Senior Bowl 2016 Preview: Position-by-position ranking of the attendees
In a nutshell, that’s why the Senior Bowl (as well the NFLPA Bowl and the Shrine Game and the other college all-star weeks) matters. One hundred-and-10 or so of this year’s draft prospects, all having spent at least four years in college, will descend on Mobile, Ala. for the annual showcase—an event swarmed by NFL scouts, coaches and front office members, all hoping to discover their next draft gem.
As usual, there is a boatload of talent set to participate, from a potential top-five quarterback to a well-stocked linebacking group.
Before practices start Tuesday, leading up to Saturday’s game, here’s how I have the attendees ranked by position. A couple of quick caveats:
1. I mentioned this on last week’s On the Clock podcast, but my personal rankings will fluctuate quite a bit over the next month. The NFL is my main focus through the Super Bowl, but starting with the Senior Bowl and continuing on after the Super Bowl, I'll supplement my base scouting reports with a more in-depth breakdown. While I’ve watched tape on all of the Senior Bowl participants, I had more exposure to some than others. So, the way these players stand here may not be how it looks come next weekend. There’s ample time for prospects to climb.
Hopefully, though, this paints a preliminary picture of the talent taking part in this year’s Senior Bowl. We’ll see which players use the week to boost their stock, and which falter under the increased pressure.
2. I didn’t include the kickers, punters or long snappers. I can say that both kickers (Duke’s Ross Martin and UCLA’s Ka’imi Fairbairn) were excellent this season, but that’s about as far as those scouting reports go right now.
Now onto the rankings, by position (note: These will be updated if there are roster changes during the week):
1. Carson Wentz, North Dakota State
2. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
3. Jacoby Brissett, N.C. State
4. Kevin Hogan, Stanford
5. Brandon Allen, Arkansas
6. Cody Kessler, USC
7. Jeff Driskel, Louisiana Tech
8. Jake Coker, Alabama
Last season’s quarterback class was underwhelming behind Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, and the 2015 Senior Bowl reflected it. Winston was not eligible for the game because he declared after three college seasons and Mariota turned down an invite. The headliners for the week included Garrett Grayson (Round 3, Saints), Sean Mannion (Round 3, Rams) and Bryce Petty (Round 4, Jets).
So this year, Wentz’s presence alone will generate some buzz, especially because the Cowboys’ staff will be coaching his North team. General consensus has Wentz, Jared Goff and Paxton Lynch as the draft’s top three quarterbacks, in some order, possibly with Connor Cook still in the mix.
What happens in Mobile will help settle the rest of the pecking order. I’ve really come around on Prescott and am anxious to see him in person—he made significant strides as a passer this season. The next three or four QBs (Brissett, Hogan, Allen and Kessler) all could compete for backup jobs as early as training camp, in the right situations.
A lot to watch at this position.
1. Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech
2. Aaron Green, TCU
3. Kenyan Drake, Alabama
4. Tyler Ervin, San Jose State
5. Jonathan Williams, Arkansas
6. DeAndre Washington, Texas Tech
7. Chris Swain, Navy
Versatility is the name of the game for the top four, all of whom can contribute in a variety of ways. Start with Dixon, who scored 87 career touchdowns for Louisiana Tech (72 rushing and 15 receiving). His all-around game, which includes solid blocking, will appeal to just about any team in need of a back this draft.
Green only caught 40 passes in his career, spanning time at both Nebraska and TCU, but he’s slippery enough in the open field to believe he could put in three-down work. Drake was Alabama's change-of-pace back behind Derrick Henry—he posted 29 receptions and carried it just 77 times. And Ervin (1,935 yards from scrimmage this season) does a little bit of everything, counting kick and punt returns.
Williams can climb the board, but he missed all of the 2015 campaign with a foot injury. I’m a little surprised to see Swain among the running backs, as the 245-pounder’s NFL chances probably lie in a fullback-style role.
1. Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
2. Leonte Carroo, Rutgers
3. Braxton Miller, Ohio State
4. Paul McRoberts, Southeast Missouri State
5. Aaron Burbridge, Michigan State
6. Jordan Payton, UCLA
7. Tajae Sharpe, UMass
8. Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia
9. K.J. Maye, Minnesota
10. Jay Lee, Baylor
11. Chris Moore, Cincinnati
12. Charone Peake, Clemson
Tyler Lockett was a 2015 Senior Bowl star thanks to his precise route-running and ability to beat bigger cornerbacks for contested passes. Shepard could pick up right where the Seahawks’ dynamic receiver left off. He and the physical, 6' 1" Carroo might be the only WRs in Mobile with Round 1 hope, and that’s if teams are willing to forgive Carroo for a rocky college stint off the field.
This will be a big week for Miller, who made a relatively smooth transition to wide receiver (and still averaged 6.1 yards as a runner). How far along is his development as a potential NFL-ready threat?
Plenty of people will be watching McRoberts closely all week. He will be one of a handful of prospects to play in both the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl, a double dip that indicates expanded interest from NFL teams. I’m going to wait until I see him live, but McRoberts on tape reminds me of a less physical Demaryius Thomas. His long strides stand out. I’m a noted fan of Sharpe’s, too, though expect to hear plenty about his tiny hand size (7' 3/4"). The measurement doesn't seem to bother him in action; he’s aggressive going to get the ball.
Burbridge and Payton each had big 2015 seasons, the former often coming up with huge plays by out-muscling defenders in tight quarters. There also are a few home-run threats among this group, like Lee and Moore.
1. Tyler Higbee, Western Kentucky
2. Nick Vannett, Ohio State
3. Jerell Adams, South Carolina
4. Bryce Williams, East Carolina
5. Glenn Gronkowski, Kansas State
6. Jake McGee, Florida
7. Henry Krieger-Coble, Iowa
I like Higbee and Vannett quite a bit, and I think both could be Day 2 selections. The biggest issue with Higbee is his health—he missed games in each of the past three seasons, plus he redshirted in 2012. When he’s healthy, the Western Kentucky product can line up just about anywhere, thrives up the seam and is an active blocker. Meanwhile, Vannett figures to be a more productive NFL player than he was in college, simply because Ohio State didn’t feature him at all. At 6' 6", 260, he creates matchup issues.
Adams (6' 6", 230 pounds) is fighting the same battle as Vannett: he wasn’t utilized all that much as a receiver. But we know he can block and he averaged 14.8 yards on his 66 career catches.
Williams is similar in size to Ohio State’s TE, and his game essentially is that of a massive wide receiver. Gronkowski (brother of Rob) is at the other end of the spectrum: a 235-pounder with H-back upside.
1. Jason Spriggs, Indiana
2. Kyle Murphy, Stanford
3. Spencer Drango, Baylor
4. Joe Haeg, North Dakota State
5. Vadal Alexander, LSU
6. Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech
7. Cole Toner, Harvard
8. John Theus, Georgia
Murphy might be the most NFL-ready tackle prospect, although he likely will be ticketed for the right side. Spriggs and Drango, on the other hand, could wind up on the left which arguably gives them higher upside. Spriggs was a standout for a very good Indiana offense, thriving on his agility.
Keep an eye on Haeg, another quick-footed talent. A few small-school prospects always wow at the Senior Bowl when matched up with FBS stars; Haeg could be one of those guys this week.
I’m still struggling to get a great feel for both Alexander, who at 340 pounds is built and plays like a guard, and Clark, who boasts size (6' 6", 313 pounds) and length but doesn’t always put it all together.
1. Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
2. Josh Garnett, Stanford
3. Joe Dahl, Washington State
4. Nick Martin, Notre Dame
5. Christian Westerman, Arizona State
6. Sebastian Tretola, Arkansas
7. Willie Beavers, Western Michigan
8. Connor McGovern, Missouri
This is a strong group, and one that could involve a lot of moving parts this week. To wit: Whitehair, Dahl, Westerman, Beavers and McGovern all have extensive experience at tackle; Martin might be the best center in this draft, should the team that selects him opt to use him there.
