wideout displayed great hands:
Jared Abbrederis looked awesome today, maybe missed one ball. Two tops.— Josh Collacchi (@JoshCollacchi) January 21, 2014
Optimum Scouting's Alex Brown praised Abbrederis route-running:
Receiver wise, it's pretty clear that J. Abbrederis ran cleanest routes, had most consistent hands. Sharp cuts, stays flat out of the break— Alex Brown (@OS_AlexBrown) January 21, 2014
Of course, Abbrederis' size prevents him from getting the plucky white receiver comparison, per Fox Sports Ohio's Zac Jackson:
Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis was almost 6'1 which is crushing for those of us who wanted to compare him to successful 5'8 white receivers.— Zac Jackson (@FSOhioZJackson) January 20, 2014
Won't somebody think of the sportswriters?