Senior Bowl week is finally in the books. We still have a lot more coverage to come as we really kick off the NFL Draft process, but you know we have to end the week with some final thoughts on the individuals who participated. We’ll break it down on each side, winners and losers from the North and South squads.
These come in no particular order, by the way.
1. Braxton Miller/WR Ohio State: He didn’t have an impressionable performance in the game, suffering one drop and appearing to run an incorrect route that led to another incompletion. But it’s still impossible to ignore the solid string of practices Miller had. He’s explosive at the top of his route, has a decent pair of hands, and just looks comfortable as a relatively new receiver as compared to his veteran counterparts. His personality, laid back and able to crack jokes even with the pressure of this week, is something teams will love. The hype might be a little too strong but there’s no doubt Miller helped answer a lot of questions this week.
2. Tyler Ervin/RB San Jose State: I don’t know if I would’ve put him on this list until he showed well. But I was a fan of him on tape before heading down to Mobile. The weigh-in showed he was bigger than anticipated, 5’9 192, which is still small, but not nearly as so. I admire his toughness to run inside and he’s elusive in the open field, making one defender miss badly after catching a checkdown in Saturday’s game. He’s versatile, capable of returning and catching out of the backfield, and though he’ll never be a great pass protector, he’s fearless and willing to square up. A later Day 3 round pick is nearly certain but there’s value to be had.
3. Josh Garnett/OG Stanford: Garnett wasn’t perfect by any means, and made some more mental errors than maybe I anticipated, but still, an awfully impressive week. The guy can do it all. He’s just as competent pulling as he is in a booth and his nimble feet and ability to work in space shouldn’t be overlooked. He’s a hard worker who probably took more mental reps than anyone in Mobile. Teams will love his personality and come-to-work attitude. That skillset and attitude will attract him to every scheme.
4. Jack Allen/C Michigan State: He isn’t the biggest. Or the most athletic. But whoever takes Jack Allen will get a guy who can play for ten years. He has a low center of gravity with the strength to anchor against bull rushes. He also has above average athleticism to pull and work in space. He dominated one-on-ones all week, don’t think he looked bad on any single rep.
5. Vernon Butler/DT Louisiana Tech: Butler was one of the best players in Saturday’s game, collapsing the pocket with his bull rush. He’s an impressive athlete at well over 300 pounds and was a handful for almost every South OL he faced.
6. Nick Martin/C Notre Dame: In a word, strong. That describes Zack’s little brother. Depot alum Jon Ledyard summed his best trait up well: grip strength. The ability to lock on and keep the defender engaged, not allowing him to shed in either phase. Old school lineman, gotta love it.
7. Matt Ioannidis/DT Temple: Ioannidis wasn’t terrible on tape but I didn’t see much from him as a pass rusher. My view has been warped after this week and he’ll have me rushing back to the tape to watch him closer. Ioannidis is quick off the line and uses his hands well to shed blocks. Unless you’re an old-school one tech, you better be able to get after the quarterback and Ioannidis showed signs of that. What a great way to start the draft process for him, a time when coaches and GMs are getting their first extensive look at prospects.
1. Austin Blythe/C Iowa: There are some very respected minds who think the majority were being too hard on Blythe. That’s probably true, the truth always lies somewhere inbetween, but it’s hard to say Blythe had a great week. He’s undersized and lacks length, letting defenders into his pads and walk him back. He had issues with snaps, notably sailing one five feet over Cody Kessler’s head, and struggled with his angles as a blocker. I haven’t put on his Iowa tape but from what I saw this week, I wouldn’t give him a draftable grade.
2. Willie Beavers/OG Western Michigan: Beavers did get bounced between guard and tackle this week, and that should be recognized as a difficult, probably frustrating task, so he deserves some slack. But he struggled at both spots, and the things I heard from scouts were on the same page. He is a decent athlete but struggles with generating a solid punch and has issues with leverage as a run blocker.
3. Kyle Murphy/OT Stanford: Maybe it was the great South DL making the line look bad but the North offensive line was a weak link. Murphy showed some power but struggled mightily with speed off the edge, simply lacking the lateral quickness to push the rusher up the arc. He is likely to have to kick inside but that isn’t a catch-all to solve a lineman’s problems.
4. Bryce Williams/TE East Carolina: Williams is a down-to-earth, respectful person who was fun to talk to. I want to root for this kid. But bias aside, Williams struggled. He did play a decent game Saturday but I saw the same issues I observed on tape. He’s so stiff out of his breaks and won’t be able to create any separation at the next level. He also dropped several passes and is an average blocker – at best.
IN THE MIDDLE
These are for the players who showed at each end of the spectrum during the week, positively and negatively.
1. Jihad Ward/DE Illinois: Ward has a unique body at 6’6, 300 pounds and is built like a house. He’s athletic and plays with a lot of energy with quick, active hands. But he simply had trouble shedding and is a little uncoordinated when trying to win the edge. He’s a project but on paper, you’re forced to do a double-take. Not many guys look like him.
2. Deiondre’ Hall/CB Northern Iowa: He was one of the stars of the weigh-in with 34 3/4 inch arms, the 4th longest of any player down here. That incredible length allows him to recover when he’s beat and play the pocket. I love the energy and hype he plays with, a clearly confident cornerback who has that swagger the position really requires. But he has to show a better punch off the line and stay in-phase in man coverage.
