The long wait is over. Senior Bowl week is here. After a week spent in sunny Mobile, Alabama, here are my notes from viewing practices and talking to players and scouts in attendance for the premier all-star game.
The Scout's Report
— The Cleveland Browns were very interested in Ole Miss cornerback Senquez Golson, and I've spoken with sources close to both sides who say they've spent a lot of time with him this week.
— The San Francisco 49ers need cornerback help, and Texas' Quandre Diggs is high on their list, per a team source.
— USC cornerback Josh Shaw had a good enough Shrine Game week that he was invited to Mobile for the Senior Bowl. My scouting sources tell me he's very coached up in interviews and isn't giving teams a real look at his personality and character.
— Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson has unique, rare athletic ability, and that has led to some teams suggesting he would be a better candidate at running back (a position he played some in college), per team sources.
— In talking to sources about the quarterback class, I've been told by several scouts that they don't have a top-100 grade on anyone other than Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.
— Cincinnati linebacker Jeff Luc and Yale fullback Tyler Vargas both wowed during weigh-ins, but neither followed up with impressive play on the field. Luc is simply too stiff and doesn't play with functional strength, while Vargas isn't a true blocker at fullback.
— "You guys were way off on him," is how one scout put the media perception of Wisconsin tackle Rob Havenstein. He's right. Havenstein looks like a top-100 pick and starting-caliber right tackle.
— Washington nose tackle Danny Shelton was my top-ranked player at the Senior Bowl, and he lived up to expectations. Shelton was held and grabbed so much that by Thursday morning he no longer had numbers on his jersey.
— Iowa's Carl Davis made himself a lot of money this week, but UCLA's Owa Odighizuwa was the second-best riser on defense this week. He's explosive off the line, very long and has the agility to be a threat with a shoulder dip or hip roll.
— The small receiver dominated this week. You'll hear a lot about Phillip Dorsett, but I also liked Jamison Crowder (Duke), Tyler Lockett (Kansas State) and Justin Hardy (East Carolina).
Five Up, Five Down
Each week, "Five Up, Five Down" will monitor the movements of players on my draft board.
5. DT Carl Davis, Iowa
Iowa's Carl Davis entered the 2014 season as a potential Round 1 player, and he backed that up with an awesome performance each day in Mobile.
Davis' film was inconsistent at times, but he played with fire with the Tennessee Titans looking on. His pad level, first-step quickness and ability to find the football were all eye-opening. Davis' snaps became appointment-viewing.
4. The University of Miami
How did The U post just six wins in 2014?
Wide receiver Phillip Dorsett was the most impressive player at the position this week, tight end Clive Walford was the best at his spot, middle linebacker Denzel Perryman is the highest-ranked player in Mobile at his position and cornerback Ladarius Gunter was the most impressive outside cornerback.
Al Golden can recruit, but this showing by the former Miami players is putting his coaching skills into question.
3. DE/LB Nate Orchard, Utah
The 2015 draft class is very good at edge-rusher, but after Bud Dupree (Kentucky) pulled out of the Senior Bowl, the top-end talent looked to be uncertain. Then Nate Orchard started practicing.
The Utah senior showed the same skills he used in dominating Andrus Peat of Stanford in their head-to-head matchup this season. He's able to convert speed to power and has the agility and flexibility to dip his shoulder and drive past blockers.
Orchard routinely beat up on T.J. Clemmings of Pitt.
2. OT Rob Havenstein, Wisconsin, and OG Laken Tomlinson, Duke
I wanted to highlight a few offensive linemen who really stood out this week. Wisconsin tackle Rob Havenstein played on the right side for the Badgers and showed an impressive array of agility, strength, technique and football IQ. You can tell he's been well coached and is NFL-ready.
Duke guard Laken Tomlinson is well-put-together, measuring in at 6'3 1/4" and 323 pounds. He's solid and very thick throughout his trunk. That size moves well when asked to pull, and he showed very good strength and anchoring skills in drills. He's a natural left guard.
1. ILB Jordan Hicks, Texas
A hip injury in 2012 and an Achilles injury in 2013 cut Jordan Hicks' time at Texas way down, but the athletic linebacker was the most impressive of all the inside linebackers here this week.
He's a naturally gifted athlete with the strength to fill against the run and the range to be a factor in pass coverage. Hicks looks like the new breed of agile, mobile inside linebackers who can stay on the field for three downs.
1. WR Ty Montgomery, Stanford
Drops, drops and more drops filled up my scouting notes on Ty Montgomery this week. He's not a refined or confident pass-catcher and fell out of too many routes. I even questioned his effort on passes over the middle during seven-on-seven drills and in team scrimmage sessions.
