Best NFL Draft Prospects Not at the 2018 Senior Bowl

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystJanuary 25, 2018

Best NFL Draft Prospects Not at the 2018 Senior Bowl

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Numerous paths into the NFL exist. The Senior Bowl may be the premier predraft talent showcase, but participation is not a requirement. 

    The New England Patriots' Tom Brady played in the East-West Shrine Game. The NFLPA Collegiate Bowl is another alternative. Minnesota Vikings leading receiver Adam Thielen worked his way through the regional combine circuit. 

    Plenty of NFL-caliber talent isn't showcased in Mobile, Alabama, and scouting departments scour the country looking for anyone who can improve their respective teams. It can and will be found. 

    Bleacher Report identified 10 prospects with bright futures who aren't competing at the Senior Bowl. The list doesn't include underclassmen since they're not allowed to participate in festivities (with a few exceptions). 

    NFL stars will emerge without wearing the event's orange and black uniforms. They do every year. The key is recognizing what translates.

Injured or Declined Invitation

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    Every year the initial Senior Bowl rosters are stacked with talent. Everyone gets excited about the idea of watching all of the top prospects on the field at the same time only to be disappointed. 

    Lingering injuries or declined invitations are inevitable. Injuries are the biggest factor in no-shows after many of the athletes finished grueling seasons, especially those fortunate enough to have played in the College Football Playoff.

    Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph, Arkansas center Frank Ragnow, Boston College defensive end Harold Landry, Memphis wide receiver Anthony Miller, Oregon running back Royce Freeman, West Georgia offensive tackle Desmond Harrison, Washington wide receiver Dante Pettis, Western Michigan offensive tackle Chukwuma Okorafor and Alabama linebackers Rashaan Evans, Shaun Dion Hamilton and cornerback Anthony Averett won't practice in Mobile due to various dings. 

    All-star games aren't for everybody. Elite prospects don't need to prove anything by competing with the looming threat of injury. As such, first-round talents such as North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb (pictured above), Ohio State's Billy Price, SMU's Courtland Sutton and Notre Dame offensive linemen Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey decided to bypass the event. 

    Auburn guard Braden Smith, Boston College cornerback Kamrin Moore, Florida State defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi, Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell, Mississippi State offensive tackle Martinas Rankin, South Carolina linebacker Skai Moore, Utah wide receiver Darren Carrington, Wake Forest defensive end Duke Ejiofor, Ohio State's Jamarco Jones and Sam Hubbardand Georgia's Davin Bellamy, Lorenzo CarterNick Chubb and Sony Michel aren't in attendance, either.  

    The event loses a little luster when the top names aren't present, but each individual has to consider what's best for him on his journey to the professional ranks.

QB Logan Woodside, Toledo

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    Being a MAC quarterback prospect used to carry weight. The mid-major conference produced an impressive string of signal-callers, starting with Chad Pennington through Ben Roethlisberger

    The league hasn't been as prolific lately. Although, Toledo's Logan Woodside is an outstanding touch passer and adept deep thrower. 

    Case Keenum's star turn opened the door for hyper-productive collegiate standouts who don't fit the NFL's preferred physical requirements. Woodside is listed at 6'2" and 210 pounds, and he's not a big-framed quarterback. Roethlisberger can stand in the pocket and take a beating. Instead, Woodside is closer to Keenum in size and style of play. 

    During the last two seasons after redshirting in 2015, the Toledo product completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 8,011 yards, 73 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. In fact, Woodside led the FBS with 45 touchdown tosses in 2016.

    A slight downturn in 2017 is one of the reasons why he's not more highly regarded. That is due, in part, to his surrounding cast, like losing Kareem Hunt to the NFL. 

    Usually, smaller quarterback prospects aren't considered strong downfield passers. Woodside ranked seventh overall with 1,284 deep passing yards, per Pro Football Focus. The 2017 MAC Offensive Player of the Year finished 12th all time in FBS history in career passing efficiency, too. 

    Woodside needs to improve his overall pocket presence, but he's a pure passer who will be drafted late in the process only to become a reliable backup or potential starter if given a chance.

