2014 Senior Bowl: Draft Scouting Notes and Observations from Tuesday Practice

Michael Schottey@SchotteyNFL National Lead WriterJanuary 22, 2014

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While many Senior Bowl attendees have been happy to spend time in the South rather than in colder climates, the weather had a clear impact on Day 2 with declining temperatures and increasing wind gusts. 

This made life a little more difficult for the quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends as they looked to build off of the chemistry they started to create yesterday. Then again, guess what—it gets windy in NFL stadiums, too. In some respects, as much as the prospects' agents might hate it, scouts like a chance to see these young men perform in slightly adverse conditions. 

Schottey's Top Senior Bowl Performers on Day 2
Kyle Van NoyLBBYUSouth
Charles SimsRBWVUNorth
Aaron DonaldDLPittsburghNorth
Dee FordDLAuburnSouth
Cyril RichardsonOLBaylorNorth

As news and analysis floats out into the Internet and airwaves about Senior Bowl practices, it's important to keep a level head. Remember, the all-star process is valued by NFL teams, but not as much as game film or even (for some teams) the combine. It's just part of the overall study of players, and just because a guy has a great week, it doesn't mean he's necessarily vaulting up boards. 

It's also important to remember that smart people disagree, and that's OK. It happens with analysts just like it happens in draft rooms where the men are usually much smarter because they do this for a living. 

Former NFL Network analyst Chad Reuter once used this analogy: Draft opinions are like policemen investigating a car crash. If there were seven witnesses, the police expect seven slightly different opinions on what happened. That's natural. As long as everyone is putting in the work, being honest and knows what they're doing, the opinion has value, even if others disagree.

From the NFL perspective, that's why most teams have large contingents of scouts, not just one guy making the call. 

Charles Sims Vaults to the Top of a Weak Running Back Group

Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

If you haven't watched Charles Sims (RB West Virginia), get to a computer right now and dial up some YouTube highlights, because this young man is special. Yesterday, while riding to the South practice (a 30-minute drive where I was crammed into the backseat of a Jetta with B/R writers Matt Bowen and B.J. Kissel), Matt Miller compared Sims to Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte

It's a great comparison, because Sims is a fantastic do-it-all type of back who doesn't waste a lot of motion in his running. As such, he ends up moving faster than he looks and drives through contact. Scouts call that "converting speed to power," and Sims does it as well as any back I've seen. 

More impressive, during practice today, was Sims' ability to accelerate through his breaks. That's a rare ability for a traditionally built running back, and it gives Sims the chance to really make things happen even when the blocking hasn't been perfect. 

I was also impressed with the South's Jerick McKinnon (RB Georgia Southern). I didn't see a ton in terms of balance or vision (my two most important qualities for a back), but he has game-breaking speed. The first two times he touched the ball in full-team work, he nearly went the distance. 

James White (RB Wisconsin) didn't have a standout day but was impressive in pass-protection drills. For a smaller back, that's good to see. Bleacher Report's Cecil Lammey used the word "feisty."

On the opposite side of the spectrum, it was a disappointing day for David Fluellen (RB Toledo). He looks like a one-speed runner who lacks the vision to really pick apart a defense in traffic. When a running back can consistently get the edge, it's worthwhile to continue to bust plays out that way. Fluellen does not, however, and is quickly finding out that he'll need something more than just his speed in the NFL. 

Trench Warfare Highlights Another Good Linemen Crop

One of the highlights of the Senior Bowl every year is the "Pit" drill. First, it's one-on-one with the top linemen in the country going against one another like behemoths. Then, the coaches ask defensive linemen to split double-teams, to separate the men from the boys. 

It's not a perfect game-condition simulation, but it's a great barometer of the physical attributes of these prospects. 

The top defensive lineman of the day was Aaron Donald (DL Pittsburgh), who can probably play either 3-Tech in a 4-3 defense or 5-Tech in a 3-4 defense at the next level. At times, he was unstoppable against both single- and double-teams. The only player in Mobile, Ala., who may have a quicker first step is the South's Will Sutton (DT Arizona State). 

Nov 16, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Baylor Bears guard Cyril Richardson (68) blocks on the line of scrimmage during the game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at AT&T Stadium. Baylor beat Texas Tech 63-34. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Cyril Richardson (OG Baylor) had a fantastic day in the "Pit." Later, he would struggle a bit in pass-protection drills, but he repeatedly won matchups with his devastating strength in simulated run blocking. The best matchup of the day ended with Richardson bending Donald over backward—something no one really expected to happen. 

