In the last padded practice of the week at the Senior Bowl, many players looked as if they were a bit more comfortable and moved past the jitters that plagued them on Monday and Tuesday.
On a much less windy but relatively chilly day at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, quarterbacks from both squads threw with more confidence, accuracy and rapport with the majority of their wideouts while many of the prospects who impressed early continued to do so.
For the most part, the players in Mobile, Ala., mirrored much of what they put on film during their respective collegiate careers.
Even if a kid was extraordinarily better or much worse than he was in-season, it won't have a significant effect on the way he's viewed by NFL scouts, general managers and coaches.
However, participating in the Senior Bowl puts these prospects in an unfamiliar situation with new teammates and pits them against some of the best competition in the country.
A "big" week can certainly benefit—albeit slightly—the way a player is viewed.
On Sunday, a scout for an AFC team told me they have all the prospect reports "in the system" already, but the Senior Bowl is "icing on the cake" and that you can learn something about a player when he's "out of his comfort zone."
Josh Huff Emerges As A DeSean Jackson-Type Wideout
|Trapasso's Top Senior Bowl Performers On Day 3|
|David Fales||QB||San Jose State||South|
|Christian Jones||LB||Florida State||South|
On the North team, with an interesting group of receivers—Wake Forest's Michael Campanaro, Wyoming's Robert Herron, Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis, Northwestern's converted quarterback Kain Colter, UCLA's Shaquelle Evans and Jeff Janis from Saginaw Valley State—Oregon's Josh Huff has proven to be the most dynamic, well-rounded pass-catcher.
He measured in at 5'11'' and 200 pounds and continued a strong week with a rather impressive practice on Wednesday.
Huff made a diving touchdown catch in a one-on-one drill and made a tremendous high-pointing grab for a score against Lindenwood's Pierre Desir, who's been one of the most fundamentally sound corners in Mobile.
Josh Huff is clearly best receiver in the North— Greg Gabriel (@greggabe) January 22, 2014
On a play-action bootleg bomb from Miami quarterback Stephen Morris, Huff dove for the slightly overthrown pass and nearly came down with his third big grab of the session.
He was utilized on a handful of reverses and never disappointed in terms of burst, fluidity and overall speed.
The 2014 receiver class is absolutely loaded, but Huff hasn't done anything to hurt his stock this week, that's for sure.
To me, there's a lot of DeSean Jackson to his game.
He very well may represent tremendous value in the middle of the draft.
Although Huff's not a big receiver, he's fast, can beat the press with exceptional athleticism and has the leaping ability to play on the outside if need be.
Logan Thomas Continues to Improve; Quarterbacks Have Their Best Outings On Wednesday
There's been a lot of buzz and difference of opinion on Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas in Mobile, but the 6'5'', 250-pound mountain of a quarterback definitely improved as the week progressed.
On Wednesday, he was more decisive and accurate and had only one egregious overthrow on a pass into the flat intended for the always-open Mike Campanaro.
I haven't seen all of practice and he hasnt been perfect, but seeing Logan Thomas during practice, you can see why a team may take him Day 2— Eric Galko (@OptimumScouting) January 20, 2014
However, even after Thomas makes a variety of "wow" plays with his arm, he'll make a major mistake later on.
At the end of what would have been categorized as a day in which he showed more refinement than ever, the longtime Virginia Tech signal-caller finished practice by forcing a pass over the middle that was intercepted by Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland, a defender who's performed well this week.
Following practice, Thomas told me it was a "miscommunication" and "two receivers ran the same route."
It's worth noting that he's been working with famed quarterback guru George Whitfield during the predraft process. If Thomas' footwork improves, his accuracy should get better. It'll just come down to the mental side of the playing the quarterback position—all the physical attributes are there.
Tajh Boyd's somewhat weak arm was noticeable on Monday and especially during Tuesday's windy practice, but on Wednesday, the Clemson quarterback was sharp.
Instead of checking down in seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 like he had done earlier, Boyd made a handful of passes down the seam with much more zip than what we saw in the first three sessions.
He seems to be a rhythm passer—when he gets into a groove he can be very accurate and make a variety of well-placed, anticipatory throws.
After practice, San Jose State quarterback David Fales told me he was "really sick" for the first few days in Mobile but felt much better this afternoon, and it showed.
