NFL fans, meet Jimmy Garoppolo.
Those of you with a keen eye toward the draft likely already knew the name of Eastern Illinois' quarterback -- SI's Chris Johnson provided a closer look back in November. For everyone else (and even for folks who were aware of Garoppolo's abilities), the East-West Shrine Game provided a nice glance at a prospect with an NFL future.
Garoppolo won the MVP award at the Shrine Game after a 9-of-14, 100-yard, one-touchdown performance. His work throughout the event earned him an invite to this week's Senior Bowl, where he has more time to catch the attention of teams searching for a draftable QB.
So, where does he fall on the totem pole? Probably not all that far behind the projected Round 1 possibilities: Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Derek Carr, for now.
Carr's a Senior Bowl attendee, too. And before the week is out, we should have a much better feel for how the NFL might view his skillful but sometimes frustrating game. Fresno State's QB lit up the scoreboard all year to the tune of 5,000 yards passing and 50 (!!) touchdowns. However, he has a little Matthew Stafford to his game, in ways that might drive scouts nuts -- i.e. he throws with inconsistent mechanics and tries to use his huge arm to offset questionable reads at times.
There is not much of a gap right now between Carr and the presumed second tier of 2014 NFL draft QB prospects, including Garoppolo, Zach Mettenberger, David Fales (also a Senior Bowl participant), Tajh Boyd (another player at the Senior Bowl), A.J. McCarron and others. Depending on how the board falls in May, one or two of those guys could sneak into the first round; several also may drop to Day 3.
Senior Bowl week is just one step of many on the way to the draft. For Carr and Garoppolo, it's an important chance to set themselves apart from the field.
Jeremiah Attaochu, DE/OLB, Georgia Tech: Still tough to get a read on where Attaochu might fall come May. He's one of those athletic edge-rusher types that could thrill a team in the top 15 ... or could drop into Round 2 or 3 because coaching staffs struggle to envision a fit for him.
The early Senior Bowl plan was to use him as a defensive end, meaning more time pinning his ears back against talented linemen and less time being asked to diagnose plays from a linebacker spot. That's exactly how most NFL teams will want to use him out of the gate, so this could be a critical week for Attaochu to really show off his wares.
Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood: Another of the very small group to participate both in the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl. The extra exposure is definitely a positive for Desir, one of the top small-school prospects available in the 2014 draft. At 6-foot-1 and just shy of 200 pounds, Desir fits the profile teams increasingly want at corner -- tall, lanky, athletic. (For comparison's sake, Redskins 2013 second-rounder David Amerson measured in at 6-1 and 205).
The lack of aggressive coverage on the outside at these All-Star Games will keep Desir from showing off the full depth of his game, but it gives him another shot to boost his draft profile.
Robert Herron, WR, Wyoming: Hey, another receiver for this loaded class. Herron's been one of my favorite under-the-radar guys at the position since before the season began, and he exceeded expectations with a 72-reception, nine-touchdown year. Events like this one and the combine are built for guys like Herron, because he can absolutely fly.
Ja'Wuan James, OT, Tennessee: Began the week by measuring in at 6-6 and 315, with a 33 3/8-inch arm length. That last number will fall in the middle of the offensive linemen pack come the combine, but the size should keep him in the early-round mix for teams hunting for talent at the tackle position. James spent his Tennessee career at right tackle -- part of why he's fallen in Antonio Richardson's shadow heading into draft workouts -- but he might have a future on the left side.
Daniel McCullers, DT, Tennessee: Another Vol, McCullers checked in at 6-6 and a massive 348 pounds (which actually is down from earlier playing weights). He also recorded the widest Senior Bowl wingspan: 85.5 inches. Now, can any team get him to translate that tantalizing combination of physical gifts into consistent play on the field?
That's the question with McCullers, who struggled to keep his motor revved up during his college days. Still, there are very few able-bodied guys with the sort of girth McCullers possesses -- that's one of the reasons Louis Nix III is a possible top-20 pick.
Michael Sam, OLB, Missouri: While Attaochu's DE position at the Senior Bowl might help his draft hopes, Sam being locked in as an outside linebacker may move the needle the opposite direction. Odds are that's where the 6-2 Sam will wind up -- as a pass-rushing OLB in a 3-4 defense. However, he played DE for Missouri and, like Attaochu, his best attribute is his ability to get to the quarterback (11.5 sacks in 2013). Asking him to drop in coverage to play a full linebacker role this week could make Sam's Senior Bowl week tough.
Charles Sims, RB, West Virginia: Worried that Sims is too small to make the NFL leap? Well, he came in at 5-11, 214 during the Senior Bowl weigh-ins and measurements -- or, exactly what Montee Ball hit on both numbers at the combine. Ball, of course, is still in the midst of a solid rookie season with the Broncos.
Sims is a different style back than the between-the-tackles Ball. He likes to swing wide and turn the corners, and he averaged 50.8 catches over his four college seasons. Combine the versatility with that solid body type and you've got one of the draft's biggest sleepers.
Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State: The Will Sutton Weight Watch continued early in Mobile. His official numbers on Monday: 315 pounds and a little under 6-1. That's up -- way up -- from the 267 pounds that the school said he played at in 2012. He added about 20 pounds prior to the 2013 season in an effort to anchor better along the interior, and now he's continued to pile on weight in hopes of solidifying himself at a DT spot in the NFL.
But his performance dipped with the added pounds this season, so turning some of that bulk into lean muscle might be the key for him between now and the combine.
Billy Turner, OT, North Dakota State: Another small-school guy, Turner probably could have started at tackle for just about every FBS team this year. He stands 6-6 and 316 pounds, which constitutes a great starting point for an NFL lineman. He may wind up at guard at the next level if he cannot clean up his blocking technique a bit, but he showed plenty as an OT for the Bison. Kyle Van Noy, DE/OLB, BYU: Van Noy will play linebacker this week -- news to the ears of 3-4 teams hoping to land him for an outside spot. Assuming he shows off decent abilities there at the Senior Bowl, then follows it up by performing well in speed drills at the combine, Van Noy could cement himself as a Day 2 prospect or better. Bulking up and moving to 4-3 DE might be a stretch, so how he shows as a Senior Bowl linebacker will go a long way toward determining where he lands.