The Senior Bowl can make or break potential NFL stars.
No one had any inclination that Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle Eric Fisher might be worth a first overall pick before his time in Mobile, Ala., last year. Yet as he went toe-to-toe with the best college football seniors in attendance, he rocketed up draft boards.
The same could be said for San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, whom many questioned in terms of throwing ability. Then, starting in the Senior Bowl and throughout the draft process, he solidified his status as one of the top quarterbacks in the 2004 class.
This year, all of the talk is that there wasn't a Fisher or a Rivers in this group. A massive amount of prospects (19) were unable to compete in the Senior Bowl because of injury. Others (nine) were healthy, but they decided not to compete among their peers.
Throw in an all-time large group of junior entries—98, which is 25 more than last year—and all of a sudden we're looking at a Senior Bowl that could have tremendously talented players falling into the second or third round.
While the practices are the real reason many scouts and media get excited about these prospects, the game can serve as a fantastic showcase as well. Here is absolutely everything you need to know before you sit down to learn more about this group of potential NFL athletes.
|Top Prospects to Watch in the Senior Bowl|
|Derek Carr||QB||Fresno State||South|
|Kyle Van Noy||OLB||BYU||South|
|Jimmy Garoppolo||QB||Eastern Illinois||South|
Practice Report Day 3 (Chris Trapasso)
The group of passers is led by South quarterback Derek Carr (Fresno State) who was, almost without question, the top QB during the week of practices. No. 2 in a lot of people's minds was South quarterback and late Shrine Game addition Jimmy Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois).
After that, here's the question: To what extent can the rest of the quarterbacks help an NFL team, if at all? Scouts were asking Logan Thomas (Virginia Tech) if he'd play tight end—never a good sign, but he was better at points than David Fales (San Jose State), Tajh Boyd (Clemson) and Stephen Morris (Miami).
If passing the ball is the way to win NFL games, stopping passers is the second-best way—just ask the Seattle Seahawks.
That puts speed-rushers like Kyle Van Noy (OLB Brigham Young) in high demand. I've been torn on Van Noy, who I know can be an edge-rusher, but he showcased a lot more strength and tenacity at the Senior Bowl practices than I'd seen on tape. Conversely, Michael Sam (OLB Missouri) was high on a lot of boards before a disappointing week.
One of the best aspects of the Senior Bowl is its ability to make members of the media and, yes, even scouts recognize prospects they hadn't really noticed before. Small-school prospects like Jeff Janis (WR Saginaw Valley State), Pierre Desir (CB Lindenwood) and Billy Turner (OT North Dakota State) impressed throughout the week. A solid game could send people running even faster back to the tape.
Top Prospects on the North
Charles Sims (RB West Virginia) was my favorite prospect to watch throughout the week. He certainly wasn't the player who turned the most heads, or the one who will be drafted first, but he spent the week proving he could be a featured back rather than just a complement.
My feature on him notes the many who have compared him to Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte. Our own Matt Bowen (via Matt Miller) thinks he's a lot like New England Patriots running back Shane Vereen.
The best prospect on the North—heck, probably on both rosters—during the week of practices was Aaron Donald (DL Pittsburgh). Although size is a concern, Donald wins with a devastating first step and violence with his hands. He routinely beat up on the North offensive linemen. If he can do the same to the South team, he might solidify his status as a first-rounder.
Josh Huff (WR Oregon) showcased good straight-line speed and receiving ability throughout the week. He, Jeff Janis and C.J. Fiedorowicz (TE Iowa) are players to watch when the North is passing the ball.
Top Prospects on the South
Talking to most, if Donald wasn't their top prospect, it was probably Dee Ford (OLB/DE Auburn). Like Donald, size will be a concern, but teams that run a 3-4 may consider him a first-round prospect as a pass-rushing specialist. He consistently won matchups both one-on-one and in team drills during the practice week, and his stock has been on the rise for some time.
Derek Carr, as discussed in the storylines above, should be the game's top passer and has plenty of targets to throw to, including Jordan Matthews (WR Vanderbilt), Kevin Norwood (WR Alabama) and Mike Davis (WR Texas). Depending on how that receiver rotation shakes out, Carr could put up a lot of points in a hurry and find himself done for the day and solidified as the game's top pick.
In terms of pass defenders, Keith McGill (CB Utah) is one of the game's top defensive backs. He also has great size that will appeal to teams that appreciate longer and stronger corners. With such a weak North roster in terms of quarterbacking, McGill and his teammates could have a field day making plays on errant passes.
Remember, the Senior Bowl is just part of the process that these prospects have to go through. Many times, the best player in the game isn't necessarily a great prospect. MVPs of past games include: Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, St. Louis Rams running back Isaiah Pead and free-agent quarterback Pat White.
So, take what you see with a grain of salt.
Yet it's an important part, along with the practices, of the overall process. Teams value what they see out of these young hopefuls. Watch closely, and you might catch a first glimpse of the next young superstar of your favorite pro team.