Senior Bowl 2017: Matt Miller's Top 25 Prospects

Matt MillerNFL Draft Lead WriterJanuary 25, 2017

Senior Bowl 2017: Matt Miller's Top 25 Prospects

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    Who wants to make some money? 

    The Reese's Senior Bowl is the NFL's best job fair. Forget the NFL Scouting Combine and its glorified track meet status. The Senior Bowl is about football. Slap on the pads, lace up your cleats and get ready to compete. Victors go home with improved draft stock in this winner-take-all atmosphere.

    The 2017 class of players features multiple first-rounders and a plethora of Day 2 prospects. Narrowing the list down to the top 25 was a painstaking process. For every player added, two worthy prospects got left out. But the task must be completed, and this final list of 25 features big-program superstars and small-school gems.

    Who will be this year's Aaron Donald or Eric Fisher and walk out of Mobile, Alabama, with an improved draft stock? My money is on one of these players.

25. Carlos Watkins, DL, Clemson

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    The top-ranked attendee from the national champion Clemson Tigers, defensive tackle Carlos Watkins possesses the skills to make the splash plays needed to turn heads in Mobile.

    The 6'4", 312-pounder has the quickness to penetrate and make run stops in the backfield, and he did make enough plays in the passing game—despite being surrounded by some underclassmen athletic freaks—to stand out. Watkins will need to show this week what he can do without a great defensive line rotation around him.

    In a weak defensive tackle class, Watkins' performance on a big stage at Clemson and his raw athletic upside make him one of the more interesting down linemen at the Senior Bowl.

24. Dion Dawkins, G, Temple

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    A three-year starter at left tackle for Temple, Dion Dawkins will play guard at the Senior Bowl. At 6'4" and 317 pounds, Dawkins' frame isn't bad for a tackle prospect, but the combination of his size and limited agility in space makes him a better fit inside.

    Dawkins is a big, thick player who generates power from his base and can strike with a well-timed punch, but he struggles when asked to track off his spot with a kick-slide to beat speedy rushers to the edge. Moving inside, we'll get a good look at his power and ability to handle less space as a blocker.

    In the run game, Dawkins has been spotty on film with his leverage and leg drive. If he can keep his pads down and drive defenders upfield this week, Dawkins can move up boards in a bad draft class for offensive linemen.

23. Haason Reddick, LB, Temple

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    Linebacker or pass-rusher? That's the question Haason Reddick will look to answer this week after playing an edge role at Temple. But his size, at a listed 6'2" and 237 pounds, raises questions about his fit as a pass-rusher.

    Reddick must prove he can play off the ball. Everyone knows this will be an adjustment for him, so you can't expect him to look great in space as a coverage linebacker, but the goal will be to see how well he adapts to the role and how fluid he is athletically.

    Most surprising is that the Senior Bowl roster listed Reddick at inside linebacker. All eyes will be on the attacking Temple 'backer to see whether he sinks or swims in a new environment.

22. Vince Biegel, LB, Wisconsin

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    There was a point last season when I had Vince Biegel in the first round. Then he decided to go back to Wisconsin for his senior season and had a less than great final year after suffering injuries. His week in Alabama is a chance to remind folks why he was so highly thought of in the 2015 season.

    Biegel's skill set as a pass-rusher was on display at Wisconsin for four seasons. He's smart, experienced, athletic and strong. Compared to teammate T.J. Watt, Biegel has more of the production and impact teams want from outside linebackers. But with his size (6'3", 242 lbs), there will be many eyes on his ability to generate power as a pass-rusher.

    Biegel is playing outside linebacker this week, which is his best NFL position, but he has to prove he's not a fish out of water when asked to drop into coverage.

21. Rasul Douglas, CB, West Virginia

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    There are times when watching Rasul Douglas that you see some Richard Sherman-like flashes. Take the Texas game, for example, where Douglas was a physical presence against the run and picked off a pass. That was part of a four-game stretch in which Douglas picked off five passes and dominated opposing receivers.

    At 6'2" and 204 pounds, the Nassau Community College transfer has excellent length and physicality, but as is often the case with big cornerbacks, Douglas has to show the hip flexibility and foot speed to run with speedy receivers down the field. I can't be the only one looking forward to Douglas facing off against Eastern Washington's Cooper Kupp in practices. 

20. Obi Melifonwu, S, UConn

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    An athletic freak who recently jumped onto my radar (sorry, UConn fans, I didn't prioritize your tape this year), Obi Melifonwu's range and agility will be a treat to see in person.