3. Jason Spriggs/OT Indiana: He certainly looks the part at 6’5/6 with 34 1/8 inch arms with excellent athleticism and the ability to shoot his arms and establish initial contact. He got better throughout the week of practice but regressed during the game, getting outleveraged and walked into the pocket. If he was raw, it’d be one thing. But he was a four year starter and has too many technical flaws. I’m really mixed on how I’m going to view him as a prospect.
1. Harlan Miller/CB Southeast Louisiana: Miller was an even-keeled player who showed up in all three practices and certainly didn’t change my view negatively in the game. He has a thin frame and needs to add muscle to his legs but he’s aggressive player with length and the ability to stay on top of routes. His breakup against Sterling Shepard’s pivot route in one-on-one was one of the most impressive plays I saw all week.
2. Jonathan Jones/CB Auburn: Really, this entire cornerback group was impressive this week. Jones came on strong on Thursday, receiving high marks from Gus Bradley and Shepard. He’s undersized and came in really light, 178 pounds, but finds the football in the air and shows straight-line speed. He’s also got a good head and quickly learned from his mistakes.
3. Dan Vitale/FB Northwestern: The days of the fullback may be limited but Vitale has the makings of a third down back who is going to make a lot of noise in a training camp. He is strong, a patient pass blocker who doesn’t guess, works hard, and in Saturday’s game, showed the ability to lead block and open up a lane. He isn’t a sexy prospect but once he gets on a team, he’ll be difficult to give the pink slip to.
4. Jerell Adams/TE South Carolina: Adams is another player who came on strong in the latter portion of the week. He’s a big body who can block and has a soft pair of hands with a little bit of burst after the catch. It wasn’t a great group of tight ends down here, or in the class in general, and Adams served himself well.
5. Noah Spence/OLB Eastern Kentucky: One of the stars of the week. Don’t think anyone said a bad thing about him from what I read or what I heard down in Mobile. He’s a terrific athlete with an elite first step who showed a ton of counters and ways to win as a pass rusher. Still want to get a better feel for him against the edge but this guy is going in the first round.
6. Javon Hargrave/DT South Carolina State: The last guy added to the roster, Hargrave took advantage of the one day of practice he had. A small school player, he’s got a quick first step that lets him win as a pass rusher and penetrate in the run game, something he showed in the first half of Saturday’s game. Sure looks like one of the top small-school defensive lineman this year.
1. Charone Peake/WR Clemson: Peake is a big body and that will always make some fans fall for him. But he struggles mightily as a route runner, very sluggish in his routes and has a ton of problems separating. I’m guessing the limited route tree ran at Clemson didn’t help either. I don’t care how big you are. The best receiver is an open one. And Peake is going to struggle.
2. Josh Forrest/LB Kentucky: Forrest is a big dude but that’s about the highlight of his game. Just far too stiff and has trouble sinking his hips in coverage. Like I’ve written many times before, every down should be treated like 3rd down with the 11 personnel that is so rampant. No longer can you take a guy off the field on third and long. If you can’t cover, you’re getting exposed. Guaranteed.
3. Spencer Drango/OT Baylor: Drango is known for being nasty and powerful but he’s not going to be able to play at tackle in the NFL. On first glance, he did look better in the game but he struggled to get the proper depth and width on his kickslide, getting beat around the edge, dropping his eyes on his punch and whiffing. He’s a lineman, so I’m not expecting him to look shredded, but he’s got a big gut and an overall sloppy makeup.
4. Le’Raven Clark/OT Texas Tech: We talk about system, spread quarterbacks and wide receivers, but it affects offensive lineman just as much. Clark is as raw as they came: physically impressive with vine-like arms. But his kickslide is too short, likely a product of the quick-throwing Red Raider offense, and he acts like he’s never had to drive block before…probably because he hasn’t. I don’t remember where I saw it, heard it, read it, whatever, but the only way a team drafts him is if an offensive line coach bangs on the table for him. And there won’t be many that do.
IN THE MIDDLE
1. Dadi Nicolas/OLB Virginia Tech: Had it not been for yesterday’s game, he would’ve been a slam-dunk on my losers list. But he showcased the ability to play fast and play hard, two attractive traits to any scout and any system. Still, he’s a one-trick speed guy that is far too light and is really questionable to set the edge against the run. He also has trouble taking direction, getting lined up by coaches and players too often throughout the week, even on the last day, where one coach had to yell for him to line up on the ball. He’s going to wind up being a dart throw, and from a purely Steelers’ perspective, reminds me a little of Howard Jones.
2. Kevin Byard/SS Middle Tennessee State: Consider me a fan but I’m not going to let one performance against Alabama cloud my judgment. There is a lot to like about him; he’s physical, a playmaker in the deep half, a good guy to talk to, and if you’re into that kind of thing, a Steelers’ fan. The issue with his game appears to be a lack of speed and struggles in man coverage. He’s a bit limited, and that’s why he wasn’t on the winners list.
3. Jalen Mills/CB LSU: I was lukewarm on Mills before this week and getting to watch him up close and personal helped shape my feelings. There are some special traits in his game. He’s instinctive who is explosive out of his pedal and plays the short/intermediate game as well as any corner you’re going to find this year. But I do have concerns about his ability to flip his hips and defend things vertically, the main reason why he doesn’t find himself on the winners list.
4. Jay Lee/WR Baylor: The guy looks fast, has great hands, and checks the boxes on size. The triangle numbers are there. But he’s another raw guy who struggles to get proper depth in his routes. He’s going to have to learn that, he can’t round his cuts off forever, and that’s going to be a difficult habit to break. One that will slow him down and not let him play at the speed he’s used to. There’s talent here, make no mistake, but not a guy you should count on producing in Year One.