Last week the NFL world descended on Mobile, Alabama for the first real event of the NFL offseason, the Senior Bowl. In the big picture, the Senior Bowl isn’t a definitive assessment of how players will do in the NFL or where they will get drafted. In fact, many of this year’s first round prospects didn’t even participate. However, it does allow us to get a look at some draft prospects directly under the microscope of NFL talent evaluators.
In many ways, the game itself is an afterthought. In case you’re wondering, this year the South defeated the North by a score of 21-16, but by the time the game kicked off most of the NFL GM’s, coaches, and scouts had already left town. Most NFL personnel men use the Senior Bowl to see how the players react in practice. These players are thrown together with players they’ve never met and have to learn terminology they’ve never heard before. How well do they pick it up? How do they do when going against other NFL prospects in practice drills knowing all 32 teams are watching their every move? Who goes hard every snap of practice and who takes some reps off? Who listens to the coaching, picks up the system, and shows real growth in only a few practices? Do any of these players show leadership in this short amount of time? This is where the Senior Bowl really is valuable in the evaluation process. Plus, teams actually get to sit down and talk to some of these players face to face. The game itself is less valuable than the hours of actual game footage they already have on these players from games that really counted.
So at the end of this piece I’ll give you the highlights of the game, but first I want to talk about what players helped themselves or hurt themselves during the week of practice leading up to the game since this is what most NFL teams base their evaluations on.
I should note that since I wasn’t in Mobile, these evaluations were collectively put together by reading and following several different people who were there and noticed similar things from the same players. So if only one guy commented on a prospect looking good, but the others did not, I didn’t include him. A player had to be mentioned by at least three sources to be included. Sources included:
CBS Sports’ NFLDraftScout.com: @RobRang and @dpbrugler
NFL.com: @Gil_Brandt, @MoveTheSticks, @RapSheet (and anything that Mike Mayock says)
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller: @nfldraftscout
National Football Post: @RUSSLANDE and @MattBowen41
No website, but NFL Philosophy is a must follow on Twitter: @NFLosophy
I’m going to just be up front with you about the QBs at the Senior Bowl. Very little was done to change perceptions of this QB class. Before the week at the Senior Bowl if you asked NFL draft “experts” who the best QB there was you would have had some answer Arkansas’s Tyler Wilson, some say NC State’s Mike Glennon, and a few say Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib. After the Senior Bowl practices, nothing had changed. Some were saying Wilson looked the best, some were saying Glennon, and a few were saying Nassib. Basically, none of these guys did enough to change people’s minds. If you were a big fan of one of these three before, they didn’t do poorly enough (in practice) to scare you off and none of the other guys were SO good that they changed your mind. Depending on who you talk to, any one of those three gave the best performance and the other two had “moments” but still have flaws and inconsistencies. So it may end up that the biggest winners at QB from the Senior Bowl were Geno Smith and Matt Barkley since the other QBs failed to take advantage of the extra time in front of NFL personnel men. Most people still seem to think that Wilson, Glennon, and Nassib are worthy of somewhere between a mid to late 1st round pick or an early 2nd round pick. Wilson, as expected, was the best interview of the three but had the smallest hands at the weigh-in (has been known to lead to more fumbles for some QBs). Glennon did not impress at the weigh-in where he was described as “thin and undefined”.
Florida State’s EJ Manuel reinforced what people thought of him going in. He’s incredibly athletic and has a good arm but is very raw. Even his biggest supporters don’t seem to think he should play right away, needing several years of good coaching to develop him. He is seen as having intriguing upside and if a team already has a QB and feels they can wait for him to develop he could go higher than his current ability would justify (and his performance in the game itself will only add to this).
Oklahoma’s Landry Jones didn’t do much to help his case. He did make an occasional throw that got people’s attention, but the big knock on Jones is that he checks down WAY too much and is afraid to take chances downfield. Also, Jones didn’t handle it well when plays broke down and he had to improvise. This reinforces my thought of Oklahoma QBs, that they are very reliant on their college system and coaches and struggle to read defenses on their own. If you still aren’t scared of Jones, I read one practice report that said Jones’ check downs and inability to handle pressure reminded them of our own Matt Cassel. (Run away!)
Miami of Ohio QB Zac Dysert probably had the worst week of all the QBs. Going in, there were some people including him in the same tier of QBs as Wilson, Glennon, and Nassib. However, Dysert was very erratic all week and clearly struggled to get his timing down. Before the Senior Bowl Dysert may have been in the discussion for KC for someone to look at with their 2nd round pick, but after his work in Mobile I don’t think that will happen. The National Football Post’s Russ Lande went as far to say “This week Dysert did not look like a quarterback with the talent to start in the NFL.” Ouch!