Take reports about Seantrel Henderson (OT Miami) with a grain of salt. He's having a good week, but this is a perfect situation for him. He struggled at Miami, quite a bit, but we've always known what a freak athlete he is. Teams will need to find out what the disconnect is before drafting him—especially if he blows up at the combine. 

On the South roster, Sutton is a boom-or-bust kind of player. His first step allows him to penetrate the backfield more often than not, but he also gets washed out rather easily in the run game. He also has another 10-15 pounds to drop before the combine. 

Dee Ford (DE Auburn) is a freak athlete and has taken advantage of poor tackle play on the South roster. Honestly, I'm not sure he'll be able to win in quite the same manner in the NFL, where simply running past a guy doesn't happen quite as often, but I know NFL teams would love to find out. 

Linebackers Need to Prove Both Specialty and Versatility in Today's NFL

If one player truly needed a strong Day 2, it was Adrian Hubbard (LB Alabama), who looked unimpressive at the weigh-ins and then sluggish on the field at Fairhope Municipal Stadium on Day 1. While Hubbard wasn't the most impressive player on the field, he seemed to turn it around, moving well in drills and attacking the line of scrimmage in team work. 

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 03:  Michael Sam #52 of the Missouri Tigers reacts after Ben Grogan #19 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys misses a 34-yard field goal in the second quarter during the AT&T Cotton Bowl on January 3, 2014 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The most impressive defender on the South roster was Kyle Van Noy (OLB Brigham Young). Honestly, I've been down on Van Noy—at least compared to some of my peers here—and would like him to play with a little more physicality. He's done that here, but his speed and movement are still his strong suits. He should be able to play OLB in either a 3-4 and a 4-3 and is a fantastic speed rusher. On one snap, he was in the backfield before the left tackle got out of his stance.

On the North roster, Michael Sam (OLB Missouri) has had a disappointing couple of days. He's a tweener prospect in that he's too short to be a prototypical outside linebacker and too small to put his hand in the dirt as a defensive end. He's a "sack artist," so some team is going to find a spot for him, and his extremely long arms make up for some of the height deficiencies.

Also in the tweener category is Trent Murphy (DE/LB Stanford). Talking with some fellow media before the North practice, I posed the question where he should play at the next level. CBS Sports' Rob Rang and Dane Brugler admitted that they had the same discussion a number of times. I suggested TED linebacker (an interior linebacker usually used as a pass-rusher), and that was met with some positive response. He's talented, but the fit has to be right.  

Odds and Ends

  • Aaron Colvin (CB Oklahoma) went down with an ACL tear, per ESPN.com's Jake Trotter, and was helped off the field. One of the top senior cornerback prospects in the class, he'll likely be drafted high regardless of his work this week, but he was making a statement before the injury. 

  • In other injury news, a number of players have pulled out with injury, one of whom was Marcel Jensen (TE Fresno State). He's being replaced by Shrine Game call-up Crockett Gillmore (TE Colorado State), who may be a more complete prospect, if not the same caliber of athlete as Jensen. I was slightly surprised that Jordan Najvar (TE Baylor) didn't get the first shot at that spot.

Jan 20, 2014; Mobile, AL, USA;  North squad quarterback Logan Thomas of Virginia Tech (3) drops back to pass during practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor
  • A lot of analysts I respect and admire have had a lot of great things to say about Logan Thomas (QB Virginia Tech) so far this week. I do not agree. I've seen an uncontrollably strong arm, an inability to dial back, poor mechanics and inconsistent delivery. Scouts look at moldable prospects over complete ones (see: EJ Manuel in 2013), but Thomas just does not stick out as a successful NFL passer to me. 

  • On this week's work alone, I have Derek Carr (QB Fresno State) as the top QB, but Jimmy Garoppolo (QB E. Illinois) isn't that far off. Carr's deep-ball accuracy has disappointed me, and his release isn't nearly as quick as Garoppolo's. That said, this is just a tiny part of the process, and Carr is still a much better prospect off of tape. It's important to keep everything this week in that context. 
  • None of the kickers in Mobile are draftable prospects in my opinion, and none come close to Zach Hocker (K Arkansas), whom I saw up close at the Shrine Game. Specialists can be a bit of a crapshoot at these events, and I remember thinking the same thing a few years ago when Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh was a Shrine Game participant but clearly an NFL-level talent. 

Michael Schottey is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff on his archive page and follow him on Twitter


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