Garnett was outstanding enough this season that I wound up watching him even at times I was trying to take notes on Kyle Murphy, his Stanford teammate. While he may not be a fit for every offense, teams looking to grind in the trenches from a pro-style scheme will love him.
1. Jack Allen, Michigan State
2. Austin Blythe, Iowa
3. Graham Glasgow, Michigan
4. Evan Boehm, Missouri
Consider this a good year for any franchise needing a center, at least of the draft-and-develop variety. All four of these prospects, plus Martin, Alabama’s Ryan Kelly and USC’s Max Tuerk look very draftable—a couple perhaps even on Day 2.
Allen joins Martin as the pick of the litter in Mobile. A four-year starter along Michigan State’s impressive line, his experience and intelligence will push him up draft boards. How he fares in the tough Senior Bowl setting, up against a bevy of talented interior D-linemen, will help decide how high he climbs.
Glasgow is another of the Shrine Game-to-Senior Bowl stories. He earned constant praise in Tampa last week, buying him a shot in Mobile.
1. Dan Vitale, Northwestern
2. Soma Vainuku, USC
Swain and Gronkowski could see work among this group, too. Vitale and Vainuku are very different players—Vitale a movable H-back (almost to the point of being a straight tight end) who caught 135 passes during his Northwestern career; Vainuku, at 6' 0" and 255 pounds, an old-school lead blocker.
1. Jarran Reed, Alabama
2. Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky
3. Sheldon Rankins, Louisville
4. Shawn Oakman, Baylor
5. Bronson Kaufusi, BYU
6. Carl Nassib, Penn State
7. Jihad Ward, Illinois
8. Jason Fanaika, Utah
9. Dadi Nicolas, Virginia Tech
10. Charles Tapper, Oklahoma
11. Lawrence Thomas, Michigan State
Again, we’re going by the Senior Bowl positional designations here. Slotting all of these players under the DE tag is a bit ambiguous, though. Reed and Rankins, for example, are in the conversation to be Round 1 tackles so this is more a 3–4 DE listing. Oakman (6' 9", 275 pounds) fits the same script.
The 227-pound Nicolas trends the opposite way—he’s a defensive end in an OLB’s body. Kaufusi, despite being almost 40 pounds heavier, also may be more of a stand-up edge player in the NFL than a typical defensive end.
Still, there’s obvious talent here. Spence started his career at Ohio State forced to transfer after failing multiple drug tests. On the field, he’s all a team could want in a pass-rusher, as evidenced by his 22.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks this season. Nassib topped him (and everyone in the FBS) with 15.5 sacks.
Because of the depth at this spot, the rankings can look worse for a couple players than they are. Take Tapper. He's also more in the 3–4 end mold, excelling as an edge-setting presence against the run.
1. Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech
2. Adolphus Washington, Ohio State
3. Austin Johnson, Penn State
4. Sheldon Day, Notre Dame
5. Matt Ioannidis, Temple
6. Quinton Jefferson, Maryland
7. D.J. Reader, Clemson
Is defensive tackle the 2016 draft class’s deepest position? On top of the aforementioned ends who could wind up starting as NFL tackles, the actual DT group is going to be a handful for the Senior Bowl’s interior offensive linemen.
Count me as one of many on the Butler bandwagon. He sure looks like a three-down defender, given his quickness moving both vertically and horizontally. Don’t be surprised if he dominates one-on-one drills in Mobile.
The duo just behind him (Washington and Johnson) shouldn’t get out of Round 2, if they last that long. Day deserves a top-100 spot, as well, because of what a disruptive force he can be shooting the B-gap.
1. Reggie Ragland, Alabama
2. Joshua Perry, Ohio State
3. Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
4. Kyler Fackrell, Utah State
5. Joe Schobert, Wisconsin
6. Eric Striker, Oklahoma
Ragland will kick outside to start the week, no doubt as a strongside defender, but I wouldn’t bet against him landing back inside as a rookie. Regardless, he’s an instinctive defender whose stock is riding extremely high headed into this week.
