2010 Senior Bowl Review

Idaho OL Mike Iupati was one of many stars from Senior Bowl week.  You can read more about Iupati’s performance in Taking to the House’s 2010 Senior Bowl Review 

(Mobile, AL) — Every NFL GM, head coach, and their staffs were in Mobile, Alabama the week of January 25h as the 2010 Senior Bowl took center stage on the NFL Calendar.  The first week of the two week lead-up to Super Bowl was supposed to be focused on South Florida as the NFL’s Pro Bowl was moved to the mainland.  But the real football action was in Mobile, Alabama for the 2010 Senior Bowl. 

NFL talent evaluators and media filled Ladd-Peebles Stadium for a week’s worth of looking at college senior prospects for the upcoming 2010 NFL Draft.  The teams had the right idea in going to Mobile, because the Senior Bowl is the top place to view players “in pads” before all of the t-shirt and shorts workouts start beginning with the NFL Combine (February 24-March 2).  Senior Bowl week is a special event unto itself as shown by the extensive amount of coverage on NFL Network, but this year’s event had even greater significance as the biggest player in college football, Tim Tebow, was in attendance.

Saturday’s game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, with a 40,000 + seating capacity, was sold-out for weeks in advance and the week’s practices were very well attended, especially for the South team.  At practices, the stadium was abuzz at whatever Tebow decided to do whether it was consorting with the media, taking snaps under center, or just talking with his all-star teammates. 

Even though many of the top prospects in the 2010 NFL Draft were not in Mobile due to either being underclassmen (see Florida CB Joe Haden) or a top Senior deciding to wait until the NFL Combine (see Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh).  The good news was that several top-level senior players (USC safety Taylor Mays, Idaho OG Mike Iupati, Michigan DE Brandon Graham, Alabama NT Terrence Cody and others) did choose to participate in the Senior Bowl’s week long activities.  Overall, several scouts that I talked to, that were in Mobile, indicated that this year’s senior group was less talented than the 2009 group.  So don’t expect to see this year’s group reach the heights of the 2006 Senior Bowl class that produced 14 first-round picks.

Hopefully the players were relaxed, because the Senior Bowl is a week-long blur of Weigh-in’s, NFL level practices, competitive “Live” one-on-one drills, interviews, and of course Saturday’s game under the supervision of two NFL staffs (North: Detroit Lions and South: Miami Dolphins).   You can have the lesser All-star games and the NFL Combine, because the Senior Bowl is the place where “football” players get to show off their skills in front of the entire NFL.  The scene is really incredible, because everyone understands that the Senior Bowl is almost like the NFL’s yearly open scouting clinic. 

Also several new and old head coaches use the Senior Bowl as an opportunity to interview potential coaches to fill their vacancies on their staffs before hunkering down for the draft.  Make no bones about it, everyone in Mobile was starting the long pre-draft scouting trek that will end at Radio City Music Hall, but I am sure some of the talent evaluators present were there to start their draft cajoling and smoke-screening too.  The crazy thing about the event is that every team for the most part is open to talking to other NFL staffs, you could even see division rivals sitting in the stands next to each other talking shop at morning and afternoon practices.

As for the game, Ladd-Peebles Stadium was sold-out by fans looking to see the nation’s best seniors battled it out in the 61st annual Senior Bowl.  The storyline going into the game may have been Tebow, but his South team never got on track against a very well prepared North Squad, especially on defense.  The Lions’ coaching staff, led by head coach Jim Schwartz, had their squad ready to play and it showed in a 31-13 victory. 

The star and MVP of the game was Michigan undersized defensive end Brandon Graham (6’1, 263), who produced 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, five tackles with three of them for loss.  This smaller pass rusher, that some are comparing to Philadelphia Eagles DE Trent Cole, continuously was in the face of South quarterbacks Tebow, Zac Robinson and Jarrett Brown. “He’s a football player,” Schwartz said of Graham after the game. “You know, tweener, whatever — he’s a football player.”

Other players who played well in the game were Central Michigan QB Dan LeFevour (passing numbers: 5-of-10 for 97 yards and 1 TD); Oregon RB LeGarrette Blount (5 carries for 35 yards and 1 TD); Cincinnati WR Mardy Gilyard, (5 catches for a game-high 102 yards and 1 TD); Clemson speedy receiver Jacoby Ford (39-yard punt return); Georgia DT Geno Atkins and USC safety Taylor Mays (goal-line interception).  In addition to Graham winning the MVP, other Senior Bowl awards went to Gilyard (offensive player of the game), Mississippi State’s Jamar Chaney (defensive player of the game), Tulane’s Jeremy Williams (South MVP) and LeFevour (North MVP). 

