Senior Bowl Preview: What to Watch This Week

January 19th, 2013

Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor

The Mecca of the accessible scouting world is Mobile, Alabama for the next week. The Combine in Indianapolis gets more attention and has a much deeper talent pool, but the annual Senior Bowl is the last chance for real competitive football matchups amongst the upper echelon prospects.

And with few exceptions, the top seniors will be very well represented. Quarterbacks Geno Smith and Matt Barkley are out, but the next tier of quarterbacks will be in full force. This is a huge week for these six men: Zac Dysert, Landry Jones, EJ Manuel, Ryan Nassib, Mike Glennon, and Tyler Wilson. All have the potential to raise, or in Wilson’s case cement, first round draft status with a strong week. This is perhaps the deepest QB group the Senior Bowl has ever fielded, as all six QBs will be drafted by the end of the 3rd round barring a really poor showing. My money is on Dysert and Nassib to steal some thunder but Wilson to secure the title of “Best QB in Mobile” and maybe even put himself in the conversation for the #1 overall pick.

The running back group is not as sexy, mainly because most top-flight running backs leave school early. Andre Ellington looks to be the class of the field, and this venue suits his fluidity and receiving skills very well. The backs I’m most curious to see up close are the Pac-12 contingency of Oregon’s Kenjon Barner, Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor, and Jonathan Franklin of UCLA. I’m also looking forward to seeing Kyle Juszcyzk from Harvard, who I’ve only seen in brief highlights thus far.
Wide receiver features two pretty distinct groups. We have the speedsters like Terrance Williams, Markus Wheaton, Marquise Goodwin, Denard Robinson, and Tavarres King who will try to ordinate themselves in the track star-as-wideout grouping. On the flip side, (mostly) bigger guys like Quinton Patton, Cobi Hamilton, Conner Vernon, and Aaron Dobson who aren’t going to wow with speed but show off their strength and route running precision will fight for prominence. Williams and perhaps Patton are the only top 50 talents here, but this draft is absolutely littered with 3rd-5th round wideouts, and a lot of them are in Mobile.

After seeing the better-than-expected tight end class at the Shrine Game, I am hoping to be similarly impressed by the Senior Bowl tight ends. Travis Kelce from Cincinnati has gained all sorts of draftnik momentum lately, and Nick Kasa from Colorado was “promoted” from the Shrine Game to here. I’m bullish on Alabama’s Michael Williams and San Jose State’s Ryan Otten and hope they prove me prescient.

The offensive line has four potential first round picks in Eric Fisher, Lane Johnson, Oday Aboushi, and Dallas Thomas. I’ve been propping up Thomas all season and believe the Tennessee product will really shine in this environment. Under-the-radar players like Cal’s Brian Schwenke and JC Tretter from Cornell will get ample opportunity to prove their arrows are pointing up, while Kyle (son of Howie) Long from Oregon can answer a lot of questions about his on and off field prowess.

Defensively, this looks like a very impressive group with several first and second round talents. The line features two foreign ends with downright freakish athleticism but limited football experience in Margus Hunt and Ezekiel Ansah. SMU’s Hunt is an Estonian track and field star who completely dominated several games this year, while BYU’s Ansah reminds many of Giants star Jason Pierre-Paul with his length and quick learning curve.

There is a large clump of linemen in the 40-100 overall range that will be in Mobile, and this week will go a long way toward sorting them out. Kawann Short, John Jenkins, Alex Okafor, Datone Jones, and Sylvester Williams could all put themselves in the first round or third round based on this week. Missouri Southern’s Brandon Williams is primed for a coming out party and could overtake that entire group with a strong showing.

The linebackers are headlined by diminutive field general Arthur Brown of Kansas State, who is a potential top 20 prospect. The format here suits his speedy reactions and lateral agility quite nicely. I’m hoping to see strong weeks from Jamie Collins of Southern Miss, Zaviar Gooden of Missouri, and Kevin Reddick of North Carolina, underexposed talents at lesser programs that could make immediate impacts at the next level. I also am looking forward to seeing Ohio State’s John Simon as a fulltime linebacker and not morphing between LB and DE.

Cornerback is probably the weakest position group in Mobile, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t talent. Oregon State’s Jordan Poyer and Boise State’s Jamar Taylor are top 50 caliber talents, while Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks hopes to flip the arrow on his stock from down to up and solidify first round status. The UConn corners, Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwayne Gratz, get a chance to prove they belong in the second round conversation as well. I’m anxious to see B.W. Webb from William & Mary and how adeptly he swims in the bigger pond.

This draft has one of the deepest safety classes in years, and that is reflected in the Senior Bowl. Kenny Vaccaro is gunning for top 10 overall status, and a great week in Mobile could vault him that high. The SEC is well represented with Robert Lester from Alabama, Shawn Williams from Georgia, Bacarri Rambo from Georgia, and DJ Swearinger from South Carolina all in the mix. Two small school talents, Jonathan Cyprien from Florida International and JJ Wilcox from Georgia Southern will get a chance to shine as well. Cyprien is the only player here I’ve never seen play at all, so that adds intrigue for me.

Finally, the specialists are always worth watching. Some of my favorite Senior Bowl practice moments have come courtesy of the punters and kickers. Louisiana Tech punter Ryan Allen will shine this week, and the coaches might need Oklahoma State kicker Quinn Sharp to hold back on his kickoffs so they can actually run return drills.

I’ll be posting frequently on Twitter live from practice, and I’ll have daily wraps from both squads just like Shrine Bowl week. I’m also hoping to get good dirt on which players are piquing the interest of which teams, notably the Lions and the rest of the NFC North.

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