Senior Bowl thoughts

January 30th, 2011 | Written by Rob Staton

Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder was named Senior Bowl MVP

I try and view the Senior Bowl with an element of caution. I’d rather use the game and work outs to confirm suspicions rather than base opinions. A good example is Cameron Jordan (DE, California) – who really flashed a good overall skill set during the week and for me solidified a top-15 grade.

Others like Phil Taylor (DT, Baylor) and Vincent Brown (WR, San Diego State) had good weeks but I need to try and find some tape to judge whether it’s a one-off. Simply put – some guys just look good in work outs but in the pressures of a big game can they repeat that performance? Are they motivated to impress when a job is on the line – and will that motivation disappear when the cheque’s are being cashed?

The Senior Bowl itself is little more than an exhibition. It’s also an opportunity for those that haven’t been reporting on or following college football to make snap judgements. Adam Caplan from Fox Sports refers to Christian Ponder as a “strong armed passer”. Anyone who has watched Florida State the last two years will know that Ponder cannot list a strong arm amongst his positives.

He was named the game’s MVP and appears to have impressed enough writers to get a thumbs up. The story is – he’s healthy again. There’s a massive assumption out there that the Seahawks are going back to a Holmgren-esque, purer west coast offense (they almost certainly aren’t) and I’ve seen Ponder linked with Seattle in more than one or two places.

Pass.

I wrote this article in October about Ponder. He isn’t capable of beating teams with his arm – even when he was healthy in 2009. It’s not just the lack of arm strength, it’s his completely erratic performances. You simply never know what you’re going to get from Ponder. He doesn’t have any direction on his deep throws, he’s not as good throwing on the run as some people will have you believe. Clearly he’s an intelligent guy off the field – but that unfortunately doesn’t translate to game day.

I followed up with another article shortly after which explains my opinion on the Seminoles’ QB further. A good Senior Bowl has had little impact on my grade – I wouldn’t draft him in the first four rounds. I have him down as a long term back up at best in the NFL.

I’m also not surprised to see a prospect like Colin Kaepernick (QB, Nevada) getting strong reviews. He should do well in a work-out environment – he’s tall, athletic and has a good arm. His mechanical issues are less exaggerated and he’s a personable guy so will impress the media during interviews.

When I watched Nevada this year I saw Kaepernick as a mid/late round project. He just looked awkward throwing the ball. He’s got everything that Cam Newton has – size, running ability and production. However – there’s a substantial difference in the passing game. Newton is a much more fluid and developed passer and although people want to labour the point that he’ll need to adjust at the next level – he’s made pro throws, he’s made surprisingly good reads against top opponents and mechanically he’s almost there.

Kaepernick has more to do to become a starter. Newton will make throws and put up numbers quickly as long as he can prove to scouts during interviews that he isn’t incapable of handling a pro playbook. Kaepernick will need a lot of work, possibly 2-3 years down the line, before I think he’ll be ready.

I understand the talk about a second round grade. The athleticism will almost certainly interest a few teams and there are enough rosters minus a starting quarterback right now that I could see it happening. It’s a bit of a ‘your team’ situation though. I’d be intrigued to see how he pans out for as a second rounder, I just wouldn’t necessarily want my team to invest anything more than a round four or five flier in Kaepernick.

What about the other quarterbacks? I saw nothing from Greg McElroy or Andy Dalton that made me question my largely negative judgement. Not starter material at the next level and late round picks at best for me. Ricky Stanzi actually performed below expectations which was a concern. Previously I had him down as possibly the 5th best QB prospect this year – that clearly isn’t the case now. Gabbert, Newton, Mallett and Locker have their own island. Kaepernick is on a raft near by. The rest are on a speedboat heading in the opposite direction.

So what about Locker – the ‘big name’ of the Senior Bowl. It was as expected really – erratic decision making, poor accuracy mixed in with some nice plays particularly when he can get out of the pocket. People who came to Mobile prepared to draft Locker in round one won’t change their mind and neither will those who gave him a mid/late round grade.

I still maintain though that somebody will draft the guy in round one – and I’ll be surprised if Mike Shanahan passes.

Leonard Hankerson (WR, Miami) is someone I always ranked in the round 2-3 range and he had a good week overall to cement that grade. He’ll have a moderate ceiling in terms of draft stock because he isn’t an explosive player, but he’s big and makes plays so somebody will see value in that – it could be Seattle.

