It’s hard to ignore the talent Pat White has as a quarterback, because when he has the ball in his hands, something good is about to happen. The Senior Bowl was White’s opportunity to show NFL scouts that he has the talent to be a signalcaller at the next level.
But the consensus I got in Mobile was that he’s never going to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. With many teams installing a variation of the Wildcat formation, a player of White’s ability becomes more valuable. White showed tremendous athleticism in practice and displayed the ability to escape the pocket and make throws on the run. Of the three South quarterbacks, White was the most accurate and fluid during practice. White took what he showed in practice and thrived in the game, as he led the South on two scoring drives: one that started on the South’s own 32-yard line and ultimately ended with LSU FB Quinn Johnson scoring a touchdown from one-yard out, and the other coming on a beautifully thrown 39-yard touchdown strike down the left sideline to Ole Miss WR Mike Wallace. White completed 4-of-9 passes for 69 yards and a touchdown, and had three carries for 39 yards.
He was named the game’s MVP. White impressed a lot of scouts in Mobile, and although he probably won’t be a QB at the next level, don’t be surprised if he’s a late second-round pick this April.
There were a lot of great defenders in Mobile this week, and I have to credit former NFL scout Tom Marino for identifying Tennessee DE Robert Ayers a couple of months ago as a hidden gem who had frontline talent. I saw Ayers play this season a lot, and he was good, but consistency was his biggest problem.
This week in Mobile, he was quietly the best defensive end and had one of the best first steps of any defensive linemen. He still has to develop a larger repertoire of moves, instead of using his signature inside rip move, but that will come with time. Ayers was the most dominant defensive player on Saturday night. He used his quickness and strength against the likes of Oklahoma OT Phil Loadholt and Illinois OT Xavier Fulton and beat them off the edge with ease.
Ayers finished the game with three tackles and 1.5 sacks, which earned him the Defensive Player of the game trophy. His play this week opened the eyes of many, and this once mid-round prospect has elevated his status to a late second, early third round pick.
One running back that really impressed me this week was Brown. He had a great burst through the line, displayed patience and vision as he reached the second level, and had surprising quickness in the open field. Not only is he a powerful runner, but he’s also been the most impressive RB in blocking drills. He’s not afraid of contact and will use his 6-foot, 224-pound frame to knock out an oncoming defender.
Brown carried over his performance in practice into the game, where he was a factor in the running and passing game. He had 10 carries for 26 yards and a touchdown, and caught two passes for 39 yards. Brown’s performance at the Senior Bowl will be one scouts remember as they head into the Scouting Combine, and if he does well in Indianapolis, he could emerge as a third-round prospect.
Oklahoma State TE Brandon Pettigrew is the best blocking tight end in the country, and his positioning and strength was marveled at the Senior Bowl. At 6-foot-5, 257 pounds, Pettigrew has superior strength, great lateral movement and uses his hands extremely well. As a receiver, he’s not quick off the line and it takes him some time to build up momentum, but once he starts moving, he excels downfield.
He displayed great field awareness during practice and found the opening over the middle and flashed strong hands. Pettigrew wasn’t a target in the game, but he distinguished himself as the best tight end in the draft and is a sure first-round selection.
In a draft that has four premier offensive tackles (three being seniors), Oher was the only senior OT to participate in the Senior Bowl, and he made the most of his participation. He was the most athletic and dominant tackle in Mobile. He’s quick off the snap, shows good lateral movement and uses his hands effectively. He has moments of inconsistency, but his ability to lock down the blind side and protect a quarterback will go a long way when NFL teams evaluate him.
One of those inconsistent moments happened during the game when he was called for a holding penalty on a 4th-and-1 situation. Clemson’s James Davis got the first down, but Oher got a hold of North DE Cody Brown (Connecticut), which forced the South to punt. Oher is my top-ranked offensive tackle in the draft, and my opinion hasn’t changed after this week. He’s a legitimate top five pick.
