Indianapolis Colts' Scouting Guide to the 2014 Senior Bowl
As draft preparation ramps up, NFL scouts and analysts alike look to college All-Star games (and the weeks leading up to them) for more hints at who will be successful NFL players. This Saturday marks the annual Senior Bowl, generally considered the top collegiate All-Star game.
The Indianapolis Colts have a litany of needs as they go into the 2014 draft, even if they are lacking in picks. So who can we watch for as potential prospects for Indianapolis in Saturday's Senior Bowl?
We'll be looking at the positions that are most likely to be targets in the draft based on need. Those include running back, wide receiver, defensive line, inside linebacker and secondary. While the Colts could realistically make a pick at any position, those are the positions that most need an infusion of young talent with an eye towards long-term production.
So, with no further ado, here is your scouting guide to the 2014 Senior Bowl.
My Spotlight: Charles Sims, WVU
The Colts need a versatile back to share the load with Vick Ballard and Trent Richardson, a back who can come in and be a big-play threat through the air and on the ground.
Sims may just be the perfect prospect. A well-rounded back, the 6'0", 213-pound player out of West Virginia was called the "most versatile back in the college game" by NFL.com's Bucky Brooks, and looks to make an impact in the NFL in any way possible.
Sims impressed scouts with both his pass-protection abilities and his habit of accelerating hard through contact in practice this week, and would be an ideal back for the Colts' three-headed monster, with a future as a feature back as a possibility.
The downside with Sims is that he may go higher than the Colts want to spend a draft pick on a running back. Sims is currently projected to go in the third round by NFLDraftScout.com, and with just two picks in the top 150, the Colts may not want to invest a semi-high pick in a running back. After all, they did just spend a first-rounder on Trent Richardson.
Other Names: Jerick McKinnon, Georgia Southern; James White, Wisconsin
My Spotlight: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
Pardon me while I gush for a moment. Mathews has all of the most important attributes of a wide receiver: He's a polished route-runner, has solid hands and can make catches in traffic. Of course, being 6'3" doesn't hurt either.
He was particularly impressive in absorbing contact while catching the ball during Tuesday's practice, as NFL Media analyst Charles Davis noted (per NFL.com's Chase Goodbread):
He will go into the briar patch, take his hits and keep on ticking," Davis said after Tuesday's practice. "I never worry about that part with him. Obviously, people are going to want to know what he runs (at the combine). All in all, I think he's a big-time prospect. Let's face it: How many quarterbacks threw to him at Vanderbilt? Try to name them all. Yet everyone knew he was coming each week in the SEC.
Among his physical skills, Matthews is also a tireless worker. Not only has he been staying late during Senior Bowl practices, but he requested game tape of each quarterback at the Senior Bowl in order to prepare, according to Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer.
Matthews strikes me as a perfect long-term replacement for Reggie Wayne and a solid complement to Wayne and T.Y. Hilton right now as he develops.
Other Names: Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin; Mike Campanaro, Wake Forest
My Spotlight: Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
If there's one thing the Colts need on the defensive line, it's a player that can get penetration and disrupt the offensive backfield. The Colts have spent millions on big players who are supposed to plug the middle, but have little playmakers on the line.
Aaron Donald is a playmaker.
While he may be a little undersized (just 285 pounds), he's explosive off the snap and led the nation in tackles for a loss in 2013 (2.3 per game). Donald was one of the most dominant players at practices earlier this week:
If asked to pick one player who really dominated today, it'd be Pitt DT Aaron Donald. But, that's what he did all year too.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 21, 2014
Unfortunately for Indianapolis, Donald's strong performance this week may vault him out of their reach. But if he slips into the middle of the second round in May, he could make the Colts rethink their targets.
Other Names: Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota; Brent Urban, Virginia; DaQuan Jones, Penn State
My Spotlight: Chris Borland, Wisconsin
The Colts need a run-stopping inside linebacker to pair with Jerrell Freeman's versatility, and Chris Borland may be the answer.
Borland excels at reading plays and going downhill to attack runners, and is athletic enough to meet blockers in the hole and then shed them to make a play. He has speed to make tackles across the field and could be a big-time playmaker in the NFL.
He didn't play in coverage much for Wisconsin, but was comfortable there in practice this week, picking off Logan Thomas and actively getting into passing lanes.
The downside with Borland is his size. At just 5'11", Borland doesn't have prototypical size for an inside linebacker, especially in a 3-4 defense. With Jerrell Freeman already a touch small, another short linebacker may not be exactly what the Colts are looking for at the position. But with a lack of high draft picks, the Colts aren't going to find prototypical linebackers left when it's time for them to draft.
Borland's instincts are superb, and in the NFL, that kind of skill can often overcome a physical disadvantage.
Other Names: Christian Kirksey, Iowa; Jordan Zumwalt, UCLA
My Spotlight: CB Pierre Desir, Lindenwood
With the Colts' press-man coverage scheme, cornerbacks with length and the ability/desire to be physical are gold. Desir fits that mold perfectly.
With a wingspan of 77.5 inches, Desir has the third-longest wingspan of any cornerback at the Senior Bowl. Desire excels when put in press coverage and has caught the eye of the Optimum Scouting staff at the Senior Bowl practice Wednesday:
Today was easily his best of the past two weeks, dominating most receivers (outside of one legal push-off by Michael Campanaro).His hand strength and natural press coverage ability forced two receivers on the ground and led him to two near-interceptions during team drills.
Now, Desir hasn't been the most consistent prospect at these practices, but his natural press skills could make him a mid-round target for the Colts, who needs to find some depth and future starters to fill out their secondary.
Other Names: CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska; CB Nevin Lawson, Utah State; S Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois