With one of the most important events in the pre-draft process officially in the books, future NFL hopefuls will now return to their respective regions of training with intentions to get themselves in the best physical shape possible for the upcoming NFL Combine. While prospects are sure to see their stocks rise and fall in the coming weeks, mostly for a variety of factors that will be taken into account in the months leading to April, the 2013 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama told us a lot about the names to keep an eye on in the coming weeks. Some players solidified notions that were already established, while others went above and beyond the expectations many had for them entering last week’s practices, and ultimately through the game on Saturday. Others, unfortunately, may have hurt their stock by either not participating or by disappearing on the stage.
Let’s take a look at some names that were undoubtedly the top performers from Saturday’s Senior Bowl, followed by a brief overview of some other names we are likely to discuss in the coming weeks.
Ezekiel Ansah – DE, BYU - There has been a good amount of buzz surrounding Ansah in recent weeks. A very intriguing prospect due to his superior athleticism and physical prowess, Ansah certainly has his question marks as an inexperienced player, having played the sport for the first time just two years ago. However, there is no denying that Ansah was the best player on the field on Saturday.
While he showed some signs of struggle during the week of practice, Ansah put a lot of questions to bed by showing that he may not be as raw as the popular perception seems to be. The presumption that Ansah is a physically gifted, but extremely raw player, has stemmed primarily from his lack of experience. While he is by no means fundamentally and technically perfect, Ansah showed much more football skill, beyond his superior athleticism, than people have given him credit for.
Aside from using his speed and brute strength to win his battles against opposing offensive lineman, Ansah displayed a consistent ability to maintain leverage against his blocker, while showing excellent reaction time and an ability to shed blocks. During the week of practice, it seemed as though Ansah was trying to get by solely on physicality, as he was repeatedly beaten on technique and fundamentals. However, during the game, Ansah showed that, not only is he as physically gifted as many have thought, but he is a much closer to becoming a complete football player than what is perceived.
Ansah repeatedly reacted to blocks as if he had been playing the game to a time-span closer to a decade, rather than two years. When the opposing tackle would block down, Ansah would play it perfectly by striking the outside shoulder and reacting to what was coming next. If it was a pulling offensive lineman coming down hill to kick him out, Ansah did not waste a second to spill the play by attacking the inside shoulder of the blocker. If it was boot or sprint out to his side, Ansah would settle in after striking the offensive lineman, remain patient, rather than getting lured upfield, and pounce on the passer.
Ansah should a tremendous ability to set the edge against outside runs and fantastic strength and leverage against inside runs, often times driving the opposing offensive lineman into the backfield, while rarely giving up any ground. In short, he is much more NFL ready than we thought a week ago.
Being such a physical freak will now only benefit Ansah in the coming weeks. He will likely have a tremendous combine, and after he posts what is expected to be head turning numbers for his position, scouts will take a closer look at the tape and realize he is very close to being the total package. A top ten selection is certainly not out of the realm of possibilities for Ansah.
Eric Fisher – OT, Central Michigan - We knew a lot about Fisher’s ability going into last week, but he did even more to surpass the high expectations. All week in practice, Fisher displayed excellent technique in his footwork, hand placement, and ability to play low and get underneath defenders. He is extremely quick, has excellent balance, possesses a tremendous combination of both upper and lower body strength, and has the tenacity necessary for the position. He showed he can effectively pull with above average speed and ability to locate and block defenders in space. Fisher is undoubtedly going to challenge Texas A & M’s Luke Joeckel for the top offensive tackle in this year’s class. Barring some drastic unforeseen disaster at the combine, he is a sure top ten selection.
Kawann Short – DT, Purdue - A lot of people will talk about North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams as being the player to rise up draft boards and challenge Star Lotulelei and Sheldon Richardson as the top defensive tackle in this year’s class, but Short joined that conversation with a tremendous effort on Saturday. Short has immense size at 6’3″ 315 lbs which contributes to his fantastic strength, but where he really stood out on Saturday was in his quickness and hand speed. Short showed an excellent ability to constantly keep the opposing offensive lineman’s hands off of him, something that can become insanely frustrating to anyone attempting to block him. He can rush the passer from the interior with his brute strength, and just when the guard or center thinks they have his arsenal of moves figured out, he throws in a quick hand strike and club, using their aggressiveness against them, often leaving them falling face first on the ground while Short is wreaking havoc in the backfield. As it stands now, he is on the fringe of the first and second rounds, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see him sneak into the bottom half of the first. Still, don’t expect him to fall far if he makes it past the super bowl winner at 32.
