The 2011 NFL Draft hype surrounding potential NFL prospects will soon make its transition from the Senior Bowl to the NFL Scouting Combine.
The NFL Combine, which begins Feb. 23 and last until March 1, 2011, has always seemed to be where scouts begin their new-found fondness of a prospect, as they drool over a player’s 40-time and bench repetitions. The Senior Bowl is no slouch to scouts keenness to continue their player evaluations, however.
Over the last five NFL drafts, averages of nearly 12 first round selections have taken place in the annual college Senior Bowl. Last season, 10 first round picks played in the game and improved their stocks, including Tim Tebow, Devin McCourty and Tyson Alualu.
The 2011 Senior Bowl wasn’t filled with quite the media hype and scout hungry grounds as the 2010 game – thanks most notably to the lack of Tebow – but the week and game did give an abundance of prospects a chance to improve their stock, particularly defensive stars. Like always, though, the week and game sometimes hurts a players overall grade, as well.
It’s time to run down who improved their draft position and who may have hurt their stock after a week in Mobile.
Von Miller, Outside Linebacker, Texas A&M
The focus on Miller was in his pass drops. Scout’s wanted to see how fluid he was in his hips and the position and effort he needed in order to make a drop into coverage. Before the week, Miller was regarded as a strict 3-4 rush-outside linebacker. It’s safe to say now, wherever he lines up, and whatever system, Miller is going to make plays.
Hank did nothing but impress from day one in Mobile. He quickly became the best wideout at the event and showed the hands, route running ability and vision to find space that being a No. 1 wideout in the NFL requires. He backed up a solid week with a solid game, bringing in five grabs for 100 yards and a score. Don’t be surprised if a team, potentially New England, takes a chance on Hankerson late in round one.
Brooks Reed, Defensive End, Arizona
Reed is a guy who came into the Mobile week with a few questions surrounding him, most notably ones concentrated on where he'll play. He’s a bit undersized as a four down end for the NFL and some questioned whether he would be athletic enough to work as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Reed answered those questions and more. He brought in a great deal of pressure in the game, including a sack, which he brought in from a standup rush position.
Cameron Jordan, Defensive End, California
Caught up in the shuffle of big defensive ends in the 2011 class alongside Cam Heyward, Allen Bailey and Adrian Clayborn, Jordan just might have solidified himself as the best of the four. He became a dominant presence all week long, showing good hand use and a strong bull-rush. He should find himself jump off the board early in the first round.
Danny Watkins, Offensive Line, Baylor
Watkins became an intriguing prospect this week. Few offensive linemen have solidified themselves as potential first round picks, but Watkins might have done just that. He played tackle for Baylor, but spent the week as a guard, where he excelled. Watkins was strong and held his ground in one-on-one drills with ease and looked just as good in the actual game.
Sam Acho, Defensive End, Texas
Few spoke of Acho before the Mobile week; as he's been buried by a deep and talented class of defensive lineman. He may not need to worry about that anymore, as defensive line might not even be his future position in the NFL. He measured in at just over 6-foot-1, 257-pounds, and showed the speed a rush specialist needs. Acho dominated the game, bringing in two tackles for a loss and a sack that included a forced fumble.
Colin McCarthy, Linebacker, Miami (Fl)
Considered a late round grab in a lot of scout’s minds, McCarthy forced a lot of people to take a second look. He doesn’t have the ideal measurables scout’s look for, but McCarthy continuously ended up in the right place on the field. He also showed good pursuit, bringing in three solo tackles in space in the game, including one behind the line.
Christian Ponder, Quarterback, Florida State
Numerous questions surrounded Mobile of which quarterback was going to walk away most impressive. Throughout the week, no individual particularly stood out. In actual game speed, Ponder excelled. He took away the game’s MVP honor and was clearly the most polished passer. He looked off coverages and threw with great accuracy. Ponder just may have moved himself up a couple rounds this week.
Ryan Kerrigan, Defensive End, Purdue
Another one of the players scouts feel could transition to outside linebacker, Kerrigan was a dominating presence all week. He was strong in rush drills and showed good ability to get off blocks in 11-on-11 action. In the game, Kerrigan brought in five tackles, three for a loss, with a sack. With such a performance, it may not be a done deal on moving to linebacker.
Others: Bilal Powell, Running Back, Louisville – Phil Taylor, Defensive Tackle, Baylor – Kendrick Burney, Cornerback, UNC – Vincent Brown, Wideout, SDSU – Mason Foster, Linebacker, Washington – Curtis Brown, Cornerback, Texas- Christian Ballard, Defensive Tackle, Iowa
DeMarcus Love, Offensive Tackle, Arkansas
Love looked sluggish throughout the week, especially in the game. He rarely moved his feet quick enough to get into position on passing plays. Two of the three sacks given up by the south came through Love, and another would have, if not for a holding call. Senior Bowl week might have proved Love may need to move inside at the next level.
Noel Devine, Running Back, West Virginia
The shiftiness and agility Devine has always been known for was rarely seen this week. The speed was there for Devine, but he’ll need more at just 5-foot-7, 160-pounds. Although he shows toughness to run inside, he often bounced plays outside, when the defense already had stretched the field. Devine is going to need to show scout’s a bit more in-between now and the draft.
Greg Jones, Linebacker, Michigan State
Jones is a bruiser at 5-foot-11, 240-pounds, and it’s long been thought he has the speed to stay in coverage. That wasn’t the case this week in Mobile. Jones was often out of position in practices and the same went during game time. He struggled to fight off blocks in the game as well, getting bulled over on a couple of occasions.Ronald Johnson, Wide Receiver, USC
While multiple wideouts – Hankerson, Brown, Sanzenbacher and Young – considerably helped their draft stock this week, Johnson wasn’t one of the few. He didn’t do much to hurt his stock, but in a chance to stand out, Johnson didn’t. He adds the extra benefit of returning kicks, but even there he wasn’t special.
Jake Locker, Quarterback, Washington
Locker might have been the most watched player of the Senior Bowl practices and apart from some athletic plays, he didn’t do much to impress his viewing gallery. Locker is a great athlete with a good arm, but he’s been inconsistent over his college career and was the same throughout Senior Bowl week. In the last day of practice, Locker threw two interceptions and fumbled once. In the game, Locker struggled with accuracy and fumbled twice. A team may take a chance on him in the first round because of his potential, but he’ll need to show more before then.
Others: Chris White, Linebacker, Mississippi State – Da’Norris Searcy, Safety, UNC – Colin Kaepernick, Quarterback, Nevada – Roy Helu, Running Back, Nebraska – Lee Ziemba, Offensive Tackle, Auburn
Hankerson – AP Photo
Locker – Dave Martin/AP