BYU OLB Kyle Van Noy
How important is the Senior Bowl in the eyes of the Philadelphia Eagles front office? Over the last four years, no NFL team has selected more players who competed in the showcase event for college football’s best seniors.
Jimmy Kempski for Philly.com has the Birds down for 18 draft picks used on Senior Bowl alumni since 2010. The next closest teams have 14, which is the equivalent of one pick per year. The lowest is four.
Of course, just because a player was in the Senior Bowl doesn’t mean he’ll be a success. Most of the franchise’s rotten 2011 draft class participated, including Danny Watkins, Jaiquawn Jarrett, Curtis Marsh Jr., Casey Matthews and Alex Henery.
If it’s so hit or miss, why are so many picks directed that way? College all-star games such as this one give scouts an opportunity to see how these soon-to-be professionals practice, and the Senior Bowl has become the crown jewel for top prospects.
This year’s game on Saturday is no different, and recent history suggests several of the players we’re watching this weekend will end up wearing midnight green. Let’s take a look at some of the players to watch.
As of right now, the Eagles barely have two safeties under contract, let alone any depth. Signing a veteran in free agency or retaining Nate Allen is almost a certainty, but that alone won’t be enough.
Not surprisingly, per the club is said to be “shopping for safeties” at the Senior Bowl, and as Jeff McLane for The Philadelphia Inquirer points out, last year’s draft strategy could reveal who the Eagles have their eyes on. Philadelphia selected three players in the first four rounds whose college teams who competed against head coach Chip Kelly while he was at Oregon.
Washington State’s Deone Bucannon happens to fall under that description, and he also has a few of the other qualities the Eagles are seeking. Most notably, he has the combination of size (6’1”, 216 lb) and speed (projected 4.5 40-yard time) that scouts will be looking for. Most of the other prospects at the game are smaller.
McLane also transcribed the following scouting report from NFL Network’s Mike Mayock:
"He's got good ball skills with 15 interceptions. I think he's got seven forced fumbles. He's been a disruptive kid. He was healthy. He started 43 games," Mayock said. "I get a little concerned with him in man coverage."
Most of all, Bucannon has a reputation for being a big hitter.
Dan Kadar of SB Nation noted that members of the Eagles front office were seen speaking to Bucannon—three at once, to be exact. He, along with fellow North squad safeties Ahmad Dixon (6’0”, 205lb ) from Baylor and Jimmie Ward (5’11”, 192 lb) out of Northern Illinois will be players to watch on Saturday.
While we’re on defensive backs, corner is not an area of immediate need for the Eagles per se. However, the team could stand to upgrade Cary Williams at some point, and Bradley Fletcher is slated to become a free agent next year. Depth is also a concern.
Philadelphia will likely try to address the depth issue as well as find a future starter among this year’s crop of cornerbacks. Again, just like at safety, scouts will be looking for players with size at this position, and several fit the mold.
One such player is Stanley Jean-Baptiste out of Nebraska, whom NFL.com’s Gil Brandt likens to Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks. At 6’2”, 215 pounds, Jean-Baptiste is among the biggest at the event this weekend. Brandt has more on the young man’s overall body of work:
He's a junior-college transfer who only played cornerback for a season and a half at Nebraska after switching from wide receiver in 2011. Has very long arms (78 3/8 wingspan) and is a willing tackler. Looks fast in coverage and has quickness. If he looks like he can cover in man drills this week, he might move up into my top 100. Smart player who entered 2013 with his degree already in hand.
Tommy Lawlor notes on his Igglez Blitz blog that the Eagles have spoken to Jean-Batiste—as presumably every front office has that knows what it's doing.
Sticking with the North squad, Pierre Desir (6’2”, 206 lb) out of Division II Lindenwood is another corner to keep an eye on. We noted him at last week’s East-West Shrine Game, where Chris Roling for Bleacher Report noted he was one of the players who boosted their stock over the weekend.
On the South side, Utah’s Keith McGill should stand out. After all, at 6’3”, he’s the tallest cornerback at the Senior Bowl.
Connor Barwin proved to be indispensable as the Eagles transitioned away from a pure 4-3 defense in 2013 to a hybrid scheme resembling the 3-4. Trent Cole more than held his own at the opposite outside linebacker spot, but he’s 31, his production comes and goes now, and he could wind up being a cap casualty a year from now.
The Birds are also shallow behind Barwin and Cole, where only Brandon Graham made the 53-man roster last season. He is not an ideal fit for the scheme and is unhappy as a reserve.
So needless to say, pass-rusher will be high on the list of priorities in this draft and therefore at the Senior Bowl as well. Two of the most highly regarded outside linebacker prospects at the event are the South squad’s Jeremiah Attaochu out of Georgia Tech and BYU’s Kyle Van Noy.
CBSSports.com’s Rob Rang describes Attaochu and Van Noy as incredibly versatile players who have had great weeks of practice at Mobile:
Attaochu starred as a pass rusher with the Yellow Jackets, lining up as a stand-up outside linebacker and occasionally attacking the edge as a defensive end. In Mobile, however, the Jaguars' coaches have asked him to play virtually all over the field, including at inside linebacker, outside linebacker and rush from a three-point stance. Not surprisingly, Attaochu showed his greatest comfort when rushing the quarterback, demonstrating burst, agility and a powerful slap-and-sidestep to get past would-be blockers...
The 6-foot-3, 244-pound Van Noy doesn't wow you with his frame or his straight-line speed but he ranks among the country's most pro-ready defenders because he does the little things so well. Van Noy shows excellent play recognition, takes on blockers with the correct shoulder (allowing him to slide off would-be blockers and into ball-carriers easily) and is equally effective slipping into coverage or sliding past offensive linemen on his way towards a tackle behind the line of scrimmage. He's subtle rather than physical, which draws complaints from some scouts but is deadly effective.
