Senior Bowl preview
It’s Senior Bowl week and thanks to the efforts of former Cleveland GM Phil Savage, it’s going to be a good one this year. Savage has led a concerted effort to improve the event, allowing fourth-year juniors to attend and working on getting as many of the top eligible players to Mobile. There are always high-profile absentees, but credit to Savage that many big names will be on show.
So who won’t be there? Montee Ball (RB, Wisconsin), Star Lotulelei (DT, Utah), Geno Smith (QB, West Virginia), Chance Warmack (G, Alabama) and Jonathan Cooper (G, North Carolina) will not attend. Manti Te’o also pulled out, something he’ll probably live to regret given recent events. Matt Barkley (QB, USC) will also continue his rehab from a shoulder injury and won’t compete.
Apart from that it’s a strong year for the Senior Bowl, particularly on the north roster. Work outs begin at 1:30pm tomorrow. I wanted to highlight some of the key players to monitor from a Seahawks perspective…
Alex Okafor (DE, Texas) and Margus Hunt (DE, SMU) could be book-end pass rushers for the north roster. They’ll split time with John Simon (DE, Ohio State).
Okafor has ‘LEO’ size but I’m sceptical he has enough burst and pure speed to interest the Seahawks. His first step can be a little sluggish at times. Having said that, he ended the year with a very strong display against Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl and for a 260lbs defensive end, he plays the run well. Hand use is key for Okafor and he’s shown consistently good technique.
Hunt is a physical freak and one of the more unique players to enter the league in recent years. He needs to prove to scouts he has natural football skills and a feel for the game. He can’t appear lost out there, either in the workouts or the game itself. If he finds a comfort zone early in the week, he’ll have the opportunity to really boost his stock in Mobile. I have a feeling he’s going to have a big game at the weekend.
Simon (DE, Ohio State) is vastly underrated, a relentless pass rusher and two-time captain for the Buckeye’s. Whoever drafts Simon will not be disappointed. He’s undersized, but he makes up for it in so many ways. He’s likely to see some time at linebacker as well as end given his side, but I like him better playing at the line of scrimmage.
Sylvester Williams (DT, North Carolina) and Kawann Short (DT, Purdue) are also part of the north roster. Imagine a line with Okafor and Hunt at defensive end and Williams and Short playing inside. Williams is already receiving interest from the Seahawks per Shane Hallam:
Seahawks scout chatting with DT Sylvester Williams
— Shane P. Hallam (@ShanePHallam) January 20, 2013
I’m going to do a bigger piece on Williams this week. He’s the most likely option for the Seahawks at #25 if they want to draft an interior pass rusher. He struggled with an ankle injury for most of the 2012 season so it’ll be good to see a healthy Williams in Mobile. Short blows hot and cold on the field — occasionally flashing brilliance as a penetrating force, then disappearing for long stretches. He has round one upside, but he could fall into round two or even three because of his inconsistent nature.
The north roster is also loaded at linebacker, with several potential Seahawks. Arthur Brown (LB, Kansas State), Kevin Reddick (LB, North Carolina) and Khaseem Greene (LB, Rutgers) are players to monitor, although Brown is probably the only potential first round pick from that trio.
There are four defensive backs I’ll be keeping an eye on. Jordan Poyer (CB, Oregon State) is a 5-11 corner with a competitive nature and good cover skills. Blidi Wreh-Wilson (CB, Connecticut) stands even taller at 6-1 and fits the criteria for a Seahawks corner. Phillip Thomas (S, Fresno State) can be a big time playmaker but has a boom or bust nature. Will Davis (CB, Utah State) could be a fast riser after a very productive 2012 season.
On offense — Eric Fisher (T, Central Michigan) has an opportunity to solidify his position as the #2 left tackle in the draft behind Luke Joeckel. Kyle Long (T, Oregon) is going to get a ton of attention this week and could be a quick riser due to his bloodlines. Brian Winters (G, Kent State) is another player to keep an eye on while Justin Pugh (T, Syracuse) is also expected to attend under the new rules that allow fourth year juniors to participate. Pugh is a character and he has good size — he could kick start a run on the second tier tackles in round two.
At the skill positions, Markus Wheaton (WR, Oregon State) is a terrific player and could be given the chance to show off his extreme speed this week. It’ll be interesting to see how Denard Robinson (QB, Michigan) works out at running back and receiver. Kenjon Barner (RB, Oregon) and Jonathan Franklin (RB, UCLA) both had strong seasons in the PAC-12.
