By Dane Brugler, The Sports Xchange
With a full week of practices in Mobile complete, teams have begun the process of setting their draftboard based not only on the Senior Bowl, but each individual's entire football résumé.
It's important to remember prospects cannot be judged based on a few practices in an all-star game setting.
However, NFL decision-makers take away a lot from this week and expect big-time players to step up in the spotlight, especially when matched up against top competition.
Here are the players who helped or hurt their draft stock this week.
Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska
At only 6-0, 225 pounds and with a maxed-out frame, Lavonte David doesn't necessarily look like a prototypical first-round linebacker, but his play says otherwise. He flies around the field with controlled aggression, looking natural bursting in any direction with very good first-step quickness. David doesn't have ideal strength to tear through blocks, but where he separates himself from the pack is his ability to find the ball and finish with a competitive drive. Also rare is his ability in reverse with smooth hip action and fluid footwork to drop and cover. David was a tackling machine in Lincoln with 285 tackles the past two seasons for the Huskers and displayed a passion for the game of football that carried over to Senior Bowl practice. There are questions about where he will fit at the next level, maybe as a weak-side linebacker in a Tampa-2 scheme or possibly even at strong safety. But he confirmed this week there is no question about his overall ability.
JANORIS JENKINS, CB, NORTH Alabama
One could make an argument that the strongest position group at this year's Senior Bowl was cornerback. And the cream of the crop among the cover guys is a small-school guy in a roundabout way. Jenkins was a standout cornerback at Florida before he was dismissed by the Gators for several off-field issues and transferred to North Alabama, an FCS school, in 2011. This week, scouts were anxious to see him lined up against top competition once again and Jenkins didn't disappoint. He showcased light feet with swivel hips to stay fluid in his transition and easily turn and run downfield with receivers. Jenkins also displayed explosive closing burst with impeccable timing to plant, drive and blow up the play, separating ball from receiver. Obviously there are several questions regarding Jenkins' character, which will ultimately affect his draft stock. However, based on pure talent and football ability alone, Jenkins is a top-10 prospect and should be the top senior cornerback off the board.
Dwight Bentley, CB, LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE
Although he was a late injury replacement, Bentley had a strong performance during Senior Bowl practices and it could be argued he helped himself in the eyes of scouts more than any player in Mobile. He is a fluid athlete with quick, explosive footwork to redirect smoothly in his transition and look natural in his backpedal. Bentley is a tad undersized with a lean, wiry build at 5-10 and 176 pounds, but he stayed physical all week, competing with bigger, stronger receivers. He is obviously most comfortable in off-coverage, where he can use his athleticism to react to the play, but that didn't stop him from putting his hands on receivers just enough to keep them from separating. Bentley has solid ball skills with a knack for using his speed to return interceptions for positive gains – seven career interceptions, three returned for scores, averaging 28.3 yards per interception return. Bentley was thought to be a mid-round pick based on his natural athleticism, but he looked much more polished than expected during practices and could sneak into the top-75 picks.
Marvin Jones, WR, California
A late addition to the Senior Bowl roster, Jones certainly made the most of his unexpected opportunity, standing out as the top wideout on the North squad. He used his combination of short-area burst and footwork to separate from defensive backs in one-on-one drills, looking precise as a route runner. Jones looks maxed out in terms of bulk on his narrow frame, but he had a better than expected weigh-in at 6-2, 198 pounds with 10-inch hands. He got himself in trouble when he tried to get physical with defensive backs in coverage, but he looks like an intriguing slot player who could excel in space. At Cal, Jones played second fiddle at wideout opposite sophomore first-team All-Pac-12 performer Keenan Allen.
SHEA McCLELLIN, DE/OLB, Boise State
The Boise State product didn't receive nearly the attention of his college teammates such as Kellen Moore or Doug Martin, but don't be surprised if Shea McClellin ends up being the top Bronco drafted in April. He is an intense player with the relentless nature that NFL teams love to see in defensive players. But perhaps McClellin's best attribute is something that can't be measured, but rather something that shows up on film and also this week on the practice field – his versatility. At Boise State, he played a multitude of positions, lining up at defensive end, linebacker and a hybrid version of several front-seven spots. However, this week coaches kept McClellin predominantly at strongside linebacker where he looked as natural as any other player on the team, showing quick feet and good eyes. He will be most effective at the next level moved around by a creative defensive coordinator, utilizing his impressive effort and playing speed. McClellin isn't flashy, but he simply makes plays on the football field wherever he's asked to play.
Zebrie Sanders, OT, Florida State
After Florida State left tackle Andrew Datko went down with a season-ending injury, Zebrie Sanders moved from right tackle to the left side and really had a strong second half of 2011, looking more natural at left tackle. However this week in practice, Sanders lined up mostly at right tackle and really struggled to hold up against rushers in one-on-one drills. His lack of lower body anchor showed up against bull rushers and his undisciplined technique in space forced him to overextend and bend over at the waist, ending up on the ground. Sanders is an impressive athlete for his size (6-5 1/2, 308 pounds with 34 1/2-inch arms and 11-inch hands), but needs extensive work on his fundamentals before he's ready to contribute on a pro offensive line. He had a chance to emerge as the top tackle in the senior class, securing a slot in the first round. However after a poor week, Sanders looks more like a second-round development prospect, similar to former Southern Cal tackle Charles Brown, a second-round pick of the Saints.
Dwight Jones, WR, North Carolina
With Baylor's Kendall Wright, Notre Dame's Michael Floyd and Wisconsin's Nick Toon pulling out of the Senior Bowl due to injury, the distinction of top senior wideout at the Senior Bowl was expected to go to Dwight Jones out of North Carolina. However, he didn't seize the opportunity and looked extremely ordinary and inconsistent this week. For a player with an imposing frame (6-3, 226 pounds with almost 34-inch arms), Jones struggled to make contested catches in tight windows and was routinely out-muscled by defensive backs who appeared to "want it" more. For a player who won't wow anyone with his speed or quickness, Jones better catch the football if he hopes to make a living at the next level, but he would often fight the ball in practice and showed little of the playmaking ability he flashed at North Carolina. Jones has obvious upside, but after an uninspiring performance this week, scouts are departing Mobile wondering if he's a player who will ever reach his full potential.
Alfonzo Dennard, CB, NEBRASKA
Dennard was thought to be the top senior cornerback and possible top-20 pick prior to the Senior Bowl. However, he had a very inconsistent week of practice and will need to do some serious damage control at the combine and his pro day in order to secure a draft selection in the top 40 picks. Granted, he was asked to play a lot of traditional, off-coverage in practice, allowing a cushion which doesn't showcase his physical strengths as a defensive back. Dennard is more of a short-area player who can be aggressive at the line of scrimmage to reroute receivers and stay in their hip pocket. He has very good ball skills with the focus and vertical ability to get his hands on the ball and knock down passes, but he doesn't have the elite long-speed to make up for a false step. For some teams, Dennard showed this week that he might not be a fit with what they ask their corners to do. However, many teams value physical press corners who win at the line of scrimmage and Dennard is that type of defensive back.
Senior Bowl stock risers and fallers
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