WR Daurice Fountain, Northern Iowa

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    All-star events are exponentially more important for small-school prospects compared to their pipeline counterparts. Scouts have already seen film of members from the Alabama Crimson Tide, Clemson Tigers or Ohio State Buckeyes playing against the best the nation has to offer. 

    The same can't be said of a wide receiver from Northern Iowa. The Panthers recently gave the NFL an elite running back in David Johnson. Daurice Fountain is another talent who breaks the small-school mold.

    Fountain measured nearly 6'2" and weighed 210 pounds at the East-West Shrine Game. He left the week's festivities as the winner of the 2018 William H. Coffman Award for Most Outstanding Offensive Player.

    Fountain experienced a breakthrough campaign as a senior with 943 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns, and his explosiveness as a receiving and return threat made him stand out in St. Petersburg, Florida. 

    "I think I'm more athletic than a lot of these guys," Fountain told NFL.com's Chase Goodbread. "In my pre-testing, I broad-jumped 11-1 and [recorded] a 40-inch vertical. I'm not going to say my 40 time, but I can tell you it's pretty fast.

    "The first day [of practice] I didn't have any buzz really, but after Tuesday and [Wednesday], I've talked to probably 15, 20 teams. They like my ball-control skills, the way I manipulate my body in the air to catch the ball through contact. A lot of them want to see me play special teams."

    Fountain already built positive momentum with his Shrine Game performance. He can build upon it and become an early-round option by showing off his size, speed and athleticism as the draft process continues.

TE Jordan Thomas, Mississippi State

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    There's no right or wrong way to address the tight end position anymore. Some teams place more emphasis on the position's ability to create mismatches in the passing game. Others still value those who can block. Few do both at an above-average level. 

    Since the position remains undefined in today's game, Mississippi State's Jordan Thomas becomes an intriguing mid-round option for a coaching staff willing to lean on his size and athleticism to create in the passing game while trying to unlock his in-line potential. 

    Thomas served as an oversized wide receiver during his time in Starkville and rarely lined up next to an offensive tackle. The 6'5", 269-pound target finished his senior campaign with 22 receptions for 263 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers aren't overwhelming, but they don't tell the entire story. 

    The hybrid offensive weapon displays exceptional body control and explosive downfield qualities for his size. Being able to threaten the seam and stress a defense opens up an offense. Thomas' potential is extraordinary if he can become more well-rounded. 

    "Do you want to do this? Do you want to play tight end?" Shrine game coaches asked Thomas, per the Pewter Report's Trevor Sikkema. "I know you can catch and run like hell; if you can do this, you'll be the greatest tight end who ever played in this [Shrine] game."

    Blocking is about attitude. Yes, technique plays a large part. But the willingness to be physical and punish opponents is inherent to a degree. Thomas must show more attitude toward the mundane aspect of his position rather than always worrying about being a part of the passing game. Organizations will fight for the right to select him if that drive exists.

C Brian Allen, Michigan State

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    Centers don't receive enough attention because the position isn't sexy and they're usually not considered high-profile performers. For example, the New England Patriots' David Andrews and Philadelphia Eagles' Jason Kelce are slated to start Super LII. Neither were high draft picks, nor did they participate in the Senior Bowl.

    Part of the reason why center doesn't hold as much value is due to the fact many aren't athletic standouts. Intelligence and technique are far more important than brute strength or raw athleticism. Why? Because it's more important to identify fronts and call out proper blocking schemes while working in cohesion with four other linemen than physically overwhelming opponents. 

    Brian Allen won't blow anyone away with his presence or athletic profile. The three-year starter measured under 6'2" and weighed 300 pounds at the East-West Shrine Game. But he plays the position at a high level. Allen consistently gains leverage and gets good fits against defenders. He stays square and finishes blocks. He was a team captain and started 27 consecutive games (both at guard and center). 

    The center position isn't deep. Ohio State's Billy Price is a potential first-round pick. Iowa's James Daniels entered as an underclassman, and he has a chance to move up draft boards. Michigan's Mason Cole is a solid option as well.

    All three of those linemen came out of the Big Ten Conference, yet Allen earned second-team conference honors behind Price, who captured the Rimington Trophy as the nation's best center.

