By Lloyd Vance, BIGPLAY Football “Draft Guru” / Radio Analyst and Sr. NFL Analyst
Every year the best place for Scouts and NFL Talent Evaluators to view players “in pads” is at the Senior Bowl (remember football is not played in t-shirts and shorts). The week long event is the real first leg on the road to the NFL Draft for many prospects. Many draft experts that I talk to put more credence in this All Star game, because usually top players choose to participate (sorry agents), there is “live” competitive one on one drills, and NFL coaching staffs are in charge of the teams. You can have the lesser All star games (East-West Shrine, Hula Bowl, “Favor of the Year” All Star game) and the combine, because the Senior Bowl is the place “football” players get to show their skills off in front of scouts, coaches, and general managers.
This year’s group like in years past has good overall talent. Several scouts have indicated that this senior group is a little lower in talent than last year’s stellar group (D’Brickshaw Ferguson, Jay Cutler, and others). We will have to wait and see if they can match the 14 first-round picks from last year’s game.
As for the game, the early talk of a “revenge” rematch of BCS quarterbacks Ohio State’s Troy Smith and Florida’s Chris Leak never materialized. In front of a sell out crowd of 40,646 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Troy Smith outplayed Florida’s Chris Leak leading the North to three scores and a 27-0 win over the South. Smith’s numbers (5 of 15 passes for 52 yards w/ TD) weren’t spectacular, but considering that it was a cold, rainy day he performed well. Smith let Leak (5-of-9 passing for 23 yards) make the mistakes as he had a crucial fumble that led to a North touchdown after being blindsided by Nebraska DE Jay Moore at his own 26. . In my opinion neither of them did enough in practice or in the game to overtake non-attendees Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn (Injured Knee) or LSU’s JaMarcus Russell (Junior) on the draft leader board.
The real star of the game was Penn State RB Tony Hunt. Typically All-star games are not good venues for RB’s, because of the sharing of carries and not being able to establish a rhythm. However Hunt a 239-pounder with good speed defied the odds winning the MVP after rushing for 38 yards on eight carries with a 7 yard touchdown. With the performance he solidified his place in the late 1st or early 2nd round part of draft behind Kenny Irons of Auburn, Adrian Peterson of Oklahoma, and Cal’s Marshawn Lynch. Hunt will be fighting with Michael Bush of Louisville for a place in the NFL for a “big” back.
Now that the weighing, practicing, questioning, and playing is over for the Senior Bowl, we have some observations, news, and notes from the 2007 Event.
Event Risers – These were players that we believe increased their value in at the Senior Bowl.
- WR – Dwayne Bowe, LSU: Looked like the next “baby T.O” measuring in at 6’2 and a solid 200 plus pounds. He was by far the best pass catcher in Mobile and he was very fluid in his downfield blocking. The big pass catcher separated himself from the rest of the WR group and distinguished himself as the top senior receiver in the country.
- DL – Amobi Okoye, Louisville: Okoye was the talk of the practices this week. He weighed in at a chiseled 287-pounds and displayed the quickness and athleticism needed at the next level. The truly great part about Okoye is that he a prospect that will grow even more, because he is only 19-years-old. Came off as a bright and polished speaker when interviewed.
- RB – Lorenzo Booker, Florida State: Before the Senior Bowl he was considered a scat-back, who was often injured in college. Booker never lived up to his recruiting hype at FSU and looked like a Day 2 – 4th Round Pick at best. Booker in Mobile showed the explosiveness and hands that gets a player noticed. He displayed the best hands of any of back. He now looks like he could be a 2nd or 3rd Round player in the mold of Brian Westbrook.
- LB – Patrick Willis, Mississippi: In practice looked like the next Jeremiah Trotter, a big physical MLB, who can take on Guards plus have a nose for the ball. He lead all defenders with 11 tackles and was named the South’s defensive player of the game. Does need to work on making plays out to the sidelines.
- Alabama FB Le’ron McClain, a bruising 264-pounder who was also very smooth catching the ball.
- Nebraska DL Adam Carriker: Another front four player who was tough to block, Carriker elevated his draft stock significantly. Displayed a combination of strength and intelligence, he also came across well during interviews.
- C- Ryan Kalil, USC: An extremely tough battler in the pivot. Looked great in one on one drills while displaying a solid anchor in blocking. Held his own against bigger opponents, he showed a lot of unexpected skill blocking in motion.
Event Maintainers – These were players that we believe were solid and did not hurt their value at the Combine.
- S – Michael Griffin, Texas: Displayed an array of talent in deep coverage. Griffin made an impact every practice. His ball skills in coverage were outstanding as was his play defending the run.
- QB – Troy Smith, Ohio State: Displayed a strong arm to the sidelines and showed good leadership in the huddle. Was accurate with his short and intermediate passes, but his long throws were off.
- FB/RB – Brian Leonard, Rutgers: We are not sure if he is big and physical enough to be a full-time FB at the next level or fast enough to be an every-down RB. He did display though that he is one tough football player who can catch, block and isn’t afraid to go downfield on special teams.
Event Crashers – These were players that we believe hurt their value at the Combine and will need to make up ground going into the draft.
- DE – Quentin Moses, Georgia: The Bulldogs pass rusher checked in much lighter than expected at 249 pounds and was handled all week by blockers. During interviews, Moses did not come off as a confident individual.
- OL – Ryan Harris, Notre Dame: Continuing what was a poor senior season, Harris was beaten regularly in Mobile. At one point he was chastised by Jon Gruden for allowing a sack on Thursday.
- DB – Marcus McCauley, Fresno State: Another who struggled in the 2006 regular season. He is not as physical or fast as former teammate and high draftee last year Richard Marshall. McCauley was beaten with regularity all week. His performance during Thursday’s no pads practice was not good, with him being beaten over and over in drills.
- QB – Jordan Palmer, UTEP: His brother Carson got all the “arm” in the family as Jordan was weak on out patterns. He also did not seem to take command of the huddle.
- WR’s are Deep – The deepest position in the 2007 draft class seems to be the WRs. The group is led by underclassmen Calvin Johnson, Dwayne Jarrett and others. In Mobile the aforementioned Bowe and other WR’s Aundrae Allison of East Carolina, Johnnie Lee Higgins of UTEP, Chris Davis of Florida State and Rhema McKnight of Notre Dame accounted well for themselves.
- DB’s were unimpressive – Pro scouts probably left Mobile scratching their heads just a bit about the CB play. Michigan CB Leon Hall, one of the top-rated players at any position coming into Mobile, was physical and aggressive, but gave up way too many completions for a player expected to go in the 1st round. Cal DB Daymeion Hughes also was only okay before being hurt and missing the last part of camp. South Carolina DB Fred Bennett looked stiff before missing some time with a leg injury.
- The Senior Bowl is the place where the unemployed come looking for job interviews. Several coaches looking for work were chumming it up with coaches looking to fill out their staffs. One of them was Larry Coker, the recently released coach from the Miami Hurricanes, was at practice all week hoping to catch on with an NFL team.
That is a wrap and BIGPLAY will definitely be there next year to cover the Senior Bowl, which is now a major happening.