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2013 NFL DRAFT: SENIOR BOWL PRIMER

Most of the top senior prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft have been in Mobile, Alabama all week showing off for NFL front offices and scouts at the annual Senior Bowl, the preeminent post-season pre-draft prospect all-star game. There are a number of storylines to follow at the event this week with the culmination happening Saturday as the North squad takes on the South team in an extremely important game for the prospects involved. Futures and draft stocks are on the line and a whole lot of money is there for the making or losing. The Senior Bowl goes down Saturday at 4 pm EST on the NFL Network.

1.  The Quarterback Competition

The biggest storyline of the week has been the ongoing competition between the six quarterbacks at the event. All six came to town as part of the second tier of quarterbacks in the draft class behind West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Matt Barkley of USC, but with both of them not at the event it’s given this group a chance with all eyes watching to elevate their stock and even surpass Smith and Barkley on some draft boards. While none of the quarterbacks blew scouts away this week in practice all six showed off their strengths and weaknesses with Mike Glennon, Tyler Wilson and Landry Jones emerging as the top guys at the event, although they didn’t impress everyone as scouting reports differ around the league. Glennon showed off the strongest arm of the group and has been described as the most complete of the six by ESPN’s Todd McShay, although he was much taller (6’6 ¾”) than expected and looked stiff and robotic at times. Wilson has also drawn good reviews as the top quarterback at the event and was described by NFLDraftScout.com’s Rob Rang as having the best combination of size, arm talent, toughness and experience. Every year quarterbacks start moving up draft boards around this time and both Glennon and Wilson seem to be doing just that as they are starting to be talked about as real first round possibilities. Landry Jones has also elevated his stock with a good week of practice and looks like he might have potentially secured a spot in the second round. EJ Manuel, Ryan Nassib and Zac Dysert didn’t show nearly as well and will probably be mid-round selections.

2.  First Round Left Tackles

Two of the most impressive prospects at the Senior Bowl this week have been a pair of left tackles in Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher and Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson. Fisher has been this year’s unknown small-school prospect being talked about as a first round talent, but after an exceptional performance all week long competing against his North squad teammates (a more talented group of pass-rushers than the South Team) he won’t be an unknown anymore and appears to have locked down a potential spot in the top fifteen of the draft as the second highest-rated left tackle behind Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M. Lane Johnson looks to be a first rounder now after this week, but that could depend on his performance Saturday when he has to face the more talented pass-rushers from the North Team like Datone Jones. Either way he has helped his stock immensely, while other offensive tackles like Oday Aboushi and Justin Pugh struggled and discussions about moving them inside to guard are now being had.

3.  Dominant Nose Tackles

Georgia’s John Jenkins cemented his place as a first rounder this week with an absolutely dominant performance in practice. He blew everyone away with his mammoth size at the weigh-ins and then continued to do so on the field by displaying his rare athleticism. He mauled everyone that stepped in front of him and handled double-teams with ease. He did seem to get winded as the practices wore on, so the scouts will definitely be watching for how we plays late in the game on Saturday. North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams was a bit of a forgotten man with such a talented defensive line class this year, but he too was dominant during the week and showed off impressive athleticism and instincts as did Kawann Short of Purdue. Williams and Short could sneak into the late first round, but appear to be second round locks now.

4.  Impressive Pass-Rushers

UCLA’s Datone Jones appears to have made some money this week. He was awesome in practice often taking on the top offensive tackle at the event in Eric Fisher and looks to have completely shed the tweener label he came to Mobile with by showing he can be an effective 4-3 edge rusher. He displayed a non-stop motor and overwhelmed offensive linemen with his strength and power. Texas pass-rusher Alex Okafor was also good this week and most likely secured his spot in the second round. He doesn’t appear to be a star, but does look like he could be a solid, productive starter for years to come.

5.  Raw Athletes Struggle

BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah and Margus Hunt of SMU came to the Senior Bowl as two of the guys scouts were most looking forward to watching. Both are exceptional athletes with rare athletic abilities, but are still raw football players after only playing the sport for a few years. They were both two of the biggest disappointments so far this week as they struggled in drills and failed to flash the potential scouts wanted to see often enough. They all love Hunt’s size and length, but his lack of a burst off the snap has really stood out. Saturday is the most important day for these two if they want to hold on to their lofty draft stocks, especially Ansah.

6.  Emerging Cornerbacks

Washington’s Desmond Trufant may have made as much money as any prospect this week with his performance in practice. The younger brother of pros Marcus and Isaiah showed off tremendous skills as a potential shut-down corner and was clearly the best at the event at his position. He was excellent in matching the wide receivers in Mobile stride for stride and is now being talked about as a possible first round pick. Having Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks out of the event with an injury has only helped Trufant with more eyes on him. California’s Marc Anthony and San Diego State’s Leon McFadden have also helped their stock this week as did a pair of FCS prospects in William & Mary’s B.W. Webb and SE Louisiana’s Robert Alford.

7.  Big Play Wide Receivers

A number of wide receivers stood out this week and improved their draft stock with good performances. Oregon State’s Markus Wheaton and Terrance Williams of Baylor were the best of the bunch. Wheaton displayed fantastic speed and quickness often separating from defensive backs. He also showed off some strong hands and an ability to make catches in traffic and tight windows. He shown great all-around skills and has moved himself into the top group with the likes of Keenan Allen, Cordarrelle Patterson, Justin Hunter and Terrance Williams. Speaking of Williams, he displayed better than expected speed and quickness to go with his terrific hands and showed scouts that he is a legit big-time downfield threat. Wheaton and Williams weren’t the only wide outs who looked good this week as Marquise Goodwin (Texas), Quinton Patton (LaTech) and Tavarres King (Georgia) put in great performances.

8.  Denard Robinson’s Transition to WR

Former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson’s transition to wide receiver has been one of the main ongoing storylines during this year’s draft process and it hasn’t gone well. Robinson’s playmaking ability as a quarterback has been slow to translate to the wide receiver position. He still looks good in the open field, but has struggled to run routes and catch the ball even with lowered expectations from scouts. A right elbow injury has not helped his case. He came to the event as a potential mid-round selection, but unless he plays well on Saturday he appears to have fallen into the last couple rounds and may even go undrafted. It has not been a good week for him.

9.  Those Who Aren’t Here

Every year a certain number of prospects decide to skip the event for one reason or another and unless it’s due to injury it ticks front offices and scouts off to no end. This year’s group has been especially annoying as seven of the eight notable prospects not at the event could be first round picks. Geno Smith has received the most heat for not showing up. As the top rated quarterback, but one with a lot still to prove, scouts wanted to see him here this week, especially after a dreadful performance in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl against Syracuse. While his stock hasn’t suffered that much, it was a fantastic opportunity for him to show he’s worthy of a high draft pick, even the first overall spot to the QB-needy Chiefs. Instead other quarterbacks like Mike Glennon and Tyler Wilson have gained on him and the pressure to perform at the Combine next month will be extremely high. Others that have not pleased scouts with the absence include Star Lotulelei, Manti Te’o, Kenny Vaccaro, Jonathon Cooper, Chance Warmack and Tavon Austin, who really ticked scouts off by pulling out within 72 hours of the event. Montee Ball also skipped the event, but hasn’t received the wrath of scouts as he has very little to prove after over 1000 touches in his four year career at Wisconsin. As a non-first round prospect there was no need for him to take any more hits. Notable injury absences include Matt Barkley, Johnthan Banks, Tyler Eifert, Dion Jordan and Jesse Williams.

Written By: Mark Scott

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