Ten NFL draft prospects to watch in practices leading up to Senior Bowl
The two-week wait for Super Bowl XLIX leaves plenty of time to spend the next few days focused on the 2015 draft. The annual Senior Bowl kicks off on Jan. 24, with a bevy of all-important practices before it.
While several recognizable names have opted to skip the event, the list of NFL prospects in Mobile, Ala. this week remains extensive. Here are a few players to watch off each roster:
1. Josh Shaw, CB/S, USC: Every year, there are a handful of players who earn a "promotion" up to the Senior Bowl after performing well at the Shrine Game. Generally, that's an indication NFL scouts want to see more of those guys before the combine.
Shaw is on the list. Most famously known for lying about how he had suffered ankle injuries prior to the 2014 season (he initially said those injuries had occurred while he attempted to save his nephew from drowning), Shaw wound up playing just three games in a mostly lost senior year.
He's intriguing as an NFL prospect nonetheless, for multiple reasons. First and foremost, Shaw brings some size to the secondary at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds. Experience at both cornerback and safety adds a nice element to his resume -- don't be surprised if he winds up in a Jimmie Ward-type hybrid role between the two positions as a rookie.
And on that Shrine Game showing: Shaw picked off a pass from Old Dominion's Taylor Heinecke, putting the capper on a strong week.
2. Hau'oli Kikaha, DE, Washington: Kikaha led the FBS in sacks this season, posting a whopping 19.0 in the Huskies' 14 games. How much of that performance will translate to the NFL level? That's the question scouts will try to figure out, starting in earnest this week.
The Tuesday weigh-in will be important. Washington listed Kikaha at 6-3, 246 (right about where BYU outside linebacker and Detroit Lions 2014 second-round pick Kyle Van Noy stood); the Senior Bowl roster has him at 260. More bulk would give Kikaha a greater chance to succeed off the edge in the pros.
3. Zack Hodges, OLB, Harvard: This is the window of draft season when small-school stars gain a foothold in the public consciousness. So take a good look at Hodges this week, because he very well could be a Day 2 selection come April.
The Ivy League's Co-Defensive Player of the Year, Hodges finished the season with 8.5 sacks and registered 27.0 for his career. At 6-3, 245, Hodges is explosive off the line and might thrive in one-on-one drills during the week. These showcases against higher-profile players are key for the small-school prospects.
4. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor: Brett Hundley opted not to participate in the Senior Bowl and Cardale Jones stayed at Ohio State, so the door is wide open for Petty to make his case as the No. 3 quarterback in this class. Petty has a week's worth of practices and Saturday's game to chip away at the "system quarterback" label often attached to him in a negative way.
Last time we saw him, Petty threw for 550 yards in a heartbreaking Cotton Bowl loss to Michigan State. The Senior Bowl's pro-style schemes will place him in more traditional sets, putting his arm and decision-making to the test.
5. Tony Lippett, WR, Michigan State: Lippett is listed as a wide receiver for the event. Will he take any turns at cornerback?
The 6-3, 185-pounder pulled double duty for Michigan State down the stretch, catching five passes and holding up well on the other side of the ball during that bowl win over Baylor. He finished the year with 11 receiving touchdowns and more than 1,100 yards, which is why he's starting off on offense at the Senior Bowl. His versatility is pretty unique, though.
1. Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami: With UCLA's Eric Kendricks withdrawing from the Senior Bowl due to a hamstring injury, Perryman will carry the banner into the week as the projected top prospect at inside linebacker. If he backs his physical play by showing range and awareness in coverage, Perryman could vault himself into Round 1.
His size (5-11, 240 on the Senior Bowl roster) will scare off a few teams, even though undersized Chris Borland (5-11, 248) played extremely well for San Francisco as a rookie. Perryman may win over a few doubters in drills requiring hitting -- he's an absolute missile from the middle.
2. La'el Collins, OT, LSU: By reputation, Collins will be arguably the best offensive tackle present in Mobile, though Pitt's T.J. Clemmings could have something to say about that. The difference between Collins and Clemmings is that the former appears capable of stepping in as an NFL left tackle from the get-go; Clemmings is a better fit, at least right now, either on the right side or at guard.
Collins (6-5, 315) has more than enough strength to hold his own this week. Can he get rolling against some of the Senior Bowl's speed rushers? If he does, plan on Collins being taken early in Round 1.
3. Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE, UCLA: Among those edge guys with which Collins and the rest of the offensive tackles will have to contend is Odighizuwa, who closed the 2014 season with a burst. He was impressive in the Alamo Bowl, swatting two passes and racking up six tackles.
Odighizuwa's 6-3, 270-pound frame, coupled with his quickness getting into the backfield, makes him a difficult assignment up front. Turned loose in one-on-one drills this week, his speed-power combo should earn him some points among the scouts in attendance.
4. Jaquiski Tartt, S, Samford: A Mobile native, Tartt is in the same camp as guys like Hodges, an under-the-radar talent from a program that receives minimal exposure, though Tartt and the Bulldogs did bookend their season with games against TCU and Auburn. The safety prospect recorded 11 tackles in a 48-14 loss to the Horned Frogs; he had four tackles while playing with a sprained leg against Auburn.
All told, Tartt had 58 tackles in 2014, though he finished with just one interception after picking off four passes last year. He stands 6-1, 218, so his size alone fits the bill at safety. Will he show off anything of note beyond that?
5. Blake Sims, QB, Alabama: The quarterbacks this week are Petty, Sims, Garrett Grayson, Nick Marshall, Sean Mannion and Shane Carden. It's a bit of a mixed bag -- par for the course in what is viewed as a shaky quarterback draft crop.
Yet, Sims carries about as much buzz into the Senior Bowl as just about any prospect, with Rotoworld draft expert Josh Norris hyping him up repeatedly as the No. 3 quarterback behind only Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. Count that as very high praise for a one-year starter who wrapped his Alabama career by firing three interceptions during a playoff semifinal loss to Ohio State.
Sims is mobile and possesses a strong arm, even if his 6-0 frame will hold him back a bit. And he is, at best, raw in his play. The team drafting Sims will need to have some patience before he can be viewed as even a reliable backup. It might be worth the wait.