    A three-year starter at free safety, the 6'4", 219-pound Melifonwu is a big prospect. But unlike a lot of oversize defensive backs, he's twitchy and explosive when attacking the ball in the air. Stiffness in his hips will be a key scouting point this week, but what he's shown on film is impressive enough to get a top-100 grade at this point in the process.

    How well Melifonwu handles speedy tight ends in space this week will be crucial to his draft stock, but I'll also be watching him in positional drills to see how well the hips of a 6'4" safety flip.

19. Eddie Vanderdoes, DL, UCLA

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    Finally healthy after an injury-plagued 2015 season, Eddie Vanderdoes was back to his powerful ways as an interior defensive lineman for UCLA. NFL teams will be looking at him as a versatile fit in either a 3-4 or 4-3 defense—much like his old teammate Kenny Clark, who went in the first round to the Green Bay Packers last season.

    Vanderdoes is more of a run-stuffer than a pure pass-rusher, but that can also be attributed to the scheme at UCLA. Here, he'll get a chance to show off all his moves as a defensive lineman and may unearth a dip and bend we haven't seen before.

    With so many teams bouncing between fronts on defense and valuing versatility, Vanderdoes is a player to track in this process. His production and skill set are intriguing enough to warrant a Round 2 grade heading into the week.

18. Ethan Pocic, C, LSU

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    Ethan Pocic has been a monster along the LSU offensive line as a three-year starter. The 6'6", 307-pounder has mostly played center, but there will be questions about his height being an issue in the middle of the offensive line. Because of that, Pocic may also see time at right tackle, a spot he played in one game for LSU this year.

    Scouts will like Pocic's strength, mean streak and versatility. It can be difficult to judge offensive linemen in one-on-one drills against defenders, but Pocic's length should give him an advantage over inside and outside pass-rushers he'll face this week.

17. Cameron Sutton, CB, Tennessee

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    The cornerback group in this year's draft is loaded, and that's reflected in how talented the Senior Bowl roster is at that position. One of the most interesting and talented corners in Mobile is Tennessee's Cameron Sutton.

    A stud punt returner and solid outside cover man in college, Sutton will be asked to return and play both inside and outside during this week's practices. Listed at 5'11" with a lean frame, the 182-pound Sutton will need to show he can hold up at the line of scrimmage and be strong attacking the ball.

    Before the season, I felt Sutton had top-40 skills. He can reach that tier of the draft if he's able to impress teams with his ball skills and coverage instincts.

16. Corn Elder, CB, Miami (FL)

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    If you like feisty cornerbacks with good tackling skills and short-area quickness, Corn Elder is your man.

    The Miami cornerback is tough, but his lack of ideal size (he's listed at 5'10", 179 lbs) has me viewing him as a slot player in the NFL. This week is his chance to show what he can do against speedy inside receivers like Taywan Taylor and Artavis Scott.

    Scouts love competitors at this event, and Elder won't shy away from anyone across the line of scrimmage from him. With his hitter mentality and agility, I suspect we'll be talking about Elder a lot this week. 

15. Jamaal Williams, RB, Brigham Young

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    The top running back on the rosters, Jamaal Williams is an old-school bruiser. The NFL may be going toward more pass-catching backs, but Williams will turn heads with his leg drive and power.

    The Senior Bowl is a great chance for Williams to showcase his total skill set as a back. How does he do in space? Can he make defenders miss in the hole? What tools does Williams bring as a receiver? In seven-on-seven drills, he'll be a player to spotlight.

    Williams' size (6'0", 211 lbs), power, vision and second-gear speed will make him a favorite among scouts if he can put on a performance similar to what he's done at BYU.

14. Antonio Garcia, T, Troy

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    If there is one player I'm excited to see this week, it's Antonio Garcia.

    The Troy left tackle has the look, length, athleticism and toughness of an NFL left tackle. My biggest question mark on the games I've seen thus far in the process is how well he'll handle the task of stopping pass-rushers who can come at him with speed and power he's not seen at that level.

    Garcia can be a riser this week. Maybe not to the Eric Fisher level of 2013—when he went from mid-first round to the No. 1 overall pick—but there's money to be made for him. On the South roster, he'll be facing guys like Ryan Anderson every day, and you can bet all eyes will be on their matchups when they go toe-to-toe.

13. Gerald Everett, TE, South Alabama

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    Gerald Everett is a local boy from nearby South Alabama, but he didn't get an invite to the Senior Bowl in an attempt to sell tickets to the fans in his backyard. Everett earned it.

    A very athletic tight end prospect, Everett has the tools to fly up my board with a big week. The 6'3", 227-pounder will address how well he plays against better competition. Everett, who started his career at Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College and then spent one season at UAB before finding his way to South Alabama, hasn't seen top-tier competition yet in his college career.

    During the 2014 season bowl, Miami's Clive Walford walked onto the field and made money with his athleticism and pass-catching skills. The same scenario could play out for Everett, who one NFL scout told me is graded in the second round on their board.

12. Evan Engram, TE, Ole Miss

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    There's a good chance I've underrated Evan Engram, and if so, you'll see a correction in Friday's Scouting Notebook. A week of viewing the athletic flex tight end in person will provide clarity on whether he's an oversized wide receiver (6'3", 236 lbs) who will struggle to separate or a Jordan Reed-type tight end ready to be a matchup nightmare.

    Engram won't impress anyone as a blocker from a strength standpoint, but his technique and willingness can be evaluated this week. I'll also be watching to see how well he responds to the coaching he receives both in the passing game and as a blocker.

    The Ole Miss offense is noted among NFL scouts for its simplicity, which means everyone will be staring at Engram's hips and feet while he's running the route tree in individual drills.

11. Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington

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    Can Cooper Kupp handle the level of competition at the Senior Bowl?

    Coming out of Eastern Washington, Kupp did show up big in games against Pac 12 defenses when he got the opportunity, but everyone will be watching to see how he performs against top competition. The 2016 season saw him slowed at times with injury, but Kupp's size (6'2", 198 lbs) and route running can absolutely turn heads when he's right.

    My pick to be a riser this week, Kupp's precise routes and strong hands make him the best receiver invited to the Senior Bowl. With his burst up the field and strength as a runner with the ball in his hands, Kupp might sneak into Round 1.

10. Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan

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    An undersized yet productive cornerback at Michigan, Jourdan Lewis will go under the spotlight in Mobile as teams pay attention to his size (5'10", 188 lbs) and long speed against bigger, faster wide receivers. And as one scout told me this week, "We want to see Lewis without all that talent around him."

    There is no ignoring his production in college. Lewis had six career interceptions and was routinely one of the best tackling cornerbacks in the Big Ten. Those are the traits he wants to flash in Alabama. Show scouts you want to come up and play the run. Be aggressive in coverage. Lewis needs to dominate in short-area quickness drills to show he can play effectively as a slot cornerback.

    Lewis is a solid Round 2 player right now. How this week goes will either push him up the board or pull him down it.

9. Dawuane Smoot, EDGE, Illinois

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    One of two pass-rushers from Illinois at the Senior Bowl—the other is Carroll Phillips—Dawuane Smoot could be interesting to teams looking for a 4-3 defensive end at the back end of the first round. The Dallas Cowboys should take a long look here given Smoot's play for Lovie Smith in college and how similar Smith's system is to Dallas coordinator Rod Marinelli's.

    Smoot has agility, speed and power but hasn't shown an elite trait in any area. He puts together his tools nicely to create a plan as a pass-rusher, but this week is his chance to flash better athleticism than his tape showed.

    I'll be watching Smoot's hips, feet and hands. Does he have the flexibility to bend the corner as a pass-rusher? How well does he use his hands to disengage from blockers? Those are the traits that can shoot an edge player up the rankings.

8. Dan Feeney, G, Indiana

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    A four-year starter with excellent toughness, Dan Feeney should shine in positional drills at the Senior Bowl.

    Teams will love Feeney's length and versatility. He plays guard but also lined up at right tackle during the season to help out once injuries hit the Indiana depth chart. While he projects best on the inside, being able to help on the edge in a pinch will increase his value.

    Feeney's a good fit for teams that like to move blockers on pulls and traps, and I expect that's what we'll see from him this week given the on-film traits he's flashed. A good week secures Feeney's spot inside my top 40.

7. Desmond King, S, Iowa

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    A consensus first-team All-American and 2015 Jim Thorpe Award winner, Desmond King was an All-Big Ten cornerback in each of the last two seasons. Moving forward to the NFL, I'm projecting him at safety based on a lack of size (5'10", 206 lbs) and speed to lock down outside receivers.

    King's week in Mobile will be huge. How tall is he? How fast is he on the field against NFL-level receivers? What do his hips look like in transitions? Can he jam and redirect receivers at the line?

