2016 Senior Bowl: A Full Scouting Guide for This Year's Game
Every year, the Senior Bowl is one of the most prominent stops on the road to the NFL draft, and 2016 is no different.
This week, Mobile was transformed into a scouting Mecca, as a smattering of NFL decision-makers, media and fans descended upon the south Alabama city to observe and critique the next cycle of potential draft prospects.
From small-school signal-callers to Power 5 playmakers, this year's Senior Bowl rosters are full of pro-caliber talent. Some players lived up to their hype or proved to be pleasant surprises during this week's practices, while others had their flaws exposed or struggled to stand up to the challenge of some of the top competition in college football.
Here's everything you need to know about the 2016 Senior Bowl.
2016 Reese's Senior Bowl
Date: Saturday, January 30
Time: 2:30 p.m. ET
Location: Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Alabama
TV: NFL Network
All observations were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Picking in the top five is a rare occasion for the Dallas Cowboys, but one of the positives is the opportunity to coach one of this year's Senior Bowl squads. Head coach Jason Garrett and his staff got a front-row seat and a hands-on look at some of this year's top prospects, which should only help them as they prepare for the draft.
Garrett's crew ran the most intense, uptempo practices we saw all week, and it put an emphasis on one-on-one matchups.
Gus Bradley and his staff from the Jacksonville Jaguars have the somewhat dubious task of coaching the Senior Bowl for the third straight season, though it will give them another year of increased familiarity with the upcoming draft class.
It's a safe bet Bradley would prefer this to be his last time coaching the game, but he'll be able to take away more information again this year.
Here are the players on the North squad:
|WR||1||Braxton Miller||Ohio State|
|S||4||Darian Thompson||Boise State|
|WR||5||Ed Eagan||Northwestern State|
|RB||7||Tyler Ervin||San Jose State|
|QB||11||Carson Wentz||North Dakota State|
|QB||16||Jeff Driskel||Louisiana Tech|
|RB||18||D.J. Foster||Arizona State|
|CB||20||Deiondre' Hall||Northern Iowa|
|S||23||Tyvis Powell||Ohio State|
|CB||24||Kevin Peterson||Oklahoma State|
|S||25||Miles Killebrew||Southern Utah|
|RB||28||Kenneth Dixon||Louisiana Tech|
|S||29||K.J. Dillon||West Virginia|
|ILB||35||Nick Kwiatkoski||West Virginia|
|OLB||49||Kyler Fackrell||Utah State|
|G||56||Joe Dahl||Washington State|
|OT||59||Joe Haeg||North Dakota State|
|LS||60||Jeff Overbaugh||San Diego State|
|C||66||Jack Allen||Michigan State|
|G||70||Willie Beavers||Western Michigan|
|G||72||Nick Martin||Notre Dame|
|TE||80||Bryce Williams||East Carolina|
|TE||81||Nick Vannett||Ohio State|
|WR||86||Aaron Burbridge||Michigan State|
|DT||91||Sheldon Day||Notre Dame|
|DT||92||Adolphus Washington||Ohio State|
|DT||93||Vernon Butler||Louisiana Tech|
|DE||98||Lawrence Thomas||Michigan State|
|DT||99||Austin Johnson||Penn State|
Here are the players on the South squad:
|CB||1||Harlan Miller||Southeastern Louisiana|
|QB||12||Jacoby Brissett||North Carolina State|
|QB||15||Dak Prescott||Mississippi State|
|S||20||Kevin Byard||Middle Tennessee State|
|RB||31||DeAndre Washington||Texas Tech|
|S||36||DeAndre Houston-Carson||William & Mary|
|P||38||Alex Kinal||Wake Forest|
|TE||48||Glenn Gronkowski||Kansas State|
|G||55||Cody Whitehair||Kansas State|
|OT||62||Le'Raven Clark||Texas Tech|
|G||65||Christian Westerman||Arizona State|
|TE||84||Darion Griswold||Arkansas State|
|WR||88||Paul McRoberts||Southeast Missouri State|
|TE||89||Jerell Adams||South Carolina|
|DT||93||Javon Hargrave||South Carolina State|
|DE||96||Dadi Nicolas||Virginia Tech|
|DE||97||Noah Spence||Eastern Kentucky|
Carson Wentz put on a show in Mobile this week. The North Dakota State signal-caller further increased his pre-draft buzz with a strong performance, displaying his physical tools and a take-charge attitude.