The three quarterbacks on the north roster are Mike Glennon (QB, NC State), Ryan Nassib (QB, Syracuse) and Zac Dysert (QB, Miami OH). I had a chance to watch some NC State tape this week and Glennon deserves some of his recent hype. He didn’t have a great Bowl game, but when he’s given time in the pocket he looks like an accomplished passer. He could be a first or second round pick. I’m not a fan of Nassib’s personally, but he has the kind of physical tools that’ll fool somebody to force a reach. I don’t like his ‘one-speed’ fast ball or accuracy and feel in the pocket. Dysert is a trendy late round option but I think he’s a limited player unlikely to have much impact at the next level.
There isn’t quite as much depth on the south roster. I’m most excited about the south’s group of defensive backs. Sanders Commings (CB, Georgia) has Seahawks written all over him — he’s 6-2 and 216lbs. He plays as physically as you’d expect for his size. He was probably Georgia’s stand-out performer against Alabama in the SEC Championship. Keep his name on your radar. Bacarri Rambo (S, Georgia) is way too talented to receive such little attention during the 2012 season. Part of that is due to minor off-field issues. He’ll be a starter in the NFL. Shawn Williams (S, Georgia) is the other safety at Georgia. He’ll be a second or third round pick.
Ezekiel Ansah (DE, BYU) is one of the more intriguing players to monitor. I’ve watched a fair bit of BYU tape now and you can just tell looking at his frame that he has incredible upside. Physically, he looks a lot like Justin Tuck. However, he’s incredibly raw as a pass rusher. I can’t knock his run defense — he shows a good punch at the point of attack, he’s difficult to move out of position. Yet he doesn’t always flash a great edge rush. Is it a technique issue? Can he tap into the physical potential? I like the way he’s moved around (rushes from the interior as well as the edge), but this is a good opportunity to flash his athleticism and get teams salivating over honing his technique.
Ansah is likely to line up alongside Jonathan Jenkins (DT, Georgia) and Malliciah Goodman (DE, Clemson). Jenkins is a pure nose tackle with limited pass rushing skills, while Goodman showed enough against LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl to warrant a watchful eye during the post-season.
Among the linebackers are two players I intend to look closer at over the next few weeks — Zaviar Gooden (LB, Missouri) and Nico Johnson (LB, Alabama). The big name is Chase Thomas (LB, Stanford) — a potential second or third round pick.
There’s some talent among the offensive lineman. Lane Johnson (T, Oklahoma) is a pure technician and could be the third left tackle off the board in April. Dallas Thomas (G, Tennessee) had a terrific year for the Vols and can play tackle or guard. Oday Aboushi (T, Virginia) has starter potential at left tackle and Larry Warford (G, Kentucky) is a massive 345lbs guard with third round potential. It’s a nice group of tight ends too — Mychal Rivera (TE, Tennessee) and Michael Williams (TE, Alabama) will both make a roster in 2013.
Terrance Williams (WR, Baylor) is the biggest name at receiver. He suited the system at Baylor and I want to see if his speed translates to a foreign environment. There’s no doubting he has talent — and he was among the most productive receivers in college football this season. However, I’m a little concerned he’s a one-trick pony. His effort was sometimes inconsistent too and he won’t be able to get by at the next level running mostly deep routes. Cobi Hamilton (WR, Arkansas), Tavarres King (WR, Georgia), Quinton Patten (WR, Louisiana Tech) and Ryan Swope (WR, Texas A&M) all have mid-round value. Swope is going to make a fine slot receiver.
I like two of the running backs on the north roster — Andre Ellington (RB, Clemson) is a do-it-all type and should be a good receiver out of the backfield, while Stepfan Taylor (RB, Stanford) moves the chains and deserves a lot more hype. I’d draft either in round three.
It’s a big week for the quarterbacks. Fair play to Tyler Wilson (QB, Arkansas) for attending, likewise Landry Jones (QB, Oklahoma) and E.J. Manuel (QB, Florida State). Wilson is a mobile gun-slinger with a vocabulary superior to any of the other eligible quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl. Say what you want about Bobby Petrino, but his offensive schemes demands a lot of the quarterbacks. There’s not a great deal between Matt Barkley and Wilson to be the #1 quarterback in this class in my view. The hype for Jones is long gone, but don’t forget we’re only a year removed from many people touting him as a first round pick. He’ll be lucky to go in round three. Manuel is more of an athlete than a passer and might struggle to have much impact at the next level.
Shrine game notes (defense)
Many thanks to guest blogger Morgan Goulet for compiling this report on the Shrine game over the weekend. This piece covers the defense, he’ll have a report on the offense to come.
The mouthy and athletic Keith Pough tweaked an ankle early on, but displayed some impressive athleticism to thwart a cutback run in the third quarter, stopping on a dime, changing direction and making a diving wrap-up of the ballcarrier. With Leroy Hill’s status uncertain as the highest-paid LB on the Seahawks roster, WLB could be a position of interest come draft day and it just so happens that that’s where Pough has been spending his Saturdays.
