2011 Senior Bowl: Players' Stocks On The Rise As Teams Gear Up For The NFL Draft
The 2011 Under Armour Senior Bowl was the last chance.
It was the players' last chance to show the scouts (and, as a matter of fact, the NFL head coaches in attendance) what they could do on the field. Sure, the NFL Scouting Combine is coming up, but as far as game-speed situations go, it was the seniors' last opportunity to shine on the gridiron before the NFL draft takes place on April 28.
The Senior Bowl is always an interesting event. Each player usually only gets to play for a fraction of the game in order for more prospects to get a chance to play too. The Senior Bowl is also the collegiate players' first chance to be coached by NFL coaches and to play on a field marked with NFL-standard hash marks.
These slight adjustments that the players have to make are a good way to gauge how they will adapt to life in the NFL. After going through all of these adjustments, the players then get a chance to do what they do best: get onto the field and compete. Only then is it time for the coaches and scouts to assess these players' performances.
Some players showed that all of their hype was warranted; others got themselves onto the draft radar. However, still others showed a lack of composure and an inability to make plays when they needed to the most. This will likely put them on the other side of the benefit of the doubt-- and cost them a few million bucks, too.
This slideshow lists and gives analysis on the top 10 players, in order, whose stock has risen considerably after their Senior Bowl performance last Saturday.
#1: Von Miller, Texas A&M
Von Miller's stock is definitely through the roof after his performance during the Senior Bowl on Saturday. Though this pass rushing specialist didn't have a sack, he did have two tackles-for-loss and four tackles total, including two separate occasions when he chased down speedy Jake Locker from behind.
In my article about the New York Jets last week, (New York Jets: Why Their Winning Will Continue for Seasons to Come) I suggested that Von Miller might be selected by the Jets in the draft with the 30th pick overall. However, after his obvious athleticism was put on display during the Senior Bowl (as well as football analyst Mike Mayock's recent hype over Miller), I believe that Von Miller is now at least a lock for a top-20 draft pick. Because his build and skillset will likely mean that he plays the OLB in a 3-4 defense, only teams with a 3-4 defense are likely to be interested. Some possible landing spots include Buffalo (3rd overall), Cleveland (6th overall), New England (17th overall), and San Diego (18th overall). Other teams who certainly could select Miller are Arizona, San Francisco, and Washington. However, these teams will likely have more crucial positions (like quarterback) to fill in the first round.
#2: Cameron Jordarn, Cal
Cameron Jordan isn't a pass rushing specialist like Von Miller, but is an ultra-consistent run-stuffer who has still managed to rack up six sacks in each of his past two seasons at Cal. In the same time span, he has also averaged 48 tackles in each season; an average of four tackles per game, which is a pretty large amount for a defensive lineman. In the Senior Bowl last week, Jordan made five tackles, including one tackle-for-loss, in the limited amount of playing time he was allowed.
Jordan is the perfect build for a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme, and has first/early second round talent. I can definitely see New England (28th overall), New York Jets (30th overall), or Pittsburgh (31st or 32nd overall) using a first round pick on him due to each of these teams' age up front.
#3: Leonard Hankerson, University Of Miami, FL
Leonard Hankerson uses his humongous frame (6'3'', 205 lbs.) to out-jump cornerbacks for the ball; very reminiscent of Hakeem Nicks. Hankerson had a career year statistically, easily going over 1,100 receiving yards while scoring 13 touchdowns. He also had the best game statistically out of all the receivers at the Senior Bowl, reeling in five catches for 100 yards and a score.
While he's not a first-round talent, this young receiver's stock took a turn for the better based on his Senior Bowl performance. It's hard to say where exactly he will get drafted, but I'd guess somewhere around the mid-second to third round. There are many teams in the market for a big receiver like Hankerson, but look for a team like Cincinnati, Cleveland, Arizona, Washington, or Chicago to take a chance on him. San Diego and the New York Jets could also be potential suitors, depending on the free agent situations of Vincent Jackson and Braylon Edwards.
#4: Sione Fua, Stanford
310 pound Sione Fua still was able to post 4.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles over the course of last season despite playing the defensive tackle position, where playmaking opportunities are limited. Then, at the Senior Bowl, Fua pulled down three tackles, including one tackle-for-loss.
It seemed like he was involved in every play during the Senior Bowl, whether it was getting the first penetration into the backfield, forcing the quarterback to sidestep his pass rush, or mowing down some poor offensive lineman.
Fua's size and strength suggest that he would be a nice fit as a defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme. However, his ability to penetrate consistently makes me think he could also play nosetackle in a 3-4.
Fua is a guy who could be a real force in the NFL. Almost every team could use a solid defensive tackle, but look for Seattle, Denver, Cincinnati, Washington, St. Louis, or Atlanta to show interest in Sione Fua somewhere around the second/third round.
#5: Christian Ponder, Florida St.
