The Senior Bowl squads will be coached by two current NFL staffs (Jaguars and Titans), adding an extra dimension to their evaluations. For example, the Jaguars also coached the event last year and selected four attendees.
“Evaluating the Evaluator” - Waldman
Before we dive into the top prospects attending the event, let us discuss the conclusions that can be drawn from practice. I have a baseline evaluation for every player attending this week, with the main goal of understanding where each player wins. This is important, since many of these prospects will be utilized in new ways and in a new environment during the Senior Bowl. Therefore, their success might be limited or they might put forth poor performances. These will be written up in practice reports in a negative light, but sometimes without context.
Take Alfonzo Dennard for example. A few years ago, DBs coach Raheem Morris asked his corners to play off coverage during one on one drills, and Dennard was smoked play after play. He was used to pressing and getting physical with receivers at the line of scrimmage, then sticking with them downfield at his own pace. Dennard has improved in off coverage, but it has taken some time. His week of practice was bashed by many. I think it lacked understanding and context.
Practice notes are great and I learn so much from watching prospects this week. Just use your own judgment in some of the conclusions and do not be afraid to ask the author questions regarding certain performances.
Out Of Place
Senior Bowl Executive Director Phil Savage is a smart man. He evaluates so many prospects on his own and is not afraid to ask NFL evaluators who they want to see and in what role. With that said, I believe some prospects will be practicing out of position this week. Or, at the very least, are listed in the wrong spot.
First, let us start with LBs vs EDGE vs DL. There are multiple EDGE players listed as LBs who will likely be uncomfortable if asked to play at the second level. Those names include Zack Hodges of Harvard, Lorenzo Mauldin of Louisville, Lynden Trail of Norfolk State and Geneo Grissom of Oklahoma. Teams usually practice with multiple fronts, but all four could see a limited amount of pass rushing attempts during 1 on 1s. Henry Anderson of Stanford is listed as a DE but mostly played in the 1 and 3 techniques this year, so hopefully he matches up against guards and centers more than tackles. Expect Preston Smith from Miss State and Gabe Wright from Auburn to see time inside and out.
Let’s start with this statement: Alabama’s Blake Sims will show the traits and tools to be considered the No. 3 quarterback in this class. I already place him there, but that means nothing more than being the best of the third day quarterback prospects. He has and uses his functional mobility in the pocket while keep his eyes up to go along with an arm to threaten multiple levels of the field. He has very inconsistent placement, however, as Sims makes some ridiculous window throws along the sideline but the shows poor accuracy to be intercepted within the same series.
The other quarterback I’d take a chance on late in the third day? Nick Marshall from Auburn. Yes, the sixth quarterback invited who comes from Gus Malzahn’s run first, play action second offense. He is the developmental type and many will soon critique his hand size (likely under 9”), the issue is most teams are not patient enough to keep a quarterback on their roster they must wait on.
I do not think ECU’s Shane Carden is an NFL quarterback. Baylor’s Bryce Petty struggles when pressured in the pocket or when throwing to covered receivers. His game takes a significant step back when one of those takes place, and it will in more often in the NFL. Sean Mannion is not a mobile quarterback against disruption and struggles when forced to. Garrett Grayson is another interesting prospect. His offense at Colorado State was a lot of fun to watch. They’d go from four wide to heavy overload running plays on back to back snaps. I’m guessing he is very bright, but physically he is limited. He will absolutely get drafted and wouldn’t be surprised to see him as a long term backup and potential spot start if the situation called for it.
This year’s running back class is very good and made up mostly of non-seniors. Two stand out in this one: Minnesota’s David Cobb and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah. You all know my infatuation with Cobb. I think he is Le’Veon Bell after taxes. Cobb can absolutely picked up the yards blocked for him between the tackles and outside, but he also creates plenty of yards on his own behind the line of scrimmage or at the second level. He shows more comfort as a receiver than many expect.
Abdullah made the most of monstrous holes at Nebraska, creating a lot of yards with speed and missed arm tackles. he also made a handful of big plays as a receiver. Teams will want to know if he works best behind base or slanting fronts and how he runs when lanes aren’t obvious.
Northern Iowa’s David Johnson is inline for a bit of a position switch, as he is potentially the best receiving back in this class. His body control to adjust to catches is receiver-esque. A team projecting Johnson as an H-back might be his best fit.
I am extremely bummed West Virginia’s Kevin White and FSU’s Rashad Greene dropped out. They were the two top receivers at the event. Still, this year’s event has more WR talent than 2014. Like Michigan State’s Tony Lippett. There is nothing flashy about Lippett’s frame or athleticism, however, he is one of the best route runners in this class and wins in contested situations. Connor Cook trusted him there.
Duke’s Jamison Crowder reminds me a lot of John Brown. He wins on the ground with burst in the “small” game but also plays bigger than his listed size. Don’t let his 8.5” hands trouble you, Crowder is very reliable when catching.
