Most NFL Draftniks know full well the importance of Senior Bowl week for college football’s best seniors. Sure, there are a handful of seniors that won’t jeopardize their perceived draft stock (and that can backfire), but those that come to compete know how much is on the line each and every minute of the week.
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WR Ryan Grant, Tulane
Consistency has been Grant's calling card at Tulane. He doesn't put up gaudy stats but week in and week out, he's reliable. As such, an NFL team likes nothing more than knowing what’s it getting, positive and/or negative, from a young next level player
He does the little things as a receiver really well. He sells his routes, running pristine paths with subtle moves to make himself available. He'll work to get open. He gets on a DB in a hurry with his burst off the ball. He lines up at nearly every receiver position on the field. He has consistent and magnificent hands. But, he's not a physical freak like Texas A&M's Mike Evans. He doesn't have quite the speed of Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas or the quicks of Oregon State's Brandin Cooks. But, don't sleep on this guy, he's got some explosiveness that could surprise many in Mobile. Quite frankly, he's fun to watch and when was the last time we said that about a player from Tulane? Matt Forte?
The hands, the route running and the ability to get open are all there for Grant. The Senior Bowl is an opportunity for him to show that he can win one-on-one against the best senior defensive backs in the country. My gut tells me that he could really surprise many in Mobile.
Other WR to watch
Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt - the best receiver in Mobile
Cody Hoffman, BYU - big receiver that decided to stay at BYU for his senior year, had so-so season
DT Aaron Donald, Pitt
Let me be as clear about this as possible. If Aaron Donald were 6'3" and 300 pounds, there's no question he'd be a top ten pick. But, he isn't and he won't be because of it and only for that reason. He has the full package every defensive lineman craves. Power. Quickness. Feet. Hands. Hand placement. Leverage. He's just short...er and small...er.
So what? He can play. He is consistently disruptive, gets into OL quickly, takes away the separation easily, drives OL back into the backfield and is one of a rare breed of playmaking defensive linemen. He'll show that he can play a number of different positions in odd or even fronts, but mainly that he can PLAY. There's no measuring stick needed to prove that truth.
What makes him worth watching in Mobile is the fact that scouts, personnel people and GMs have to get a better idea about Donald’s scheme versatility. Can he subsist playing a 3-technique in even fronts at 287 pounds? Does he have the feet and agility to play the 5-technique in odd fronts? Can he two gap like Seattle Seahawks DE Red Bryant does so well? If he proves that he’s adept up and down the defensive line, Donald will have teams highly interested early on day two.
Other DT to watch
Tennessee DT Daniel McCullers - must prove he’s more than just a big body
Minnesota DT Ra’Shede Hageman - prototype 3-tech in even front, but can he play anywhere else?
DE Dee Ford, Auburn
Ford had a slow start to his season, missing the first two games of the year with a knee injury. However, like his team did in College Station, Ford kick started his senior campaign during the Texas A&M game when he faced top tackles Jake Matthews and Cedric Ogbuehi.
He displayed a mix of power, quickness, toughness and play making skills against the Aggie duo and that not only got the attention of NFL player personnel people, but it gave Auburn an edge presence it lacked for years. In the National Championship game, he showed his quickness and burst on a couple of inside moves and, generally, created mayhem for FSU’s next level tackles. I think his size may keep him from being completely 4-3/3-4 scheme versatile, but he can wreck shop off the edge in a hurry.
The Senior Bowl is a great stage for him to prove he can rush from a 3-point stance or from a stand up position. If he proves he's comfortable standing up rushing the QB and dropping in coverage during position drills, he'll be a coveted asset come May 2014.
Other DE to watch
Virginia Tech DE James Gayle - even front DE that should get some reps as a 3-4 OLB
Oregon DE Taylor Hart - 3-4 DE prospect that was often overshadowed by Ducks explosive offense
TE Arthur Lynch, Georgia
The former Bulldog tight end was never QB Aaron Murray’s first option. Considering how many varied offensive weapons Georgia possessed, that’s not surprising. However, after the 2012 SEC Championship game, I truly expected Lynch to take his game to a different level, offensive stars or no. That didn’t really happen until the end of the year when he caught 15 passes and three touchdowns over the final four games of the year.
Along with Iowa’s C.J Fiedorowicz, also scheduled to be in Mobile, Lynch is more of a traditional hand in the dirt tight end than he is a “new” hybrid TE/WR type that gets more attention early in every NFL Draft. He’s an above average in-line blocker in the run game and has soft hands once he gets open on play action or in the intermediate passing game. He doesn’t run like the wind, but he’s a good athlete (watch him hurdle an Alabama defender in last year’s SEC Championship game) with a solid build, not to mention he’s consistently been on the dean’s list. Okay, so I like smart guys, sue me.
Other TE to watch
Marshall TE Gator Hoskins - accepted his invite late in the week, more WR than TE
Iowa TE C.J Fiedorowicz - will remind everyone of Patriot TE Rob Gronkowski
LT Billy Turner, North Dakota State
Each and every year a non-FBS player makes his way to Mobile and steals the show. Last year, that player was Arkansas-Pine Bluff LT Terron Armstead. He got a late invite to Mobile and then made himself plenty of money. By the end of the 2013 season, Armstead was starting at left tackle for the New Orleans Saints. He was more of an unknown last year than this year’s surprise candidate Turner. The former NDSU star picked up three rings over the final three years of his career, along with numerous individual accolades. He graded out all year above 90%, including a 96% grade against Kansas State and All-American DE Ryan Mueller in the school’s opening night upset win.
A captain and four year starter, Turner buries FCS defensive linemen with regularity. He’s one of the best I’ve seen this year on “combo” blocks and the biggest reason for that are his excellent feet that help him get up to the second level quickly. After the week in Mobile, many will wonder how he ended up going the FCS route and not to a Big Ten or FBS school. He’ll get tested by the varied pass rushers that have descended upon Mobile, but Turner faced jet ends, power ends, speedy outside linebackers and didn’t give up one sack in 2013. The competition level will rise a notch, or three, so it’ll be intriguing to watch Turner respond in kind.
Other OT to watch
Miami T Seantrel Henderson - mixed reaction amongst the draft community, must have great week
Ohio State T Jack Mewhort - faced Clemson’s Vic Beasley & Buffalo’s Khalil Mack - he’ll be ready
CB Keith McGill, Utah
McGill is one of the biggest defensive backs at the Senior Bowl and the fact that he plays cornerback makes him all the more interesting as a prospect. At 6-3 and 205, McGill has the size that NFL scouts will covet. The reason why McGill will have my attention is that he really hasn’t played a lot of football in his career at Utah. He was injured for seven games in 2011 and he missed the entire 2012 season with an injury. He did start at corner and play the entire 2013 season, but it was his first at cornerback after starting his career at safety.
He’s a big corner who can run but still needs some work on his coverage techniques, be it in zone or man. That said, in his only year as a corner at Utah, he had a strong season, registering ten pass breakups and a pair of interceptions. Ironically, as a former safety, he’s not all that interested in getting involved in run support but, in Mobile, he can show that he’s healthy, versatile and perhaps the perfect fit for a team’s slot/nickel corner position.
Other DB to watch
Washington State S Deone Bucannon - a ball hawk that tattoos RB - who doesn’t want to watch that?
Oklahoma CB Aaron Colvin - Big 12 teams didn’t test him often in 2013, Senior Bowl QBs will
John Harris, Lance Zierlein and James MacPherson from TheSidelineView.com will be providing draft content and scouting reports throughout the draft process. You can find their scouting reports and Big Board at TheSidelineView.com.