2. The Quarterbacks
Ugh. This was the worst group of senior quarterbacks I've seen during my time covering the Senior Bowl. All six quarterbacks struggled to make simple throws with ball placement, velocity and touch. Even simple things like taking the snap was a struggle.
I came into the week trying to separate Bryce Petty, Garrett Grayson and Shane Carden for my No. 4 quarterback spot and will go home even more unimpressed with the senior class of passers.
3. DE/LB Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington
Asking a defensive end to make the transition to a stand-up linebacker role is not easy, but Hau'oli Kikaha struggled to make plays in space all week. He wasn't explosive as a pass-rusher and did not impress in either individual or one-on-one drills.
He's a rusher only and looks like a liability in coverage and against the run.
4. WR Sammie Coates, Auburn, and WR Devin Smith, Ohio State
It was a tough week for the wide receivers in Mobile. With below-average quarterback play, it was tough for speedsters Sammie Coates and Devin Smith to wow scouts with their exceptional ability down the field.
Coates did play well in a red-zone drill Thursday afternoon, but both players were held back this week by situations in practice and poor quarterback play. Coates was not able to quiet concerns about his hands (he dropped too many easy passes), and Smith has yet to show he's more than just a deep threat.
5. OT T.J. Clemmings, Pitt
The hype surrounding T.J. Clemmings the athlete is real. He's long, lean and has very little softness to his body. But as a left tackle, Clemmings struggled this week. He's definitely a project more than a product at this stage of his development.
His punch needs work, and while his feet are very quick and fluid, he has to become a better puncher in pass protection and show more strength in the run game.
The Big Board
Senior Bowl week means moving players up and down my board after a live look at their ability. Here's an extended look at my top 50 players.
|Updated Top 50 Big Board|
|1||QB Jameis Winston||FSU|
|2||DL Leonard Williams||USC|
|3||DE Randy Gregory||Nebraska|
|4||QB Marcus Mariota||Oregon|
|5||WR Amari Cooper||Alabama|
|6||DE Shane Ray||Missouri|
|7||T Brandon Scherff||Iowa|
|8||WR DeVante Parker||Louisville|
|9||WR Kevin White||West Virginia|
|10||DT Danny Shelton||Washington|
|11||DE Dante Fowler||Florida|
|12||T La'el Collins||LSU|
|13||SS Landon Collins||Alabama|
|14||LB Shaq Thompson||Washington|
|15||DE Bud Dupree||Kentucky|
|16||LB Benardrick McKinney||Miss. State|
|17||WR Devin Funchess||Michigan|
|18||RB Todd Gurley||Georgia|
|19||CB Marcus Peters||Washington|
|20||CB Trae Waynes||Michigan St.|
|21||DT Malcom Brown||Texas|
|22||DE Eli Harold||Virginia|
|23||T Cedric Ogbuehi||Texas A&M|
|24||T T.J. Clemmings||Pitt|
|25||OLB Vic Beasley||Clemson|
|26||FS Gerod Holliman||Louisville|
|27||T Andrus Peat||Stanford|
|28||WR Jaelen Strong||Arizona St.|
|29||DT Eddie Goldman||FSU|
|30||DT Jordan Phillips||Oklahoma|
|31||T Ereck Flowers||Miami (Fla.)|
|32||CB Jalen Collins||LSU|
|33||CB Alex Carter||Stanford|
|34||DE Nate Orchard||Utah|
|35||TE Maxx Williams||Minnesota|
|36||DT Carl Davis||Iowa|
|37||DE Owa Odighizuwa||UCLA|
|38||CB Kevin Johnson||Wake Forest|
|39||WR Devin Smith||Ohio State|
|40||LB Paul Dawson||TCU|
|41||WR Sammie Coates||Auburn|
|42||RB Tevin Coleman||Indiana|
|43||DT Michael Bennett||Ohio State|
|44||RB Duke Johnson||Miami (Fla.)|
|45||ILB Eric Kendricks||UCLA|
|46||ILB Denzel Perryman||Miami (Fla.)|
|47||RB Melvin Gordon||Wisconsin|
|48||DE Preston Smith||Miss. State|
|49||T Ty Sambrailo||Colorado St.|
|50||DE Mario Edwards||FSU|
10. I was told once that Bill Walsh could evaluate a player in one play, but I cannot. It's important to note with Senior Bowl coverage that one bad play (or great play) doesn't make the prospect.
A bad throw by a quarterback may draw your attention, but you owe it to the process to watch, and watch that player again, to see what causes the bad throw and if it's a consistent issue or just a bad ball. That goes for every position.
