Eric Fisher used the Senior Bowl in 2013 to boost his NFL draft stock and became the No. 1 overall pick, and there are a few players making similar statements in Mobile, Ala., in 2014.
Because college football is full of mismatches from week to week, it's not often scouts get to watch players compete on equal footing. However, the practices leading up to the Senior Bowl and the actual game itself offer prospects a chance to prove their worth against top competition all week long.
The big event also offers scouts a chance to gain new insight to players, as noted by Detroit Lions director of college scouting Scott McEwen via Tim Twentyman of DetroitLions.com:
We look for things you don’t see at the school. Say there’s a rush linebacker. That’s what he does. He rushes all the time. Down here, we want to see how they fit. Watch them drop (in coverage) and those types of things and see them answer those types of questions.
So, who's standing out as the best of the best at the 2014 Senior Bowl?
Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
According to reports out of practice, Carr has emerged as the top passer in Mobile, which should only further cement his status as a first-round quarterback.
Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com loves what he's seen out of Carr, noting his ability to effectively work under less-than-perfect conditions:
The throwing conditions have been less than ideal this week. The wind gusts have been an issue for all six quarterbacks, but Carr has managed to slightly separate himself from the pack. He has a compact delivery, throws on time and is able to cut through the wind with a very tight spiral. I've been very impressed by his ability to throw on the move.
Thanks to a bad final game at Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl against USC, Derek Carr needed to practice and play well this week at the Senior Bowl to boost his draft stock.
After putting up jaw-dropping numbers in the Mountain West all year long, he struggled to complete half his passes (29-of-54) for 216 yards with two touchdowns and an interception to close out the season against the Trojans.
The younger brother of former No. 1 overall pick David Carr must continue to distinguish himself as a superior passer in the weeks and months to come in order to secure a top draft pick. In a year when the top quarterbacks are viewed with skepticism by many analysts, he could emerge as a "safe" pick.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Jordan Matthews out of Vanderbilt has kind of fallen off the radar while guys like Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin and others have captured our imagination with game-breaking athleticism.
After the way he showed up at the Senior Bowl, the perception about his value in the upcoming draft could be changing soon.
Right off the bat, during weigh-ins, Matthews began to distinguish himself as a player of interest. B/R's Michael Schottey elaborates:
I was surprised at the physique of Jordan Matthews (WR Vanderbilt). He's always struck me as a slight receiver, and I have expressed worry that he might get pushed around a bit at the next level because of it. Pads off, however, Matthews has a chiseled upper body that drew some remarks from team scouts sitting around me. Any concerns about him being weak are off the table.
Matthews didn't lose any momentum once practices began, either. B/R's Matt Miller was impressed with his quickness after he left a defender in the dust:
Jordan Matthews very quick off the line. Poor Lavelle Westbrooks got left in the dirt. Looked like his shoes were tied together.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 22, 2014
The receiver's college production is undeniably attractive. He caught 262 passes for 3,759 yards and 24 touchdowns in four years at Vanderbilt, capping off his career with a huge senior season: 112 catches for 1,477 yards and seven scores.
If he continues to impress scouts leading up to the draft, then it's not crazy to think Matthews will end up hearing his name called in Round 1.
Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
NFL teams always drool over edge-rushers who can win with speed, so it's not surprising Dee Ford out of Auburn is receiving some love at Senior Bowl practices. But speed isn't the only reason for the excitement.
According to John Zenor of the Associated Press, via Yahoo! Sports, Gus Bradley is among those impressed with Ford:
''I think that all it takes is one team to really like him, and I think that Dee is exciting,'' said Gus Bradley, head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the South team. ''I really like his personality. I like his spirit. He loves the game, and he showcases that on the practice field. Any time a guy can come off the edge and show his ability to have some rushes in him, I think it really stands out and it really pops out for all the coaches.''
Ford racked up 10.5 sacks this past year for the Tigers and really looked sharp in the BCS National Championship Game against Florida State. He's doing nothing but boosting his draft stock this week at Mobile, and it's likely his combine numbers will only help as well.
It's looking more and more like Ford isn't going to make it out of the first round when Roger Goodell gets things kicked off in New York on May 8, 2014.
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