Senior Bowl 2011: 20 Instant Takeaways For 2011 NFL Draft Season

John LorgeSenior Writer IJanuary 30, 2011

Senior Bowl 2011: 20 Instant Takeaways For 2011 NFL Draft Season

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    MOBILE, AL - JANUARY 29: Running back Noel Devine #27 of the Under Armour South Team scores a touchdown during the second quarter of the Under Armour Senior Bowl on January 29, 2011 at Ladd-Pebbles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty
    Sean Gardner/Getty Images

    The 2011 Senior Bowl is one of the best collections of NFL Draft talent we've seen in the game according to analyst Mike Mayock. 

    The South team took it to the North 24-10 in Mobile, Ala., but this game is much more about individual success than the team outcome.

    All week, the Senior Bowl showcased first-round talent clashing on the offensive and defensive lines.  The outcome was that both sides were more talented than expected.

    Some other position groups weren't as talented as the trenches but you can expect a majority of the Senior Bowl participants to be contributing on an NFL roster next year, some as starters.

    Here are my 20 biggest 2011 NFL Draft takeaways from the Senior Bowl.

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Von Miller Is Unique

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    Von Miller earned his NCAA accolades because of his ability to rush the passer.  For much of his career, scouts questioned if he could stop the run in the NFL or really cover as a 4-3 backer.

    Miller has the size to play OLB in either scheme. He is 6'2 1/2" and a shredded 237. His 34-inch arms are within an inch of most 6'7" tackles and he has elite on-field speed.

    I saw Miller is unique because there isn't a good NFL comparison for him.  We haven't seen a kid built like this, who can do this much on the field, maybe ever.

    The Aggie could come off the board as early as third to Buffalo, and I would be shocked to see him outside the top 10.

All Six QBs Have Starting Potential

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    I will break down Jake Locker in a later slide, but along with him, Greg McElroy, Colin Kaepernick, Ricky Stanzi, Andy Dalton, and Christan Ponder all showed promise this week.

    Kaepernick looks like he will need some time to develop but even as a project, he is evoking a second- to third-round grade.  His feet buy him time, and his arm is extremely strong.

    Ponder looked much better in Mobile than he did in his Bowl. He was able to get a rhythm on offense, which is tough in the Senior Bowl setting, and he won the MVP.

    Stanzi and Dalton both have the size, ability, and experience to be serviceable even early in their careers.

    McElroy looks the least like an NFL QB but came off as having the highest football IQ and best work ethic.

Leonard Hankerson Looks NFL Ready

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    Leonard Hankerson had the most complete week of any skill position prospect.

    On Day 1, Hankerson was showing teams how he can shield off defenders from the ball and extend for passes.  It was a trend that continued all week.

    The best thing about Hankerson's week was the game, though.  Typically, practice is more important than the game in Senior Bowl week but when you produce the way Hankerson did, things change.

    Five catches for 99 yards and a touchdown made Hankerson the MVP in my opinion, although he didn't win the award.

    Many had a slumping grade on Hankerson entering the Senior Bowl, but he has earned second-round consideration.

Kendall Hunter Has Love For Haters

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    LAWRENCE, KS - NOVEMBER 20:  Running back Kendall Hunter #24 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys carries the ball during the game against the Kansas Jayhawks on November 20, 2010 at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    His whole life, Kendall Hunter has been hearing the words "too small."  Never discouraged, this week Hunter used the Senior Bowl to turn doubters into believers.

    Pass blocking isn't the first thing you usually bring up regarding a running back, but Hunter has the ability to deliver MJD-type blows to blitzers and defensive ends. 

    That point is important because it establishes Hunter as a true three-down back.  He is dangerous as a receiving option and he has the lower body to the ball between the tackles.

    Hunter looks like a third-rounder but if he really is the next Ray Rice, don't be surprised to see someone reach in the second.

Don't Bet Against Ryan Kerrigan

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    Not the biggest or fastest defensive end, it's easy to dismiss Ryan Kerrigan as an elite NFL prospect when you look at potential some other prospects' bodies carry.

    Nobody will out-work Kerrigan, though. 

    He has a great motor and a good feel for the game.  When there is a play to be made in front of him, Kerrigan releases an unexpected burst.

    Many sacks, tackles for loss, and turnovers are generated through second effort, which is what Kerrigan is about.  He had a nice sack in the game against a double-team via a spin move.

    Top 20 might be a stretch. He can play OLB in the 3-4 but won't be dropping into coverage much.