Too many people see one play, and that perception sticks with them when in reality, there's a reason it takes at least three games to have a solid view of a prospect.
9. You're going to see a lot of reports about "X team talked to Y player after practice" at the Senior Bowl, but here's an insider tip: That means nothing.
Each team assigns certain players to its scouts, and they're asked to check in after practice to confirm contact information, playing weight and small biographical details. A scout talking to a player post-practice may mean something, but it can also be an innocent bio check.
8. Accountability and credibility are very important to me, so I'm not hesitant or afraid to admit when I'm wrong about a player. Each week, I'll post my scouting notes summary and a ranking of a player I feel hasn't or didn't live up to my predraft expectations.
Grade: Top 35
"A solidly built edge-rusher with some inside linebacker skills, (blank) has the range and strength to be an impact on the corner. He was extremely productive at Alabama and has the natural tools to be a dynamic pass-rusher, especially in a 3-4 scheme. (Blank) is a potential late first-round player and a year one starter."
Courtney Upshaw, Alabama
7. And now for a player I hit on. A "hit" can be defined a few ways—a player ranked/drafted higher than the NFL viewed him is how I categorize a hit, though.
Grade: No. 20 overall, No. 4 position
"A big receiver who isn't as long or strong as he looks on TV, (blank) doesn't have great speed off the line of scrimmage and has not shown a full complement of routes during his time at Oklahoma State. He has serious off-field concerns, too, and when added to average speed and average hands, he's a scary gamble and shouldn't be a top-15 player."
Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
6. The Senior Bowl isn't just a job fair for the players entering the NFL, but for everyone involved with the NFL. Ride the elevator and you'll run into an out-of-work coach looking for a new gig. Go to dinner and you'll see scouts looking to get a meeting with a general manager for any openings in the front office.
If you sit in the stands at practice, you'll see plenty of media people looking for a new job or trying to make a connection for the next job. Which means if you want a job in the NFL, Mobile is the place to be during Senior Bowl week.
5. The way I grade prospects, it's safe to estimate 90 percent of their final grade comes from film study. So why is the Senior Bowl so important? For several reasons.
The Senior Bowl is often my first live look at a player, and there's no substitute for a live look at speed, technique and body types. It's also a chance to see small-school players or even FCS players I didn't have noted over the summer as draftable prospects. The Senior Bowl also serves as a great way to separate players with a similar grade—like T.J. Clemmings and Ty Sambrailo, for example.
As part of my draft study process, I'll go home from the Senior Bowl and add my handwritten notes to my digital notes on players. Those notes then become a full scouting report as the draft nears.
4. Senior Bowl director Phil Savage—a former NFL scout, scouting director and general manager—took to the podium before weigh-ins Tuesday morning to introduce and welcome scouts and media to the Senior Bowl. He also took time to note the players who he felt didn't "handle their business" in declining invites or dropping out of the game.
Savage implored scouts to "dig deep" on the following players: Corey Crawford (Clemson), Bud Dupree (Kentucky), Cam Erving (FSU), Rashad Greene (FSU), Brett Hundley (UCLA), Kevin Johnson (Wake Forest), Eric Kendricks (UCLA), Josue Matias (FSU) and Kevin White (West Virginia).
Players generally decline an invite if injured—like Brandon Scherff or Cedric Ogbuehi did, and they were acknowledged as respectfully declining—or because they are a top-15 player in the draft. The players mentioned above will definitely be asked at the combine why they weren't in Mobile.
3. One of the most important aspects of the Senior Bowl is the weigh-in portion, and not because we want to see 108 players walk across the stage in their underwear, but because it's important to get a true height and weight for the athletes. That's the only part I'm interested in.
Colleges (and high schools) are notorious for exaggerating the size of a player, so the Senior Bowl is where you find out that Ty Montgomery is actually 5'11" even though Stanford listed him at 6'2". You can't hide from the tape in Mobile.
2. Every time I do talk radio in Philadelphia, they want to know one thing: Can the Eagles trade up for Marcus Mariota? They can, but they shouldn't.
Trading away multiple first-round picks and multiple extra draft picks isn't worth the risk for a quarterback who fit Chip Kelly's college offense but would still be a work in progress in the NFL. Kelly has proved he can win with average quarterback play. He can't win with average cornerback play, though.
If the Eagles need to trade up, it should be for Trae Waynes.
1. I didn't talk to one person in Mobile who cared about the New England Patriots and this so-called Deflategate situation. In fact, everyone I asked about it politely told me to get lost because they were so tired of hearing about it on TV and talk radio. I agree.
This is just everyone's chance to stick it to a coach who doesn't help the media and has made enemies with his record over the last 14 years.