Some Senior Bowl Observations: A Good Year for Defense, a Bad Year to Need a Quarterback

Like all fans of the 30 non-playoff teams, my thoughts have already turned to the offseason and ponderings upon who will be going where in the NFL draft. The four month long odyssey to the April draft begins every year in Mobile, Alabama where the Senior Bowl was played on Sunday. Though most of the important impressions are undoubtedly formed amongst scouts and general managers during practices the week before, here are just a few thoughts on players from the game itself:

  1. The first and the last guy to make an impression upon me was Sheldon Day, a defensive lineman out of Notre Dame. At 6’2″ Day weighted in at 285 lb making him comparable in stature to the Rams Aaron Donald. Indeed, word is that he excelled at the three technique tackle position in practices but after this game, there’s little doubt in my mind that Day is a pass rushing defensive end all the way. He showed himself to be a quick twitch athlete who was fast enough to go outside or inside around offensive tackles. He was too easily engulfed at defensive tackle when the North team moved him inside in the second quarter. But he excelled at end in the first and third quarters and with his size he looks to me like he’d make a good all around 4-3 defensive end who could both rush the passer and set the edge against the run.
  2. Two more prospects who struck me were Tyler Matakevich from Temple (6’1″, 232 lb) and Kentrell Brothers out of Missouri (6’1″, 235 lb). I’d rather both were just a tad bigger but both showed good instincts and ability and will be possible targets for anyone needing help at inside linebacker though, in my opinion, neither should go before the third round.
  3. Another Notre Dame product, offensive guard Nick Martin, also stuck out during this game.  He’s the brother of Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin so he has the blood line.  He also has the size at 6’5″, 301 lb and he was a road block the whole game both in pass protection and as a run blocker.  Martin actually played better to my eye during this game in the second quarter as a center.  But the guess here is that someone is going to draft him, plug him in at guard and forget about the position for about a decade.  If he gets past the Bears in the second round, I’d be surprised.
  4. The minute Carson Wentz hit the field, you knew immediately why scouts like him. At 6’6″, 235 lb he’s a physical specimen who was a man amongst boys when compared to the other quarterbacks on either team. Wentz is a tall quarterback with a big arm who flashed athleticism during the game. He didn’t move much in the pocket but moved well outside of it. He’s got a reasonable release and a good feel for the pocket. Scouts are apparently still concerned about Wentz’s decision-making and timing. But he was able to relieve at least some as regards his accuracy. Despite the fact that his receivers let him down with a number of bad drops, most of Wentz’s throws were right on the money, including one or two deceptively difficult ones. I’d like to see more of him (along with a lot of other people – he only started 23 games in college) but there’s no doubt about it. Wentz is a first round prospect. Possibly top ten.
  5. There were a couple of pass rushers outside of Day who impressed me. One was Noah Spence, a defensive end out of Eastern Kentucky. The other was Kyler Fackrell, an outside linebacker out of Utah State. Spence was no surprise as he’s been impressing scouts during practice all week. For him, the off-field meetings with teams were critical due to his checkered past. On the field, it was important to prove that as a small-school prospect he could succeed against the best players in the country. I can’t say anything about the first problem but as far as the second goes, he was practically unblockable during the game and, as I understand it, during practice for much of the week. Both he and Fackrell showed explosiveness and ability to get to the quarterback. Both should get some attention coming away from this game, especially Spence who, if he eases concerns about his off-field behaviour, could easily be a top fifteen pick.
  6. I heard all week about quarterback turned wide receiver Braxton Miller, who was apparently surprisingly smooth in his routes and in and out of his breaks during practice. Whatever he showed there, he was a major disappointment to me during the game. He had at least one bad drop and apparently ran the wrong route in the two minute offense at the end of the first period. Miller looks to me like a project and given the reports during the week, I was sorry that he didn’t show himself to be further along.
  7. One player who, for me, came out of nowhere to perform amazingly well was Nick Vannett, a 6’6″, 260 lb tight end out of Ohio State. Vannett ran a couple of long completions on seam routes that made me think of Caroline tight end Greg Olsen. Whatever problems he had standing out during the week of practices, he definitely made an impression upon me during the game. The guess here is that multiple teams are going back to the film room to take a closer look at him this week.
  8. Overall its a bad year to need a quarterback and the reasons why aren’t demonstrated any better than by the showing of Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan. I was really looking forward to seeing what Hogan would look like during this game. He’s a smart quarterback who has showed ability during the season to do a lot of things that are difficult to teach. He feels the rush, moves well in the pocket, sees the field and makes good decisions. But during the game, Hogan was a mild disappointment to me. Though he’s 6’4″ he didn’t show the physical stature or ability that, for instance, Wentz did. He showed adequate arm strength and, though his release was quick enough, he’s got a bit of a wind up. His footwork needs work as well. I sort of hoped that Hogan would turn out to be like Garrett Grayson was last year: a solid third rounder who had the potential to develop into a starter with time. Now I’m not so sure. I want to see more but Hogan looks like he might be more of a borderline prospect whose ceiling is as a back up in the league
  9. Like Vannett, there might be a lot of teams taking a closer look at Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen right now.  Allen is supposedly only 6’1″ but that’s not the way he plays.  He stands tall in the pocket and throws more like he’s 6’4″.  He’s a bit stiff but he was a surprise and I’d like to see more of him.
  10. Finally, there’s Most Outstanding Player of the Game, Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescot. Prescot looked good in the two minute drill at the end of the first half and that’s why he won the award. But he looks limited to me as a pro prospect. He’s obviously most comfortable in the shot gun throwing flat footed rather than under center. He can move outside the pocket but showed little feel for the rush and did not move in the pocket to create passing lanes at all that I saw. He has average arm strength with kind of a wind up but, like Hogan above, his release is probably quick enough. Most importantly, he was at his best when he threw the ball to the primary target but I thought he had limited field vision and if he ever went to a secondary target, I didn’t see it. Prescot needs a lot of work and, at the moment, he doesn’t look to me like an NFL quarterback. My initial thoughts are that he’s a late round pick or maybe an undrafted free agent who might make a decent back up.

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