ECU’s Justin Hardy seamlessly projects to the slot, and I will be paying attention to how he fares outside. However, that is not where he wins, so expectations should be tempered. He is a role player.
I was not expecting to be as impressed with these tight ends as I am. Notre Dame’s Ben Koyack stands out. In 2013, Koyack was relied on as more of an H-back due to Troy Niklas’ inline ability. Koyack is a much better receiver than Niklas, mostly making his home on short to intermediate routes but occasionally winning downfield. He is a willing and adequate blocker, which is all you need to stay on the field.
Kent State’s Casey Pierce is draftable and looked smooth enough to threaten as a receiver. Nick Boyle from Delaware is a bit of a wildcard. He is built like the traditional tight end: 6’4/270 pounds with monstrous 10” hands.
Tackles recently picked early in the draft have struggled for one reason: a lack of functional strength. The looked to possess outstanding technique and body position, but once knocked out of posture or off balance they lack the strength to recover or accomplish their assignment without a perfect base.
Functional strength is certainly not an issue for LSU’s La’EL Collins or Pittsburgh’s T.J. Clemmings. Both can maul and move their individual assignments off the ball. I would even go as far to say both are athletic enough for zone blocking and have shown enough movement skills to get to the second level. At the same time, these two have produced some terrible snaps. Do not let a few horrible snaps cloud an offensive line evaluation. It is about the total package, not a few low points.
To fill the technical and positioning tier, Colorado State’s Ty Sambrailo is a likely top 50 selection. Two interior prospects to watch are guards Shaq Mason and Arie Kouandjio. You know about the latter due to his brother, but Arie has ridiculous length (34” arms) and massive hands (nearly 11”). He uses both to win, sometimes unconventionally, against his face up opponent. Mason is out of Georgia Tech and is a road grader in the running game, finishing off blocks with true power. His pass protection will be under close watch this week.
Henry Anderson out of Stanford showed plenty of consistency and strength at the point of attack this year. Some will nitpick because he wins in a certain way (straight-line power) but is proficient in that and can reset his momentum because of it. Mississippi State’s Preston Smith reminds me a lot of Malik Jackson in terms of winning inside with quickness and outside with strength.
Washington’s massive NT Danny Shelton will receive a ton of attention this week. There are many outstanding flashes in Shelton’s game, which fits the NFL’s incorporation of rotation up front. Some even consider Shelton a top 10 selection. I am not one of them.
Two more Pac-12 standouts, UCLA’s Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Washington’s Hau’oli Kikaha. Owa has an awesome first snap but limited bend. Kikaha is one of the best at using his hands and length to win on first contact and on counter moves. Both will have important medicals.
It is a bummer Eric Kendricks and Paul Dawson are not attending, both due to injury. They make up two of my top three prospects at the position. Many like Miami’s Denzel Perryman. I do appreciate some of his qualities, namely aggressive angles downhill once seeing open lanes to ball carriers. He is your traditional linebacker who likes to meet lead blockers in the hole.
Cincinnati’s Jeff Luc is intriguing. He might measure in under 6’0” but displayed a lot of success in multiple alignments.
Three corners will get plenty of run in 1 on 1s. First, Miami (OH)’s Quinten Rollins. The four year basketball player has one year of FBS football under his belt. His cross-sport movements skills are obvious at a position which the best display patience and footwork. Add on aggressive ball skills and you have a potential first-round pick.
TCU’s Kevin White is somewhat similar to his teammate last year, Jason Verrett, in terms of playing bigger than his size (5’9/175). He had a very good game against West Virginia’s version of K.W. Finally, Senquez Golson played in a bunch of off coverage at Ole Miss, so his test will be pressing talented receivers at the line.
There is always one big hitting safety who steals the hearts of media evaluators. This year, that will be Jaquiski Tartt. Mark it down. A nickel linebacker role could be in his future.
Top 20 Attending
1. T La’El Collins, LSU
2. T T.J. Clemmings, Pitt
3. EDGE Hau’oli Kikaha, Washington
4. DL Preston Smith, Miss State
5. DL Henry Anderson, Stanford
6. DL Danny Shelton, Washington
7. CB Quinten Rollins, Miami (OH)
8. RB David Cobb, Minnesota
9. EDGE Owamagbe Odighizuwa, UCLA
10. CB Kevin White, TCU
11. WR Tony Lippett, Michigan State
12. WR Jamison Crowder, Duke
13. G Shaq Mason, Georgia Tech
14. G Arie Kouandjio, Alabama
15. T Ty Sambrailo, Colorado St
16. RB Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
17. DL Carl Davis, Iowa
18. CB Senquez Golson, Ole Miss
19. TE Ben Koyack, Notre Dame
20. S Jaquiski Tartt, Samford