Although he doesn't get a ton of trunk rotation or push from his lower half when delivering the ball, he does have a decently strong arm.
Fales did miss a wide-open Kevin Norwood down the middle of the field on a flea-flicker, he exhibited desired pocket movement, release and accuracy on Wednesday.
Through all of this, though, Derek Carr ended the week as the best quarterback in Mobile, without question. He threw with the most velocity of any of the signal-callers in attendance and was the most consistent from decision-making and ball-placement perspectives.
Cornerbacks of All Sizes Shine
Nebraska's Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Florida's Jaylen Watkins, Auburn's Chris Davis and Pierre Desir were the most impressive cornerbacks in Mobile over the past three days and all turned in sound performances on Wednesday.
At slightly above 6'2'' and 215 pounds with collegiate experience at wide receiver, there was plenty of chatter about Jean-Baptiste due to the fact that he can be, rather easily, likened to Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks.
In press man coverage, Jean-Baptiste dominated the North receivers all practice.
He was tested on a few fades to the corner of the end zone, too—not happening.
Campanaro admitted to me after practice that Jean-Baptiste was his most difficult matchup of the week because "he's so long and physical."
The 5'11'', 194-pound Watkins glued to Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews for the early portion of practice and received praise from Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley on more than one occasion. He showed the ability to react quickly to wideouts' breaks from the get go.
Unfortunately, Watkins tweaked his ankle and wasn't able to finish.
The similarly sized Davis was extremely physical with receivers on Wednesday, but some of his "grabbiness" might have drawn pass interference or holding flags. On a long-shot play down the sideline to Matthews, Davis got his hands tangled with the Vandy wideout to force an incompletion as both went to the turf.
Desir has proven to be one of the big risers this week, and his effort in the final padded practice was a perfect way for the Division II prospect to finish before the game on Saturday.
During the one-on-one session, he actually put Fresno State tight end Marcel Jensen to the ground with his press at the line of scrimmage. He was consistently around the football from Monday on.
Desir did get beat on a double move by Kain Colter down the sideline, but he demonstrated nice hand work on a last-second pass breakup on a nicely thrown ball to the back corner of the end zone from Boyd to Campanaro and nearly snagged an interception on the next play.
Odds and Ends
- Baylor offensive tackle Cyril Richardson, a 2013 All-American, will have nightmares about Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald for a while after this week. As per usual, Donald was able to beat the monstrous and powerful guard off the ball during drills and in 11-on-11 work. When Richardson can get his hands on you, it's over, but he's not a lateral mover. Then again, Richardson will remain a top guard in the 2014 class because he's so massive and can really maul in the run game. In my opinion, Donald was the best overall player in Mobile during the practice sessions.
- Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had a sound yet unspectacular week, but his incredibly quick release really stood out in Mobile. On Wednesday, there were a few instances in which he couldn't find anyone in seven-on-seven and was late on a few throws. His compact delivery likely opened some eyes.
- Miami offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson, a former 5-star recruit, was having a fine week until Wednesday's practice. He was beaten by bendy speed rusher Michael Sam of Missouri and even Stanford's Trent Murphy. The size—nearly 6'7'' and 331 pounds—is there, but the desire might not be.
- Not every player stood out in a positive way in Mobile. Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton didn't make much of impact on the interior, and Miami quarterback Stephen Morris struggled with accuracy on some very simple throws. Cornerback Lavelle Westbrooks of Georgia Southern was picked on during most of the practices, but he did break up a pass to Matthews near the end of practice on Wednesday.
- Two interior defensive line names to remember—Caraun Reid of Princeton and Justin Ellis of Louisiana Tech. The latter told me he compares his game to the style of New England Patriots' monster Vince Wilfork, and backed up that claim on many snaps in Mobile. Although Reid is weighed-in and just over 300 pounds, his athleticism and motor were noticeable during the week.
- Christian Jones of Florida State and Auburn's Dee Ford continued their havoc-wreaking ways in the final padded session. Jones played both inside and outside linebacker for the Seminoles, but he flashed a variety of effective pass-rushing moves all week and really got the best of the South's offensive tackles. Ford made Virginia's Morgan Moses look silly on one play, as he dipped around him for an easy "sack." Ford may be a "tweener" to some NFL teams, but his burst off the ball is incredible.