A.J. Klein and Sio Moore also represented for the linebacker class but are two very different types of players. Klein brings his lunch pail to the field, Moore brings an energy drink. Klein was sticking his nose in the pile just about every time he was on the field, while Moore was a bit more careful in deciding where to throw his 229-lb frame. Once he made the decision, though, he wastes no time in getting there. Moore looks to have speed to burn and showed it by picking good angles and flying to the ball-carrier, especially on a nice backside loop where he traversed from one sideline to the other to make the stop. Klein looks to have a little Heath Farwell in him.
The defensive line was the story today, at least, the good part of the story. Devin Taylor stepped out of the shadow of Jadevon Clowney and walked right into the bank. How you hide 6’7″ and 270 lbs is beyond me but South Carolina found a way to do it. Taylor turned opposing offensive linemen into cardboard cut-outs today, and made Kansas guard Tanner Hawkinson his personal blocking sled. Stepping away from the carnage he left on the field for a moment to do a sideline interview, Taylor said the difference today versus the regular season was he didn’t have to play within the SC defensive scheme. He could improvise. See ball, get ball. Taylor had two sacks and two forced fumbles and likely ended the careers of several aspiring blockers. He did lose contain once, in the first quarter, but Taylor is all upside and this was a nice coming out party for him. He went on to say that he wasn’t going to get carried away, that he knows during a game to maintain a level head and not get too high, nor too low. Who does that sound like?
Maryland must have a really good defensive line coach as both A.J. Jenkins and Joe Vellano showed off fine technique to beat their man. Maryland transitioned from a 4-3 to a 3-4 this year, with the 315-lb Jenkins anchoring the line at nose and Vellano shifting from his 3-technique spot, where he amassed 94 tackles as a junior, to end. Vellano has bulked up to 300lbs from the 280 or so he played at last year. It looks like it’s robbed him of some of his short quickness but he’s still tenacious in pursuit and is a sure tackler. He also does some impressive hand-fighting and even uses a spin move (to varying success). In the first quarter lined up over West C James Ferentz and chucked him so violently and with such suddenness that Ferentz stood up as if shocked – and Vellano just ran right by him into the backfield. I’m interested to see where they go in the spring as they have tools to work with; Francis with his apparent strength and good first step and Vellano with solid technique and unstoppable motor.
Also getting some push into the backfield was Princeton DE Mike Catapano. I didn’t see a lot of moves but he uses quickness and leverage to his advantage and even reached up to get his mitts on a pass at least once. He’s 6’4, 270, and should find a place to play on Sundays next year. I kept my eye out for David Bass, the Missouri Western State DE that was the talk of the town leading up to the game, but I’ve scanned and re-scanned my notes and the only thing I have is “91 – ?”. It’s a good thing the money is made during practice, I guess.
A few performances stood out for the defensive backs. Making a positive impression was Notre Dame safety Zeke Motta. Motta has good size at 6’3 and 215lbs, but also doesn’t get lost in space and is a sure tackler. He’ll make a solid strong safety at the next level. There were five total interceptions in this game but I’m loathe to actually congratulate anyone on any of them, as most were gifts. The Seattle secondary was mentioned a lot but the seemingly analogous players didn’t really show up. Richard Sherman’s pod-person Aaron Hester out of UCLA used his 6’3, 195 lb to miss tackles and draw two PI calls. Kam Chancellor clone Cooper Taylor lacks the assassin’s creed that Kam brings and the re-digitized Earl Thomas suffered a failure to launch as Syracuse’s Shamarko Thomas is missing from my notebook. I don’t even know if he ever hit the field. Two corners from big programs did flash at times today: Miami’s Brandon McGhee and Georgia’s Branden Smith. Smith misplayed a pass that went for a touchdown early but had the stick-to-it-iveness to come back later and get a pick off of Alex Carder, who had the distinction of almost looking like a QB today, and not just Ronnie ‘Sunshine’ Bass.
Adam Schefter — Barkley will be the top quarterback
For the last few weeks on this blog, we’ve touted Matt Barkley as a potential first overall pick despite a lot of talk to the contrary. So it makes perfect sense that the week we move Barkley into the late first in the latest mock draft, ESPN’s Adam Schefter suggests Barkley will be the top quarterback drafted. You’ll have seen a lot of projections this week on NFL.com and from Mel Kiper with no quarterbacks in round one. That won’t happen. Take it to the bank. We could see multiple quarterbacks taken in the top-20. The position is too important. And today’s information from Schefter suggests Barkley will be the guy to go earliest.
Kansas City and Andy Reid make a lot of sense for Barkley. It’s just whether or not the Chiefs see enough value to address their one defining need with the #1 pick. But if they intend to wait until round two, they might find that most of the top QB’s are already off the board.