NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
Last year Eric Fisher flew down to Mobile, Alabama to compete in the Senior Bowl as a likely first round selection. By the time he boarded his plane to fly home he was a surefire top ten pick and ultimately ended up as the #1 selection in the 2013 NFL Draft.
The Senior Bowl is the ultimate showcase for NFL Draft prospects to showcase their ability against the best competition in fully padded, max effort drills. Each year players dramatically improve their draft stock, rise up draft boards, and make themselves money.
Conversely, other players get exposed, overmatched, or outplayed in front of the entire NFL. It’s sure to happen again this year when the 2014 Senior Bowl kicks off next week.
In this Senior Bowl preview I break down the positional groupings, rank the prospects, and make some predictions as to who I believe will leave Mobile a star, like Eric Fisher did last year.
Rankings (NFL Potential/Draftability)
1. Derek Carr, Fresno State
2. Tajh Boyd, Clemson
3. David Fales, San Jose State
4. Stephen Morris, Miami (FL)
5. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
Most to Gain: Stephen Morris, Miami(FL)
When Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray went down with injury it opened up two spots on the roster and one of them went to Morris. After coming into the season with plenty of pro buzz, he saw it fizzle with poor decision making, turnovers, and little improvement. Morris has a tremendous opportunity to impress scouts if he can show improved throwing mechanics and accuracy.
Most to Lose: Derek Carr, Freno State
As of right now Derek Carr is generating serious first round attention and with so many teams at the top of the draft needing a QB, his name gets mentioned. Carr has the opportunity to steal the show in Mobile and continue his rise up draft boards. However, a poor week throwing the football will put a halt to some of that top 10 talk.
Overrated: Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
I’ve watched Thomas play four seasons in the ACC and I still see him make the same mistakes as a Senior that he did as a Freshman. Thomas’ pro potential is predicated on his great size and strong throwing arm, but when it comes to accurate throws and quick decisions, it all comes apart. Thomas could be in for a rough week if he can’t harness his arm and add touch to his throws.
Underrated: David Fales, San Jose St.
I’ve never been a huge David Fales supporter, but he’s getting overlooked in this crowd. Fales doesn’t have an elite arm and plays in a system that doesn’t translate well to the NFL. Fales is a smart kid that should impress in interviews with scouts.
Who Performs Best in Mobile: Derek Carr, Fresno State
All of the stars are aligned for Carr next week. Mettenberger, Murray, and hometown hero A.J. McCarron are out of the game, which means all eyes will be on Derek Carr. He’s by far the most talented passer of this group and should shine in passing drills with his ability to make accurate throws all over the field. The Senior Bowl drills are really geared towards his game.
Most Likely to be a Patriot: David Fales, San Jose St.
I don’t see the Patriots using a pick before the 6th/7th round on a QB. Fales is most likely a later round guy and has the smarts to fit the Patriots organization. However, his arm and system experience aren’t an ideal fit. I feel comfortable in predicting none of these guys will be Patriots, but if I were guessing it’d be Fales.
1) Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
2) Charles Sims, West Virginia
3) Marion Grice, Arizona State
4) Antonio Andrews, Western Kentucky
5) James White, Wisconsin
6) Jerick McKinnon, Georgia Southern
Most to Gain: Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
Hyde can end up becoming the star of Senior Bowl week. He will enter the game as the #1 RB on my draft board and one of the most NFL ready runners in the entire draft. For Hyde, the Senior Bowl will be important not only for his on the field efforts, but also his team interviews.
He needs to answer questions about his past indiscretions and prove to teams he can be trusted. On the field, Hyde needs to show he can impress in pass protection drills and catch the ball consistently. If he does these things he has a chance to be the top RB selected in May.
Overrated: James White, Wisconsin
White never took the lead role at Wisconsin and his build worries me heading to the NFL. White has impressive burst and speed, but lacks power, and probably never develops into a lead back. On top of that White doesn’t catch the ball regularly out of the backfield, which is something a back of his size has to showcase to be successful at the next level.
Underrated: Antonio Andrews, Western Kentucky
Not many people have seen Andrews play since he is relegated to the Sun Belt Conference, but he’s been one of the best All-Purpose backs in college football the last three seasons. Andrews is a do-everything workhorse that catches the ball consistently and even returns kicks. Andrews has the frame and game to adapt to the new style of play in the NFL. With an impressive performance in Mobile, Andrews could hear his name called in the middle rounds.
Best Performance in Mobile: Charles Sims, West Virginia
Sims should stand out in Mobile because of his vast experience as a pass catcher. With practices geared towards 1 on 1 matchups, Sims’ polish as a route runner and receiver out of the backfield will turn heads in Mobile. Aside from that, Sims doesn’t get enough love for his ability to be an effective ball-carrier. He will showcase an impressive cutback running style which utilizes his vision and burst through the first level this week.