DT Deadrin Senat, USF

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    As the game evolves, defensive tackles are viewed differently than they once were. Teams aren't searching for massive run-stuffers who eat up blocks like doughnuts (two at a time). Instead, an emphasis has been placed on the ability to collapse the pocket to make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks. 

    Warren Sapp used to be the outlier. Now, everyone is looking for a disruptive interior presence. Obviously, it's difficult to replicate what Aaron Donald does on a week-by-week basis, but his success has teams looking at undersized interior defenders like South Florida's Deadrin Senat. 

    Senat is built like a refrigerator. He's 6'0" and 322 pounds. Length is always a concern for shorter defenders, but the nose tackle's natural leverage, first-step quickness and power at the point of attack overwhelmed offensive linemen during Shrine Game practices. Unfortunately, he sat out the contest due to a minor knee injury, according to the USF Oracle's Josh Fiallo.

    Prior to his arrival in St. Petersburg, the stout defensive lineman finished second on the Bulls roster with 66 total tackles and six sacks. He's not a natural pass-rusher, and his ability to play the run shouldn't be overlooked. However, Senat can consistently win one-on-one battles, and he doesn't need to bring the quarterback down to affect games. 

    Disruptive defensive tackles make life easier on the defense. Senat can blow up opposing run games by playing at heels' depth or drive centers and guards into the quarterback's lap, allowing edge-rushers to get home. Senat's height won't matter when he's creating havoc in backfields.

DE Kentavius Street, North Carolina State

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    Certain prospects can be described as body-beautiful. They just look the part of a professional athlete. North Carolina State defensive lineman Kentavius Street fits the mold. 

    Street is 6'2" and a sculpted 285 pounds with 33.5-inch arms. He's a great athlete, too. According to SI.com's Bruce Feldman, the defensive lineman posted a 4.58-second 40-yard dash, 40-inch vertical jump, 9'11" broad jump, cleaned 400 pounds and benched 475 pounds prior to his senior campaign. 

    Questions always exist about prospects who look the part but may not play to expected levels. However, Street is a versatile defender who started three straight seasons at both defensive tackle and end.

    The hybrid lineman managed 6.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries in 2017 despite playing on a loaded defensive front led by future first-round pick Bradley Chubb and defensive tackles B.J. Hill and Justin Jones, who are both participating in Senior Bowl festivities. 

    Furthermore, Street dominated during Shrine Game practices. According to Pewter Report's Trevor Sikkema, a Giants scout stated, "Street is killing these guys."

    The North Carolina State product parlayed a strong practice week into an even better game performance when he showed the ability to consistently pressure the quarterback after beating offensive tackles and guards off the snap. The lineman has a quick first step, and he can also convert speed to power. 

    Street's athleticism will allow him to start his professional career as a base end before sliding inside during sub-packages to rush the quarterback. His collegiate teammates may draw more attention during the draft process, but Street is more than just a good-looking athlete. 

DE Joe Ostman, Central Michigan

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    NFL teams will find a place for a player who displays the ability to rush the passer. No one was better at the FBS level this past season than Central Michigan's Joe Ostman. 

    Ostman's 14 sacks tied for the FBS lead, and his 20.5 tackles for loss ranked seventh overall. Normally, that level of production would place Ostman among the top prospects. However, he lacks the length most teams prefer from the position. 

    The Central Michigan defender measured 6'2" and weighed 248 pounds at the Shrine Game. 

    "Yeah, that's something that people have always kind of pointed out about me," Ostman said during an interview with Footballgameplan.com. "I just use it as a chip on my shoulder ... and I use it to my advantage with leverage and quickness."

    While undersized for a defensive end, the previous numbers aren't insurmountable. His 31-inch arms are a problem, though. Scouts become concerned when an edge defender has shorter levers which can cause difficulties disengaging from bigger blockers. 

    Even so, Ostman's production and consistent presence can't be overlooked. According to Pro Football Focus, the prospect ranked 11th overall in pass-rush productivity among 4-3 defensive ends and eighth overall with 27 run stops. 

