The Colts need help on both the offensive and defensive line. This year's draft is deep in both of those areas and the Senior Bowl was a reflection of that talent in the trenches on both sides of the ball. The most impressive offensive tackle in my eyes was Derrick Sherrod of Mississippi State.
Sherrod is a huge man with nimble feet and tremendous power. He looked smooth in pass protection and did a fairly good job of brutalizing his man on every running play. But, the fact that Sherrod has a great deal of potential and could be a franchise left tackle is also not a secret. He is considered to be a top-15 prospect and should be long gone by the time the Colts pick. If they have a chance to trade up a couple of spots or if he's there when they pick at 22nd overall, they should take him and consider themselves lucky.
The second-best performer at offensive tackle was also on the South squad, despite early reviews that most of the talent was on the North sidelines. James Carpenter of Alabama handled Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan in pass protection and sealed off the edge on running plays. He looked solid, but played only briefly, giving way to Sherrod for most of the game. He is currently rated as a third- or fourth-round prospect, but has ideal size at 6-foot-5 and 313 pounds and his performance at the Senior Bowl will only help his draft grade.
If Sherrod is snapped up in the first round before Indianapolis gets a shot at him, Carpenter would be a very good consolation prize in the second or third round.
At guard, the best player I observed was Florida State guard Rodney Hudson. He was very aggressive in the running game and finished a number of plays by blocking the man assigned to him to the ground, then releasing to the second level and taking on a linebacker or safety. He is considered to be undersized at 6-foot-3 and 291 pounds, but could easily support another 15 pounds on his frame, especially if those extra pounds were muscle.
Though Hudson excelled in the running game, it was difficult to gauge his pass blocking and recognition skills, since the North defense was prohibited from blitzing or running stunts on the defensive line. When he did pass block, Hudson usually had center help, which made a thorough assessment of his pass blocking skills impossible. Kyle DeVan and Mike Pollak both struggled in pass protection in 2010, so it will be vitally important for whoever the Colts draft to be proficient in this area right out of school. Hudson currently has a third-round grade, which sounds about right. Indianapolis needs to invest in linemen early and often, so Hudson would be a good pick-up.
Defensive tackle Terrell McClain parlayed a strong showing in the East-West Shrine game into an appearance in Saturday's game. He didn't look overwhelmed or star struck, but he also didn't do anything to separate himself from the pack. Sione Fua showed a strong push in both run defense and in the passing game and the Stanford tackle should get plenty of second looks from a number of teams at the Combine. He's currently rated in the fourth or fifth round, but that ranking is likely to change in the next few months, most likely with Fua being selected in the second or third round. He would still represent good value for the Colts if taken there. He looked like a first round player on Saturday, so getting him in the second or third round would be a bargain.
Notre Dame tackle Ian Williams also showed some flashes of pass rushing ability and is another prospect to keep an eye on. He fits the mold of what Indianapolis is moving to at the position and has plenty of upside as a pass rusher.
Running back Derrick Locke of Kentucky is an intriguing prospect in that he ran much bigger than he is — at 5-foot-8 and 186 pounds, scouts question his ability to withstand the punishment he will receive at the NFL level — is projected to go in the sixth or seventh round, and also returns kicks. He had only one punt return in college, but had extensive kick returning experience in his four years with the Wildcats, with two kickoff returns for touchdowns. The Colts are in dire need of a talent injection in the return game and Locke, if he can also step in at running back to give Joseph Addai and Donald Brown a breather, would be just that. He also caught 95 passes in 41 appearances, which means all he needs to learn how to do is pass protect and he would fit right in the Indianapolis backfield.
Louisville tailback Bilal Powell also ran well and with authority, gaining several yards after contact, but appeared to run too upright and looked to be too much of a slashing, one-cut back to catch on with the Colts.
Kerrigan was the most highly-touted defensive end prospect heading into this game, but the player that impressed me the most was Sam Acho of Texas. He's built like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, powerfully built and lower to the ground and reminded me of the Pro Bowl duo when he swam inside first round left tackle Nate Solder and wound up with a strip sack. Acho certainly opened some eyes on Saturday and continue to impress scouts with solid workout numbers at the Combine, so it is entirely possible that he could improve on his current draft stock, which has him projected in the late second or early third round.
Mike Mayock repeatedly praised North Carolina cornerback Kendric Burney as an ideal Cover 2 guy. Burney showed an ability to read, react, and tackle and is not undersized at 5-foot-9 and 186 pounds to play the position for Indianapolis. He is currently rated as a fifth-round prospect, but is on the rise after his performance on Saturday. The good news for Burney's draft stock — but the bad news for the Colts — is that his workout numbers at the Combine and his Pro Day will only help him between now and the end of April. Also of note is that he was a standout on special teams and showed solid tackling skills in space, which were both areas of concern for Indianapolis last season.
Stanford corner Richard Sherman is a converted wide receiver that was invited to the Senior Bowl late. He adjusted well and kept the play in front of him, showing advanced tackling skills for someone so new to the position. He may actually be too big to play cornerback for the Colts at 6-foot-2 and 192 pounds, but he otherwise fits the mold, especially considering he appears to be a late round or priority free agent at this point.
Miami's Leonard Hankerson was the star of the game at receiver and showed strong route recognition and execution on his touchdown reception from Christian Ponder. The bulk of his yards, though, came on a 49-yard jump ball where the cornerback didn't get turned around in time and come back for the ball. Hankerson is a good athlete that knows how to use his size advantage and has above average hands, but seems to fit the mold of Roy Hall and Taj Smith: An athlete that would work in most systems, but probably does not have the precision to play the position for Indianapolis.
Jeremy Kerley of TCU and Vincent Brown of San Diego State fit the mold of Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie, in that both players were productive in college, are around six feet tall, and are more accomplished route runners that rely on craft rather than ability. Brown ran some of the best routes in the game and made some tough catches in front of an on-coming safety, which he will certainly be required to do as a member of the Colts.
Kerley has extensive experience returning kicks and punts, with 94 career punt returns and 37 kickoff returns at TCU, though he was not involved in the return game on Saturday. If Collie and Anthony Gonzalez come back healthy for Indianapolis, the fifth receiver on this team will need to have another skill. Kerley certainly has that, as well as experience in the running game, as he was used in a number of different ways in college.
The issue with Kerley is that, when he was placed in the slot, he seemed to make moves at the line to defeat press coverage even though there was no press coverage allowed in the game. This kind of wasted motion at the snap, should it be revealed as a tick and a shortcoming in Kerley's game, could disrupt the timing of the Indianapolis passing game, which is not acceptable and would either push him down the depth chart or off the roster.
Dwayne Harris of East Carolina was the most impressive punt returner by far, but did not see any snaps on offense. But, Harris had 268 receptions for 3,001 yards and 20 touchdowns in his four seasons at ECU in addition to his stellar return numbers, which included three kickoff returns for scores. If he shows the kind of precision and execution on film that the Colts are looking for in a receiver, then he would make a welcome addition as a fifth receiver that can also contribute significantly in the return game.
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