Oklahoma WR Juaquin Iglesias ran smooth, crisp routes and flashed strong hands this week in Mobile. He was impressive in the intermediate game and displayed the ability to get vertical. The 6-foot-1, 204-pound Iglesias is a physical receiver who doesn’t shy away from contact and does an outstanding job of blocking downfield.
On Saturday, Iglesias did a nice job blocking downfield on running situations and was the leading receiver in the game with six receptions for 90 yards. Iglesias isn’t a burner, and that hurts him in some ways, but his route running and quickness will score points with teams looking for a possession receiver who has the ability to break free. Look for Iglesias to be a third-round pick this April.
Oregon running back Jeremiah Johnson has been on a mission this week in Mobile and has run with purpose. The versatile situational star has shown great quickness on the edge and deceptive strength between the tackles. He’s also shown the ability to be a dangerous weapon out of the backfield, a skill he didn’t have the opportunity to display at Oregon.
Johnson had a strong game on Saturday night rushing for 22 yards on three carries and catching two passes for 26 yards and a touchdown. The 5-foot-9, 198-pound Johnson is a small back, but this week in Mobile he assured scouts that even though he doesn’t possess top-end speed, his versatility will be valuable at the next level. Johnson is a solid third-fourth round prospect.
It was obvious when you watched the South team practice that Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga and Clay Matthews were the most fluid linebackers in Mobile. All three players stood out at practice and received plenty of praise from the Jacksonville Jaguars coaching staff. Cushing is a physical linebacker who uses his strength and technique to his advantage. During positional drills, Cushing used a variety of moves to get through the opposition and showed good footwork to make plays in the backfield. The athleticism and strength Maualuga possesses also came across in practice. He has great awareness and instincts and positions himself well to make plays. Matthews is a hard worker who has great instincts and desire for the game. He’s a special teams ace in the making and a solid WILL linebacker who can get after the quarterback.
Unfortunately, the three-standout linebackers didn’t have an impact on the game and seemed to over pursue on potential stops. Maualuga had the best game of the three, recording three tackles, and he forced Cedric Peerman to fumble in the second quarter. Although their best showings came in practice and not in the game, Maualuga and Cushing are sure first-round picks, while Matthews is a solid second-round selection.
The defensive standout for the North team at practice this week was Boston College DT B.J. Raji. The consistency he maintained this week was incredible, as he had his way with two of the top centers in the country: Oregon’s Max Unger and Cal’s Alex Mack. Raji’s quickness off the snap and ability to penetrate inside created problems during practice for the North’s offense.
But on Saturday night, when Raji faced the South’s offensive line, it was a different story. The South’s offensive line neutralized Raji and didn’t allow him to be much of a factor. Even though Raji didn’t have a breakthrough performance during the game, the dominance he displayed all week did wonders for his draft positioning, and he is now a lock to be a top-15 selection.
Wake Forest cornerback Alphonso Smith has been the best defensive back at the Senior Bowl this week. The 5-foot-9, 193-pound playmaking corner plays much bigger than his measurements suggest. He has lock down potential and tremendous ball skills, which he showcased during practice.
But when the lights were on and he had an opportunity to make a big-time play, Smith came up small. On a 3rd-and-4 play on the North 14-yard line, North QB Graham Harrell dropped back and fired right looking for Ramses Barden (Cal Poly). Smith jumped the route, extended for the ball and got both hands on it, but he dropped it. If he caught the ball, it would have been a touchdown. Even though Smith didn’t have a standout game, he still improved his draft stock and could be a late first-round pick. But it seems more likely that he will be selected in the early second round.
This wasn’t the best week for Graham Harrell. The highly-touted field general from Texas Tech struggled taking snaps under center, showed poor mechanics, didn’t display a strong arm and was uncharacteristically inaccurate. He took snaps in practice from three different centers: Alex Mack (California), Max Unger (Oregon) and Ryan Shuman (Virginia Tech), and said that he was getting more comfortable each day. But on Saturday, Harrell’s struggles continued, and he looked worse than he did during practice.
