2014 NFL Draft: Matt Miller's Scouting Notebook for Senior Bowl Week

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2014 NFL Draft: Matt Miller's Scouting Notebook for Senior Bowl Week
USA Today

The 2014 Senior Bowl is coming to a close, but the NFL draft season is only heating up. After three days of viewing practices and speaking with players in Mobile, Ala., what was learned? A ton.

The Senior Bowl cannot be beaten when it comes to player access, the volume of evaluations happening live and the hands-on teaching and adapting the players must do. The NFL Scouting Combine may be a more hyped event, but for raw player evaluating, the Senior Bowl is tops.

There's a lot to get to this week and two notebooks full of notes to share.

 

Five Up, Five Down

 

Five Up

5. QB Derek Carr, Fresno State

The most talented player at the 2014 Reese's Senior Bowl, Fresno State's quarterback was dominant throughout the week. He may have been helped by the poor talent level of the other quarterbacks in Mobile, but Carr took advantage and went to work.

The most impressive aspects of his week were shown both on and off the field. His velocity and accuracy were at the highest of levels. Even during a very cold and windy Tuesday practice, the California kid was able to excel in the elements.

Carr also impressed by staying after practice to work with any receiver willing to run routes and work on timing together. He has clearly stepped up as the leader of the South team.

 

4. DT Aaron Donald, Pitt

I've spent time writing about Aaron Donald in this space before. He's lightning-fast, instinctive and productive. Michael Felder even made him his No. 1-ranked player in our CFB 250 series

G.M. ANDREWS/Associated Press

Donald's only real knock is his height, but during the week of practices against the best senior offensive linemen in the nation, he excelled at every stop. Donald used his lower center of gravity to fire off the ball and make himself a tiny target for the hands of interior blockers. And with his outstanding first-step quickness added on to his small target area, he was able to consistently get into the backfield and make plays.

The Senior Bowl is great at allowing evaluators to compare players side-by-side, and seeing Donald work the top linemen in the nation has him moving up my board.

 

3. DE Dee Ford, Auburn

The flashiest performer of Senior Bowl week was, without question, Auburn pass-rusher Dee Ford. The smooth, sleek, explosive edge-defender was all over the field making plays. And his raw speed was undeniable from the stands.

Ford jumped out on film, too, but you always wondered where you'd play him in the NFL. The Jacksonville Jaguars staff answered that question this week by allowing him to line up at both left and right defensive end in a base 4-3 set. He flourished no matter the side of the line and no matter who tried to block him. 

The best fit for Ford moving ahead is likely at outside linebacker, but a big week here has pushed him into late first- or early second-round territory.

 

2. CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska

The buzz around practices was that NFL teams are now looking for the big, long, aggressive cornerback to fit into press coverage schemes. In short, teams want the next Richard Sherman.

Stanley Jean-Baptiste isn't quite Richard Sherman, but coaches and scouts will see a lot of similarities and a clay they can work with in his Nebraska game film and the abilities shown in practice. Jean-Baptiste has the frame (6'2 3/8", 215 lbs) and the fluid hips and feet to play in press coverage at the next level.

Some may knock his hip technique or how high he plays, but when you're over 6'2", you won't be as flexible as a smaller cornerback. That's OK, because a smaller cornerback can't press and jam like he can.

Don't be surprised to hear Jean-Baptiste's name called at the end of Day 1 or very early on Day 2.

 

1. DT Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota

The only man I was physically afraid to get in front of this week was Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman. At an even 6'6" and 318 lbs, he towered over the competition. Literally. 

Hageman's film showed an impressive, and at times dominant, defensive tackle. My biggest question mark heading into the week was his ability to play with leverage. It's fine to be 6'6" as a defensive tackle, but can you get low? Can you make yourself a small target for blockers? Hageman didn't always do this at Minnesota, but in Mobile, the switch was flipped and he started dominating.

Seeing Hageman develop throughout the week was eye-opening. And with his God-given length, burst and strength, he shines as a scheme-versatile defender able to play in a conventional 4-3, 3-4 or the trendier hybrid fronts. Teams that want him should be ready to spend a pick inside the first 20 to get him.

