Scouting the Senior Bowl

Every year the countdown to the NFL draft initially begins with the Senior Bowl in Mobile Alabama. With an unusually large amount of first day draft picks participating in this year's Bowl game the anticipation became a little more heightened than normal.

The most impressive crop of players in this years draft can be found with the offensive linemen, defensive linemen and linebackers. As a whole those three position groups have seventeen players that carry a 1st round grade. On the flip side this year's receivers and defensive backs are particularly weak and this was painfully obvious throughout the practices leading up to the actual game.

OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Virginia - There were a few letdowns this week but Ferguson was one of the players who proved to be everything he's been advertised as. His techniques are polished and footwork is unbelievable. During north practices he did a magnificent job against the highly touted Mathias Kiwanuka and Darrell Tapp in one on one drills.

The one area of his game that should warrant some concern however is his ability overpower defenders in the running game. Even when matched up against some of the smaller pass rushing defensive ends in yesterday's game he was never able to blow any of them off of the ball the way you would expect an NFL tackle to do.

QB/WR Michael Robinson, Penn State – Robinson came in to last weeks practices wanting to prove himself as an NFL quarterback but when he began to struggle as a passer several teams requested that he make the move to receiver. Although he did play some limited series at quarterback in the actual bowl game most teams now likely view him as a wide out or safety.

After seeing him play a variety of roles during last week's practices I feel comfortable in saying that Robinson has a long way to go before he becomes a polished player at any new position. However, players with his combination of strength and athleticism are hard to come by and with Matt   Jones, Antwan Randel El, and John Lynch serving as examples there will be no shortage of teams willing to roll the dice on his development.

OG Deuce Lutui, USC – Though his technique isn't quite as polished as of the other top guards in the draft (Max Jean-Gilles & Davin Joseph) he makes up for it with his unique blend of size and athleticism. With surprising agility at 340lbs Lutui continually impressed onlookers throughout last weeks practices. Right now he looks to be an early to mid second round draft pick and might rise even higher than that with a strong showing in at the combine.

C Nick Mangold, Ohio State - Mangold is one of the most NFL ready offensive lineman that I have ever seen. All week long he dominated every lineman they put in front of him and then duplicated that effort against a very talented group of defensive tackles from the South team.

When you look at the offensive line as a whole Mangold is actually pound for pound the best offensive lineman in this draft. Unfortunately for him the league doesn't value centers the same way they value tackles and he'll likely be picked in the late first round.

OG Davin Joseph, Oklahoma – Joseph coupled his strong week of practices with an outstanding game day performance to solidify himself as a late first or early second round pick. During the game Joseph was continually lined up against the talented trio of Kyle Williams, Broderick Bunkley, and Jesse Mahelona, a group of defensive tackles that are as talented as some NFL starting lineups. By the end of the game Joseph had stonewalled all three players with a dazzling display of hand placement, balance and footwork.

OT Jeremy Trueblood, Boston College – Trueblood was up and down at the right tackle position as he struggled at times to maintain position against the South's athletic defensive ends (He did do a solid job against Dumervil however). With about five minutes left in the third quarter he also became the first person I've ever seen ejected from an All-Star game for fighting.

OG Charles Spencer, Pittsburgh – This was my first time to see Charles Spencer in action and he jumped out at me on the first play. He initially stands out because of his immense size and strength but once you see how well he can get downfield its hard not to pencil him in as a top twenty pick.

The only downside to Spencer's game is that he played offensive tackle at Pittsburgh so he is still working on making the transition to the interior. Because he played tackle for so long he needs to learn to drop his pads a little more now that he is on the inside.

QB Charlie Whitehurst, Clemson - Although Jay Cutler and Brodie Croyle received most of the attention this week it was Whitehurst had the day's best performance at quarterback. Whitehurst had an impressive touchdown drive at the end of the first quarter that displayed nice touch and accuracy. In that drive he went 5 for 5 for 63 yards and capped it off with 13 yard touchdown pass to tight end Klopfenstein of Colorado.

DT Jesse Mahelona, Tennessee – Mahelona has a lot of the qualities you look for in a starting defensive tackle in the NFL. He's got a strong lower body, high motor, he plays low and keeps a nice solid base. Over all he had a nice week of practice and a pretty good game other than the times he was lined up against center Nick Mangold.

DT Kyle Williams, LSU – Williams capped off a great week of practice with an outstanding game against the North's offensive line. He gave Mark Setterstrom and Charles Spencer all they could handle throughout most of the game and has likely moved his draft value in to the early second round. While watching him play he kind of reminds me of a lighter version of Vince Wilfork.

DT Broderick Bunkley, Florida State – Bunkley wasn't quite as impressive as I expected he would be in Saturday's game though he found himself up against the double teams Davin Joseph and Nick Mangold for most of the day. Throughout the week of practice and drills however he looked like a man among boys.

I have seen enough film on Bunkley to know he is better than his game day performance. Any damage he might have suffered from a below average Senior game will likely be made up for at the combine.

DE Kamerion Wimbley, Florida State – Wimbley had a decent week in Mobile but didn't really raise or lower his stock in the game or in practice. Right now he is looked at primarily as a pass rush specialist or outside linebacker in a 3-4 that will probably be drafted in the mid second round.

DE Elvis Dumervil, Louisville – In 2005 Dumervil was college football's version of Dwight Freeney as he terrorized his conference with his 20 sacks. Unfortunately the Big East's sack master saw his stock plummet a long way after his mediocre performance in Saturday's game. Oddly enough Dumervil was surprisingly strong against the run but he failed create much pressure as a pass rush specialist. Right now it is hard to imagine him going any higher than the third round.

