The Senior Bowl is host to the most prolific senior college football student-athletes every year. This year the major player is Jake Locker from the University of Washington, but let's take a closer look at some of the 'under the radar' players that will be attending the game and what they can offer a professional football team on the next level.
The most crucial game within the game is the battle of field position. What better player to start off our list than with a punter from the University of Florida, Chas Henry. Although Florida had a sub-par season by SEC standards, they were relevant in many games thanks to Henry's ability to pin an opposing offense when his own struggled.
Chas punted a total of 50 times this year and averaged 45.1 yards per attempt. He also landed his longest punt at the distance of 75 yards. Henry was excellent during the Outback Bowl in which the Gators won thanks to great field position from the punt team. Not to mention, Chas took on the role of place kicker during the win in which he accounted for four extra points and three field goals; including a 47 yards connection.
Chas Henry will be moving on to the next level with his ability to punt and kick, be sure to keep an eye out for him in the late rounds.
With the emergence of Dallas Clark, Jason Witten, and Aaron Hernandez; the football world has been exposed to the multi-threat tight end. This year will have many great athletes across the board, but one of great stature is the 6'6" tight end from Tennessee, Luke Stocker.
Although he only caught 39 passes on the season, he caught at least one pass in every contest this year. Luke was best in his final two games as a Volunteer where he caught a total of 10 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. Even though Tennessee was beaten in their bowl appearance, Stocker was one of the main targets in the game and scored in the overtime possession
With a large frame, Stocker will be a nice compliment to any rushing attack in the NFL and his ability to catch the ball will make him a great outlet receiver, as well.
When it comes to offensive lineman, the talk about the protection of a quarterback's blind side is inevitable. This trend will continue especially with the exponential growth of popularity at the quarterback position in the NFL. The next two featured student-athletes are exactly what professional prospects are looking for in a blocker.
Our first player, Nate Solder, resides from the University of Colorado and stands a towering 6'9" tall and weighs in at 315 pounds. To put this into perspective, Jake Long of the Miami Dolphins is listed at 6'7" and 317 pounds, which gives him the right athletic build to be able to hold off defenders.
Solder, who has gone against the likes of Brian Orakpo (pictured from Texas), has the learning curve and experience to make it at the next level.
Much like the gigantic figure that Nate Solder presents, James Brewer of the University of Indiana is similar in stature. Standing 6'8" and weighing in at 335 pounds, Brewer possesses a mass similar to that of Pittsburgh Steelers tackle, Flozell Adams. With this comparison, you could say it is possible that Brewer will be able to take on more than one defensive player at a time in the next level of his career.
James Brewer and Nate Solder are large pieces of the building blocks that NFL teams look for to make up the protection for their quarterback.
Now and again in the NFL, the conversation about place kickers and accuracy is mentioned; especially when a kicker has an off day and could have possibly cost his team the game with a miss or two. The University of Nebraska had possibly the best such place kicker in Alex Henery.
In a total of 19 kicks over the course of the college football season, Henery missed only one attempt; that was from a distance of 51 yards and it was blocked. Outside of that lone attempt, he connected on every other kick he tried in the year, which included 54 extra point opportunities. His longest coming from 53 yards.
If a NFL team is in need of an efficient kicker, who can also punt if needed, they would be neglectful to look past the power and accuracy that Alex Henery possesses.
With all of the new rules in the NFL in regards to defenseless receivers and quarterback protection from devastating hits, you would expect that a strong receiver with an upstanding success rate would catch the eye of many talent prospects.
In college football, look no further than Leonard Hankerson of the Miami Hurricanes. He was responsible for at least three catches in each of the University of Miami's games this year and was held out of the end zone only three times. He has the build to be a deep threat and the route running ability to be a possession receiver; scary under any circumstance in the eyes of a defense. Hankerson caught a touchdown for every game that Miami played this year: 13.
A team in need of a number one target could easily go after Hankerson in the early rounds, but I expect it to be sooner than later.
This young defensive back has all the necessary tools to be a play maker at the next level. He has the toughness to makes big hits, the speed to close on a receiver, and the understanding to make a play when it matter most.
Black was responsible for five interceptions this season and took one of those for a touchdown. Another telling statistic was his 109 tackles; including one sack. His ability to play on the big stage was none more evident than when he intercepted two passes in the Florida victory in the Outback Bowl.
His big play ability, along with his knowledge of the game, will be plenty for Black to advance on the NFL stage.
The NFL is a sanctuary of quarterback protection. With the possibility of any play breaking down at any time, the mobility of a young quarterback is vital in his ability to keep plays alive. The TCU Horned Frogs relied heavily on the legs of Andy Dalton, along with his accuracy as a passer.
Dalton has progressed in his time among the collegiate level and has accelerated to new heights in his ability to pass first. His consistency from one year to the next was apparent on paper, and even more so on the field. He increased his completion percentage and passer rating each year showing his ability to adapt has improved along with his trust in his receivers, something he will have to carry into the NFL.
Andy Dalton is not the next Tim Tebow, but his ability to make plays and perform on a higher level will get him into the NFL.
The idea that dual backs in a system will increase the availability of a running back for future use is one that has become prevalent in the NFL. See such examples as Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs to prove this point.
Kansas State explicitly used the services of Daniel Thomas over the course of his two years at the program, but his high tolerance load of work stretched beyond the norm of most collegiate student-athletes. He carried the ball 298 times last season for 1585 yards; an average of 5.3 yards per carry. He was also a solid performer in the pass game he averaged 6.3 yards per catch in 27 receptions. I would suspect several teams will look to Thomas to fill a gap in their scheme.
Thomas is a dual threat back that is built to take several carries, which translates directly to an NFL paycheck.
The ability to play defensive end and linebacker is a combination that many NFL teams are beginning to take note of. With the athletic talents to play on the line as well as standing behind it while reading the play have brought some unique defenses to life.
Von Miller of Texas A&M is one such case of a special player with the ability to do many things. He has the build to be a solid outside linebacker and the form to cause headaches out of a three point stance. In his last two seasons, Miller accumulated 28 sacks and 111 tackles in games where he saw more than one blocker accounting for him.
Von Miller is a special player that will have the flexibility to play at any position needed on the professional level.