With just one major bowl game left to display their talents on the field in a game situation, some of the top prospects heading into the NFL Draft will partake in today’s Senior Bowl from Mobile, Alabama.
Our very own Alex Kozora has been down there all week, so I encourage you to check out his posts from each practice throughout the week. However, much like I have all bowl season, I take a look at some of the top prospects to watch in today’s Senior Bowl on the North and South squads.
Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State: Wentz has been the apple of everyone’s eye this week as the 6’5”, 233-pound QB has greatly improved his NFL draft stock over the past week in Mobile.
He has a big arm, is mobile and can extend plays if the pocket breaks down around him. I’d like to see some more anticipatory throws from him that require more timing than anything, but he has everything a team is looking for in a first round QB.
It would not shock me if Wentz ended up going top 5 after a big day at the Senior Bowl and some great workouts at the Combine in February.
Austin Johnson, DT, Penn State: One of my personal favorites in this draft class, Austin Johnson is a terrific athlete along the interior of the defensive line.
At 6’4”, 323 pounds, Johnson moves extremely well for a man of his size inside. He has a very strong lower body that allows him to hold up well against the run, whether he is in a 4-3 or a 3-4 front. Although Johnson is an interior defensive lineman, he is an intriguing pass rusher who uses leverage and power to his benefit. He also can get off the ball quickly, which allows him to catch offensive linemen off guard.
Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana: Recently named the top offensive lineman at the Senior Bowl by NFL scouts, Spriggs is an exceptional athlete for an offensive tackle. He reminds me a lot of Philadelphia Eagles tackle, Lane Johnson.
Standing 6’5”, 301 pounds, He has a thin frame for an offensive lineman, but he makes up for it with great athleticism, a high football IQ and an above-average foundation to hold up in pass protection. The only thing that concerns me is the overall play strength of Spriggs. Getting a chance to get into an NFL weight room and nutrition system could do wonders for him.
Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State: Miller has been the name everyone is talking about at the Senior Bowl outside of Wentz. The former Buckeye star has been incredibly impressive throughout practice this past week, catching nearly everything thrown his way.
Leading up to the Senior Bowl I thought Miller could go in the middle rounds, but I now expect him to go in the second round with a serious outside chance of going late in the first round.
Miller is a quick-twitch athlete that is able to create separation at the snap and can hit the homerun with the ball in his hands in space. He’s a dynamic offensive weapon that teams are now starting to clamor for.
Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech: In any other draft class Vernon Butler is a lock for a first round pick. He’s an athletic interior defensive lineman who uses speed and power to create disruption in the backfield.
In terms of a pass rusher at the next level, Butler is very raw in that area of the game, but that should excite NFL coaching staffs that get a great athlete that is still learning the nuances of the position.
Butler also possesses above-average football instincts and awareness. He should be a starter from day one in an even- or odd-man front.
Sheldon Day, DT, Notre Dame: Much like Butler, Day is a terrific athlete along the interior of the defensive line who has shown an impressive burst off the ball during practice this past week in Mobile.
That said, Day appears to be a defender without a position along the defensive line. He’s a bit undersized for a 3-tech or a 5-tech. However, he’s an above-average football player that just makes plays all over the play.
He makes up for his lack of size with fast, strong hands, great lateral movement and a high motor that is running non-stop.
Kyler Fackrell, EDGE, Utah State: Fackrell is an EDGE defender that has shot up my draft board the more that I’ve watched film on him. He’s nearly impossible to block one-on-one at 6’4”, 244 pounds.
Teams covet size, length and speed off the edge and Fackrell has all of that and more. He’s a great athlete on the edge who happened to play QB and WR in high school before making the switch to defense in college.
Fackrell’s hip explosion and long arms gives him the ability to convert speed-to-power quickly. He’s a raw pass rusher that was asked to drop into space in coverage a lot during his time at Utah State, but in the right scheme he could turn into a dangerous pass rusher.
Noah Spence, EDGE, Eastern Kentucky: Currently my top EDGE defender in this class, Spence should go top ten in the 2016 draft.
Spence has a high motor and incredible endurance off the edge. He has a good burst up the field at the snap, forcing offensive tackles to move quickly to try and cut him off, which allows him to counter quickly and catch tackles off-balance.
He’s made some mistakes off the field, which forced him to leave Ohio State, but he’s a guy that seems to have turned things around. He’ll start from day one in the NFL.
Jarran Reed, DL, Alabama: Despite looking like a nose tackle, Reed is an athletic freak inside that can pass rush well while holding up against the run.
He’s a two-gapping machine that is difficult to move out of the hole due to his powerful lower body, excellent functional strength and ability to get his arms extended at the point of attack.
I’d love to see Reed work in a 3-4 system as a defensive end that will dominate against the run while coming up with a few sacks here and there.
Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama: Arguably the top linebacker in this draft class, Ragland is an old-school style middle linebacker. However, there has been talk that Ragland will make the move to OLB in the NFL due to his above-average ability to rush from a standup position, or with his hand in the dirt, which he did in sub packages this past year for the Crimson Tide.
He packs a powerful punch at the point of attack, so he’ll be very good against the run from day one due to his ability to read and react while being able to flow through blockers.
Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma: I love Shepard’s game. He reminds me a lot of Julian Edelman in the way that he makes tough catches in traffic, always seems to work his way open and isn’t afraid to go over the middle to make big catches late in games.
He’s a smooth route runner that seems to glide all over the field. A big thing I really like with Shepard is his willingness to block. You don’t see that often from a receiver coming out of college, but he seems to love doing it at times.
I want to see how he reacts to press coverage from some long-limbed corners during the Senior Bowl.
Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville: Rankins has blown up in a big way throughout the 2015 season. He’s stayed on that roll during the week of the Senior Bowl, repeatedly showcasing that he’s arguably the best defensive lineman in this draft class.
Rankins has great burst off the line that allows him to use his athleticism and flexibility along the interior of the defensive line. He’s so strong at the point of attack and can throw blockers aside with ease at times, which is astonishing to see on film.
Not only is the former Louisville defensive tackle a great run defender, he’s a terrific pass rusher that has quick feet, great bend and explosion through is hips and a good feel for what the offensive lineman is trying to do to him in pass protection.
I wouldn’t be shocked if Rankins is selected in the top 15.(Ed Note: Rankins is out with a knee injury)