Both Attaochu (6’3”, 242 lb) and Van Noy (6’3”, 245 lb) seem a bit undersized, however, which may not appeal to Chip Kelly and Philly’s scouts.
Personally, I like the North prospects more. Louisville’s Marcus Smith (6’3”, 252 lb) was extremely productive at Louisville, racking up 14.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss in his senior season, while Michael Sam from Missouri may be on the short side at 6’2” but has a little more meat on his bones at 255 pounds. He had 11.5 sacks in 2013.
Trent Murphy is another name that this columnist has mentioned a few times, but the Stanford product has been labeled a disappointment by NFL Network analyst Bucky Brooks at practices this week.
Sticking with the heavy defensive theme, the Eagles could use help up front as well, particularly in the middle. This team does not have the kind of space-eating nose tackle that traditional 3-4 alignments usually plug in there.
One such player’s stock has been rising, though—that of Justin Ellis out of Louisiana Tech. He impressed at last week’s Shrine Game, showing off excellent agility and technique for a player who weighed in at 350 pounds. Now, he’s doing it again at the Senior Bowl.
Tony Pauline has more on Ellis’ week of practices for the North squad for PhiladelphiaEagles.com:
We touched on Ellis during East-West Shrine Game practices when he impressed scouts throughout the week. The big-bodied defensive lineman came prepared to perform at a high level at the Senior Bowl and stepped up his game. He beat blockers with quickness, power as well as technique. Ellis, 6-foot-2, 342, competed every time he was on the field and scouts love his size and ability to make plays in lateral pursuit or hold the point of attack.
Here’s even more on Ellis from Dane Brugler of CBSSports.com:
Louisiana Tech DT Justin Ellis picked up right where he left off last week at the Shrine Game, using his quickness and snap anticipation to surge past blockers before they were in a stance. He is a quick thinker and reacts well to what the blocker wants to do, either attacking with pure momentum or using a spin or sidestep move to get past him. Ellis, who weighed nine pounds lighter from the Shrine Game weigh-ins, has helped himself as much as anyone the past two weeks and shouldn't last long on the draft's third day.
We said it at the time, and we’ll say it again—you can’t teach that kind of size. Plug him in the middle of your defense and watch the double-teams follow.
Tennessee’s Daniel McCullers is the big boy on the South roster, coming in at just a shade under 350 pounds, according to reports. He has had a good week of practices, but the concern is that his height—6’7”—could make it easier for NFL offensive linemen to negate him using leverage.
There are a few intriguing prospects along the defensive line for the North roster as well. West Virginia’s Will Clarke (6’7”, 273 lb), North Carolina’s Kareem Martin (6’6”, 265 lb and Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman (6’6”, 311 lb) all appear to have the frame to play end in a 3-4.
Finally switching over to the offensive side of the ball, it’s probably best to get a look at a few wide receivers. As you probably know by now, Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper are both free agents, and there is a debate as to whether or not Philadelphia can afford to sign both of them even if the organization wants to.
When you add in that Maclin is coming off an ACL injury and is likely to sign a short-term deal and DeSean Jackson is making waves about his contract, it might be time to start planning for the future.
For this column, we’re operating under the assumption that either Maclin or Cooper will not return, so finding a player who could come in and play right away would be a plus. The natural leap is to suggest Josh Huff as the natural fit, since he played for Chip Kelly at Oregon.
Huff caught 62 passes for 1,140 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. At 5’11”, he’s on the small side, but he has a strong build at 205 pounds and is expected to clock a 40-yard time at around 4.4. Rob Rang and Dane Brugler for NFLDraftScout.com like Huff, but he hasn’t had the greatest week of practice.
Possessing broad-shoulders, strength and toughness, Huff is capable of fighting through safeties to gain position, as well as the quickness and speed to separate from cornerbacks. Unfortunately, the tendency to lose focus on the details - like exploding through his routes or securing the football through the entire catch process - again came into play during Wednesday's practice.
Considering neither Jackson nor Maclin is taller than 6’0”, the Birds may want to use size as a determining factor. Tony Pauline for PhiladelphiaEagles.com likes UCLA’s Shaquelle Evans, who has caught the eye of more than a view scouts and analysts in attendance.
Evans, 6-foot-1, 210, built a lot of momentum throughout the week and by Wednesday was one of the better receivers at the Senior Bowl. He's a physical wideout with a strong build and soft hands. Evans consistently separated from opponents by running good routes and fought hard to come away with the reception. He's a terrific possession receiver with the ability to help any NFL team as a rookie.
Not to be outdone, the South roster has some tall receivers who could make an impact as well. Jimmy Kempski liked Shaq Evans as well, but for the Philly.com columnist’s money, at 6’3”, 206 pounds, Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews has been the receiver to watch this week:
The best receiver here, in my opinion, is Jordan Matthews of Vanderbilt. He had the catch of the day. It was semi-diving catch about 30 yards down the field along the sideline. He has had some drops, which is a concern, but his raw ability is clear as day.
Finally, Texas’ Mike Davis has been making noise in Mobile as well. There is some discrepancy over his height—the Senior Bowl website lists him at 6’2”, while NFLDraftScout.com has him at 6'0"—but little debate about his talent. Dan Kadar for SB Nation likes what he’s seen from the potential mid-round pick:
Mike Davis of Texas continued his excellent week of play on Wednesday. He's not the biggest name wide receiver on the South team, but Davis runs the best routes and has the quickest feet. Some team may get a steal on Davis late on the second day of the draft.