2011 NFL Draft: Most Intriguing Questions To Answer at Senior Bowl

Charles ConradContributor IJanuary 27, 2011

TCU QB Andy Dalton
TCU QB Andy DaltonStephen Dunn/Getty Images

Telecast: Saturday, January 29, 4:00 PM Eastern, NFL Network

Location: Mobile, Alabama

Some of the nation's best college football talent is currently on display in Mobile, Alabama in preparation for Saturday's Senior Bowl.

Practice sessions give prospects the chance to work with NFL coaching staffs and learn from their experience and teaching. Various position-specific drills further expose the strengths and weaknesses of players and assist in the evaluation process.

Every year, there are a number of players who have the necessary physical talent, but come with question marks about technique, instincts and what is their best natural position at the NFL level.

The 2011 Senior Bowl week is no exception, with plenty of questions to answer and notes to take.


Is Jake Locker a first-round worthy quarterback?

Locker will obviously be the most highly observed prospect at the Senior Bowl.

He has the physical tools, but his accuracy is a big concern. The question that NFL personnel must answer about Locker is whether or not he is a franchise quarterback.

Once thought to be the top draft prospect, his play at Washington in 2010 left scouts with more questions than answers.

He is an exciting talent who plays with a gun-fighter mentality, but his draft status will depend on who views him as a true first-round talent.


Will Colin Kaepernick be able to adjust to a pro-style offense?

Kaepernick is an outstanding athlete who can throw with velocity and run like a gazelle.

His big-play capability at quarterback was the driving force of Nevada's high-scoring offense.

The questions regarding his slow delivery and lack of experience playing under center are what currently keep him from being an elite prospect at this point. He will need to work on developing a quicker release point in his throwing motion.


Will Andy Dalton show enough talent to be a high draft pick?

The man who broke Sammy Baugh's all-time passing record at TCU has been creating a buzz since his performance in the Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin.

Among the Senior Bowl quarterbacks, Dalton doesn't have the biggest size or strongest arm. But, he is big enough and can make enough throws to be selected in the upper half of the draft.

He is also a very good leader and an intelligent player who reads defenses well.


Who should be the highest rated offensive tackle?

There is a battle going on in Senior Bowl practices to determine who has the best potential of all the offensive tackle prospects.

The North squad boasts the three highest rated OT prospects in the draft. During practice, they are being tried at various spots along the line to determine their versatility.

So far, Colorado's Nate Solder seems to have the most upside as a left tackle prospect. He is tall at 6'8'' with long arms and the frame to add more weight. He moves his feet very well and does a good job of riding the pass rusher past the quarterback. One scout is reported to have compared Solder to former Jacksonville Jaguars and USC left tackle Tony Boselli.

Outland Trophy winner Gabe Carimi of Wisconsin is being tried at both tackle and guard in Senior Bowl practices. He is a mauler in the running game and has worked hard to improve his footwork. There is some question as to what his best NFL position will be, but he is talented enough to play left tackle or slide over to the right side similar to Green Bay rookie Bryan Bulaga.

Anthony Castonzo is the latest product of the Boston College offensive line machine. He needs to add some weight, but he uses his hands well and is a fighter in the trenches. He is an intelligent player who won't be outsmarted often. He should be drafted as a left tackle in Round 1.

Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod may be the most fluid athlete of all the Senior Bowl offensive tackle prospects. He has the foot quickness to handle speed and get to the second level on sweeps. The knock on Sherrod is the label of a finesse player, which may drop him below the other three Senior Bowl standout tackles.


Can Mark Herzlich return to his old playing form?

The Boston College linebacker inspired the college football world during his battle to overcome bone cancer which caused him to miss the 2009 season. He came back to play in 2010, but suffered a few minor injuries to further slow his progress.

Late in the season, Herzlich began to regain much of his former strength and speed; however, he admittedly still has a long way to go and is hoping for a good showing this week.


What is Christian Ballard's best NFL position?

Ballard lined up primarily at defensive tackle for Iowa, but he may not stay there at the professional level. He is listed at 297 pounds, but doesn't play with the desired strength at the point of attack for a pro interior lineman.

He has very quick feet, which may place him at defensive end or relegate him to a Tampa-2 style of defense as a tackle.


How good is Baylor defensive tackle Phil Taylor?

Taylor is a former Penn State player who was ousted from the team after involvement in an on-campus fight.

When he keeps his weight under 340 pounds, he is a stout run defender who is hard to move off the line. He shows good agility for a man of his size.

He will need to prove he has the personal discipline to stay in shape and keep his weight in check.

Taylor has boom or bust potential.


Which Boise State receiver is the better pro prospect?

For argument's sake only, let's compare Boise's Titus Young and Austin Pettis to former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver duo Lynn Swann and John Stallworth.

Like Swann, Young is the more spectacular of the two with downfield speed and the ability to make the acrobatic catch. Like Stallworth, Pettis is the bigger receiver who runs great patterns and is a red-zone threat.

Pettis doesn't have Young's pure speed and athleticism, but is perhaps a more polished possession receiver who can also make the big play.


Will Greg Jones be a starting linebacker in the NFL?

Jones was a tackling machine as a middle linebacker for Michigan State. He does not have ideal size or speed and will get engulfed by bigger players when taking on blocks.

Jones is more of a read and react defender who has sideline to sideline range. During the Senior Bowl, he will improve his draft rating if he can shed blocks and is quick to react to the ball.


Does Rodney Hudson have the size to be a starting NFL offensive guard?

During Senior Bowl practices, Hudson has been working at both guard and center. He has a low center of gravity and has good power for a 290-pound guard. When he keeps his head up, he can gain leverage.

However, if he dips his head too far, he will give up position to bigger defensive tackles.

Hudson will not overpower defensive linemen in the NFL, but he has good technique and the footwork to play in a zone-blocking system.


Will Casey Matthews continue his NFL family tradition?

The latest in the Matthews family tree of born-and-bred football players is Casey, a linebacker from Oregon who forced a crucial sack and fumble on Cam Newton in the BCS title game.

He is a different type of player than his brother Clay, who is a speedy edge pass rusher for the Packers. Casey is more of an inside linebacker who gets by on good instincts and hustling to the ball.

He is not a great athlete, but always seems to be around the ball. Where he gets drafted will depend largely on his show of athleticism and ability to shed blocks during Senior Bowl week and the combine.


Does Christian Ponder have the arm strength be a starting NFL quarterback?

This is the question that has to be answered by Ponder during the post-season. He has been injured often during the past two seasons and, therefore, has lost some developmental time.

He is not a big quarterback, but will spread the ball around with his quick release. He is a good athlete who can scramble to avoid pressure.

If Ponder hopes to be a starting NFL signal caller, he would be best suited for a west-coast style offense predicated on screens and timing routes.


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