I’m staying cautious on Vincent Brown (WR, SD State) as mentioned at the start of the post. Everything was a hands catch in work outs and when asked to run certain routes he could do it during practise. Then the game kicked off and he went into his shell a bit. He had some big games in 2010 (particularly against TCU) but also struggled slightly against Missouri and Colorado State. I’m looking for more tape on this guy to make a sufficient judgement.

One prospect I’ve spoken a lot about on this blog is James Carpenter (LT, Alabama). When people have often suggested the limited Gabe Carimi (RT, Wisconsin) as a Seahawks option in round one – I’ve been quick to point to Carpenter as a superior (cheaper) alternative later in the draft. He stood out for the Crimson Tide this year and flew under the radar. Clearly he’s raw but he’s got a great frame that’s capable of adding size. He did a good job in Mobile and that will help his stock. I honestly would have no qualms drafting him in the round 3-4 range. In a few years time that might look like a steal.

Brooks Reed (DE, Arizona) is another I’ve been high on for the Seahawks as a perfect LEO candidate. He’s got a great burst off the snap, he’s strong enough to stand up against the run and although he’s not an elite athlete – he’ll make up for it with consistent effort. While his stock is rising, Jeremy Beal (DE, Oklahoma) seems to be going in the other direction. I like that – because Beal is another LEO I’d happily draft. The position is designed for production and both prospects have the necessary skill set to warrant keeping an eye on.

As with San Diego State’s Brown, I’m also working hard to find Baylor tape. This isn’t just to watch potential defensive line ‘do it all’ prospect Phil Taylor (who could project as a Red Bryant 5-tech, nose tackle or even 3-technique for Seattle), but also guard Danny Watkins. He’s got a limited ceiling due to his age – he’s only a few months younger than me so he’ll turn 27 during his rookie season. He flashed enough this week, however, to interest teams needing a mid-round fix among the interior offensive line.

I can’t talk about senior guards without mentioning Rodney Hudson (OG, Florida State). Since early in 2009 I’ve been a fan and nothing has ever changed that. He played all week at 291lbs and looked every bit the top guard on the field during yesterday’s game. Clearly the size is an issue for any team not running a pure Alex Gibbs zone blocking scheme. Seattle are no longer running that, despite Gibbs’ fleeting role with the team last off season.

Even so – I really believe Hudson is strong enough, wise enough and fully capable of having a long and successful NFL career. Nobody has his level of technique in this draft class. He makes up for a lack of weight by understanding what he needs to do to gain leverage and his second level blocking is a thing of beauty. Whether he plays at center or guard, I think the Seahawks have to consider him.

Two other defensive prospects who impressed me were Pernell McPhee (DE, Miss. State) and Jarvis Jenkins (DT, Clemson). I could see both at five-technique in Seattle. Offensive lineman Derek Sherrod (OT, Miss. State) and Demarcus Love (OT, Arizona) were less impressive. I’m beginning to wonder if Sherrod’s long term future is at right tackle and whether Love needs to kick inside to guard for a man blocking scheme roster.

Allen Bailey (DE, Miami) continues to look the business in pads but flat out disappoints whenever he takes the field.

I’ll finish by admitting I’m still not even close to getting on the Von Miller (OLB, Texas A&M) bandwagon. He got a third round grade from the draft committee last year and I think that’s about right. Aside from the limited value of the 4-3 outside linebacker (where Von Miller will have to play in my opinion) – I just don’t see him being an effective force on running downs and I don’t think you’re going to get 8-10 sacks from him either.

I have to represent draft ‘hype’ in my mocks because it does figure. He’ll be in my next first round mock draft for sure. However – I’m still completely unconvinced he’s worthy of that price.

I’m not the only one who feels that way – as Tony Pauline noted throughout the week from Mobile:

Day One:

“Spent most of the day at SSLB, but was not impressive working his way through all the drills.”

Day Two:

“Not a good day for a guy that’s projected to be a 3-4 OLB.  Was easily controlled by blocks all day and at one point got annihilated by Luke Stocker.  Showed decent skills in coverage when he had to move in reverse. Miller was brought over to the pass rush drills to showcase his talents, which were average at best.”

