Senior Bowl 2014: 8 Players Who Cemented Early-Round Status This Week

Dilan Ames@@DilanAmesNFLCorrespondent IJanuary 24, 2014

Senior Bowl 2014: 8 Players Who Cemented Early-Round Status This Week

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    John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

    The 2014 Senior Bowl has brought together some of the best talent the country has to offer. From quarterbacks on the rise to promising defenders, there's no shortage of talent in Mobile this week.

    Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo are two quarterbacks near the top of most rankings and have put on quite a show this week. Both quarterbacks have shown they are worthy of building a franchise around and have all the tools necessary to lead a team.

    Aaron Donald has been the most dominant in Mobile this week on the defensive side of the ball, and has truly made his case as one of the best pass-rushers in this draft. There's talent everywhere, and a lot of guys have taken advantage of the opportunity before them.

    The Senior Bowl is a great chance to not only meet with teams and scouts but to also showcase one's value as an early-round pick, and that's exactly what these eight men have done. 

Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB

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    Stanley Jean-Baptiste has been drawing comparisons to star corner Richard Sherman—and for good reason. He has similar size to Sherman, and is also extremely physical at the line of scrimmage. 

    During this past week, Jean-Baptiste has shown that he has the ability to not only play well in man coverage, but that he can also perform in press coverage. His 78-inch wingspan allows him to match up with the taller receivers and maintain control in the air. 

    Jean-Baptiste isn’t the biggest name in this draft, but his play has proven that he belongs near the top. 

Jimmy Garoppolo, QB

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    While Derek Carr looks like the best quarterback prospect in Mobile as of right now, Jimmy Garoppolo has been just as good in most aspects. He won’t wow anyone with his arm strength, but put good velocity on the ball to drive it through the windy practice conditions

    A word I'm seeing associated with Garoppolo is "quick." From his feet to his comprehension of the defense and how the play is unfolding, everything is quick—which isn't a bad thing. He has a very smooth drop-back and looks very comfortable in the pocket.

    Garoppolo holds an ideal build for a quarterback at 6’3”, 222 pounds and will develop into a very solid starter in a couple of years. 

Deone Bucannon, S

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    Deone Bucannon has done a lot for himself this week, but has mainly proven how versatile he is as a defensive back. He can play firmly against slot receivers but keeps his hips square and low to ensure he won’t lose control of his center of gravity. 

    Bucannon also showed up in fantastic shape and certainly looks the part of a strong safety, but has expressed his openness to play special teams. His speed and burst off the ball allows him to play deep in coverage, although he wasn’t as confident in single high safety reads. 

    Overall, he’s a sideline-to-sideline safety that has a nose for the football and finds himself in most tackle piles. 

Derek Carr, QB

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Derek Carr separated himself from the other quarterbacks early on in the week. Carr has several valuable attributes that make him one of the most promising prospects in this draft, and they were all on display this week. 

    He showed elite arm strength and athleticism while also maintaining his poise in the pocket. Carr also had great timing with his receivers, often releasing the ball before his target could even turn their head around. 

    Carr's willingness to work also shined through this week as he stayed after practice to work with any receivers open to refine their routes and timing for this weekend's game.

Kyle Van Noy, LB

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    Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

    Kyle Van Noy was already a hot prospect coming into Senior Bowl week, but really solidified himself as one of the most technically sound linebackers in the draft. He also showed tremendous athleticism and even looked more like a safety at times.

    Van Noy’s instincts as a defender are what have helped him become one of this year’s most pro-ready prospects. He shows great play recognition and is also competent in coverage. 

    He plays smarter rather than physical, making him a tougher guy to defend. Van Noy was also heralded as one of the smartest linebackers at the Senior Bowl by one of the scouts observing, according to Peter Schrager of Fox Sports. 

Jaylen Watkins, CB

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    Jaylen Watkins proved himself as one of the most athletic corners at the Senior Bowl, and was very good at going up and knocking the ball away in one-on-one drills. Watkins has a smooth backpedal and the fluidity he’s shown in his hips is unlike most others at Ladd Peebles Stadium. 

    He’s a scrappy corner that has demonstrated he can mirror receivers’ routes and find the ball quickly without losing focus in coverage. 

Brandon Thomas, OT

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    Brandon Thomas is a little on the short side, but has more than proven he can play bigger than he is. He has displayed great balance as an offensive tackle and has long enough arms to lock in and control defenders at the line of scrimmage. 

    Considering he’s a smaller size for a lineman (6’3”, 316 pounds), Thomas probably best projects as an interior lineman, but did show flashes of starting ability this week. 

    Given the right coaching, Thomas could definitely make it work at tackle in the NFL.

Aaron Donald, DE/DT

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    Aaron Donald might be the best pass-rusher at the Senior Bowl. He possesses an elite burst that makes him a tough pass-rusher to defend, and he is a wiz at getting a quick first step, shedding blocks and getting into the backfield. 

    His size and strength shape him up to be a 3-technique in a 4-3 defense as an interior pass-rusher. 

    Donald was disruptive in both one-on-one drills and in team drills, and simply looked unstoppable at times. His compact build also bolsters his ability to manipulate leverage and really get under offensive lineman. 

    Donald is a little shorter than you’d like a starting lineman to be, but he is not short on talent—and that’s the most important thing.