After spending the week at the Senior Bowl, here are 10 prospects who stood out on the practice field from my perspective, along with some quick notes/observations from Mobile, Ala.
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
The Senior Bowl stage wasn’t an issue with the FBS quarterback down in Mobile. Garoppolo (6'2", 219 lbs) has a lightning-quick release, he can put the ball on the upfield shoulder of the receiver, and he has a nice touch in the intermediate passing game.
The Eastern Illinois quarterback doesn’t have the top-tier velocity when compared with Fresno State’s Derek Carr. However, he did show the ability to drive the ball through the wind during the afternoon session on Tuesday.
After an impressive week of practice, there is no question Garoppolo’s draft stock is on the rise.
Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn
Ford’s speed off the ball dominated the discussion at practice sessions throughout the week. The Auburn defensive end consistently attacked the edge of offensive tackles in one-on-one pass-rush and team drills.
With Ford weighing in at 243 pounds, some teams may see him as a better fit as an outside 'backer in a 3-4 front. But there is no questioning his ability as a rush end in defensive sub-packages where he can put his hand in the ground and test the edge of the protection scheme. That first step off the line is explosive.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska
At 6'2", 215 lbs, the Nebraska product has the length/power to jam, reroute and impact wide receivers on the release from a press-man alignment.
Does he need to be coached up when playing from an off-man position? Sure. I could see that on the field when looking at his technique, eye placement and footwork at the top of the route stem.
But given the matchups NFL offenses can create outside the numbers to run inside breaking routes, finding a cornerback with size who can challenge receivers at the line of scrimmage is key. As one NFC scout told me on Jean-Baptiste, “Hard to miss that body, and he moves well for his size.”
Josh Huff, WR, Oregon
I could put Tulane’s Ryan Grant in this spot, but after watching the Wednesday morning session, I’m going with Huff. The wide receiver doesn’t have elite separation speed, but he can track the ball in the air and displays some solid body control versus man coverage at the point of attack.
Huff was one of the top receivers I watched on the North squad this week, and he will finish plays. That type of effort stands out from my perspective when prospects are thrown into the competitive environment of the Senior Bowl.
Deone Bucannon, SS, Washington State
The strong safety flashed early in the week because of his ability to close on the ball and set his pads on contact. Bucannon has size (6'1", 216 lbs), can get off the numbers in Cover 2 and can also drop down into the box to play the run.
Can Bucannon consistently take the proper angles to the ball in the open field and check a tight end in coverage? That’s something to think about when you turn on the tape. However, in terms of looking for a safety who plays a physical brand of football, the Washington State product is someone to keep an eye on. This guy can hit.
Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
The Pittsburgh defensive tackle has a solid burst off the ball, and he is violent/quick with his hands on contact. Think of power here in one-on-one pass rush along with the counter moves to disengage and work up the field.
At 6'0" and 288 pounds, Donald’s size was a discussion point in Mobile, but he wins with leverage, and I love the way he finished in drills. He plays hard and competes on every rep.
I think Donald is a solid fit as a 3-technique defensive tackle in a 4-3 front, and he should rise up some draft boards after the talent display he put on this week.
Charles Sims, RB, West Virginia
The first thing that jumps out with Sims is his route-running ability. He is smooth at the top of the stem and showed some speed coming out of his cuts to work away from the defender’s leverage. Think of the basic option route out of the backfield, angle, quick flat, etc. to set up linebackers and safeties at the next level.
Sims has a thick lower body and did show some cutback ability/vision to find running lanes during team drills, but my focus was on his skill set within the route tree. That’s where he can earn a paycheck in the NFL.
Christian Kirksey, OLB, Iowa
The Senior Bowl was the perfect opportunity for the former Hawkeye to showcase his movement skills, athleticism and strength on the practice field.
In one-on-ones, nine-on-seven inside run and seven-on-seven, I think the linebacker surprised some people with his ability to open the hips, close on the ball from his zone drops and also come downhill hard in the run game. Plus, Kirksey turned some heads in pass-rush drills with a mix of power and speed.
Good week of practice for a linebacker who can have an immediate impact on special teams at the pro level while developing his skill set.
Jordan Tripp, OLB, Montana
During individual drills, Tripp looked like a strong safety. He is a very fluid athlete, and he plays with some real speed for a 6'2", 237-pound linebacker when asked to plant/drive out of his cuts.
Tripp does need to get stronger, and that showed at times when he attacked blockers in pass-rush drills. However, from the perspective of straight athletic ability, the former Montana linebacker is legit.
Walt Aikens, CB, Liberty
Before practice on Wednesday, an AFC scout told me to focus on Aikens, and I can see why. The Liberty University cornerback can play from both press and off-man, he showed the ability to flip his hips, and he competes hard in one-on-one drills. Plus, I saw the speed down the field to run/match versus the 9 (fade) route.
Along with Florida’s Jaylen Watkins and Georgia Southern’s Lavelle Westbrooks, the cornerbacks from the South squad really turned up the energy on Wednesday against the wide receivers. This was a physical group that wanted to be coached. Fun to watch.
5 More Prospects in my Notebook
These five players continued to show up in my notes throughout the week.
Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa
Brandon Thomas, OT, Clemson
Kyle Van Noy, LB, BYU
The Jaguars Coaching Staff Was Impressive in Mobile
Gus Bradley’s staff had the opportunity to coach the South squad this week, and I loved the tempo and energy they brought to the field. This staff was constantly teaching, and the players responded with high-level practices.
As a former player, this is exactly what I would look for in a coaching staff because they create the type of environment that produces physical and competitive situations on the field.
Aaron Colvin’s Injury
I wrote up Colvin in my notes on Monday because he looks natural in his pedal. A cornerback who can play from an off-man position, wave with the release to maintain leverage and attack the football on the break. A lot of talent to work with there.
However, the Oklahoma cornerback went down with an ACL injury on Tuesday, per Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio. We all know that will impact his draft stock moving forward, but he could be a steal if a team invests in his talent and gives him the time to rehab the knee. Good football player.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report