2016 NFL Draft: Matt Miller's Scouting Notebook for Senior Bowl Week

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2016 NFL Draft: Matt Miller's Scouting Notebook for Senior Bowl Week
Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports

The Scout's Report

— The biggest buzz to come out of Mobile, Alabama, during Senior Bowl week is that the Tennessee Titans are absolutely shopping the No. 1 pick in the draft. The teams most likely to be interested? According to general managers I've spoken with from competing teams, the Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Rams (with two second-round picks).

— Whether the Cleveland Browns keep the No. 2 pick in the draft or trade up, the expectation from NFL sources is that they will target a quarterback. I've heard all week from team scouts that they prefer the big arm of Carson Wentz over the accuracy and poise of Jared Goff.

— Robert Nkemdiche's hotel incident made big news, but sources I spoke with this week at the area scout level still think he'll be in play as a top-five pick. I've heard from the San Diego Chargers and Dallas Cowboys that both teams are doing extensive visits and background research on him.

— Talking to sources close to linebacker Myles Jack, he is reportedly one month ahead of schedule in his rehab from a torn meniscus that ended his 2015 season. Jack has rare ability to move in space and could very well be a top-five pick in April.

— The top-ranked linebacker in this class, Jaylon Smith, is still a lock to go top-15, according to team sources. Smith, who tore his ACL and LCL in the Fiesta Bowl, is already back rehabbing two times a day, according to sources close to the player. One team to keep an eye on is the New Orleans Saints. I'm told there is a lot of like for him at weak-side linebacker on their board.

— It's no secret the Dallas Cowboys need to get younger at quarterback behind Tony Romo, and sources I talked to this week from a competing team don't expect owner Jerry Jones to pull the trigger on a passer with the No. 4 pick in the draft. Instead, look for Robert Griffin III or Johnny Manziel to be in Dallas next year.

Laquon Treadwell entered Senior Bowl week as the No. 1 receiver on my board, and even though the junior isn't in attendance, after talking to sources familiar with his training regimen, the expectation is that he'll run in the 4.65-4.70-second range at the scouting combine. That would put Treadwell in the Alshon Jeffery camp as an early Round 2 player with big upside.

— The Green Bay Packers need an upgrade at inside linebacker, but scouts who know the team's draft philosophy told me general manager Ted Thompson will not draft one early on, as he doesn't see the position as a building block on defense.

— After watching the Houston Texans play in the playoffs, you can probably guess they'll go offense early in the draft, but I'm told by sources inside the Texans that they will focus on offense with all of their early picks.

Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

Five Names to Know—Senior Bowl Risers

5. RB Jonathan Williams, Arkansas

Running back Alex Collins was the name to know from Arkansas this past season, but former starter Jonathan Williams is healthy now after missing the 2015 season following foot surgery and looked very good in Mobile. Williams is powerful (5'11", 223 lbs) and has the shoulder and leg power to be a between-the-tackles factor as a starting-caliber back.

4. DT Matt Ioannidis, Temple

Temple sent three players on defense to Mobile—Tyler Matakevich, Tavon Young and Ioannidis—and the big defensive tackle was by far the most impressive. The North team offensive linemen struggled with his push and power all week, and he flashed the quickness to chase the quarterback too.

3. WR Charone Peake, Clemson

Scout the player, not the helmet. But when that player is a wide receiver from Clemson, you have to take notice. Charone Peake flashed on the field all week, and oftentimes the South team quarterbacks couldn't adjust to his speed down the field. He's definitely an explosive player at receiver to watch in the game and at the scouting combine.

2. CB Harlan Miller, SE Louisiana

Miller was a favorite of mine due to his film against small-school competition, but pre-Senior Bowl he ranked at No. 102 on my board. Seeing him against top-tier receivers all week—and comparing him to the other FBS cornerbacks also on the field—Miller looks like a Day 2 cornerback with top-75 potential.

Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

1. DT Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech

Vernon Butler came into Senior Bowl week with big buzz as a potential first-rounder. That potential was on display in Mobile. Butler's size (330 lbs), agility and power make him a nice player as a nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme or as a 1-tech in a 4-3.

Scouting Report: Braxton Miller, Ohio State

Throughout the 2016 draft season, I'll highlight one draft prospect each week with a first-look scouting report.

Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

No. 1 Wide Receiver Braxton Miller, Ohio State (6'1", 204 lbs)

Strengths

Braxton Miller was a two-year starter and three-year performer at quarterback for Ohio State before injuring his shoulder in 2014 and making a move to wide receiver for his senior season in 2015. A five-year player in college, Miller turned 23 years old on November 30.