    Teams that run primarily a zone defense may see King as a Casey Hayward-type cornerback, but I see him as a very good free safety prospect who can also jump down and cover slot receivers in nickel packages.

6. Forrest Lamp, G, Western Kentucky

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    A left tackle at Western Kentucky—and the only guy to really handle Alabama pass-rushers Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson—Forrest Lamp will follow the Zack Martin and Joel Bitonio path and bump down to guard for Senior Bowl week. Like Martin before him, Lamp has a chance to parlay a solid week of practice into a first-round selection.

    Lamp is listed at 6'4" and 305 pounds, so his measurements at the Senior Bowl will be as interesting as his on-field play. At that size, he's an ideal guard prospect, and that's what the tape shows. He's poised, athletic and strong, and uses his length well to keep defenders off his body.

    As the best offensive lineman on the rosters, Lamp will be under a ton of pressure from defenders who want to show up against the best of the best but also from scouts who will train their eyes to the high-caliber blocker.

5. Justin Evans, S, Texas A&M

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    There was a time early this season when I wrote in my notes that Justin Evans could be a top-20 pick. He didn't quite reach the potential I was expecting of him, but Evans is still in the running as one of the top five safeties in a very good class at the position.

    Evans has range and will impress with his football IQ on the practice field. At 6'0", 193 pounds, he has the desired size for a free safety prospect, and with four interceptions this past season, he showed the ball skills to make plays on defense.

    Watching the practices or game this week, I'll be looking at how well Evans moves when dropping into deep zones. He's big enough to hang with tight ends, but can he turn and run to play the center fielder role that so many NFL teams covet these days?

4. Montravius Adams, DL, Auburn

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    To say this is a huge weak for Montravius Adams is not an understatement. The big Auburn defensive tackle has flashed greatness at times but must prove himself to be coachable and to have the motor teams are looking for from the 3-technique position. If Adams comes in working hard and running his engine, he can leave Alabama as a first-round pick.

    Watching Adams over the years, you see potential there, and he has shined against very good competition. The environment at the Senior Bowl will give Adams room to show off his individual pass-rushing skills during positional drills, and he'll also get to show up as a run defender in team sessions.

    Adams can make money here, but it'll be based on how much effort he's willing to give. A maximum-effort week from Adams could shoot him into the top half of the first round in a relatively weak defensive tackle class.

3. Tre'Davious White, CB, LSU

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    A senior cornerback with a true first-round grade, Tre'Davious White will get a chance to shine both as a man-coverage player and also as a return man this week.

    In talking to LSU sources, they raved about White's poise and maturity while pointing to the fact he wore the legendary No. 18 for the Tigers. That's a number that represents leadership, and White earned it with his on- and off-field accomplishments.

    During practices, White will be tested with speedy receivers running vertical routes. If he can show the ball skills and timing on the field that he has flashed at times for LSU, White's name will be one of the hottest coming out of practices.

2. Ryan Anderson, EDGE, Alabama

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    Ryan Anderson made a name for himself during Alabama’s two playoff games, notching two sacks and an interception in combined performances against Washington and Clemson.

    A 6'2", 258-pound edge-rusher, Anderson perfectly projects as a stand-up defender in a 3-4 defense. During the week in Mobile, Anderson gets a great chance to show off his power, agility and hand use in one-on-one drills that give the defender an advantage with big open spaces to rush through. His stock could soar with a big week here.

    Anderson may be asked to show what he can do in pass coverage, which is something he's done a little of at Alabama on screen routes and jamming tight ends, but he's not the hybrid outside linebacker type who can cover a slot receiver. His role in the NFL will be charging ahead off the edge to attack quarterbacks.

1. O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama

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    The top-ranked tight end in the entire 2017 draft class, O.J. Howard could have withdrawn from participating in the Senior Bowl, and no one would have criticized him. But Howard, who has been sparingly used at Alabama the past four seasons, is here to prove to scouts that he can produce as a receiver and blocker.

    It's that three-down skill that makes Howard so intriguing. He's the best blocking tight end I've seen in this class. In the run game, he's powerful and smart about angles and technique. Howard is a rare in-line tight end prospect who can also perform well as a receiver.

    With 45 catches on the year, Howard did enjoy his most productive season, but he hasn't truly been featured in the passing game. He'll get plenty of chances this week to show what he can do as a route-runner and receiver in both team and individual drills.