The Chiefs obviously need a QB in the worst way. None of the prospects at the Senior Bowl did enough to jump up draft boards to where they would be considered the “best player available” at #1 which is what the Chiefs are claiming they will do with the pick. My concern is that if they don’t take a QB #1 overall (cough, Geno Smith, cough), I’m not sure I want them to take a QB at #34. Let’s say at least 3 QBs go in the first round, that means KC is committing the #34 overall pick (which should yield an impact player) to a QB that is essentially the leftovers in a weak QB class. I say if they find a QB that they think is clearly the best in this draft, take him at #1 (cough, Geno Smith, cough). Otherwise, go get a place holder like Alex Smith or Matt Flynn (I just threw up in my mouth a little) and then take a flier on a QB in the mid to late rounds. I know EJ Manuel will be the new flavor of the month because of his performance in the game, but he needs a lot of work and I hate to use the #34 pick on a QB that probably wouldn’t be able to compete for a starting job his rookie year. I just worry about turning the keys to the offense over to the 4th or 5th best QB in a weak QB class.
The 2013 running back class lacks elite first round talent. So there wasn’t a lot of focus on the backs that were in Mobile this week. That having been said, there were three backs that made a very good impression this week. In no particular order:
Johnathan Franklin – UCLA – 5’10” 201 lbs
Mike Gillislee – Florida – 5’11” 207 lbs
Stepfan Taylor – Stanford – 5’9″ 216 lbs
All three of these backs were seen as mid round picks prior to the Senior Bowl, but their strong performances may put them in competition for the #3 RB spot in the draft behind UNC’s Giovani Bernard and Alabama’s Eddie Lacy.
The fact that Kenjon Barner of Oregon was the biggest name RB at the Senior Bowl, but was not one of the top three backs that people were talking about probably isn’t good for his draft stock. Also, Robbie Rouse of Fresno State, though explosive, measured under 5’6″ tall and got destroyed during blitz pick up drills. He isn’t big enough to be an every down back and if he can’t handle blitzing LBs then it will be hard for him to see the field as a third down back either.
If KC doesn’t re-sign Peyton Hillis, they will need to find a #2 RB to spell Jamaal Charles with. I think given that they have greater areas of need and the lack of elite runners in this draft that the earliest they would look at a RB would be the 3rd round. There is a good chance that a couple of those backs listed (or all three) could be available in the third and one or two may even still be an option in the 4th. If so, there is a possibility that one of those guys could fill the role of JC’s primary back up. So keep an eye on those three (Franklin, Gillislee, and Taylor) at the combine.
If I had to pick a position group that had the best week during Senior Bowl practices it might have been the WRs. There were four WRs that seemed to drastically help their draft status during the week. All four were listed as standouts by multiple sources. Again, in no particular order:
Marquise Goodwin – Texas – 5’9″ 179 lbs
Chris Harper – Kansas State – 6’1″ 228 lbs
Quinton Patton – Louisiana Tech – 6’0″ 202 lbs
Markus Wheaton – Oregon State – 5’11” 183 lbs
You’ll get differing opinions from different sources, but the general consensus seems to be that Goodwin and Wheaton would make great slot WRs and Harper and Patton would be solid #2 WRs for most teams (some think Wheaton could be a #2 as well). On the down side, Texas A&M WR Ryan Swope looked outclassed by the guys listed above before he had to drop out due to injury and is probably dropping down draft boards. Former Michigan QB turned WR Denard Robinson didn’t look very good at WR in Mobile and clearly needs a LOT of coaching before he can play that position at the NFL level. He still possesses explosive play making ability so someone will take that shot on him. For what it’s worth, Robinson had the biggest hands of any WR prospect despite measuring in at only 5’10” and 196 lbs.
I think this draft sets up really well for KC to get some WR help in the 2nd or 3rd round. When John Dorsey was in GB they were able to find guys like Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, and Randall Cobb in a similar range. There are several WR draft prospects that could rank as the “best player available” for KC in those rounds. Of the guys at the Senior Bowl, if Patton (probably not likely after his great week) or Harper were on the board in round 3, I think KC might have to take a good look at them.
With the two first round talent TEs both being juniors, there wasn’t a lot of talk about the TEs at the Senior Bowl. I don’t know that a single TE there will be drafted before the 3rd round. However, there were three TEs that showed the size/strength to be an effective blocker and enough athleticism to contribute in the passing game as well.
Nick Kasa – Colorado – 6’5″ 271 lbs
Vance McDonald – Rice – 6’2″ 262 lbs
Michael Williams – Alabama – 6’5″ 269 lbs
I wouldn’t say any of these three were “stars” during the week of practice, but I think all three showed enough upside to warrant a mid round pick in April.
If both Tony Moeaki and Kevin Boss could be relied upon to stay healthy then KC would be in good shape at TE. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. Moeaki has a lengthy injury history dating back to college and there is some concern that Boss’s concussion issues could cause him to retire. You add to that the fact that the TE position is an important part of Andy Reid’s West Coast Offense and it seems that KC may need to add a quality option at TE this offseason. Given the ability of the three guys mentioned above to contribute both as a blocker and pass catcher I think any of the three could be an option for KC in the mid rounds.
If the WRs weren’t the most impressive group at the Senior Bowl, it would be because the offensive linemen beat them out. It’s not that the offensive line had a huge number of guys generating buzz, but possibly the two guys that impressed the most the entire week were both offensive tackles.
Eric Fisher – Central Michigan – 6’7″ 305 lbs
Lane Johnson – Oklahoma – 6’6″ – 302 lbs
Entering the week, Fisher was seen as a mid to late 1st round pick and Johnson a borderline first round guy. After just a few practices the two are now both viewed as guys that will likely go in the top 15 picks. No one else on the offensive line generated anywhere near as much buzz as those two, but there were several other guys that did well for themselves.
DJ Fluker – Alabama – 6’5″ 355 lbs
David Quessenberry – San Jose St. – 6’5″ 294 lbs
Brian Schwenke – California – 6’3″ 307 lbs
Larry Warford – Kentucky – 6’3″ 333 lbs
Fluker is a massive RT prospect. He isn’t the world’s best pass protector, but his long arms, freakish 87″ wingspan, and impressive size make his a potential mauler in the run game. Teams looking for a RT that can step in on day one will likely target Fluker. Quessenberry played OT in college but will need to add some bulk in the NFL. The real selling point on Quessenberry is that not only does he show some long term upside, he’s versatile enough to play multiple spots on the line so he would have great value as a back up while he was developing. Schwenke did well enough for himself that he may even challenge to be the 2nd C off the board after Alabama’s Barrett Jones. Finally, Warford quietly lived up to his reputation for being a mauler on the inside. He will likely be the #3 G in the draft behind Alabama’s Chance Warmack and UNC’s Jonathan Cooper.
Unfortunately, there were also some linemen that hurt their draft stock as well. Notre Dame center Braxton Cave was repeatedly dominated by the interior defensive linemen. Wisconsin OT Ricky Wagner struggled a lot with pass protection. Virginia OT Oday Aboushi disappointed some scouts with how he looked in practice during most of the week. Syracuse OT Justin Pugh, although looking solid at times, measured in with very short arms, to the extent that many think he will have to move inside to G and which could cause him to slide come April. Similarly, Kyle Long of Oregon measured a little short in the arms as well. He missed several practices with an illness, but did play in the game (and did pretty well).
With Fisher and Johnson moving into solid first round range, Fluker being strictly a RT, and the other OT prospects (Aboushi, Pugh, and Long) sliding a little bit, it appears that if Kansas City doesn’t re-sign Brandan Albert that their only option of drafting a starting LT may be at the #1 overall pick. I don’t like that idea, but it doesn’t appear there will be anyone available at #34 that should start at LT as a rookie. Of the other prospects that played well, I think Quessenberry and Schwenke could be mid round options to add depth to the interior of the offensive line.
DEFENSIVE FRONT SEVEN:
Ideally I would have split this into defensive linemen and linebackers, but there are two problems with that. First there’s the question of where do you put the DE/OLB pass rushers that could be considered either depending on the system a team runs. Second, if you put the pass rushers with the defensive line then there really wasn’t much to talk about in terms of LBs at the Senior Bowl. The top inside LB in Mobile was Alabama’s Nico Johnson, but he failed to impress during the week. In the entire front seven there were really only two guys that really improved their draft stock.
Datone Jones – DE – UCLA – 6’4″ 280 lbs
Brandon Williams – NT – Missouri Southern – 6’2″ 341 lbs
Jones was a physical specimen and terror on the field. He stopped the run well and was able to put pressure on the QB. I think Jones would be perfect as an attacking style 3-4 DE. Jones did so well that some are speculating that he may have jumped from a 2-3 round pick all the way up into the mid to late first round. Brandon Williams is a NT. A strong, stout, and surprisingly athletic one at that. Williams was an unknown to many before the Senior Bowl, but teams looking for a true NT for the center of their 3-4 may definitely target Williams.
Some of the biggest names in the front seven in Mobile had mixed reviews. BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah and SMU’s Margus Hunt both proved to be extreme physical specimens, but were very raw and in need of coaching out on the practice field. DTs John Jenkins from Georgia and Sylvester Williams from North Carolina flashed big time talent but would also disappear for stretches. Both of these two were already considered 1st round guys. They didn’t really hurt their stock, but I don’t know that they helped it either. Outside pass rusher Alex Okafor from Texas was much the same. He showed some explosion getting around the edge, but when the OTs got their hands on him he was often taken out of the play.
