Senior Bowl 2011: Jake Locker and 10 Players Who Are Borderline First-Rounders
We're two days into practices for this weekend's upcoming Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, and the reports from the front lines so far are intriguing.
Washington's Jake Locker, the star going into this exhibition, was erratic and inconsistent on Monday, but he rebounded on Tuesday to impress a number of his coaches and teammates, and reignite talk that he can salvage a somewhat down season with a strong performance on Saturday.
Here's a list of the players, along with Locker, who could find themselves on either side of the first round cutoff in April, depending on the impressions they leave here.
Honorable Mentions: Stephen Paea and Drake Nevis
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Two defensive ends, Oregon State's Stephen Paea and LSU's Drake Nevis, were both selected for the Senior Bowl, but will not participate.
Paea injured the lateral meniscus in his right knee on the second play of practice on Monday, and will be forced to have surgery. Widely seen as a first-round pick going into the Senior Bowl, the injury could affect his status. It's believed he'll be able to be back in time for training camp, but he'll probably miss the draft combine.
Nevis, meanwhile, decided to pull himself out of the Senior Bowl to focus on his own personal workouts. Nevis is a bit undersized, and therefore a borderline first-rounder, and this could have been good exposure for him. It remains to be seen how the lack of exposure will hurt him, if it affects him at all.
10) Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
Castonzo could use the Senior Bowl to cement his status as one of the top offensive linemen available.
In recent weeks, he's been eclipsed on many boards by other tackles like USC's Tyron Smith and Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod (another Senior Bowl participant). Castonzo is appreciated as a hard worker and a leader, but he still needs to allay lingering doubts about his speed and athleticism.
He'll have ample opportunity to prove himself, as the defensive linemen he'll be lining up against are mostly NFL-caliber.
9) Benjamin Ijalana, G, Villanova
You might not be familiar with Ijalana, out of Villanova, an FCS (formerly Division 1-AA) school. But you should be. Ijalana earned All-American honors this season with the Wildcats and was the only FCS player named in the balloting for the Outland Trophy, awarded to the best lineman in the country.
Previously thought of as maybe a second- or third-round pick at best, the 6'4", 320-pound Ijalana has shot up draft boards recently. Although he played tackle in college, he projects more as a guard in the pros, but either way, he can stamp his name firmly in the public's consciousness with a standout performance against Division 1-A opponents on Saturday.
8) Cameron Jordan, DE, California
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Cameron Jordan enjoyed a stellar year for the Cal Bears, and seems to have a pretty firm grip on being a first-round draft pick come April.
Nevertheless, wreaking some havoc on opposing QBs on Saturday can only help, as it will be the last game impression he leaves before the combine. He's currently projected as going anywhere from the middle of the first round to early in the second.
7) Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M
Von Miller won this year's Butkus Award, given each season to the best linebacker in the nation.
Nonetheless, he is still seen by some scouts as a risk as a first-rounder, because his game is still somewhat one-dimensional. A beastly pass rusher, he's less of a factor against the run. That perception has caused him to suffer a bit of a fall on many draft boards. Previously seen as a potential top-10 pick, he now could be looking at the second round.
He should set his sights on changing that impression of him this week.
6) Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Ryan Kerrigan's stats in college, especially from his senior season, jump out at you. He led the Big Ten in sacks (12.5), tackles for a loss (26), and forced fumbles (5).
The Muncie, Ind., native was a co-captain who stepped up in big games for the Boilermakers, but there are still some who have nagging doubts about his athletic ability and how it will translate to the next level.
If he comes up big this week, he could do more than solidify a first-round spot. He could find himself in the top 10.
5) Jerrel Jernigan, WR, Troy
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Jerrel Jernigan would probably be a first-round lock if it weren't for two things. The first is his lack of national exposure playing at small school Troy. The second is his lack of size.
Standing at just 5'9" inches, Jernigan is an undersized receiver who had made up for his lack of height by showing off tremendous speed and athleticism, and very good strength for a player of his stature.
With heralded recievers like Michael Floyd from Notre Dame and Justin Blackmon from Oklahoma State opting to stay in college, Jernigan moves up the board to probably the second or third round.
Good workouts this week and a big game on Saturday might move him up even more.
4) Curtis Brown, CB, Texas
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Brown was a star for the Longhorns, but his luster has faded a bit after Texas suffered through a major down season, stumbling to a 5-7 record.
He also didn't put up eye-catching numbers, but like any good corner, that's more a testament to the fact that opposing QBs learned early on not to challenge him if they had a choice. He's been overshadowed this year by bigger names like LSU's Patrick Peterson and Nebraska's Prince Amukamara.
He's currently seen as a second-rounder, but he can polish up his image a bit and add back some of the shine by standing out among the other prospects in Mobile.
3) Mike Pouncey, G, Florida
Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images
Mike Pouncey can play center or guard, and while he's probably grown tired of the comparisons, projects as a similar player to older brother Maurkice, a Pro Bowler as a rookie this year for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In a draft class stocked with very good offensive line talent, however, he might not be one of the first few linemen off the board. Holding his own in this week's workouts might just shift that order around a bit, and give him a better shot at being one of the elite first-rounders.
2) Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
After an excellent junior campaign had him in everyone's top 10, Clayborn came back to earth a bit in 2010.
He recorded 63 tackles and 11 sacks as a junior, but rung up a more pedestrian line of 52 tackles and four sacks this past season. He's still seen as a first-round talent, but some scouts have grown skeptical if he has first-round discipline and drive.
He looked better towards the end of the year, though, and continuing that upswing here may help to give everyone a selective memory.
1) Jake Locker, QB, Washington
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Of course, it all comes back to Locker.
Projected last year as a potential No. 1 overall pick, he decided to return to school for his senior year and it didn't work out so well for him. He struggled to live up to the lofty expectations, and the Huskies flailed to a 3-6 start. He and they rebounded enough to win their last four, including the Holiday Bowl against Nebraska, but Locker completed just five of 16 passes in that game for only 56 yards.
His raw potential is still there. He's got a great arm, good size, and above-average mobility. But his decision-making has come into question, and he's looked a bit lost at times. Nevertheless, he's a tantalizing prospect for NFL scouts, and with some polish, could develop into an NFL starter down the road.
So, here's his stage. None of the other QBs here are as highly regarded, with the other first-round QBs (Ryan Mallett, Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert) all being underclassmen. He can either shine, or shrivel. It's up to you, Jake.