Brian Schwenke – C/G, California - Schwenke was one of the most pleasant surprises of the afternoon. Not only was his versatility as both a guard and center on display – he took significant reps at each position – but he displayed some of the best footwork out of every interior lineman in the contest. Schwenke has a very good initial first step, very good short yardage quickness, and a fantastic ability to get off of double teams and get to the second level. When matched up against North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams, a projected first round pick, Schwenke held him in check the majority of the time, particularly against the pass. Schwenke did drop his head a couple of times, once that resulted in a quarterback sack, but he played an overall outstanding game. His ability to play both center and guard will only help his stock moving forward.
Larry Warford – G, Kentucky - Warford was certainly one of the biggest bodies at the Senior Bowl all week (6’3″ 343 lbs), but he is deceptively quick for that immense size. He showed the ability to pull a few times, but also displayed excellent footwork in the five yard box in the trenches. He is more of a power player, but his ability to get to the second level should not be discounted one bit.
Vince Williams – ILB, Florida State - Williams was a late invitee to the game, but certainly took advantage of the opportunity to showcase himself. He was arguably the toughest player on the field for the majority of the time, something obviously crucial to the position he plays, and brought a level of intensity to his defense that seemed to inspire the play of those around him. Williams lacks the elite top end speed of an inside linebacker, but makes up for it with tremendous instincts, quickness, and ability to shed blocks. His drive and tenacity are among what makes him stand out as well. The combine will tell more about where Williams will likely be drafted, but as a mid-round prospect, he could end up being a steal.
Jonathan Cyprien – S, Florida International - In the absence of Texas S Kenny Vaccaro, Cyprien made his case as one of the top safeties in this year’s class. Cyprien showed very good awareness, ball skills, and an ability to get in and out of his breaks at a level need for success at the next level. Coaches raved about his work ethic and football IQ all week, something that will help his stock as scouts do their research on him. While he may not come from a top NCAA program, Cyprien could surprise many at the next level. Like so many others, the combine will be big for him.
Marquise Goodwin – WR, Texas - While Goodwin does not have the size of a primary receiver in the NFL, he made his case as someone who could become a very good slot receiver/utility man in the NFL. Goodwin was constantly finding ways to make plays with the ball in his hands, something that speaks volumes when considering the abysmal quarterbacking that was on display. With many NFL teams looking for players to put in versatile roles, like Green Bay’s Randall Cobb or Minnesota’s Percy Harvin, Goodwin is sure to peak the interest of many as we head into April.
OL - While they did not play to the level of the offensive lineman aforementioned, Alabama’s DJ Fluker, Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson, and Kent State’s Brian Winters played very solid games. These guys have the tools and experience that will make them each quality players at the next level.
Players who still have a fair amount of question marks surrounding them moving forward include Justin Pugh of Syracuse, Oday Aboushi of Virginia, and Notre Dame’s Braxston Cave. Pugh is seemingly struggling to find his niche on the line against top level talent, while Aboushi, although tremendously built, seems to lack the overall strength and aggressiveness needed at the position. Cave has continued to struggle when competing against elite level defenders.
DL – Datone Jones of UCLA made a very strong case to sneak into the top performers. He has a very good combination of short area agility and overall body strength, something that can make him a very effective 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL. He is versatile enough to play standing up or with his hand on the ground, and has experience in such a scheme from his career as a Bruin. He will almost certainly begin to shoot up draft boards, presumably a late first or early to mid second rounder.
Jordan Hill of Penn State was another very impressive defensive lineman. Although he does not have great height (6’1″), he makes up for it by using very good leverage, hand speed, footwork, and overall technique. He is a gritty player who seems to play with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, the kind of mindset that can separate good defensive linemen from the average ones.
Other names that did things well include UConn’s Sio Jones, who has a motor that ranks among the best in the draft, Milliciah Goodman of Clemson, and Cornelius Washington from Georgia. LSU’s Lavar Edwards proved to be a very tough player, but lacks the overall quickness and physical strength that would be needed to make up for the amount of flaws in his technique. John Jenkins of Georgia is a massive body that can certainly clog holes and occupy blockers in the NFL, but has a very inconsistent motor. Everett Dawkins of Florida State also did some good things, but nothing significant enough to turn heads.