He's firmly planted in the top-10 conversation and will challenge Cal's Jared Goff and Memphis' Paxton Lynch to be the first quarterback taken in this year's draft.
There was a clear divide between Wentz's level of talent and the rest of the North squad quarterbacks: USC's Cody Kessler, Stanford's Kevin Hogan and Louisiana Tech's Jeff Driskel.
For the South team, Dak Prescott of Mississippi State weighed in a 6'2", 225 pounds and had a solid week of practice, showing the same improvements as a passer he displayed during his senior campaign for the Bulldogs.
Alabama's Jake Coker flashed some draftable traits during the week, while fellow SEC thrower Brandon Allen of Arkansas struggled to look like an NFL passer. Jacoby Brissett was inconsistent at best during practices and shouldn't hear his name called until Day 3 of the draft.
Most of the backs in Mobile are scatback types, smaller runners who project better as third-down fill-ins at the next level. The lone exception is Louisiana Tech's Kenneth Dixon, who looked like the same every-down back his film suggested as he put together an impressive week of practice.
San Jose State's Tyler Ervin helped himself a great deal by weighing in at 192 pounds—15 pounds heavier than his listed weight—while still showing quickness and explosiveness in open space.
Alabama's Kenyan Drake is lightning in a bottle when the ball's in his hands, but his struggles in pass protection will limit his value on third downs at the next level.
Arkansas' Jonathan Williams gets less press than his Hogs teammate Alex Collins, but he could be an effective runner in the right situation at the next level.
Texas Tech's DeAndre Washington had a solid week, running strong between the tackles despite his 5'8" stature. TCU's Aaron Green had an inconsistent week, and he will need a strong finish to the pre-draft process to convince NFL teams he's worth drafting.
Plenty of receivers moved the needle during Senior Bowl practices, but none stole the show quite like Ohio State's Braxton Miller. The former quarterback showed off his dynamic athleticism on multiple occasions, but he also ran much more precise routes than expected. His performance could have him in the first-round conversation moving forward.
Oklahoma's Sterling Shepard was the pass-catcher with the next-best performance in Mobile. Despite measuring in at just 5'10", 193 pounds, Shepard was the best route-runner on either squad, and he showed off his strong hands and superb ball skills throughout the week. He should be able to make an instant impact as a slot receiver and return man before developing into a dynamic starter at the next level.
Southeast Missouri State's Paul McRoberts is an intriguing prospect who had his best performance during Thursday's practice, while Georgia's Malcolm Mitchell was one of the smoothest, most fluid targets on either team.
Jay Lee of Baylor, Chris Moore of Cincinnati and Charone Peake of Clemson all have attractive size and physical tools, while Jordan Payton of UCLA was consistent throughout the week.
One name to keep an eye on is Illinois' Geronimo Allison, who was a late addition to the North roster due to injuries at the position. He dominated at the Shrine Game last week and earned his spot among the nation's best in Mobile.
Braxton Miller wasn't the only Buckeye to lead a crop of pass-catchers this week, as teammate Nick Vannett was easily the most impressive tight end on either squad during practice. After measuring in at just a shade under 6'6" and 256 pounds, Vannett showed solid hands and the athleticism to be a matchup problem for opposing defenses down the field.
The rest of this year's tight end crop left a bit to be desired. East Carolina's Bryce Williams struggled with focus and drops all week, while Glenn Gronkowski—yes, another brother—looked like a poor fit as both a tight end and a fullback.
Iowa's Henry Krieger-Coble did have a highlight-reel, one-handed catch during practice, so scouts will be looking for more of the same from him.
A late addition to the South roster, Arkansas State's Darion Griswold is the most intriguing developmental prospect of the bunch, while South Carolina's Jerell Adams helped himself by coming in with 13 pounds of added bulk over his originally listed weight of 231 pounds.
Ohio State's Taylor Decker declined his invitation to the Senior Bowl, and Indiana's Jason Spriggs took full advantage of the opportunity, putting on a performance that could move him ahead of Decker when it comes to this year's offensive tackle rankings.