 

Five Down

5. QB David Fales, San Jose State

G.M. ANDREWS/Associated Press

No player had more of an up-and-down week than San Jose State's David Fales

The senior quarterback struggled throughout the early portion of the week, but not just on the field. Fales measured in very small at 6'1 3/8" and definitely looks small in the pocket. One team scout I spoke with compared him to a "shorter Alex Smith" in terms of footwork, arm strength and his build.

Fales did rebound well by Wednesday, but two days of poor velocity and ball placement will be something teams take home with them.

 

4. QB Stephen Morris, Miami (Fla.)

Stephen Morris' slide down draft boards continued this week in Mobile.

The Hurricanes quarterback entered the year with considerable praise after evaluators viewed his junior season and saw good upside. But Morris regressed in 2013 and could never find consistent footing on a weekly basis.

Add that to a surprising weigh-in (6'1 6/8" and 208 lbs) and you have some issues he needed to work through. Morris' inconsistent ball placement and velocity were obvious in practices, though, and his old habit of only throwing inside the hashes made for a long week of quarterback drills.

 

3. OLB Michael Sam, Missouri

The All-American pass-rusher from Missouri struggled to find a role in the Atlanta Falcons' schemes this week. Coming into the game, Sam was moved from his home at left defensive end to outside linebacker. Through one-and-a-half days of practice there, he looked stiff and unsure of himself. That led to the coaching staff shuttling him to defensive line drills.

Sam is small for a classic 4-3 defensive end, and without great strength, you have to question his ability there to get off blocks and make plays. But ask him to stand up and play outside linebacker and you have a liability in coverage.

Sam enjoyed a great 2013 season, but finding a spot for him in the NFL will be more difficult than originally thought.

 

2. OLB Adrian Hubbard, Alabama

Like Michael Sam, Adrian Hubbard was asked to be something he's not this week—a 4-3 outside linebacker.

Hubbard made his living at Alabama as an edge-rushing linebacker, but never as a player dropping into coverage and making plays in space. Hubbard needs to be moving forward, not backward, when the ball is snapped. Playing in a base 4-3 scheme this week, he's been flat, stiff and out of position.

That may hurt Hubbard when it comes time to evaluate the Senior Bowl, but teams also know he's best served as a 3-4 outside linebacker. That said, he has to learn to play lower and with more flexibility regardless of the scheme. Even 3-4 outside linebackers have to play in coverage.

 

1. CB Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma

A torn ACL suffered in practice destroys the draft stock of the best cornerback on the field early in the week. Now Aaron Colvin is off to have surgery next week, confirmed by Senior Bowl staff in an announcement to the media Wednesday.

Colvin was a solid top-50 player for me heading into the week. Now, with his 2014 season in question, he should be expected to drop to at least the fifth-round range of the draft.

 

The Scout’s Report

 

— I spoke to a representative for Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel this week, and they told me the quarterback and his trainers have yet to make a decision on whether or not he'll throw at the NFL Scouting Combine. Manziel is in San Diego working with quarterback guru George Whitfield.

— Speaking with several team sources in Mobile, the feeling is that the Dallas Cowboys will draft a defensive lineman with their first-round pick. Minnesota DT Ra'Shede Hageman and Missouri DE Kony Ealy are two to keep in mind.

— Kansas City Chiefs scouts were paying close attention to wide receivers throughout the week. It's worth noting that the scouts and coaches were raving about bigger-bodied players and downgrading smaller, slot receiver-style players.

— I spoke to a few NFL teams about the many Wyoming prospects in this year's class. All have mentioned quarterback Brett Smith without prompting as "terrible," "overrated" and more colorful words used to describe his struggles. The junior is rumored to have left Wyoming early because he didn't want to learn a new offensive system.

— Former Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins is training for the NFL Scouting Combine. Upon running his first 40-yard dash, his trainers told him he "didn't need to work on that anymore." Watkins' speed should make for a fun week in Indianapolis.