Elsewhere, well ... what’s not to like about this positional group? Perry flies around all over the place, showing chops dropping in coverage and blitzing. Jenkins is a powerful edge defender. Fackrell falls somewhere in between, with an almost unlimited skill set—this ranking might be a couple spots too low. Schobert is a solid defender, too. He’ll be comfortable no matter the situation Senior Bowl coaches want to put him in this week.
Striker has the highest stakes headed to Mobile. He can rush the passer, but he’s undersized (6' 0", 223 pounds), so he has to prove there’s more to his game.
1. Deion Jones, LSU
2. Tyler Matakevich, Temple
3. Kentrell Brothers, Missouri
4. Jared Norris, Utah
5. Blake Martinez, Stanford
6. Antonio Morrison, Florida
7. Nick Kwiatkowski, West Virginia
8. Josh Forrest, Kentucky
Another position with a little misdirect in the listing—Jones played outside linebacker and his athleticism makes him more of a fit as a weak or strongside 4–3 guy than an MLB. Conversely, Matakevich, Brothers, Norris and Martinez all could be plug-and-play options inside for 3–4 schemes and 4–3 schemes (particularly the former).
Morrison has the potential to skyrocket with a big week. He struggled with knee injuries at Florida, but the talent base is as sturdy as any other player at this position. The Gator also plays with an edge, so he is a safe bet to force attention to him this week.
1. William Jackson, Houston
2. Deiondre’ Hall, Northern Iowa
3. Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State
4. Jalen Mills, LSU
5. Eric Murray, Minnesota
6. Cyrus Jones, Alabama
7. Tavon Young, Temple
8. Maurice Canady, Virginia
9. Harlan Miller, SE Louisiana
10. James Bradberry, Samford
11. Jonathan Jones, Auburn
Mentioned the lack of dominant talent at receiver above. More or less the same setup at cornerback, where the talent pool runs deep even if the first Senior Bowl cornerback doesn’t hear his name called until the draft’s second day.
That said, every one of these cornerbacks is on track to be selected ... and Jackson is a sleeper first-rounder in my book. He plays a smooth game on the perimeter, flashing the ability to lock down in man-to-man spots. Hall also has that ability, as well as 6' 2" size—we all know how the NFL loves that.
A glance at a few other draft boards tells me I’m higher on Peterson than others. Laquon Treadwell made him look pretty bad in the Cowboys’ bowl game; check out his matchup with Baylor for a better glance at what he can do.
Mills still has a little Round 1 juice. A fractured fibula cost him about half the 2015 season, but he can play safety or corner, and do so at 6' 1".
Under-the-radar name to remember: Harlan Miller. I still have ground to cover evaluating his tape, but what I've seen shows a fluid defender with a nose for the ball.
1. Jeremy Cash, Duke
2. Darian Thompson, Boise State
3. Sean Davis, Maryland
4. Kevin Byard, Middle Tennessee
5. Miles Killebrew, Southern Utah
6. Tyvis Powell, Ohio State
7. DeAndre Houston-Carson, William & Mary
8. Jordan Lucas, Penn State
9. K.J. Dillon, West Virginia
Is Cash a realistic Round 1 option as (mostly) a box safety? Does Thompson’s rangy game put him on the radar for late-first round spot? Both players could make substantial headway this week, and they’re top-50 players at the moment, by my count.
Davis opened his college career as a cornerback, then shifted to safety. Like Jalen Mills, there will have to be a discussion over where he’s best suited. And like Mills, a team that can figure out how to utilize his multi-dimensional talents will have the best chance of making Davis a success. Houston-Carson also made the corner-to-safety transition during his time at William & Mary.
Byard, Killebrew and Powell all could sneak into the Day 2 ranks. Killebrew’s game is reminiscent of Cash’s, in that he never hesitates to step up and cause problems near the line. Byard and Powell could be viewed as safe options—their ceilings will not be as high as others, but their floors are not as low, either.