Miller is an explosive player with the quickness to beat press coverage at the line of scrimmage and the straight-line speed to run past coverage as an inside or outside wide receiver. His 6'1", 204-pound frame is chiseled like a sprinter's, and he uses that power well to fight, push and claw his way open as a receiver. Miller's route game needs work, as he's only been at receiver for one season, but he's shown progress here despite seeing limited reps in an Ohio State offense that relied heavily on the run game.

As a receiver, Miller is natural in how he attacks the ball with his hands. He looks the ball in cleanly and extends his arms to make the reception with his hands, not with his body. Miller extends away from his frame to make catches and has the leaping ability and hang time to high-point the ball.

With the football in his hands, Miller can be a nightmare for defenses. He has great burst and is an extremely twitchy player. He can be a threat lining up in the backfield, in the slot, at outside receiver and in the return game.

Weaknesses

Miller's shoulder injury that cost him the 2014 season may draw concerns from NFL teams if he's not able to take the wear and tear of being a ball-carrier. The limited time at receiver may also be seen as a weakness for some teams, but it could be a positive for others if there is perceived positional upside.

Miller's work as a route-runner is a continued process. He plays a little upright in his stance and initial burst and can't rely on foot quickness to beat the jam against established NFL talent. This isn't so much a limitation as it is something he's not been taught or asked to do.

You can definitely nitpick Miller's route running, but there is no denying he improved between the end of Ohio State's season and the Senior Bowl.

Pro Comparison: A tougher Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers...or former Pittsburgh Steeler Hines Ward.

Mock Draft

Coming out of Senior Bowl practices, players move up and down the board based on medicals, measurements and how they perform in Mobile. Here's a look at my post-Senior Bowl mock draft:

Post-Senior Bowl Mock Draft
1. Tennessee LT Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss
2. Cleveland QB Carson Wentz, North Dakota State
3. San Diego DE Joey Bosa, Ohio State
4. Dallas LB Myles Jack, UCLA
5. Jacksonville CB Jalen Ramsey, FSU
6. Baltimore T Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame
7. San Francisco QB Jared Goff, California
8. Miami CB Mackensie Alexander, Clemson
9. Tampa Bay DE Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky
10. New York Giants LB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame
11. Chicago LB Reggie Ragland, Alabama
12. New Orleans DT DeForest Buckner, Oregon
13. Philadelphia CB Vernon Hargreaves, Florida
14. Oakland LB Darron Lee, Ohio State
15. Los Angeles QB Paxton Lynch, Memphis
16. Detroit WR Michael Thomas, Ohio State
17. Atlanta DL A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama
18. Indianapolis OLB Leonard Floyd, Georgia
19. Buffalo DE Kevin Dodd, Clemson
20. New York Jets DL Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech
21. Washington CB Eli Apple, Ohio State
22. Houston RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
23. Minnesota T Taylor Decker, Ohio State
24. Cincinnati WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
25. Pittsburgh T Jack Conklin, Michigan State
26. Seattle DT Jonathan Bullard, Florida
27. Green Bay TE Hunter Henry, Arkansas
28. Kansas City DE Sheldon Rankins, Louisville
29. Arizona DE Shaq Lawson, Clemson
30. Denver G Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
31. Carolina T Jason Spriggs, Indiana

Matt Miller

 

Parting Shots

10. Like big boards over mock drafts? Some people do, as it's a clearer picture of how the analyst values the draft class on talent and potential instead of what we're hearing or thinking teams will do with their picks. 

With Senior Bowl practice evaluations out of the way, here's an updated Top 50:

Updated Top 50 Big Board
1. QB Jared Goff, California 26. G Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
2. LB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame 27. LB Darron Lee, Ohio State
3. LB Myles Jack, UCLA 28. WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
4. CB Jalen Ramsey, FSU 29. T Jack Conklin, Michigan State
5. DE Joey Bosa, Ohio State 30. T Taylor Decker, Ohio State
6. T Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss 31. TE Hunter Henry, Arkansas
7. QB Carson Wentz, North Dakota State 32. DL Austin Johnson, Penn State
8. T Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame 33. DL Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech
9. CB Mackensie Alexander, Clemson 34. DL Andrew Billings, Baylor
10. DL DeForest Buckner, Oregon 35. DL Kenny Clark, UCLA
11. CB Vernon Hargreaves, Florida 36. WR Will Fuller, Notre Dame
12. EDGE Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky 37. EDGE Leonard Floyd, Georgia
13. DL A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama 38. T Jerald Hawkins, LSU
14. LB Reggie Ragland, Alabama 39. LB Su'a Cravens, USC
15. RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State 40. WR Braxton Miller, Ohio State
16. WR Michael Thomas, Ohio State 41. T Shon Coleman, Auburn
17. DE Shaq Lawson, Clemson 42. LB Josh Perry, Ohio State
18. DL Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss 43. FS Darian Thompson, Boise State
19. QB Paxton Lynch, Memphis 44. SS Vonn Bell, Ohio State
20. CB Eli Apple, Ohio State 45. DL Maliek Collins, Nebraska
21. DL Jarran Reed, Alabama 46. WR Josh Doctson, TCU
22. DL Kevin Dodd, Clemson 47. T Germain Ifedi, Texas A&M
23. DL Sheldon Rankins, Louisville 48. C Ryan Kelly, Alabama
24. DL Jonathan Bullard, Florida 49. T Jason Spriggs, Indiana
25. WR Corey Coleman, Baylor 50. DL Hassan Ridgeway, Texas

Matt Miller

9. Since last week's article, the East-West Shrine Game has been played. While I wasn't in attendance, scouts I've talked to were, and they liked these players as big risers after the week:

  • DL Javon Hargrave, South Carolina State
  • WR Geronimo Allison, Illinois
  • LB Jatavis Brown, Akron
  • QB Vernon Adams, Oregon

8. A general stock up on Senior Bowl prospects would take up the full space of this article, and I'll touch on some of these guys in-depth below, but here's a list of my favorite players to watch this week in practice and guys I'll be watching closely in the game:

  • FS Darian Thompson, Boise State
  • WR Braxton Miller, Ohio State
  • G Nick Martin, Notre Dame
  • DL Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech
  • RB Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech
  • CB Harlan Miller, SE Louisiana
  • QB Carson Wentz, North Dakota State
  • LB Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
  • DL Matt Ioannidis, Temple

7. It seems like everywhere you turned in Mobile, scouts and fellow draft media members were talking about quarterback Carson Wentz. He was the clear-cut top prospect coming into the week, and he leaves the same way. What were my takeaways? Here are the thoughts, typed up directly from my notebook:

Big-armed quarterback...motion is compact from the shoulder...doesn't drop the ball or let it get on top of his hand...doesn't have to hitch into deep throws...hits 20-yard out with zip and snap...ball cuts through the wind...mobility wasn't allowed to show here...pressure will rattle him and he has to learn to trust his OL (tough to do in all-star game, but shows on film)...arm doesn't look to be 100 percent yet...compare arm in-season, post-injury, Senior Bowl and combine a must.

Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

6. The group of defenders at the Senior Bowl is one of the best I've ever seen. There were many standouts, but here are the top few with notes on each.

  • DL Austin Johnson, Penn State: A true nose tackle prospect, Johnson has the quickness to play in a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme and line up either head-up on the center or shading him. He also showed good outside and inside shoulder pass-rush moves this week.
  • DL Sheldon Rankins, Louisville: Before leaving practices with what was announced as a knee injury, Rankins was showing off impressive, versatile skills. He's big enough (6'1", 303 lbs) to play as a 3-technique defensive tackle and dominate with leverage and pad height to match his impressive first step. Don't rule out Rankins' playing 3-technique in a 3-4 scheme either. He's stout enough to handle that.
  • EDGE Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky: The South offensive linemen had no answer for Noah Spence all week. He's too quick, has too much bend in his pass rush and is too powerful with his hands to be blocked in one-on-one drills. Given the matchup problems he can present with his tools, Spence looks like a top-15 player.
  • FS Darian Thompson, Boise State: The best safety here, bar none, Thompson showed off what Bleacher Report assistant Adam Heisler called out as "Kenny Vaccaro-like talents." He's long, physical, a vocal leader and an impressive ball hawk capable of matching up against slot receivers or playing center field in a single-high-safety look.

5. The focus at an event like the Senior Bowl is always on the quarterbacks, and we'll get there, but how about the non-quarterbacks on offense? Who stood out among the skill players and linemen?