Day Three:

“Nice athlete; fluid with a nice degree of explosion.  Gets depth on drops.  Moves well in all directions.  Again struggled in pass rush drills.”

Day Four:

“We came into the week thinking Miller was the best 3-4 OLB in April’s draft.  We left the week thinking he could be the first 4-3 OLB drafted.  Miller has the speed and quickness to be used on the weak or strong side and also showed ability in coverage.  Combine will tell the tale for Miller.”

It’s absolutely true that the combine will make or break Von Miller’s rapid rise. If he runs a fast time, someone is going to fall in love with the agility and quicks and take him earlier than they should. If he runs in the 4.6-7 range, people will start to wonder if this is just a smaller prospect who can move around – but isn’t that elite guy who will compensate size for speed.

And for me – the clear #1 senior prospect wasn’t working out in Mobile this week – Jimmy Smith (CB, Colorado).

25 Responses to “Senior Bowl thoughts”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Corey Harmon, Rob Staton. Rob Staton said: Senior Bowl thoughts and impressions – confirming suspicions and avoiding hype: http://seahawksdraftblog.com/?p=1262 […]

  2. Charlie says:

    I know you think both jimmy smith and jake locker will go top 10, which i cant disagree with based on how highly you think of smith, and same for how you think the redskins will look at locker, but if somehow they both fell to 25, i think it would be a real disappointing draft day because we would probably take the qb over the top talent

    • Rob says:

      It’s a really interesting situation you bring up there Charlie. If they were both available – despite rating Smith much higher – I’d find it hard to argue with the team taking a chance on a long term QB. That is the one position this team absolutely has to fill. I think there’s some chance Locker falls… but no chance Smith will – so we may not get the chance to really get into it anyway. There aren’t many prospects in this draft class I think will have better NFL careers than Smith.

  3. Matt says:

    Just read where Adam Caplan says “Locker is firmly behind Kapernick and Ponder.” uhhh what? This kid is just getting unfairly beat up now. Not sure why so many people get off just hating on Locker, but I gotta say it makes their reporting/insight that much less credible.

    Not saying the kid is perfect, but he played just fine in the senior bowl game. What do these “experts” expect?

    • Rob says:

      Locker has positives and negatives – much like most young quarterbacks. I’ve raised some of those negatives, but for me he’s a clear step ahead of Kaepernick and light years ahead of Ponder. To suggest he’s ‘firmly behind’ both in terms of stock is a major over exageration on Caplan’s behalf.

    • plyka says:

      Are you watching Locker at all? The only other player i’ve seen people make more excuses for is Matt Hasselbeck!

      We aren’t talking about not taking a kid in the draft, we are talking about whether he is a first round talent or not. He has not shown anything worthy of a first round talent in my mind outside of his athletic ability. Yes, he can run. Thus far he hasn’t shown an ability to throw at an NFL level or lead a team. What has he done in college that has you so shocked he wouldn’t be given a first round grade by 1 “expert?”

      • Matt says:

        Plyka,

        I think you should work on your reading ability. Did I say anything about Round 1? I am talking about the comparison that he is “firmly behind” Kaepernick and Ponder, which is ludicrous. And yes, thank you for the insults, but I have watched Locker. He is a talented kid that has not put it together yet. The NFL draft is about “projection.” IF (and a big IF), Locker puts it together (which I think he can) he can become a good NFL QB.

        What has he done in college? He has shown incredible ability and frustrating inconsistency. He wouldn’t be considered a draftable prospect if he didn’t show signs of ridiculous ability. This isn’t a Washington fan, simply trying to fool others into thinking something else. There is a debate regarding Locker, that is shared by many that are not even Husky fans. So, I beg you, please do not be so petulant in your rants. This is merely a talking point.

      • Chavac says:

        “or lead a team.”

        Uhh… what?

  4. T-Town says:

    Is there any statistical evidence which shows how much a players performance in the Senior Bowl affects their draft stock?

    I know the combine can play a huge role but where does the Senior Bowl sit?