Most likely to be a Patriot: Charles Sims, West Virginia
Sims ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and move around the formation should interest the Patriots. Sims does have some flaws to his game, such as his upright running style and lack of tackling breaking power. Based on his versatility and pass catching skills, both something the Patriots need, he fits best out of the other backs.
1) Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
2) Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
3) Robert Herron, Wyoming
4) Mike Davis, Texas
5) Tevin Reese, Baylor
6) Josh Huff, Oregon
7) Michael Campanaro, Wake Forest
8) Ryan Grant, Tulane
9) Jeff Janis, Saginaw Valley St.
10) Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma
11) Kevin Norwood, Alabama
12) Cody Hoffman, BYU
13) Kain Colter, Northwestern
14) Shaq Evans, UCLA
Most to Gain: Jeff Janis, Saginaw Valley State
Well built, athletic Division II Wide Receiver has a chance to impress scouts by showing he can win against the top corners in the nation. Janis is likely to be on the North Squad, meaning he will get matched up with the likes of Darqueze Dennard and Kyle Fuller in practices. Janis needs to show he can hold up against more physical, athletic cornerbacks and show the same level of performance as he did vs. substandard players. The Senior Bowl is even more important for small school prospects like Janis.
Overrated: Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma
Saunders is a dynamic slot receiver and playmaker on the college football field, however Saunders weighs less than 160 pounds. As good as he’s been at Oklahoma, I don’t see his game translating to the NFL and I don’t see teams going out of their way to draft this kid. Saunders has to shine in the one on one drills and more importantly the “get off” drills to prove he’s more physical than his size dictates.
Underrated: Josh Huff, Oregon and Kevin Norwood, Alabama
Huff and Norwood have been underrated their entire career. Despite playing with more talented and physically gifted players, both these guys just make big plays. Norwood became A.J. McCarron’s most trusted WR in key situations and Josh Huff seemingly made a big play in every Oregon game. Huff doesn’t have the size that Norwood has, but he’s much faster, possesses impressive ball skills and body control.
Best Performance in Mobile: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
The Senior WR class and this Senior Bowl corps is not very good, Matthews is far and away the best pro prospect of the bunch. Matthews has been productive during his four seasons in the SEC, possesses a physical build, strong hands, and can run solid routes. He recently asked for tape of the Senior Bowl CBs to study before the week. Matthews isn’t the fastest or most sudden receiver, but will use his smarts and ball skills to consistently get open in Mobile.
Most Likely to be a Patriots: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
Not sure the Patriots target a wide receiver in the top two rounds this year, but if they do Matthews will be on their radar. An experienced, smart, cerebral route runner, that loves to compete fits all the Patriots criteria. Matthews wouldn’t add speed to the perimeter, but compared to the other WR at the Senior Bowl, he’s the best fit.
1. CJ Fiedorowicz, Iowa
2. Arthur Lynch, Georgia
3. Jacob Pedersen, Wisconsin
4. Marcel Jensen, Fresno State
Most to Gain: Arthur Lynch, Georgia
A lot of the eyes will be on Fiedorowicz, who’s the best prospect of the bunch, but Lynch can improve his draft stock the most by displaying downfield receiving ability and the ability to inline block. If Lynch shines in one one one drills, he can move himself firmly into that second tier of TE prospects. None of these guys are catching the top tier.
Underrated: Jacob Pedersen, Wisconsin
Wisconsin has a track record of sending tight ends in Pedersen’s mold to the NFL. Pedersen doesn’t have the upper-body strength or size to hold up as a blocker in the NFL, but he is an athletic move tight end with good ball skills and strong hands. Pedersen’s receiving skills should keep him in the NFL just like Garrett Graham.
Best Performance in Mobile: CJ Fiedorowicz, Iowa
As soon as Fiedorowicz gets out of that Iowa offense, he’s going to be unleashed. Fiedorowicz is the best blocker on either roster and possesses the type of size and catch radius to beat one on one coverage in practice. It’s widely regarded that Fiedorowicz will have a long NFL career as a traditional inline TE and he will start proving he’s more than just that in Mobile.
Most Likely to be a Patriot: CJ Fiedorowicz, Iowa
This one is easy. The Patriots have a huge need at TE and I believe they will add two TE via the draft, one receiving TE and one blocking TE. Fiedorowicz has so many Patriots connections it’s tough to list them all. He played at Iowa where he was coached by Kirk Ferentz, a Belichick disciple, he was also coached by Brian Ferentz who is the Patriots former TE coach, oh and just for good measure he was coached by DJ Hernandez (brother of Aaron). When you combine the positional need with connections, Fiedorowicz makes a lot of sense for New England.
