Super Bowl XLIII is still a week away, but the 2009 season has already started in the eyes of NFL coaches, scouts and executives. The Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., where the nation’s best seniors flaunt their skills in hopes of improving their standing, is the first step toward the NFL Draft. Some saw the mercury rise while others felt things get a bit nippy. Here is CFN’s rundown of those who were hot and those who were not at the 60th annual Senior Bowl.
Who’s Hot …
Everyone already knew Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing were first-round picks, their play this week down in Mobile solidified those thoughts, but that “other” USC ‘backer — Clay Matthews — also made heads snap back on the field and turn off it. And it’s not just because of his lineage (son of Clay Matthews and nephew of Bruce Matthews). He made enough of an impact that many believe he’ll be a first-day pick even though he’s a former walk-on and a one-year starter.
Boston College DT B.J. Raji
B.J. was a bear in Mobile as he mauled offensive linemen at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. He was the talk of the first few days, and even though he didn’t dominate in the game, he has the potential to be the first defensive tackle drafted.
Big Ten receivers
Brian Robiskie and Derrick Williams separated themselves for different reasons in Mobile. Robiskie, another legacy in Mobile (son of Atlanta Falcons assistant Terry), proved to be the week’s most-polished pass catcher while few could keep up with Williams’ elite speed and solid hands.
Wake Forest CB Alphonso Smith
His size (5-8 7/8) isn’t ideal, and he dropped a certain pick-six in the Senior Bowl, but just about everything else has been going well for the former Wake Forest corner. He’s fast, tough and has elite ball skills (21 career interceptions). He may not go in the first round, but the buzz is that he’ll be a starter somewhere during his rookie season.
Auburn DT Tyronne Green
The only Auburn player in L.A. (lower Alabama), Green is a former defensive lineman who switched to the O-line while with the Tigers. Those skills translated well to the other side of the ball. He has good hands and plays with the toughness of a former D-lineman, but he has less than ideal size (6-1 5/8, 305).
Who’s Not …
West Virginia QB Pat White
He might have been the MVP of the Senior Bowl as purely a quarterback, but his decision to stick at just one spot might have cost him a ton of money. It isn’t that the best running quarterback in college football history (yes, including Tim Tebow) hasn’t played well here, he has. White has the arm strength to play in the league. But the scouts were tremendously disappointed that White didn’t take any reps at receiver or returner. He may well play QB at the next level (think of him as a poorer-man’s version of Seneca Wallace), but he should have displayed the gifts that may make him a richer man’s Antwaan Randle El.
There were questions about whether the former Red Raider star could look like an NFL quarterback when put under center. He didn’t throughout the week of practices, struggling with his consistency and his accuracy, and then came the nightmare of the Senior Bowl. He didn’t show off an NFL arm and completed just 4-of-13 passes for 40 yards with an interception.
Big SEC OL’s with big reputations
Michael Oher (of “The Blind Side” fame) and Herman “I Was the Biggest Baby Ever Born in the State of Louisiana (15 pounds, 14 ounces)” Johnson each deflated their prospects a bit. Oher is a dominant run blocker, but has shown less than ideal pass-blocking skills, which is especially troubling at the “blind side” position — left tackle. He’s still a first-rounder, but may have a “buyer beware” tag attached. Johnson shocked and awed at the weigh-in (he’s 6-7 ¾, 382 pounds) but did the opposite in Mobile. Because of his size, coaches and personnel men will want him on the edge, but he hasn’t consistently shown the agility to block edge rushers.
Cal Poly WR Ramses Barden
He was better than Jerry Rice in college, but if the workouts are any indication, he’ll hardly be Rice at the next level. Barden, who broke two of Rice’s FCS/D-IAA records, saw his size impair him in Mobile. The 6-foot-6, 227-pound receiver had trouble with his release at the line of scrimmage — an issue a lot of big receivers have to correct. He must refine his technique moving forward if he wishes to keep his stock from plummeting.
Missouri S William Moore
The former Tiger star needed a good week after a rough, injury-plagued season. It didn’t happen. Moore didn’t display the skills necessary to play safety, got knocked out of the Senior Bowl with an ankle injury, and went from being an almost-certain first-rounder to a possible late second-rounder. The buzz here is he’ll be asked to put on weight and become a Will linebacker in the league.