As for Tebow, the player whom everyone came to see, he showed that he has much work to be done before the NFL Draft in April.  The former Heisman winner fumbled twice and threw several “safe” short passes (8-of-12 passes for 50 yards) with a couple being batted at the line of scrimmage.  The SEC’s all-time rushing touchdown leader and vaunted running quarterback also only carried the ball for 4 yards on four carries.

Now that the weighing, practicing, questioning, and playing is over for the 2010Senior Bowl, here are some observations, news, and notes from the event.

Event Risers – These were players that I believe increased their value in at the 2010 Senior Bowl.

Idaho OL Mike Iupati – Ironically after 60 Minutes had just profiled the “great” players from Samoa, another player from that region stepped up at the Senior Bowl.  The big (6’5, 325) All-American from Idaho was the most impressive lineman in Mobile by far all week. Iupati cemented his position as the top interior O-lineman in the 2010 Draft and he also showed some potential on the outside (35-inch arms). Displayed great footwork, balance and power in drills and in the game.  Though offensive guards are not typically first rounders, look for Iupati to have his name called early in April.

Ole Miss RB/WR/KR Dexter McCluster – A small player, who comes from the same mold as the Philadelphia Eagles Brian Westbrook.  McCluster will be able to help an NFL team in a variety of rolls including slot wide receiver, kick returner and in the Wildcat. The former Ole Miss running back is a true game-breaker, who looked to be one of the fastest players in practice while displaying agility in the open field.  Also is showed good hands catching the football and is not afraid to deliver a blow when running.

Florida State safety Myron Rolle – One of the best stories of Senior Bowl week got better by the day.  Rolle, who didn’t play football last year at FSU, came back from Oxford, England (Rhodes Scholar) and didn’t seem to miss a beat.  The aspiring doctor looked in great shape (6’2, 215) and showed little rust. Rolle was a lot smoother than people expected in drills including showing a good backpedal and an ability to close.  Rolle looked more polished player than his former FSU teammate Patrick Robinson, even after taking off one year from football. Looks to be a great leader in the mold of former Eagles safety Brian Dawkins.

Boise State CB Kyle Wilson – Once again a member of the Boise State football team was able to hang with the big boys when given an opportunity.  Wilson showed that he has shutdown corner skills and was excellent at mirroring receivers. The former Boise State star looked to be the most comfortable in press coverage and Wilson also shined in zone coverage in practice. Established himself as the top senior cornerback in this year’s draft and has a chance to go after Florida’s Joe Haden.

Oregon RB LeGarrette Blount – I know it will be hard for many to forget that Blount was suspended for the majority of the regular season after punching a player in Oregon’s opener.  But the stocky running back came to Mobile to work and it showed.  After a solid week of practice, Blount now projects to be a solid mid-round pick. The former Oregon starter ran well ball between the tackles and showed that he was a solid blocker.

Wayne State RB Joique Bell – When you come from a smaller school, you need to make a good impression in All Star games.  Bell made the most of his opportunity and showed that he belonged with some of his more ballyhooed teammates.  He caught the ball out of the backfield well and had good balance when running the ball.  Bell may not be the quickest guy on the field, but he has a chance of being a 3rd down back in the NFL due to “Want To”.

UAB multi-purpose threat Joe Webb – Originally  a quarterback for most of his career at UAB, Webb made the transition back to the receiver position at the Senior Bowl.  The former two-time 2,000 yard passer and 1,000 yard rusher in the same season has very good size (6’4, 210) and showed a good attitude to go along with some good hands.  Webb looks like this year’s “Slash” and I could see a team drafting him to play multiple roles like Cleveland Browns Pro Bowl player Joshua Cribbs.  Worked hard in practices and on game day with a lot of scouts comparing him to NY Jets’ Wildcat. Brad Smith.

Miami (FL) TE Jimmy Graham – Came to Mobile as an unknown, but after a very good week this former basketball player made his mark on the gridiron.  Graham clearly out-played USC’s Anthony McCoy while looking comfortable catching the ball and blocking.  The former Hurricane has the frame (6’6, 260) and agility to be considered a top field-stretching prospect at the next level.  We will see if he can follow in the footsteps of Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez going from the hardwood to the NFL, Graham had a very good week.

West Virginia QB Jarrett Brown – At the South team’s practices, everyone was supposed to be watching Tim Tebow.  It was no contest as Brown showed more passing skills and athleticism than Tebow.  Reminds me of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb in that he throws with great velocity and is a dual-threat.  Showed good footwork and arm strength in drills and many thought he as the best quarterback prospect in Mobile.  Right now, Brown is a better pocket passer than his former WVU teammate Pat White, who was a second round pick by the Dolphins in 2009.  Brown will need time to learn NFL defenses, but he has a good chance of being a 2nd or 3rd round developmental pick.