Texas Tech tackle Le'Raven Clark's 36-inch arms turned plenty of heads at the weigh-ins, but his on-field play during practice was more in line with his inconsistent film. He's incredibly raw but has some physical tools NFL coaches would love to get their hands on.
Western Michigan's Willie Beavers struggled all week, while LSU's Vadal Alexander, Stanford's Kyle Murphy, Georgia's John Theus and Harvard's Cole Toner had up-and-down weeks.
Arizona State's Christian Westerman and Stanford's Josh Garnett were among the best guards and should be two of the first names drafted at the position this year. Kansas State's Cody Whitehair was inconsistent, but his experience at both guard and tackle will be attractive to NFL teams.
Though undersized at 6'1", 297 pounds, Jack Allen was arguably the most impressive center this week. He's a smart player who might be available on Day 3, and he could jump into a starting role early in his NFL career.
Notre Dame's Nick Martin—brother of Dallas Cowboys first-round pick Zack—worked at both center and guard this week and looked good in both spots.
Interior Defensive Linemen
Two of the most dominant defenders from this week's practices—Louisville's Sheldon Rankins and Illinois' Jihad Ward (h/t the Courier-Journal and News-Gazette)—won't play in the Senior Bowl due to injury, but there's still plenty of talent to watch at this year's deepest position.
Alabama's Jarran Reed came into the week as a potential first-round pick, and his performance during practices did nothing to weaken that projection. He's scheme versatile, quick and powerful, and he should be among the most disruptive players in this year's game.
One of the more pleasant surprises of the week was Louisiana Tech's Vernon Butler, who weighed in at 325 pounds but showed incredible quickness to go with the power that comes with his frame. He's an explosive defender who could sneak into the top 50 picks after his performance this week.
There will be plenty of prospects from big-name schools to keep an eye on in this unit—Notre Dame's Sheldon Day, Penn State's Austin Johnson, Clemson's D.J. Reader and Ohio State's Adolphus Washington—but don't sleep on South Carolina State's Javon Hargrave.
After dominating at the Shrine Game on Jan. 23, Hargrave was a late addition to the Senior Bowl. He wasted no time making his presence felt. He's undersized at 6'2", 295 pounds, but he plays with an impressive combination of power and explosiveness.
Plenty of former Buckeyes stood out this week, and Eastern Kentucky's Noah Spence—an Ohio State transfer—certainly made his mark.
After having to leave Columbus because of a pair of failed drug tests, Spence got back on the right track, transferring to EKU and wreaking havoc on the field while staying out of trouble off it. If his team interviews were anywhere near his level of play during practice this week, he could find himself drafted in the top half of the first round.
Georgia's Jordan Jenkins turned heads with his 34-inch arms, and he showed plenty of quickness and explosion off the edge. Utah's Jason Fanaika and Michigan State's Lawrence Thomas also had strong performances during this week's practices.
Though he spent much of the week out of position as an off-ball linebacker, Utah State's Kyler Fackrell could make a significant impact as an edge-rusher at the next level.
Edge defenders who didn't make the most of their trips to Mobile included Penn State's Carl Nassib and Baylor's Shawn Oakman—who both looked incredibly stiff—as well as BYU's Bronson Kaufusi and Oklahoma's Eric Striker.
Striker is too small to be an effective pass-rusher at the next level, but he also looked lost in coverage when lined up off the ball, while Kaufusi came in 16 pounds heavier than his listed weight of 265 pounds and was unimpressive.
This was one of the more underwhelming position groups on either team.
Alabama's Reggie Ragland spent much of the week trying to line up on the edge and rush the passer, but his best spot in the NFL will be as a run-defending specialist in the middle. Missouri's Kentrell Brothers didn't look as athletic as his film suggested, but game tape carries more weight than one week of practice.
LSU's Deion Jones and Florida's Antonio Morrison were the two most impressive players, and they both did as much as they could to boost their draft stock.
Temple's Tyler Matakevich isn't the most athletic defender in the country, but his production should attract plenty of attention from NFL teams when the draft rolls around.
This group had a strong week of practice.
Boise State's Darian Thompson solidified himself as one of the top overall safety prospects in the draft, showcasing his balanced skill set against both the run and pass. Duke's Jeremy Cash showed off his versatility, while sleepers like Middle Tennessee State's Kevin Byard, West Virginia's K.J. Dillon and Southern Utah's Miles Killebrew also impressed.