It’s obvious that taking snaps under center for the first time has taken a toll on Harrell and his ability to perform at a high level. However, his lack of arm strength is alarming. Harrell had no lift on the ball, which was caused by his feet not being properly set. When he’s set and confident, Harrell is lethal. But when he’s uncomfortable, he short arms his throws and the ball dives.
For Harrell to become a starting quarterback at the next level, he has to straighten out his footwork and mechanics now that he has to take five- and seven-step drops. He will have to improve by the Scouting Combine to keep his third-fourth round status. If he continues his Senior Bowl form, Harrell may drop to the sixth or seventh round.
I still believe William Moore is one of the best defensive backs available in the draft, but after a disappointing senior season and an underwhelming Senior Bowl week showing, Moore — who was once considered a first-round pick — has seen his stock fall to the second round. The instincts and playmaking ability he displayed as a junior — when he recorded 117 tackles and eight interceptions — are completely gone, and in Mobile he looked like an overaggressive, in the box safety type who lacks discipline. On Saturday, it was more of the same for Moore, where he over pursed on a couple of plays and left the game early with an ankle injury. This has been a forgettable year for Moore, and it’s turning into a disastrous offseason.
If you’re looking for an athletic offensive tackle with quick feet and a nice frame, Connecticut’s William Beatty is the one you want. But when you stop salivating over his athleticism, you will realize that he doesn’t possess a mean streak, and he’s not strong enough to stop a speed rusher’s bull rush or a strong, technically sound DE.
During practice, Beatty was constantly overmatched by the likes of Hawaii DE David Veikune, Tennessee DE Robert Ayers and Richmond DE Lawrence Sidbury. At 6-foot-6, 291 pounds, Beatty has the potential to be a very good tackle, but his lack of strength and technique to keep defenders at bay is worrisome.
Western Michigan FS Louis Delmas displayed great positioning and awareness during practice, and proved that he’s one of the most physical defensive backs on the North roster. Delmas led WMU in tackles (111) and interceptions (4) this past season and showcased his skills all week in Mobile. On Saturday, Delmas played well at the line of scrimmage and in coverage and made four tackles. He received a lot of attention this week and will continue to rise up draft boards as we head into the Scouting Combine.
The Senior Bowl is a place for the top seniors in the country, but it’s also a place to discover talent that you may not be familiar with, and one of those names is Southern Miss tight end Shawn Nelson. At 6-foot-5, 238 pounds, Nelson is an athletic, pass-catching tight end who creates mismatches with his unique blend of skills. He gets a fluid release off the line, runs good routes and uses his frame to mirror defenders while snaring a pass. He’s focused and disciplined, and showed those qualities this week in Mobile. Known more for his ability as a receiver and not his blocking technique, Nelson improved his blocking throughout the week. One of the most athletic tight ends in the country, Nelson should come off the board in the fourth round.
A former Pittsburgh transfer, Rashad Jennings impressed scouts this week with his quick feet, toughness between the tackles and his ability as a receiver. The 6-foot-1, 234-pound bulldozer is also a solid blocker and displayed the awareness to slip through and set up for a screen pass. Jennings’ strong effort during the week carried over into Saturday night’s game where he had nine carries for 41 yards. The biggest question surrounding Jennings is his straight-line speed. He’s not a shifty back and is a little stiff in the hips, but if he’s able to run a high 4.4 or a low 4.5 in the 40-yard dash, he will be a late second, early third round pick.
Hawaii DE David Veikune played with a high motor and showed great athleticism off the edge at the Senior Bowl. The 6-foot-2, 255 pound Veikune used his quickness and deceptive strength to gain the upper hand against the likes of Ole Miss OT Michael Oher and Tulane OT Troy Kropog. Veikune doesn’t do anything fancy and isn’t a technician by any means, but he has a quick first step and uses his speed and balance to get into the backfield. On Saturday night, Veikune was held in check and came away with just two tackles, but he recovered a key fumble. He’s an interesting prospect and someone you will want to keep an eye on at the Scouting Combine. He’s a workout warrior and could ultimately land in the third round.
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