    The first-team All-MAC performer may not be the most physically gifted prospect, but his motor runs hot at all times. Ostman has a chance to be a productive outside linebacker with the versatility to rush the passer in sub-packages. 

CB Greg Stroman, Virginia Tech

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    Both Virginia Tech cornerbacks deserve to be listed, but Greg Stroman gained an edge over Brandon Facyson based on his play this past fall. 

    Facyson has been the more heralded prospect since starting nine games as a true freshman, but the inconsistencies found within his coverage are a concern. Facyson can develop into a top defensive back if he doesn't display the same lapses in the NFL he did during his senior campaign. 

    Meanwhile, Stroman developed into the nation's best cover corner during his final year on campus. That's not hyperbole. According to Pro Football Focus, the first-team All-ACC performer allowed only 22.0 percent of throws into his coverage to be caught—which ranked first among all FBS corners. He finished the 2017 campaign with four interceptions, 11 pass breakups and 15 more deflected passes. 

    As good as Stroman is in coverage, his slight build takes him out of the conversation as a top prospect. The Georgia native is under six feet tall and weighs 174 pounds with sub-32-inch arms. He doesn't fit in a lot of NFL schemes that prefer longer and more physical corners. 

    However, the Virginia Tech defensive back does provide added value as a returner. Stroman earned an All-ACC honorable mention after he finished 10th overall with an 11.3 yards-per-punt-return average. 

    Fluid cover corners with special teams versatility can't be overlooked even if a prospect doesn't fit today's mold. Stroman can turn and run with most receivers, displays good ball skills and provides a threat on special teams. As the great philosopher Yoda once said, "Size matters not." 

CB Rashard Fant, Indiana

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    Like Greg Stroman, Indiana's Rashard Fant lacks the physical tools teams prefer, yet his coverage skills aren't in question. 

    Fant is listed at 5'10" and 180 pounds. This works against him on two fronts. First, the three-year starter doesn't have the length to manhandle receivers. Second, his slight frame will make it difficult to cover the NFL's bigger targets. 

    Although the two-time second-team All-Big Ten media selection has exceptional ball skills, the ability to make plays with the ball in the air is more important than ever. Two seasons ago, Fant ranked second overall with 17 pass breakups and third with 20 defended passes. Opponents avoided him far more often in 2017. The cornerback still left Indiana as the program's all-time leader in both categories with 58 and 53 in total. 

    Fant constantly competes, because he's fluid in his transition and has the short-area speed to drive on passes. Instead of trying to make tackles, he wants to make plays. 

    Due to his size limitations, the Hoosiers' Ted Whereatt "Senior Academic Excellence" Award winner will likely make a permanent move to nickel, where he has the ability to excel by working through trash and mirroring quicker targets.

S Tre Flowers, Oklahoma State

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    The Big 12 Conference isn't known for playing defense. Thus, a few talented prospects tend to be overlooked in the wide-open league. Oklahoma State's Tre Flowers is an impact defensive back despite his team's troubles defensively.

    Physically, Flowers is everything an NFL team wants from a safety. The defensive back is 6'3" and 193 pounds with 34-inch arms. His size and length allows him to be a force against the run or play over the top of coverage as a single-high safety.

    In fact, Flowers made the transition from strong to free safety this past season and still led the Cowboys with 79 total tackles. The first-team All-Big 12 performer defended 10 passes, too. 

    The four-year starter is tremendous playing the alley and will arrive at the ball-carrier with nasty intentions. He surveys the field well from side to side. However, Flowers isn't the most fluid in coverage.

    He's far more comfortable playing with the ball in front of him. His skill set projects as a strong safety teams prefer to play near the line of scrimmage or as a free safety always placed in a position to be the deepest defender. 

    Flowers' length and physicality may intrigue teams enough to play him over the slot or even some cornerback, but he's likely to be exposed in those roles. This doesn't necessarily take away from his overall value, because his status will be determined by expected usage. 

    The Seattle Seahawks' Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor serve as the bar for their respective positions. Flowers doesn't have Chancellor's girth or Thomas' fluidity. Although, his ability to play both free and strong safety with his length and athleticism will create some versatility within an NFL defense.