Every year around this time, the scouting universe swallows up two teams of NFL prospects and regurgitates a highly important week of practice followed by a football game. It is called the Reese’s Senior Bowl, and the Cleveland Browns better be paying attention.
With the front office in the midst of a head coaching search, assistant general manager Ray Farmer has spearheaded the scouting duties at the Senior Bowl on Jan. 25.
Farmer and the Browns scouts are saddled with the task of evaluating players from all over the country and determining how they react to professional coaching. Many scouts say the Senior Bowl, not the scouting combine, is what ultimately can elevate a player or crush him in the draft.
Mike Smith of the Atlanta Falcons and Gus Bradley of the Jacksonville Jaguars are the coaches for the 2014 all-star game. Just like last week with the East-West Shrine Game, let’s take a look at some positions the Browns will be scouting heavily and how some key prospects are performing.
The Browns have an obvious need at the running back position, and the Senior Bowl is the place where those types of players can make their mark.
If the Browns choose not to pursue a back like Ben Tate in free agency, then they will need to find him through the draft. The stable of backs the Browns currently have on the roster all have one thing in common: They are smaller, shifty runners.
This leads me to believe the Browns will be targeting someone who can survive the rigors of inside runs and is not afraid of contact.
One guy who has really stood out at practices this week is Western Kentucky’s Antonio Andrews. CBSSports.com has him currently rated as a fifth- or sixth-round selection, but that is rapidly changing.
Eric Galko of OptimumScouting.com said the 5’10”, 225-pound back was one of the overall winners, regardless of position, on Monday.
One of the biggest winners of the day regardless of position was Antonio Andrews of Western Kentucky, especially as a receiver. A thick lower half combined with quickness as a route runner to separate and footwork to adjust after the catch, he was the recipient of praise throughout practice by the coaching staff.
Galko raved about Andrews’ performance again on Tuesday and once again called him one of the “winners” of the South’s practice.
Winners from #SeniorBowl South Practice: RB Antonio Andrews. OG Jon Halapio, DT McCullers, DE Dee Ford, and CBs Jaylen Watkins/Aaron Colvin.— Eric Galko (@OptimumScouting) January 21, 2014
He elaborated on his comments in his post-practice notes.
Keep an eye on Western Kentucky’s Antonio Andrews as a back who could have an early impact for an NFL team. He was easily the best back from both squads during blitz pickup drills, showing the strength to absorb contact and riding defenders away from the quarterback. He caught the ball well again today and showed patience and burst in the team session.
For the North squad, it was the 6’0”, 214-pound back out of West Virginia, Charles Sims, who stood out to scouts. Projected as a third-round pick by CBSSports.com, Sims helped solidify that spot with a strong showing in Tuesday’s practice, according to Galko.
West Virginia back Charles Sims had one of the stronger practices on the North squad as he was the best of the running backs today. He stood up several linebackers in blitz pickup and showed plus quickness and acceleration through the hole in team sessions. He ran determined and showed the strength to run through arm tackles.
What Number Will They Wear?
Antonio Andrews: No. 5 (South)
Charles Sims: No. 33 (North)
The Browns will also need to strengthen their offensive line this offseason. Besides needing two or possibly three new starters, they should also get some depth across the entire line as the second-team players on the roster are barely adequate.
With so many needs to fill on the line, the Browns will not be able to remedy the situation strictly through free agency. They will need to draft some linemen as well.
One man who many, including myself, had pegged as a target for the Browns in the early rounds of the draft was Baylor guard Cyril Richardson. Not only may the Browns sour on him after this week, but he could also be tumbling down draft boards across the league.
NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah tweeted on Monday about just how bad Cyril was getting beaten in one-on-one drills.
Aaron Donald took batting practice against Cyril Richardson today.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) January 21, 2014
Eric Galko noted on OptimumScouting.com that Richardson might have already slipped out of the first 40 picks in the draft because of his struggles.
Cyril Richardson of Baylor struggled mightily and now opens the door for heavy question marks about his NFL fit. Consistently working to recover laterally, Richardson has been easily driven off balance by quick rushers, and then struggles to adjust his feet and gets driven back far too easily for a lineman his size. He’s likely struggled his way out of the Top 40 picks this week already.
A guard who has impressed so far this week is the 6’4”, 320-pound earth-mover from Florida, Jon Halapio. CBSSports.com has him rated as fourth- or fifth-round selection, which is a prime position for the Browns to be looking for guards.
Galko said that on Tuesday he was the only offensive lineman on the South squad who impressed.
The best of the bunch was Florida OG Jon Halapio, who was the only lineman to slow Daniel McCullers during drills today. With powerful hip thrust upfield and working hard to keep his hands inside, Halapio had ample success working as a power blocker and generating push upfield.
If the Browns choose to select a lineman high in the draft, possibly even late in the first round, they could look to Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin.
The 6’4”, 305-pound lineman could actually play both guard or tackle in the NFL, which would be a bonus for the Browns. They could then experiment with moving Mitchell Schwartz inside to guard or keeping him outside and having Martin play guard.
Either way, NFL Network’s Mike Mayock says that the worst-case scenario for Martin is he will be an All-Pro. That is high praise.
He is earning that praise this week in practice. After the Monday practice Galko noted that Martin was the best of all the linemen.