— What to do with Logan Thomas? One team scout I spoke to said they have asked the Virginia Tech quarterback if he would be open to moving to tight end. That's the position he was recruited to play in college by many teams.

— Jimmy Garoppolo made himself considerable money this week if you ask one NFC West team I spoke with. Their staff raved about his play in Mobile against bigger, better competition than he faced at Eastern Illinois.

— What will the Atlanta Falcons do in free agency? I spoke to one source who believes they'll try to lure Michael Johnson back to Georgia and hope for a hometown discount in the process.

— Two small-school players who turned heads this week? Lorenzo Taliaferro (RB, Coastal Carolina) and Walt Aikens (CB, Liberty). Both are bigger-bodied guys for their positions but impressed scouts with smooth feet in space.

— One scout I spoke to felt like Mike Glennon would be the starting quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but that Jason Licht and Lovie Smith could bring in a rookie to compete for the job.

 

A Day in the Life of an NFL Scout

 

Each week you’ll get a glimpse inside the life of everyone’s dream job—being an NFL scout.

The Senior Bowl is over for most NFL scouts, so what's next on their schedule? Winter meetings.

These aren't like the winter meetings you've heard about with Major League Baseball teams, but rather a scouting summit where the entire organization gets together and starts to build the team's draft board. The meetings are incredibly important for getting player names, information and scouting reports organized.

The winter meetings allow the scouting departments—both pro and college—to get organized for the coming months of free agency and the NFL draft. 

 

Scouting Dictionary

 

"JAG"

Just-A-Guy.

You'll hear a ton of shorthand anytime you sit next to NFL scouts, but their one go-to phrase to describe an average player is to call him a "Jag," and not the kind in Jacksonville.

Just-A-Guy is almost derogatory in its use, but it's something you'll see and hear often when scouts want to quickly classify a player as either a) below the level of his peers, or b) a guy they aren't interested in adding to their roster.

 

Scout’s Take 

 

QB Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois

Strengths

The best word to describe Jimmy Garoppolo is "quick." In everything he does, the quarterback is quick. His three- and five-step drops are done in a fluid, smooth rhythm. His throwing motion is compact and (again) very quick.

G.M. ANDREWS/Associated Press

Garoppolo stands out as a pure passer. His arm is strong enough that he was cutting passes through the windy conditions of Tuesday's Senior Bowl practice without any issues. Other quarterbacks saw their passes hit the wind and die, but Garoppolo's spun and drove through the wind to his intended target.

There's a lot of raw ability here to like. He's a good athlete with a strong arm and some upside yet to his ability. 

 

Weaknesses

The biggest question mark with Garoppolo, at least at this stage, is his ability to dissect a defense and make throws against the speed and size of an NFL defense. You see the quick release and velocity on his passes to thread the ball between defenders, but seeing him do it in real time isn't something you can gauge from a non-contact Senior Bowl practice.

Film study is key with Garoppolo, and after seeing his traits and abilities live, I'll be taking a deeper look in the future to chart his throws and the coverages he faced at Eastern Illinois. 

 

Pro Player Comparison: a stronger-armed Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

 

The Big Board

Updated First-Round Mock Draft
Team Player
1. Houston Texans QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
2. St. Louis Rams (from WAS) OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
3. Jacksonville Jaguars QB Blake Bortles, UCF
4. Cleveland Browns QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
5. Oakland Raiders WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
6. Atlanta Falcons DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers DE Khalil Mack, Buffalo
8. Minnesota Vikings QB Derek Carr, Fresno State
9. Buffalo Bills OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
10. Detroit Lions CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma St.
11. Tennessee Titans OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA
12. New York Giants DE Kony Ealy, Missouri
13. St. Louis Rams WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
14. Chicago Bears DT Timmy Jernigan, FSU
15. Pittsburgh Steelers OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
16. Baltimore Ravens WR Odell Beckham, LSU
17. Dallas Cowboys DT RaShede Hageman, Minnesota
18. New York Jets WR Marqise Lee, USC
19. Miami Dolphins OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
20. Arizona Cardinals TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina
21. Green Bay Packers FS Calvin Pryor, Louisville
22. Philadelphia Eagles OLB Kyle Van Noy, BYU
23. Kansas City Chiefs FS HaHa Clinton-Dix, Alabama
24. Cincinnati Bengals CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
25. San Diego Chargers CB Jason Verrett, TCU
26. Cleveland Browns (from IND) WR Allen Robinson, Penn State
27. New Orleans Saints OLB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
28. Carolina Panthers WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
29. New England Patriots ILB C.J. Mosley, Alabama
30. San Francisco 49ers CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State
31. Denver Broncos (based on SOS) DT Aaron Donald, Pitt
32. Seattle Seahawks (based on SOS) TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech

Matt Miller's Mock Draft

 

 An updated seven-round mock draft will be available following the Super Bowl.

 

Parting Shots

 

10. The crop of wide receivers in this year's game wasn't overly impressive, but Oregon's Josh Huff stood out. He's a competitor, and with his speed, he's able to accelerate away from defenders and attack the ball. He shows the quickness, concentration, body control and burst of a starting-caliber slot receiver.

9. Charles Sims stood out as the best running back in Mobile. The West Virginia product has the burst teams want at the position, but he also possesses soft hands and smooth routes. I compared him to Matt Forte, but B/R colleague Matt Bowen likened him to Shane Vereen.

8. Depending on who you ask, Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton either had a terrible week or a brilliant one. I'm in the camp of the former. Sutton looked heavy at 315 lbs on his 6'0" frame, but he also played heavy. He was consistently winded after drills and didn't show the same pop as the other South Team defensive tackles.

7. Did BYU send a safety to the Senior Bowl? They didn't, but I thought they did briefly while sitting in the press box to watch Wednesday's practice. Outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy looked so fluid and smooth in his No. 3 jersey that I was sure he played safety. Nope. He's a potential stand-up pass-rusher with crazy good agility.

6. Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland wasn't the biggest linebacker in the 2014 game, but his instincts were the best. Borland is a short 5'11 3/8", but he doesn't play small. He's thickly built with big, broad shoulders and a nose for the football. And while you might think Borland is a short, non-athletic 'backer, you'd be surprised to see his lateral quickness when exploding to take on ball-carriers. 

5. The agents for Aaron Murray did a smart thing this week. They had the former Georgia quarterback show up at the Senior Bowl even though he can't participate due to a torn ACL. But Murray was there in Mobile all week getting measured and interviewed by NFL teams. 

4. Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin may be shorter than the NFL standard, but his play is huge. Martin was dominant in individual and team drills throughout the week. If Justin Pugh was a first-round pick last year, Martin should be too in a fairly similar draft class.

3. Big Miami (Fla.) offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson certainly looks the part of a blindside left tackle, but that's on the practice field. Henderson made news when he told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that he was suspended from games due to marijuana use. Henderson is talented, but he never consistently played up to his potential for the Hurricanes. Now we know why.

2. A.J. McCarron was nowhere to be seen during Senior Bowl week, and that's a mistake. McCarron could have accepted an invite and then dropped out due to injury—like Aaron Murray—but still shown up for weigh-in and interviews with teams. Instead, McCarron's camp sent word on Tuesday via Randy Kennedy of AL.com (two days into the Senior Bowl process) that the quarterback is hurt. They're mismanaging the situation, and NFL teams are taking notice.

1. NFL teams pack their bags and hit the road immediately after the afternoon practice on Wednesday. Why? Because Thursday and Friday are simple walkthrough practices that offer no scouting value. The game on Saturday will be filmed and reviewed by scouting departments and coaches next week.

 

Twitter Must-Follow of the Week

 

@PSchrags, Peter Schrager

The senior national writer for FoxSports.com and one hell of an author, Schrager does it all for Fox. He covers the NFL as well as anyone, but come January, he's on the NFL draft beat and has the knowledge and sources to make for a great Twitter follow.

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