DE Mathias Kiwanuka, Boston College – If Elvis Dumervil thought his stock took a sharp drop that was nothing compared to what happened to Mathias Kiwanuka. Throughout the week of practices Kiwanuka was never able to show much effectiveness against the North's offensive tackles and Ferguson in particular stymied him at every turn.

Kiwanuka has likely fallen from the early to mid first round all the way to the mid second round. Unfortunately this past weeks performance will cost him millions of dollars.

DE Manny Lawson, N.C. State – Lawson ended up being one of the surprises of the week and backed up his high energy practices with a fairly strong showing in the game. Because of his quickness and long arms he wound up being the one player on the South squad that actually gave D'Brickashaw Ferguson a run for his money.

Skills wise Lawson showed extreme speed and ability to beat the double team. He also employs an impressive initial burst thus making him constant danger on the edge. With his tall slender build he looks like he'd be a great fit at outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense though I wouldn't call him out of position as an end in a 4-3 either (Jason Taylor).

DE Tamba Hali, Penn State – Hali was another player that came in to the Senior Bowl and managed to live up to his reputation. Although he is a smaller defensive end he still managed to do a nice job against the run and stood up well against the larger offensive linemen.

When rushing the passer he created all sorts of problems for the South squad and was too much for Jonothan Scott when they lined him up on the right side. Out of all of the pass rushers in attendance he a Daryl Tapp were easily the most impressive.

DE Daryl Tapp, Virginia Tech – Tapp showed ability to rush the passer with the speed and tackling ability to run and pursue like a linebacker. His leverage and balance really stand out as well. With a skill set like that teams that run a 3-4 defense will have him high on their list as an outside linebacker. Don't look for him to last much longer than the 20th pick.

LB Freddie Roach, Alabama – It is tough to evaluate linebackers in these types of games but Roach stood out among his peers today. Technique wise he did a nice job of staying low while scraping towards the ball carrier then followed it up with nice explosion to the point of attack. He also showed a level of ferocity that isn't commonly seen in a post season All-Star game.

LB D'Qwell Jackson, Maryland – Jackson looked like the second best linebacker in Saturday's game for many of the same reasons Roach stood out. While Demeco Ryans, Chad Greenway, and Abdul Hodge are still top notch prospects they failed to bring the game day presence to the field like Jackson and Roach.

RB DeAngelo Williams, Memphis – No player in attendance helped themselves more than DeAngelo Williams. The speed, burst, and vision he displayed throughout his college career proved to be as authentic as could be all week long. Judging from the buzz he has created around the league I would imagine he has elevated himself to a top ten pick.

While watching Williams he actually reminded me of Ladainian Tomlinson Tomlinson when I saw him in the same situation several years ago. While I won't anoint him the next Tomlinson I will say that there are some striking similarities in the way they run the ball.

OT Jonothan Scott, Texas – Having seen Jonothan Scott play in at least ten games over the past two seasons I must say that his Senior Bowl performance was a major disappointment. Scott has usually been a dominant force on the left side of the Texas offense but when lined up across from equally talented players he looked somewhat sluggish and ordinary.

OG Max Jean-Gilles, Georgia - Gilles has been impressive throughout his college career and Saturday's game was no different. On more than one occasion turned his body towards the pursuit and sealed all pursuit down the line of scrimmage by the defensive line. That is an unusual sight to see, especially in a game that contains NFL talent at most positions.

What might have been most surprising note about Gilles was how light his feet were. It isn't uncommon to see him plow people over in the run game but the way he was able to set up and pedal in pass protection was awfully impressive.

OT Marcus McNeill, Auburn – The giant left tackle from Auburn had a nice game despite reports that he might be best suited to play on the right side in the NFL due to his footwork.

Unfortunately while McNeill's footwork is good he does have a problem bending at his waist instead of his knees. At the height 6'9" this is understandable but it's going to set his value in the late first round when he would other wise be a top 10 pick.

Now while it is true that McNeill lacks D'Brickashaw Ferguson's skills in pass protection it is also fair to say that McNeill is everything Ferguson lack in the running game. I have watched a lot of tape on McNeill and he has been my favorite player to watch when it comes to pan-caking defenders. Any NFL team that wants to base their offense on a power running game should make drafting Marcus McNeill their top priority.

On a lighter note McNeill happened to be involved in the funniest play of the day as time ran out in the first half. With Georgia's D.J. Shockley at quarterback McNeill was beaten on an inside move by the end Daryl Tapp. Tapp's pressure forced Shockley to throw the ball off balance which should have led to an interception. What happened instead however was one of the safeties swatted the ball with such velocity that it went directly back in to the arms of McNeill and the giant offensive tackle then turned in to a 330lb tailback. Though he only traveled four yards it took five North squad defenders to drag the big man out of bounds.

OT Eric Winston, Miami – After the performance he had in the first half of Saturday's Winston's stock will drop like a rock. His feet were as slow as could be and Daryl Tapp flat out abused him. Winston has probably dropped from a probable early second round pick to a late seventh round pick and he'll need a monumental day at the combine to make up half of that ground.

DT Gabe Watson, Michigan – The large and talented Watson has been knocked for the inconsistent play over his college career and if there were anybody who needed a strong showing in Mobile this week it was him. Watson was the largest defensive lineman in attendance this week and when it comes to the draft he's only behind Oregon's Haloti Ngata.

Because of his size Watson can become immovable force in the middle yet he possesses enough quickness to come down the line of scrimmage and defend the run from tackle to tackle. His talent however has never been in doubt; it's his desire to use that talent on every play in every game that's been the real question.

Throughout last weeks practices he flashed the ability to be a dominant presence. Luckily for Watson he followed up all of those good practices with an impressive performance in yesterday's game and has now moved himself back in to the late first round. Top Stories