The Senior Bowl game was played Saturday, but most NFL scouts and coaches leave days in advance of that, preferring to scout the practices personally and leave the game for the fans.
So if the week of practice is so important, who were some of the players that stood out last week? We look at two on each side of the ball.
QB Carson Wentz – Making the move up from Division IAA to the NFL is no small task for any prospects, especially a quarterback, but Wentz appears to have what it takes. The North Dakota State quarterback needed to prove that playing against some of the best senior prospects in the country wasn’t too much for him to handle, and he did exactly that. He has terrific size for a quarterback (6-foot-6, 235 pounds) and is nowhere near the statuesque quarterback his height might indicate. Wentz can move in the pocket and get outside of it, too, where he is a dual threat to run or pass. He also proved he can and does make all the throws required – deep outs with velocity, long shots with air under them and short passes with timing and touch. He may have moved from an intriguing question mark to a top-10 overall pick.
WR Sterling Shepard – The Oklahoma receiver spend most of his time in the slot in college – 69 percent of the time, according to Pro Football Focus – but displayed great route-running ability. He was smooth and quick coming out of his breaks and created separation consistently with those assets. Among the Senior Bowl receivers, he tied for the lowest drop rate, 4 percent per PFF, in 2015 and also proved he can make defenders miss. Because he is only 5-foot-10, he likely isn’t a first-round receiver, but he should be at least a productive slot receiver in the NFL.
CB Jonathan Jones – The Auburn product is a bit like Shepard on the other side of the ball. He is only 5-foot-10, but his quickness had him glued to receivers throughout the week of practice. He was rarely fooled by double moves, reacts nicely to a ball in the air and appears to be a willing tackler in run support. He said he emulates his game after Brent Grimes, and that seems to be a good comparison. Because of his height, he might only be a slot cornerback despite rarely playing there in 2015, but he should be a good one at that and likely elevated his stock into the middle rounds with his performance in Mobile.
DT Sheldon Rankins – Viewers of the Senior Bowl game didn’t see Rankins because of a knee injury suffered during the week of practice that is being termed “minor” by some. That means medical checks at the NFL Scouting Combine later this month will be critical for him, but he showed he can be a first-round pick when healthy. He threw offensive linemen around on occasion and can anchor against the run, but he also showed quickness off the snap to disrupt on passing plays. For now, his run-stuffing ability is his best asset – he missed only 4 percent of tackles in 2015, according to PFF – but his practices in Mobile indicate he could be a quality interior pass rusher, too. Because it’s a very deep draft for defensive linemen, his draft stock will be in the eye of the beholder, but he should be somewhere in the lower half of the first round or in the second round.