This week's best corner was Southeastern Louisiana's Harlan Miller, who was simply superb in coverage on seemingly every rep. Temple's Tavon Young is undersized at just 5'9", 180 pounds, but he made plenty of plays in one-on-one drills and should get mid-round consideration as a potential nickelback.
Minnesota's Eric Murray was the most physical of the corners this week, often going too far and getting too grabby with opposing receivers. Virginia's Maurice Canady has an intriguing combination of size—6'1", 191 pounds—length and quickness, as does LSU's Jalen Mills, who is 6'1", 194 pounds. Northern Iowa's Deiondre' Hall is raw and rail thin, but he's a fantastic natural athlete with the kind of swagger it takes to be a successful NFL corner.
Of all the specialists in this year's Senior Bowl, the one to keep the closest eye on is Duke kicker Ross Martin, a four-time All-ACC selection who ranks second all-time in points scored in conference history.
Martin provided one of the most impressive moments from any of this week's practices, nailing a 60-yard field goal in windy conditions and despite a poor snap.
This year's rosters are full of dynamic return specialists, as well. Ohio State's Braxton Miller, Oklahoma's Sterling Shepard and both Cyrus Jones and Kenyan Drake of Alabama are explosive playmakers who should make an instant impact on special teams in the NFL.
Players to Watch
Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State
There was plenty of buzz about Wentz before practices even began in Mobile, and he lived up to the hype. Wentz looks the part of a franchise quarterback in every way, and he instantly took command of the North team this week. He's firmly planted himself to be the first signal-caller taken in this year's draft.
Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky
Spence's behind-closed-doors interviews with NFL teams were likely the most important part of his Senior Bowl week, but his on-field performance proved he belongs in the top-10 conversation. He was nearly unblockable for most of the week, with an explosiveness reminiscent of Khalil Mack.
Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State
Miller entered the week as a projected mid-round gadget-type prospect, but he'll leave Mobile as a potential first-rounder. He looked way more refined as a receiver than most could have expected, and his combination of size—6'1", 204 pounds—and explosiveness may entice a team to take a chance on him in the top 32 picks.
Darian Thompson, S, Boise State
Thompson was the best overall safety prospect heading into the week, and he further solidified that with his performance in practice. He's a balanced player who can cover and hit, and his attitude and enthusiasm will make him an effective leader early in his NFL career.
Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana
Spriggs showed some weaknesses during Thursday's practice, but his overall performance was strong. He's incredibly athletic and should challenge Ohio State's Taylor Decker to be the third offensive tackle off the board this year.
Carson Wentz, Braxton Miller, Noah Spence, Jihad Ward and Sheldon Rankins were among the bigger names who impressed during this week's practices, but here are a few players who pleasantly surprised Senior Bowl attendees with their performances.
1. Harlan Miller, CB, Southeastern Louisiana: Despite the presence of a truckload of bigger names at corner, Miller was arguably the best cover man in Mobile.
2. Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech: No position group was deeper or played better than the interior defensive linemen, and Butler was one of the top performers on either roster. Despite weighing in at 325 pounds, he was quick and explosive while displaying the power you'd expect from a defender his size.
3. Jay Lee, WR, Baylor: Quite a few receivers impressed this week, but Lee had the most out-of-nowhere performance I saw from this group. After weighing in at just under 6'2" and 214 pounds, Lee made a handful of great catches, showing a combination of ball skills and focus that didn't show up on his film. He'll be an intriguing evaluation for NFL decision-makers.
1. Willie Beavers, OG, Western Michigan: Beavers was the most outmatched player from either squad. He fared slightly better when playing inside at guard, but when forced to block in space on the edge, Beavers struggled against both speed and power.
2. Kyler Fackrell, OLB, Utah State: It's not entirely Fackrell's fault that he's on this list. He was asked to line up off the ball way too much, instead of where he's at his best, which is as a pass-rusher off the edge. Still, teams should see a potential impact edge player on tape, which will keep his draft stock from moving in reverse.
3. Aaron Burbridge, WR, Michigan State: Though he finished with a strong performance Thursday, Burbridge had a difficult time creating separation. When he did find himself with some space against his defender, he had multiple drops on balls that should have been routine catches.