The first major step of the 2016 NFL draft process is complete after the South upended the North in Saturday's Senior Bowl.
There, Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott took home the Most Outstanding Player award in the 27-16 win, throwing for 61 yards and a score and rushing for another 13 to take away attention from potential first-round prospect and North leader Carson Wentz.
Arkansas' Brandon Allen pitched in with 106 yards of his own for the South, while Aaron Green and Kenyan Drake both rushed for scores. For the North, a seemingly loaded lineup under center, including Wentz, Jeff Driskel, Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan, only managed 220 yards and a touchdown.
Several players boosted stock in a massive way throughout the process. It's important to note that observers have to take the entire process into account, not just a game with no chemistry between the players and time to learn plays. Those players who benefited from the entire week the most rest below.
Prospects Who Boosted Draft Stock at Showcase
Noah Spence, DE/LB, Eastern Kentucky
Remember Noah Spence?
The man who wreaked havoc with the Ohio State Buckeyes for a little while and eventually wound up at Eastern Kentucky due to failed drug tests put on an absolute show Saturday, flustering quarterbacks and claiming responsibility for the North's shoddy quarterback numbers.
Bleacher Report's Ian Wharton named Spence the "best player on the field" and detailed his performance.
"Spence was all over the place Saturday, posting two tackles and one sack," Wharton wrote. "He had the opportunity to finish several other plays behind the line of scrimmage, including a sack that quarterback Kevin Hogan broke out of, only to be sacked by Shawn Oakman. Spence's disruptiveness is impossible to miss."
This isn't much of a surprise. Spence was one of the Buckeyes' top pass-rushers while a member of the team and a top-level talent whose insane athleticism and burst off the line of scrimmage wasn't something many collegiate offensive tackles could handle.
One coach told Fox Sports' Charles Davis that Spence provided quite the example for his players:
Much of Spence's future stock will come down to how he interviews with teams, as well as how those around him interview when asked to provide background info.
But Saturday certainly doesn't hurt. The NFL needed to see that Spence still stood up against top-tier competition, and he did.
Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville
One of the players who boosted his stock the most this week didn't even play in the game itself.
This lucky winner goes by the name of Sheldon Rankins, a defensive tackle out of Louisville who has been quickly rising up draft boards since the season ended thanks to his ability to provide a strong rush from the interior of the line.
CBSSports.com's Dane Brugler posted a strong write-up about Rankins' week: "The most impressive defensive tackle in Mobile this week was Louisville's Sheldon Rankins, but he was unable to play on Saturday due to injury. Originally called a 'knee sprain' by the training staff, Rankins told sideline reporter Alex Flanagan that he aggravated a previous injury to his upper calf."
Davis provided context as to just how impressive Rankins looked in practices:
As North team practice ended, the name "Sheldon Rankins" DT from Louisville was buzzing throughout the ranks in the stadium. Terrific day— Charles Davis (@CFD22) January 27, 2016
Folks may scoff at the idea of practices boosting a player's stock, but sometimes stock starts out in the wrong area and needs an adjustment.
This would be the case with Rankins, the 6'2", 303-pound monster who popped on film all year. NFL teams don't get many chances to add a guy who is so explosive from the spot—such as Geno Atkins or Kawann Short—so it seemed only a matter of time before Rankins flew up boards.
With elite play against strong competition added to a rather unique skill set and incredible versatility, Rankins wound up as one of the biggest winners of all.
Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State
In a class currently dominated by talk of Wentz and Jared Goff, not many expected Prescott to come out and steal the spotlight so early in the process.
Some expected it to happen sooner or later, though.
After all, Prescott is a guy who decided to stay in college and groom his game. This past year, he posted career highs by completing 66.2 percent of his passes with 3,793 yards and 29 touchdowns. He's a guy who models his game after someone named Cam Newton.
“Obviously, Cam Newton—he’s a guy you want to model your game after, especially me as a dual-threat quarterback,” Prescott said, according to USA Today's Tom Pelissero. “I think he’s opening the door for our style of players.”
Prescott is a big quarterback who, as the numbers mentioned in the intro show, has the ability to extend plays with his feet. There is certainly a moldable NFL skill set there, as Anthony "Booger" McFarland of the SEC Network noted after the game:
In a QB class that a lot of people think is weak, I'd take Dak Prescott and in 2-3 years he will be better than any of these guys, #leader— Booger (@SECbooger) January 30, 2016
The week in Mobile might be a small sample size when it comes to Prescott, but his career trajectory points out that the weeklong dominance isn't a fluke.
At his current pace, Prescott might be the most talked-about quarterback going into the NFL Scouting Combine.
|Adolphus Washington, DT||Ohio State|
|Jason Spriggs, OT||Indiana|
|Harlan Miller, CB||Southeastern Louisiana|
|Kyler Fackrell, LB||Utah State|
|Vernon Butler, DT||Louisiana Tech|
|Jonathan Jones, DB||Auburn|
|Cody Whitehair, OG||Kansas State|