Swing And A Miss

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    There were a handful of prospects who saw their draft stock drop during Senior Bowl for various reasons.

    DeMarcus Love was being considered a second-round pick but he didn't look like an NFL tackle this week, and his projection looks more like the fourth round now.

    Sam Acho had a rough week of practice, although a sack in the game might have saved him.  Looks like a third-round guy all-up.

    Greg Jones couldn't crack the 6-foot mark and he wasn't exactly flying around the field, either.

    Stephen Paea had to leave on Monday with a serious knee injury that required surgery.  If he is able to compete at the combine, he may salvage his first-round grade, though.

DeMarco Murray's a Great Addition To a RB Committee

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    DALLAS - OCTOBER 02:  Running back Demarco Murray #7 of the Oklahoma Sooners runs for a touchdown past James Haynes #8 of the Texas Longhorns in the first quarter at the Cotton Bowl on October 2, 2010 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Ima
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The game is in the third quarter and the backup running back just broke off a 40-yard run.  That can be DeMarco Murray in the NFL.

    With size, straight-line speed, and receiving ability Murray has a lot to offer NFL teams as an addition to the backfield committee.

    Football Outsiders' Doug Farrar sees a lot of Jamaal Charles in Murray.  That comparison is far too rich for me, I don't think he is nearly as fast and doesn't make people miss the same way.  The YPC doesn't match.

    Murray can be a Chester Taylor, though.

Defensive Backs Look Bankrupt

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    Not one DB on either team looked like they were competing for a first-round pick all week.  Only a few generated second-round consideration.

    North Carolina's Kendrick Burney had a very good week in practice, but it wasn't anything special. At 5'9", he will always be fighting an uphill battle.

    Shareece Wright looked like the most physical corner in Mobile.

    Safeties Jaiquawn Jarrett, Ahmad Black, and DeAndre McDaniel were also able to affirm their draft stock, but overall nobody was skyrocketing in the group.

Teams Quiet On Owen Marecic

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    Owen Marecic was 10th in Heisman voting, ranking behind seven QBs, a RB, and a WR.  This is a fullback/linebacker we're talking about.

    For a player this talented, you didn't hear much about him this week and I believe teams are intentionally not talking about him because they know what type of an asset he will be to their roster.

    In the NFL his primary position will be as a fullback.  He has terrific execution as a lead blocker, is an experienced pass blocker, and can be used to catch or run the rock.

    Marecic can contribute to every special teams squad.  He has rare conditioning and a unique knowledge of the game.

    Future San Francisco 49er? Possibly, nobody knows how valuable he is better than Jim Harbaugh.

WR Vincent Brown Gained The Most Ground

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    Nobody put their name on the map like Vincent Brown this week.  His ability to get open and catch the ball with his hands had scouts and analysts raving about him.

    The game wasn't great for Brown, but it wasn't terrible.  He dropped a pass early on a play that Curtis Brown took his head off and didn't make any plays.  Late in the game, he made nice plays on a screen and a slant, though.

    For teams, the week of practice is more important for the game, though, and while Brown wasn't the top receiver in the game, he moved his stock up into the middle of the draft.

Phil Taylor Is a Wide-Load On The Move

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    With so many teams playing the 3-4 scheme these days, there is increased demand for true nose tackles in the NFL.

    The problem is, the supply just isn't there.

    You can find big defensive tackles, but it doesn't mean they can produce.  Likewise, you can find run-stuffers, but they don't always have the girth to hold the POA against a double-team.

    Phil Taylor has the size and ability to do it all.  He looked svelte for a 337-pound man and his quickness allows him to consume the gap before the OL can get in position.

    Taylor is a fringe first-rounder, the Jets could be looking for a nose at 30.

Allen Bailey Isn't Fooling Anyone

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    It's not that Allen Bailey isn't talented, it's just that he isn't a first-round prospect.  He sure as hell looks like one, though.

    Maybe the most impressive 278 pounds you've ever seen strapped on a man, Bailey had scouts awing at his physique during Senior Bowl weigh-ins.  He will do so again at the combine.

    Unlike years past, where we've seen freak athletes jump rounds because of what they've done in the weight room, nobody is giving Bailey a higher grade than second round.

    I do like Bailey's ability to play multiple D-line positions, and if he's there in the third round, I think it's a good pick.

Wide Receivers Took Advantage Of Defensive Backs

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    While the DBs as a whole didn't do much to improve their stock, there were several wide receivers who really came on strong.