South Florida George Selvie – After a disappointing senior year, where many questioned why he didn’t declare after an impressive junior campaign.  Selvie came to Mobile looking to gain back some of the ground he lost during the 2009 season.  The former South Florida sacker showed an explosive first step and better strength than expected (able to bullrush on bigger O-lineman).   Also tried some linebacking drills, but clearly there is work to be done.  However to me, Selvie is what he is and that is an undersized (6’4, 244) pass rusher.   We will see if he can follow in the footsteps of 2009 NFL sack leader Elvis Dumervil.

Event Maintainers – These were players that I believe were solid and did not hurt their value at the 2009 Senior Bowl. 

Alabama DL Terrence Cody – I know he weighed in at 370 pounds and several media outlets sent his weigh-in picture out as a joke.  But “Mount” Cody is, what he is and that is a two-gap run-stuffing nose tackle.  You can ask any NFL evaluator that is running a 3-4 defense about how hard it is finding a dominant nose tackle.  Cody looked like the next Ted Washington or Casey Hampton as displayed good quickness and strength in blocking drills.  Expect the former Alabama All-American to slim down by his Pro Day and he should be a first round pick.

Penn State DT Jared Odrick – This high-motor versatile defensive lineman had a very good week as he was relentless and fluid in drills.  Odrick looks like a good fit as an under tackle in a 4-3 or a 3-4 end.  Spent many practices camped out in the North’s offensive backfield.  A rangy 300-pounder, Oldrick had a quick first step and had some good moves fending off blockers.  Unfortunately we never got to see Oldrick go one-on-one with Iupati in practices.

Oklahoma State CB Perrish Cox – Showed that he will be one of the top corners in the upcoming draft.  Cox was versatile in the coverage while showing speed and smooth hips. Broke well on the ball and should make an immediate impact in the NFL in nickel and dime coverages.

USC safety Taylor Mays — One of the bigger names coming into this week, Mays showed that he deserved a lot of attention.  Though some are trying to project him as a future weakside linebacker, the former USC hitter showed better than expected coverage skills in defensive back drills.  Looks like a good candidate to play strong safety in the NFL where his bulk will allow him to come-up and make plays in the box.

Florida WR Riley Cooper — Tim Tebow’s former go-to guy at Florida looked like he is ready to make the transition into the slot.  Cooper ran crisp routes and showed very good hands while not shying away from contact.  Looks to be like he could be the next Austin Collie, but we will have to wait and see.

Central Michigan QB Dan LeFevour – After a very productive college career, this small school passer still had something to prove in Mobile.  LeFevour, who did show average arm strength, had good anticipation and was able to move around the pocket in drills.  Looks to be a solid back-up type in the NFL and should have his head in the playbook right away.

LSU OL Ciron Black – Showed versatility by playing both the offensive tackle and guard positions in practice.  Had a good knee bend and didn’t get too high in blocking drills.  Looks to be a mid-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft, but should be a solid pro prospect at offensive guard.

Event Crashers – These were players that I believe hurt their value at the Senior Bowl and will need to make up ground at their Pro Days and the Combine to get back up in the mix by the NFL Draft.

Florida QB Tim Tebow – I know that he could have stayed home and lived off his lengthy resume.  But intangibles are now everything in the evaluation of a potential NFL quarterback.  Tebow is a great leader, however right now the Senior Bowl showed that his is behind Cincinnati’s Tony Pike and others.  The former Heisman winner had difficulty in practices taking snaps from under center and continued to throw with a painfully slow elongated delivery.  Maybe working with former NFL coach Zeke Bratkowski will help him with his footwork and other requisite quarterback skills, but currently Super Timmy looks like a situational quarterback (3rd round pick).  One NFL personnel evaluator who was in Mobile said to me after watching Tebow practice, “He looks more like a fullback with each throw”. 

West Virginia OL Selvish Capers – One scout that I talked to, plainly said about Caper, “He was awful”.  The former WVU O-lineman had a bad weigh-in and his practice habits didn’t help him either.  Has great size (6’5, 304) and athleticism, but much like the majority of collegiate career, Capers hasn’t fully put it all together.  I am not sure he can be a legitimate franchise left tackle as he reached too often and was beaten to the inside too.

Oregon State QB Sean Canfield – A left-hander who displayed a weak arm in drills.  Looked like an undrafted free agent West Coast offense type as he was unable to consistently throw outside the hashes. The first team All-PAC 10 pick better work to improve his weak arm.

Ohio State DB Kurt Coleman – Clearly had problems in coverage and looked stiff in drills. Clearly looks like his best chance to make the NFL is as a backup strong safety and special teams player.

UMass OL Vladimir Ducasse – Looks the part of a type flight O-lineman (6’4 ½, 326) but something is missing.  Had problems in practice with lineman from bigger schools beating him off the snap.  Will need to work on his footwork and not reaching.

That’s a wrap for the 2010 Senior Bowl and now the NFL’s attention will shift to Super Bowl XLIV in South Florida between the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints. 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

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