    • Rob says:

      I’ll take a look – although it’s difficult to track Senior Bowl performance without going off memory. I was never that high on Brandon Graham – fringe first rounder for me. He went much earlier than that largely due to a great Senior Bowl last year. Sedrick Ellis likewise really boosted his stock in Mobile before going to the Saints. I think it’s generally a difficult event to judge because so many seniors don’t attend and also so many underclassmen declare early – guys who perfom are not necessarily doing it against competition that is worthy. You expect the top guys to perform. When you see the little known prospects making plays – it raises some suspicion. All you can do is find tape and try to learn more. But the Senior Bowl can boost a guys stock absolutely and even the Shrine game last year made a name for 2-3 guys – eg John Skelton.

  5. 1sthill says:

    I think you are being a little stubborn with Von Miller’s evaluation. You give him a 3rd round grade! You honestly think there are at least 64 players that are better than Von Miller in this year’s draft? I can’t understand how you don’t see the value in Von Miller’s ability to rush the passer, which he again showed during the Senior Bowl game. You earlier warned “Tape is generally pushed aside while we watch guys work out in unnatural situations” and now you are using these same unnatural situations as “I told you so” material on Von Miller. Von Miller wins defensive player of the game (as a SLB) which you ignore and just focus on a poor showing during practice. Miller showed the ability to jam his man at the line scrimmage during a passing plays. On a goal line situation Miller easily held his ground when Stanford FB Owen Marecic (whom is considered the best FB in the draft) tried to block him. He kept backside contain on an end around and got a tackle for loss on that play, which shows that he plays with discipline as a 4-3 OLB. A couple of plays later he sniffed out the screen and got the initial hit on the RB. He looked extremely fluid in coverage. Miller also got pressure on the QB, leaving the RT down on the ground. At the beginning of the 3rd quarter he got a sack as a SLB. He had a very good game and you downgrade him from a marginal 1st round prospect to a 3rd round prospect based four days of practice (evaluations of players during Senior Bowl practices varied on the people who watched/covered them).

    I’ve also noticed you seem to rely on what the draft committee’s prior year’s evaluation as though a player cannot improve that grade over one year’s time. If Clemson DE Da’quan Bowers would have been given a grade last year by the draft committee it probably would not have been higher than a 3rd round grade, but given a years’ time he has improved. Miller had another dominating season (once he got healthy) after bulking up 15 – 20 lbs from the prior year and going from DE to OLB in a 3-4 defense. I’m not trying to be belligerent, but I strongly disagree with you on this prospect (which I’m sure is not uncommon among scouts in a team’s draft war room). I respect the work and time you put into this; I’m just at the complete opposite spectrum on Von Miller than you are.

    • Rob says:

      1sthill – the draft committee gave Von Miller a third round grade this time last year. I think that was fair judging last year’s class. Is he a third round prospect this year? No – but then I haven’t suggested he should be. I have had him in my first round mocks a few times. He’s a fringe first rounder IMO. My opinion on Miller is based entirely on tape – I don’t see your reference to a contradiction? I quoted an article that suggested he hasn’t been that effective in pass rush drills to show that there isn’t a lone voice here amid many gushing reviews. Has Von Miller been a productive pass rusher in college? Yes. Am I convinced he can translate that to the pro’s? Absolutely not. I didn’t agree with Miller or Ponder winning the MVP awards in the Senior Bowl – but why should I reference it? What relevance does it have? Was he completely useless? No he wasn’t. But then as one of the top rated seniors in this class and considering not every top senior was in Mobile – I expect him to make some plays. I haven’t focussed on negatives deliberately – but you can visit any draft site on the internet right now and read about ‘top five pick’ Von Miller. I don’t agree and I’m voicing my view. Is that stubborn?

      I also do not rely on previous grades from draft committee’s. Do I reference them? Sure – why not? Aaron Curry got a third round grade as a junior, a year later he’s a top five pick. It raised an alarm bell to me that is among the reasons why I was cautious of Curry that early. Such a grade isn’t a be all and end all – I don’t agree with many of the grades and they aren’t defining of a prospects caliber. But I’m going to raise them as points of matter occassionally on the blog. I don’t see it as a ‘reliance’.

      • 1sthill says:

        Rob, I went a little overboard and misunderstood some of your earlier comments, my bad. I tend to get a little to passionate about some prospects, obviously Von Miller being one of them (a few others being Phil Taylor, Jimmy Smith, & Hawaii WR Greg Salas). As much as I like Miller, I still don’t think I would take him in the top-5; I like Aldo Smith (incredibly high celling) better as a rush LB in a 3-4 defense or DE in a 4-3.