    Boise State receivers Titus Young and Austin Pettis couldn't be more different as players but they are both playmakers. 

    Young is extremely quick and almost impossible to handle in space.  Pettis uses his size and body control to dominate smaller defensive backs.

    Courtney Smith got a lot of attention for his measurements. He looked pretty raw in practice but is a good developmental pick.

    Dane Sanzenbacher and Niles Paul are both extremely tough and will be hard to beat out for a final roster spot.

Noel Devine Not a Show-Stopper

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    The Senior Bowl is a forum where a multi-talented player like Noel Devine can make a name for himself.  Many were projecting Devine would be this year's Dexter McCluster.

    While they do have the same size, there was almost no hype generated from Devine all week.  He needed to show he could be more of a receiver as well as a returner.

    Devine had some nice red zone carries in the game and he's still an entertaining prospect but the third round seems like a long shot now.

Charles Clay Can Play Anywhere

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    If Charles Clay were a high school prospect, his position would be listed as "athlete."

    He's listed as a running back but had 10 more catches (189) in his career than rushes (179).

    At 6'3", 239 pounds he showed he has the ability to play a traditional fullback this week.

    As a true freshman, he has over 1,000 receiving yards, making him an ideal H-back.

    His coaches say he can play split end wide receiver, traditional tight end, and wildcat QB, too.

Offensive Tackles Much Better Than Projected

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    Before and after the Senior Bowl, for OTs the question is the same, "How many will go in the first round?"  The difference is it has turned from a pessimistic question to an optimistic one.

    Nate Solder and Anthony Castonzo have elite size and athleticism for offensive tackle prospects and it looks like they have locked their first round grades. Solder has top 10 potential.

    My favorite tackle was Gabe Carimi who didn't play in the game.  He doesn't have the same build as the prettier tackles but he is meaner and a better run blocker.

    Derek Sherrod earned a fringe first-round grade.  Lee Ziemba, James Carpenter, and Marcus Gilbert also improved their draft stock.

Interior OL Damn Good Too

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    It's rare that a guard or center earns a first-round grade, and I'm not saying any of these guys will be picked in the first round, but there were several immediate NFL starters in the Senior Bowl.

    Rodney Hudson won't win any beach body competitions, but he did win almost every match-up in Mobile.  Any young offensive linemen should study tape on him diligently.

    Danny Watkins is an interesting prospect. The 26-year-old former Canadian hockey player came to Baylor through the JuCo ranks.  It looks like he could play any OL position if needed.

    Clint Boling is one of many tackles who get converted to guard, where he has the ideal size and skill set to be a second-round pick.

Cam Jordan Earned Millions This Week

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    From Day 1 of practice Cam Jordan was a force.  He dominated one-on-ones with aggressive hand combat and made his presence known in team periods as well.

    At 6'4", 287 pounds Jordan can line up almost anywhere on the defensive line in a three- or four-man front.

    In the game, the South team made a point of running away from Jordan and sending extra attention his way on pass plays.

    It looks like Jordan's draft ceiling is the top 5 after this week.  I have a hard time seeing him fall out of the top 15, although Jacksonville would love to grab him at 16. 

    Entering the week most had him mocked in the second half of the first round.

Mark Herzlich Is Ready For The Next-Step

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    Storied Boston College LB Mark Herzlich needed the Senior Bowl to let NFL teams know he is healthy and ready to be a professional football player.

    His play throughout the week was up and down.  He didn't dominate like Von Miller, but he did win his fair share of battles.

    Scouts were impressed with his build at weigh-ins. At 6'3 1/2" and 250 pounds he is one of the biggest true LB prospects. 

    As a junior he showed his ability to rush the passer and he has great ball skills.

    Looks like a second-round pick.

Jake Locker Doesn't Look Like First-Rounder

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    There are plenty of first-round QBs who don't start from Day One but could have.  Jake Locker doesn't look like he could start and have any success for an NFL team, which is why I do not believe he deserves a first-round grade.

    It's not his mechanics or football IQ, the fact is on the field we have never seen Locker play at an elite level for an extended period of time.

    In fact, I think Locker is too mechanical and robotic.  He is at his best late in games when he knows he needs to take the space in front of him to keep moving his team down the field.

    I am fine with Locker in the second round because with a good QB coach, and mentoring starting QB, I think he can be a quality starter in 2-3 years.

    Locker didn't use the Senior Bowl practice week or game to impress.