1) Zack Martin, Notre Dame
2) Jack Mewhort, Ohio State
3) Morgan Moses, Virginia
4) Ju’Wuan James, Tennessee
5) Seantrel Henderson, Miami(FL)
6) Joel Bitonio, Nevada
7) Billy Turner, North Dakota State
8) Brandon Thomas (OG), Clemson
9) Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt
10) Michael Schofield, Michigan
Most to Gain: Seantrel Henderson, Miami(FL)
Henderson has a chance to come away from the Senior Bowl as the big winner. Without a doubt one of the most physically gifted players at any positions, but hasn’t played up to his potential due to poor effort, intensity, and dedication. If Henderson brings his “A game” to Mobile, he will dominate 1 on 1 drills and start to elevate his draft stock to the point where it could have been all along. Conversely, a lackluster performance, and half-ass effort, will reassure all the scouts that have major character questions about him already.
Overrated: Seantrel Henderson, Miami(FL)
All of the reason I listed above are the exact reason Henderson has been a bit overrated. I am still a believer in his potential and if the right coach taps into his skill-set he could be the steal of the draft. You just never know what you’re going to get from Henderson and that’s a big problem.
Underrated: Ju’Wuan James, Tennessee
Overshadowed by his teammate Antonio Richardson, who could end up going in the first round, James has played at a very high level while playing the opposite tackle. James gets off the ball well and shows the quickness to mirror outside rushers or get onto the second level. James is being overlooked in this game as well with most of the focus on Martin, Moses, and Henderson.
Best Performance in Mobile: Billy Turner, North Dakota State
Turner plays with a nastiness and edge that NFL coaches love. His tenacity and toughness will serve him well in one on one drills. A lot of people don’t know Billy Turner right now, but by the end of next week, more people will be talking about this kid and his nasty finishing ability.
Most Likely to Be a Patriot: Zack Martin, Notre Dame
I’ve been saying it all season, the Patriots need to upgrade the interior of their offensive line. Martin is listed as an OT, but many around the NFL see him playing OG immediately in the NFL. Martin is a four year starter at Notre Dame and is the type of experienced, versatile, and smart offensive lineman that the Patriots look for early in the draft. If Martin shines in Mobile he can move himself into the late round mix.
1. Cyril Richardson, Baylor
2. Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
3. Kadeem Edwards, Tennessee State
4. Jon Halapio, Florida
5. Brandon Linder, Miami(FL)
Most to Gain: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
Jackson has been a bit overlooked this year, because he’s hidden a way at an SEC school that doesn’t receive much national attention. Jackson is a strong, physical run blocker that creates good movement off the ball. Quick enough to pull, get to the second level, and strong enough to punish when he get there. Jackson can solidify his day two stock with a strong performance.
All of these guys are solid NFL prospects with varying degrees of skill-sets and talents.
Underrated:Jon Halapio, Florida
A four year starter in the best conference, has been battle tested against the best players. Halapio has superhuman strength and knows how to use his strength to punish his man. Halapio isn’t the quickest or most athletic lineman and can struggle against quicker defenders. Even though Halapio can be exposed at the next level when asked to make reach blocks or get to the second level to cut off backside pursuit, I believe his strength and power is an asset that will play well at the next level.
Best Performance in Mobile: Cyril Richardson, Baylor
Richardson may put on a performance like Larry Warford last year. Warford used his strength and massive size to stonewall all comers and display to the NFL that he was an elite prospect. Richardson combines his power/strength with good enough athleticism that he should dominate in one on one rush drills. Richardson is a tough kid, that carries his weight well, and displays a very strong lower half to anchor vs. power pass rushers.
Most Likely to be a Patriot:Brandon Linder, Miami(FL)
Unless the Patriots opt to pick a OG in the first two rounds, in which case they will opt for someone like Martin or Xavier Su’a-Filo, then I believe they wait until late in the draft to pick an OG. The Patriots have had plenty of success signing interior OL after the draft and developing them on the practice squad. Linder has played primarily OG, but took reps at OT, OC and even TE early in his career. His size for the position and experience are typical things the Patriots look for from OG selections.
1. Travis Swanson, Arkansas
2. Weston Richburg, Colorado State
3. Tyler Larsen, Utah State
Most to Gain: Weston Richburg, Colorado State
Travis Swanson is widely considered the top center in this year’s draft. Richburg can challenge him for the top spot with a standout performance in Mobile.
Underrated: Weston Richburg, Colorado State
Not many people have seen Richburg play, but he is a reliable, steady run blocker, that paved the way for a dominate Colorado State running attack.
Overrated: Travis Swanson, Arkansas
Swanson is a bit overrated due to the fact that everyone expects him to the the top center picked, but I believe there is competition for the spot.
Best Performance in Mobile: Weston Richburg, Colorado State
Most Likely to be a Patriot: Travis Swanson, Arkansas
The Patriots could be looking for a center in the middle rounds of the draft. Swanson has vast experience starting in the SEC, was a team captain for two seasons, and has the best size of any of the centers mentioned.