Ponder's great Senior Bowl performance--he threw for 132 yards and two touchdowns--caps off a terrific season in which he had a career-high in touchdown passes (20). Ponder doesn't have the strongest of arms, but he fits in nicely with a west-coast style offense.
Ponder's only concern is staying healthy, which he had trouble doing over his last two years at Florida St. However, his Senior Bowl performance should inspire confidence in potential suitors, and he should be selected in the third/fourth round. Teams in need of a west-coast style quarterback that can start right away include San Francisco, Miami, Jacksonville, and Seattle. The reason I didn't put Washington, Minnesota, and Arizona in this group is because I figure that, if these teams choose to take a quarterback in the draft, it would be somebody in the first round. If any other team picks Christian Ponder, it's likely that he will sit for the first year or two behind a more experienced veteran in order to learn the system.
#6: Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
This playmaker is a nice fit at the defensive end position in a 4-3, or at outside linebacker in the 3-4 . Kerrigan racked up 13 sacks last season to go along with an astonishing 70 tackles; almost unheard of for a defensive end. Kerrigan boosted his draft stock in the Senior Bowl where he had one of the North's three sacks.
Kerrigan is a clear-cut first-rounder. His speed coming off the edge is complimented by his ability to hold his ground and stop the run. When I saw him sack the quarterback in the Senior Bowl, I though he was a cornerback coming on a blitz; he's that quick. Every team could use a playmaker like Kerrigan, but he's most likely to be headed to Jacksonville (16th overall), New England (17th overall), or Tampa Bay (extremely likely at 20th overall). The probability that he falls farther than 20th overall is unlikely, but if he does, than he may go to Seattle, New York Jets, or Green Bay, all of whom would benefit tremendously from another elite pass rusher.
#7: Brooks Reed, Arizona
While Brooks Reed has good size (6'3'', 262 lbs.) and plays the defensive end position well, teams will probably get maximum sack-production by putting him at the outside linebacker position in a 3-4 defense.
His pass-rushing skills are outstanding, including a non-stop motor and the size to get large quarterbacks (like Ben Roethlisberger) to the ground at the pro level. Reed rebounded from an injury-riddled two-sack season in 2009 with a seven-sack season in 2010 while posting a career-high in tackles. To top it off, Reed put on an impressive show for the NFL scouts at the Senior Bowl with a sack and two tackles-for-loss.
Pass rushers are in high demand this year, so expect Brooks Reed to get drafted in the mid-second round. Potential draft suitors include Arizona, Tennessee, Washington, Houston, New England, New York Jets, and Green Bay.
#8: Kendric Burney, North Carolina
Even though he is small, the dude can tackle. He was suspended for the first eight games of last season, yet still managed to rack up 30 tackles in the final 4 games. Kendric Burney is definitely one of the best tackling corners in this year's draft.
Burney can also be a ball hawk. The last full season that Burney played he had five interceptions, including two that were returned for a touchdown. In the Senior Bowl, Burney lead everybody in the tackling category (7) and had one pass breakup.
Kendrick Burney is a four-down player, meaning he can play on special teams, too. I can see Burney playing in the nickleback position for his first few seasons and being a factor in run-support. Any team could draft Burney, but I project him to be a fourth/fifth round pick.
#9: Sam Acho, Texas
Acho is a natural at the defensive end position in a 4-3 defense, but could also stand up and play in a 3-4 if he wanted to. He is great at rushing the passer (nine sacks last year), but can play the run very well, too (60 tackles). Acho made a splash in the Senior Bowl, finishing with three tackles, including two tackles-for-loss, one sack, and a forced fumble.
Sam Acho is extremely talented and is likely to join the ranks of Texas alumni pass rushers in the NFL including Brian Orakpo (18.5 sacks in his first two seasons), and Sergio Kindle (early second round pick from last year, but broke his skull an was unable to play). Acho should go in the second round to a team such as Tennessee, Detroit, Tampa Bay, or Seattle.
#10: Dane Sanzenbacher, Ohio St.
Even though Sanzenbacher had a very mediocre season as far as the number of receptions go, he's got a great feel for the game as a slot receiver. He's a great route runner who can work the middle of the field.
In the Senior Bowl, Sanzenbacher lead the North in receiving, tallying five catches for 62 yards. However, when Jake Locker was in at quarterback for the North, Sanzenbacher got open in the middle of the endzone on a post route and would have caught a touchdown had Locker not decided to run with the ball instead.
Sanzenbacher is probably the top slot receiver in the draft. Look for the Colts or another team who needs depth at receiver to take a shot at him in the third or fourth round.
I know that there are some big names that I left off of the list. However, the point of this article was not to create a mock draft or list the top prospects, but rather to point out some interesting Senior Bowl standouts to watch for in the draft.
I would be happy to hear some other names from you as well, and I hope you can find at least a little bit of this article to enjoy and hopefully even learn from.