        • Rob says:

          No problem 1stHill.. I understand that passion and feel the same way a lot of the time. Sometimes when I don’t praise a prospect that much, it can sound like I’m down on them. I like Miller, I just think he’s being over rated at the Senior Bowl if he really is now considered a top-5 pick.

  6. Ed says:

    Rob,

    Saw a mock with (locker/mallet/newton/gabbert/harris) all gone and the hawks taking jimmy smith. Your wish still could come true

    • Rob says:

      He’s still flying under the radar – but as we’ve seen with McShay this week he’s starting to get noticed. I see almost no chance at all Smith lasts until #25 unfortunately.

  7. kevin mullen says:

    Rob,

    Your thoughts on McElroy and Ponder? Both seem to have below average to average arm strength, both probably geared towards game managers. Who would you rather draft? Also, what are the similarities of both compared to Colt McCoy from last year?

    Also, word is that McElroy broke his throwing thumb? Shouldn’t hurt his stock too much, right?

    • Matt says:

      I honestly don’t think McElroy was going before the 6th anyways. I really like him, but he is just so physically incapable of anything more than a slant in the NFL. in all fairness, besides Kaepernick and Locker, none of the QBs looked physically capable of being able to be a starter in the NFL. Arm strength isn’t everything, but you have a little something. Ponder, Dalton, and McElroy threw some of the ugliest deep balls I’ve seen.

    • Rob says:

      I don’t think either can become starters in the NFL, Kevin. Both below average arm strength, not enough accuracy to make up for it. McElroy frustates me a lot – very often at Alabama he’d make one read and throw without checking any other option. The number of times Julio Jones was open and not even considered. Ponder is hugely erratic and struggles to even throw a WR screen with any velocity. McCoy couldn’t throw further than 5-10 yards with any accuracy, made one read (Shipley) and if he wasn’t open, often tried to run. I wouldn’t have drafted McCoy last year and I have the same view on Ponder and McElroy. I can’t see any of them starting and if I’m drafting a prospect – I have to believe they can eventually start even if they’re a long term project.

  8. Matt Q. says:

    Do you really think that Phil Taylor will fit into a 4-3??? I know hes athletic, but 337lbs is for a nose tackle in a 3-4 usally. I love the pick i just wonder how it would work out

    • Rob says:

      4-3 teams use a bigger one technique, so I think he’d fit generally. The NT is more important in the 3-4 which is why you look at these guys for that scheme predominantly. Seattle runs a hybrid defense that isn’t really a 4-3 and does use a NT and it could hold the same level of importance as the 3-4 teams. Besides which, Taylor could actually work out at the Red Bryant position too and I wouldn’t rule out snaps in the three technique in short yardage situations. He’s mobile to fill possibly three positions for Seattle.

  9. I think Christian Ponder is going to surpass some expectations in the NFL, probably enough to deserve a mid-to-late-round flier. But that doesn’t mean I want Seattle drafting him. Those early FSU games are hard for me to shake.

    Of defensive ends, must we consider a Red Bryant replacement in the top rounds? We still have Bryant himself, after all. I would much rather wait until the lower rounds, where Bryant himself was drafted. Additionally, I’m not sold on the importance of the position. Bryant may well be unique among NFL players to the point of being irreplaceable, even for a 3-4 end. Few players share his eerie combination of size and quickness, and that may turn out to be what validates the position.

    What round do you see Brooks Reed going in, Rob?

    • Rob says:

      Right now I think Reed is a solid late second, early third round pick. He’s tough to project because size wise he’s quite small at 6’2 and about 255lbs. He’s actually a better fit at LEO for me than he is 3-4 OLB. He’s one of those guys that might go surpisingly early, or he might offer really good value in the middle rounds. He has a nice repetoire, he’s got that relentless motor. Technique wise he’s very efficient and he can move even if he’s not elite quick. Can he take on responsibilities in coverage well enough to satisfy 3-4 teams? That’s something he needs to prove. He’s one to watch for Seattle though.

  10. Michael says:

    Phil Taylor… the dancing bear. I would loooove said pick!