2016 NFL Draft: Which Prospects Have the Most to Gain at the Senior Bowl?
As one of the landmark stops on the annual predraft crazy train, the 2016 Senior Bowl begins practice this week, giving some of the best prospects in the country a chance to show their mettle in front of a huge contingent of NFL brass.
Team executives, media and fans alike will descend upon Mobile, Alabama, for another year of scouting-report refinery and backroom list checking, while players do their best to prove they belong at the next level.
The Senior Bowl, set to kick off on Jan. 30 at 1:30 p.m CST, has proven to be both a blessing and a curse for prospects, with some rising to the occasion with impressive performances, while others shrink in the spotlight or have their flaws exposed.
Who has a chance to drive up their draft stock with a strong showing in Mobile this year? Let's take a look.
Noah Spence, DL, Eastern Kentucky
Once a highly touted recruit and future star for Ohio State, a pair of failed drug tests got Noah Spence declared permanently ineligible by the Buckeyes. After watching his team win the 2014 national title without him, Spence decided to turn things around, transferring to Eastern Kentucky to revive his football career.
Spence has stayed out of trouble off the field while proving to be every bit the promising talent he was when the top college programs were vying for his services.
After nearly squandering his opportunity to play in the NFL, Spence is ready to prove he can be counted on, per Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:
I just want to show the world that I am a better person than when I left Ohio State. I used to say to my dad that everybody that's real good in the NFL always seems like they have a story and I don't have one. I guess now this is my story. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and my situation has definitely made me stronger.
Spence dominated FCS competition in 2015, racking up 22.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. He's got the explosiveness off the edge that could make him a dominant pass-rusher, and a strong week in Mobile—complete with an impressive interview process—could land him in the top 15 picks come April.
Shawn Oakman, DL, Baylor
His imposing frame is meme-famous on the Internet, but Shawn Oakman's on-field play and production has been incredibly underwhelming, considering his ridiculous physical tools.
Charles Davis and Lance Zierlein of NFL.com pointed out earlier in the season that while Oakman leaves much to be desired in terms of effectiveness and results, his size and natural ability will still be attractive to NFL teams:
Perhaps the general population is working under the assumption that Oakman, a senior, will be a high draft pick, but he has taken a beating within scouting circles this season. Oakman is extremely tall with a shredded upper body, but has unusually thin legs. He's lacking in pass-rush technique and edge-bending ability.
Oakman will need some work, but he has outstanding length and strength, which are highly coveted traits by 3-4 teams looking for defensive ends. Given what we've heard from NFL evaluators, it won't be a surprise if Oakman is drafted based on traits over tape.
Listed at 6'9", 275 pounds, Oakman is a mountain of a man who has played less like a Greek god and more like a statue of one. But this week in Mobile, he has a chance to show NFL teams he can be effective against top competition, as well as be coachable and develop his natural gifts into on-field success.
Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State
The Carson Wentz hype train is already at full speed, and the FCS national champion has a chance to establish himself as a potential top-10 pick with a strong showing at the Senior Bowl this week.
Per Chase Goodbread of NFL.com, former Cleveland Browns general manager and current Senior Bowl Executive Director Phil Savage says the buzz around Wentz has slowly grown throughout the season:
With Carson Wentz, most of the scouts I talked to during the year probably thought he was worthy of second-round consideration. But a second-round grade in September is a high grade for a small school. As the fall progressed, then it became, 'Well, no he's more of a first-rounder'. And within the last two weeks, I had two phone calls from (NFL personnel) friends of mine saying that Wentz isn't just a first-rounder, he's going in the top 10, so there's a real buzz about him.
A broken wrist that sidelined Wentz for a decent chunk of the 2015 season hasn't done much to squelch the growing number of people who expect him to come off the board early in this year's draft. If he puts on a show in Mobile this week, don't be surprised if he ends up going as a top-five pick. With the Dallas Cowboys coaching his squad this week, they make plenty of sense as a potential landing spot for Wentz at No. 4 overall.
Miles Killebrew, S, Southern Utah
One way small-school prospects can get the attention of NFL scouts is by having impressive physical tools, but that's only half the battle. They have to deliver on film once the eyes are on them, and thankfully for Miles Killebrew, he does both.
The star Thunderbird impressed one NFL scout so much, he said Killebrew is better than the Carolina Panthers' Shaq Thompson and the Arizona Cardinals' Deone Bucannon—both first-round picks—when they were drafted, according to Daniel Jeremiah and Lance Zierlein of NFL.com.
NFL.com's Chad Reuter mentioned some of Killebrew's strengths back in November:
This year's version of Jaquiski Tartt (2015 second-round pick of the 49ers) is Killebrew, a linebacker-sized (6-3, 230) strong safety who shuts down FCS receivers and running backs on a regular basis. While he has great size, Killebrew doesn't just play inside the box, though he'll likely flourish there on Sundays.
Going up against some of the best players in the country this week, Killebrew has a chance to prove to NFL scouts this week that he not only has the size to succeed at the next level, but he also has the talent and mental makeup.
Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana
This year's draft class has two premier offensive tackles near the top of most rankings in Mississippi's Laremy Tunsil and Notre Dame's Ronnie Stanley, but there's another blindside blocker who could vault himself into first-round-lock status with a strong week in Mobile.
At 6'7", 305 pounds, Jason Spriggs was impressive all season long, as Rob Rang of CBSSports.com pointed out back in November, after a losing effort against Michigan:
Spriggs has the size and well-distributed musculature NFL scouts are looking for, as well as impressive initial quickness, lateral agility and balance. The length and athleticism combination makes Spriggs well-suited to pass protecting in Indiana's up-tempo spread offense and in run blocking at the second level.
Rather than maul defenders at the point of attack, Spriggs relies on his quickness and agility.
Tackles from spread offenses haven't fared terribly well at the next level in recent years, so Spriggs will have an opportunity to show what he can do in a more pro-style scheme at the Senior Bowl. He could make himself plenty of money if he picks things up quickly and shows his strengths as one of the most athletic linemen in the entire draft.