Possibly the most interesting defensive lineman was North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams. Williams flashed brilliance at times, but completely disappeared at others. He has all the physical tools to be great, but showed a tendency to get locked up with his blockers, rather than shedding and finding the ball. The talent is certainly there, but the consistency needs to be improved.
LBs - Outside of Williams, Zaviar Gooden of Missouri showed some tremendous speed, sideline to sideline ability, and very good range in coverage. He will likely need to go to a 4-3 scheme where his speed can be utilized as a SAM linebacker.
Khaseem Greene from Rutgers certainly was not bad by any means, but its tough to declare that his performance lived up to the production he achieved in college. He is unquestionably talented, but an average performance in this game could be a red flag to teams who may look to him having played the majority of his games against marginal competition.
Kevin Riddick (UNC) and Nico Johnson (Alabama) weren’t bad by any means, but were anything but extraordinary. Riddick made some nice plays, as did Johnson, but both of them struggled to get off of blockers at times, often finding themselves sealed to create run lanes.
RBs - It’s difficult to declare who the best running back in the game on Saturday was. Johnathan Franklin of UCLA was probably the most consistent of the contest, and showed that he can do a little bit of everything. Florida’s Mike Gillislee showed off his great speed and burst, and an overall good performance should have him climbing up some boards.
Stepfan Taylor was also very effective in limited reps. He showed arguably the best patience of all of his counterparts, including solid pass protection, and ability to be useful in the short passing game. Taylor, however, does not seem to have that top end speed to be a game breaker at the next level.
Kenjon Barner of Oregon surely has the speed and elusiveness to be a weapon, but he struggled mightily between the tackles. To his credit, it was a very unfamiliar offense to him. It will be interesting to see how team’s view Barner going forward. Based on the offense he came from at Oregon, and his play from Saturday, he will likely be looked at as a developmental back who can contribute immediately in certain packages. Barner could be very effective if placed in a stable of backs with a bruiser or two ahead of him.
One name that got some serious attention this week was Robbie Rouse out of Fresno State. While he is rather short for the position (listed at 5’7″), he is put together very well and runs with a low center of gravity. Rouse showed very good vision and patience, as well as a very solid burst through the hole. He has a very good motor and keeps his feet going until the whistle, or when brought to the ground on every play. It will be interesting to see where Rouse ends up.
WR - Somewhat difficult position to gauge based on how mediocre the quarterback play was, but the names that stood out most, other than Goodwin, were Markus Wheaton of Oregon State and Terrance Williams of Baylor.
DB - Overall impressive collective performance, but again, tough to gauge based on the quarterbacking. Overall, Desmond Trufant was the most impressive CB of the game. He put together a very strong week of practice which translated over to Saturday’s game. His has very fluid hips, comes in and out of his breaks well, has very good top end speed (see opening kickoff), and is deceptively physical.
Other defensive backs that did some good things include Duke Williams, Jordan Poyer, Jamar Taylor, Bacarri Rambo, and Robert Alford, who looked very good on Special Teams and in the return game as well. TJ McDonald flashed some quality play and is certainly a name to keep an eye on moving forward. Looks the part of a smaller Taylor Mays, but with much better overall coverage skills.
QB - Not much to say here. All were underwhelming, aside from EJ Manuel who was really the only one to show some type of consistency. Manuel can make plays with his feet as well as his arm, and has excellent size for the position.
Ryan Nassib of Syracuse continued to exhibit an inability to throw on the run, something that may hurt him in the NFL considering his height. North Carolina State’s Mike Glennon made some excellent throws, but more often than not was off target and wildly inconsistent. Like Glennon, Tyler Wilson, Landry Jones, and Zac Dysert were also inconsistent, but none of them made some of the throws that Glennon was able to. If it were any other year, it is highly likely that not one of these players would be selected in the first round, but with such a depleted class, in a quarterback needy league, some of them are sure to be over drafted. The lackluster performances will likely help solidify West Virginia’s Geno Smith as the first quarterback off the board, while USC’s Matt Barkley, who is recovering from a shoulder injury, will begin to sneak back up draft boards as well.