Early in the week I was excited about what I was hearing about Jones. However, as the week went on the reports were so good that it appears he may not be available when the Chiefs pick at #34. If he were to be there I think he could be exactly the kind of player that our DL has been lacking. A relentless motor type that is strong enough to stop the run and athletic enough to put pressure on the QB. At ILB KC could still target Nico Johnson, but it looks like he would strictly be a 2 down LB and would need to come off the field on clear passing downs. The only other ILB prospect from the Senior Bowl that KC may want to consider would be FSU’s Vince Williams who played well in the game itself.
The defensive backs were another group that had a strong showing during Senior Bowl practices. There were six defensive backs that seemed to help themselves the most, including several coming from smaller programs.
Robert Alford – CB – Southeast Louisiana – 5’10” 186 lbs
Jonathan Cyprion – S – Florida International – 6’0″ 209 lbs
Leon McFadden – CB – San Diego State – 5’10” 193 lbs
Jordan Poyer – CB – Oregon State – 6’0″ 182 lbs
Desmond Trufant – CB – Washington – 5’11” 190 lbs
B.W. Webb – CB – William & Mary – 5’10” 183
In terms of the CBs, Poyer and Trufant are probably in the top 5 at the position now while Alford, McFadden, and Webb proved themselves to be solid prospects that could go in rounds 3-5. Jonathan Cyprion earned very high praises from every single report coming out of Mobile. He’s probably one of the players that helped himself the most. Cyprion reportedly went 100% on every snap in practice, was very physical, and also showed some good coverage ability. He went from being a virtual unknown to many to a guy that could see his name called on day 2 of the draft.
I would be happy if KC ended up with any of the six players listed above. Trufant and Poyer could probably start as rookies, but KC would probably have to jump on one of them in the 2nd round after their strong showing in Mobile. The other three corners could be had later in the draft. They all three have starter upside but would probably need some time to develop. I’m really interested in Cyprion. If he was available in round 3 it would be a solid pick for KC. The reason I like it is because I think a Cyprion/Berry pairing would give the Chiefs a lot of options. Both are physical enough to play up in run support and athletic enough to drop into coverage.
THE GAME ITSELF:
Some of you may not agree with this, but as I mentioned before the game really doesn’t have much impact on a prospect’s draft status. If it did, the majority of NFL personnel wouldn’t be flying out of Mobile on Thursday. That said, I do want to address a few things. I’ll start with the QBs again. For the people saying that there isn’t a great QB in this draft class, the performances of guys that have been mocked in the first round like Wilson, Glennon, and Nassib didn’t exactly prove the naysayers wrong. Wilson in particular was disappointing for me. Yes, they are playing in a system that is new, with WRs that are new, but the defense isn’t exactly throwing a true NFL caliber attack at them either. At this point I feel like Geno Smith is KC’s only real hope for getting a QB at the #1 pick.
Obviously, EJ Manuel was the star of the show. His TD pass to Michael Williams was beautiful. He probably helped his draft stock more than any other QB prospect. As I mentioned above, I’m guessing that someone will fall in love with his upside and take him pretty high for a guy who is still so raw. The other thing he has going for himself is that he best fits the current trend of having a read-option QB out of all the QBs in this draft class. That having been said, I don’t think anyone should get SO excited about one good Senior Bowl performance that they start talking about Manuel as a QB that should be drafted to play right away as a rookie. Remember, guys like Charlie Frye and Pat White were Senior Bowl MVPs too. If you look at San Francisco’s handling of Colin Kaepernick, I think a similar timetable would be the earliest Manuel would be ready to play.
The other interesting player to me coming off the game itself is Ezekiel Ansah. Ansah started the week by impressing everyone at the weigh-in with how physically impressive he is. Then he followed that up with several days of very unimpressive practice where the general consensus was that this guy needed a TON of coaching. Then he shows up to the game itself and looks like arguably the most talented player on the field. There is no doubt whatsoever that Ansah has the sheer athleticism to make a major impact. The question is this, is Ansah another Jason Pierre-Paul that just needs some NFL coaching and he’ll turn into one of the better players in the league, or a Vernon Gholston where he never is able to translate his physical prowess into results on the field? I’m leaning towards the Pierre-Paul side, but I think there is enough questions to keep him from going in the top 10 where his physical talents may warrant.
Other players that got multiple praises for their performance in the game include Eric Fisher, Lane Johnson, Mike Gillislee, Sylvester Williams, Purdue DT Kawann Short, Vince Williams, and Robert Alford who played good coverage, racked up 5 tackles, and started the game off with an 88 yard kickoff return that set up the South’s opening TD.
Overall, it was an interesting week for draft die-hards like myself. If you can’t get enough draft talk and info I highly recommend following the guys I listed above as the sources for this post. I don’t agree with 100% of any of their takes, but when you take in all of their opinions combined you can usually get an idea for where prospects stand. Next stop, the combine.
Check out my other draft related posts:
As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!