  • G Nick Martin, Notre Dame: Two years ago, Zack Martin came to Mobile and dominated the week of practices. This week, his younger brother Nick had a very positive showing in front of coaches and scouts. The younger Martin is a capable guard and center, and with his quickness and hand technique, he could step into a lineup from his first day in camp as a starting center. He needs to improve his strength, but Martin already shows the ability to anchor at the point of attack.
  • RB Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech: With a running back class that lacked a superstar, Kenneth Dixon made himself money in Mobile. He's a strong runner inside the tackles, but in a practice environment like the Senior Bowl presents, Dixon's hands and ability to make plays as a receiver out of the backfield stood out most.
  • WR Braxton Miller, Ohio State: Miller has received a lot of publicity in this article, but for good reason. He was the most impressive non-quarterback in Mobile. Miller's quickness, toughness and fiery playing style were the highlight of practice throughout the week.

Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

4. So how about those quarterbacks?

Carson Wentz was a standout, as mentioned above, but the B/R scouting staff arrived in Mobile looking for the No. 2 senior quarterback, and we didn't leave with many answers.

Jake Coker is a local superstar, but he didn't show the accuracy or touch of a starting NFL quarterback. He appears destined for the job of a backup.

Jacoby Brissett and Dak Prescott pass the eyeball test, but neither passed the test of accurate, on-time throwing this week. And that's not talking about caught balls from receivers they're not familiar with—we're talking simple throws like a slant route and the ball goes to the wrong hip or shoulder. The touch passing wasn't there for either.

Cody Kessler doesn't have the arm talent to keep up with the rest of the passers in this class. While arm strength can be overrated, the lack of zip and velocity on his passes was a big concern given it caused receivers to wait on passes and left many balls sailing over the heads of targets on sideline routes.

Jeff Driskel may have been the best of the bunch in certain moments, but overall consistency in his passing was lacking. He has the arm, and he has the athleticism, but if the goal of quarterbacking is to deliver the ball to the right place at the right time, Driskel has a lot of work to do.

Brandon Allen is an intriguing guy and may be the second-best quarterback in this group, but he is a fairly raw prospect in terms of reading the field and getting the ball out on time. He has the tools but needs to speed up his entire process.

Kevin Hogan improved his mechanics and decision-making in 2015, but his passing motion (with a very elongated delivery and serious tension on the elbow) causes the ball to come out slow and to be delivered without the velocity needed to get past NFL defenders.

The second-best senior quarterback in this class may be Connor Cook, and he did himself a major disservice by skipping the Senior Bowl. In a group that's less than stellar, Cook missed a big opportunity to make himself money and potentially move up draft boards by showcasing his talents compared to a mediocre group of quarterbacks outside of Carson Wentz.

3. Shawn Oakman is a big target—physically and metaphorically—and I wrote about that last week. Everyone in attendance in Mobile wanted to see what this kid was made of after looking at his jaw-dropping size, speed and ripped physique.

Here's the thing...Oakman actually isn't as good or as bad as folks make him out to be. He could be better, and he could definitely stand to work on his lower-body strength and flexibility, but he's not as awful as he's been portrayed.

The issue is that Oakman, because of the memes and because of his size, comes with a gigantic target on his back. For every failed play on the field or in Senior Bowl practices, Oakman gets noticed. He's a big name and a big man, which causes our eyes to find him more often than not. When Oakman has a bad rep, everyone sees it. The same isn't said for the Jared Norrises of the draft world.

This isn't to defend Oakman—a player I have ranked in Round 5—but to caution against the takes that are too high or too low on a player who does have potential and athletic upside to go along with his very raw, and at times very disappointing, film.

Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

2. I hate football cliches and scouting jargon as much as the next guy, but I'm going to break a rule of mine and use one right out of the Jon Gruden playbook:

"Football player."

Talk to scouts in Mobile and you'll hear this phrase over and over again: "We need more football players" or "that guy is a football player." Well, duh, right? Pretty obvious statements if you take them at face value. But a coach or scout's talk about needing "football players" is an insider shorthand for three things:

  1. Toughness
  2. Work ethic
  3. Athleticism  

Teams want these traits like Donald Trump wants walls. It's what they spend months on the road looking for, and it's what you find in players like Peyton Manning and Luke Kuechly and Cam Newton.

In a day and age where a player's character and genetics are evaluated as much as his game tape, these traits—and that classic cliche—are what scouts are digging for on the road.

1. Senior Bowl week isn't over until after the game Saturday, but here are my award winners for the week:

  • Offensive MVP: WR Braxton Miller, Ohio State
  • Defensive MVP: DE Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky
  • Best Trash Talker: CB Deiondre' Hall, Northern Iowa, and LB Eric Striker, Oklahoma
  • Most Likely to be a WWE Wrestler: SS Miles Killebrew, Southern Utah
  • Frankenstein Award (stiffest player): EDGE Kyler Fackrell, Utah State

Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.

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