Zack Martin was the top blocker viewed on both rosters, considering his controlled, sudden movements off the snap and refined hand usage. He establishes positioning early, maintains a squared relationship to his target, delivers accurate strikes and resets to direct the point of attack.
What Number Will They Wear?
Cyril Richardson: No. 68 (North)
Jon Halapio: No. 67 (South)
Zack Martin: No. 72 (North)
With the Browns desperately needing an inside linebacker to play with D’Qwell Jackson and the free-agent market not having many options, the Browns will need to draft their next inside playmaker.
The home run scenario for the Browns is signing 25-year-old stud Donald Butler from the San Diego Chargers, but it looks as though he will not make it to the free-agent market. Last week, Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said via ProFootballTalk.com that he expects to resume contract negotiations with Butler very soon.
So as the Browns evaluate their other options, they have to look at Florida State’s 6’4”, 235-pound playmaking linebacker Christian Jones.
Jones can play inside or out. He can cover receivers and stop the run. He is an all-around talent who needs to be molded into one particular position. CBSSports.com has Jones rated as a third- or fourth-round talent, but he is having a great week of practice and could climb higher.
Above is a video of Jones speaking with the media Tuesday after practice via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Another inside linebacker making waves at practice this week is the 6’0”, 245-pound heavy hitter from Wisconsin, Chris Borland. Rated as a third-round pick on CBSSports.com, he is making sure he doesn’t slip any further with his performance.
ESPN Insider Adam Caplan tweeted on Tuesday about Borland’s big-play ability showing in practice.
Another strong practice this morning from Wisconsin ILB Chris Borland. Nice INT, instinctive vs. run all week.— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) January 22, 2014
Eric Galko of OptimumScouting.com said on Tuesday that Caplan was not the only one taking note of Borland’s knack for playmaking.
Chris Borland is really taking advantage of the week with another strong performance. He has a real feel for the game and minimizes his size limitations by using leverage and short area explosiveness to his advantage and disengaging quickly from blockers. Scouts have also been impressed with his pursuit effort as he’s been flying to the football all week.
What Number Will They Wear?
Christian Jones: No. 7 (South)
Chris Borland: No. 44 (North)
If I were to tell you that the Browns could select Mr. Watkins in the third or fourth round, you would say I was crazy. I would then tell you I was referring to Jaylen Watkins, the brother of arguably the best receiver in the draft, Sammy Watkins.
Watkins, the 6’4”, 194-pound cornerback from Florida who is rated as a third-day selection by CBSSports.com, has been getting rave reviews this week in practice. Dane Brugler of CBSSports.com and NFLDraftScout.com said Watkins was making waves under the radar.
He even wrote a piece for CBSSports.com that said Watkins was one of the best two players on the SEC-laden South squad.
Watkins, who is the older brother of Clemson WR Sammy Watkins, put together a string of positive plays during drills, getting his hands on the ball on a few reps. He showed smooth feet and hip action to quickly redirect and get his body under control to mirror the movements of the receiver. Watkins also did a nice job getting his head turned around to find the ball, elevate and break up the play. He is noticeably lean and his lack of muscle showed up on tape, but he weighed in at 194 pounds and his scrappy style of play serves him well.
Also getting scouts' attention is a 6’3”, 215-pound corner from Nebraska named Stanley Jean-Baptiste. He is rated as third-round selection by CBSSports.com and has shown this week why he is considered a top-100 pick but has not climbed into the first two rounds just yet.
Eric Galko from OptimumScouting.com gave him praise on Monday.
One of a handful of size/speed corners at the Senior Bowl, Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean Baptiste had a strong day in both press and off man coverage. He is very physical within 5 yards and snaps his hips quickly to transition to turn and run. He also showed the make up speed and length to make plays on the ball when receivers were able to get behind him.
Then on Tuesday, Galko wrote about some of the inefficiencies in Baptiste’s game.
Nebraska corner Stanley Jean-Baptiste had a pretty non descript day, but displayed technical inefficiencies with early hip transition and high pad level through his back pedal. He’s clearly most comfortable playing on the line of scrimmage or in cover two zone. In off man coverage, SJB opened the gate early, declared his positioning right away and comeback patterns gave him trouble as a result.
The corner who has received the most praise from Galko is Keith McGill, the 6’3”, 214-pounder from Utah. CBSSports.com has him rated as a third-round cornerback, but his stock could be climbing.
On Monday Galko raved about his performance both in individual and team drills.
Keith McGill started Senior Bowl week with an impressive Monday as he was one of the standouts from the morning weigh ins and then displayed impressive fluidity in coverage during practice. In press drills against the receivers, he sustains leverage through initial contact and uses his long arms to direct opponents at the line. During the team session, McGill was transitioning through off coverage well and showed impressive click and close ability to throws in front of him.
Then on Tuesday he went on to say McGill has the highest ceiling of all the corners.
The corner with the highest ceiling looks like Utah’s Keith McGill. At 6’3, 214 pounds he moves with tremendous fluidly through transitions and impressed during T-step redirect drills. He’s not a natural hands guy and continued to drop interception opportunities. Nevertheless the length to affect the catch point is still overwhelming for some of the South receivers he faced. When lined up in press man, he flashed the ability to mirror and wall receivers to the sideline but will require further development with his hand usage through the release.
What Number Will They Wear?
Jaylen Watkins: No. 23 (South)
Stanley Jean-Baptiste: No. 16 (North)
Keith McGill: No. 1 (South)