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Senior Bowl Top-20 Preview
Sunday, January 20, 2013
With a record 73 underclassmen declaring for the draft, the number of top college players using all four years of eligibility is dwindling. Despite a few big-name dropouts (QB Geno Smith, QB Matt Barkley, G Chance Warmack, WR Tavon Austin, DT Star Lotulelei, ILB Manti Te’o, OLB Dion Jordan, CB Johnthan Banks, S Kenny Vaccaro) the 2013 Senior Bowl remains loaded with early-round talent.
The Senior Bowl squads will be coached by two current NFL staffs (Lions and Raiders), adding an extra dimension to their evaluations. Be sure to keep in mind which prospects get called up due to injuries, as A.J. Jenkins and Alfred Morris were two examples last year.
Just like my Shrine Week coverage, I will be constantly tweeting (@JoshNorris) and producing frequent articles. For now, here is a position-by-position preview along with my top 20 prospects (excluding QBs) entering the week.
All heights and weights are projected until weigh-ins take place early Monday.
1. DE Ezekiel Ansah (6’5/270), BYU - The sky is the limit for this inexperienced, not raw, prospect. I’d expect to see Ansah practice from an end position, inside, and as a pass rusher in a two point stance. “Ziggy” flashes technical aspects to his game, including strong hands and length, but the Cougar is at his best when displaying the draft’s top closing burst to make an impact in the backfield. Fatigue issues may be Ansah’s biggest hurdle.
2. T Eric Fisher (6’7/305), Central Michigan - Plenty of attention surrounds texas A&M Luke Joeckel, and deservedly so, but I expect Fisher to make a statement this week as a potential top-10 pick. While the rest of the Central Michigan offensive line crumbled, Fisher stood tall and consistently limited the opposition’s top pass rusher with length and balance.
3. LB Arthur Brown (6’1/231), Kansas State - This draft’s top inside linebacker, Brown will likely see practice reps in the middle of the formation and on the weakside. The former Hurricane transfer is quick to close and nasty when needing to make contact against blockers. He can do it all and should be a first-round selection.
4. T Lane Johnson (6’6/303), Oklahoma - The Sooner finally found a home at left tackle in 2011, and consistently displayed excellent footwork with strong hands to punch and length to control. He reminds me of a longer Riley Reiff and could cement a top-25 grade with a strong week against the likes of Ansah and LaVar Edwards.
5. WR Quinton Patton (6’2/195), Louisiana Tech - The smooth receiver is one of the class’ best, contorting his body to adjust to poorly thrown passes and creating separation with excellent routes. There is a lot of Reggie Wayne to his game and Patton could end up being a “surprise” top-32 selection.
6. DL Datone Jones (6’4/275), UCLA - The versatile defensive lineman wins from the three technique, five technique, and en spots in a variety of fronts. Jones has a nice first step and powerful hands to shed and quickly find a home in the backfield if he wins off the snap. The Bruin has played every single position along UCLA’s line, including nose tackle, but his best fit is at strong side defensive end. He does tend to play too tall, however.
7. DE Alex Okafor (6’4/265), Texas - Another strong side end and solid run defender, Okafor had a hot and cold 2012 season but ended it on a high note against Oregon State. The Longhorn does his best work when extending his arms and pressing in a straight line then shedding when getting depth in the pocket. Sadly, that doesn’t happen often enough and Okafor gets caught hand fighting at the line of scrimmage. He also has experience rushing from a two point stance and dropping into coverage.
8. OL Kyle Long (6’6/311), Oregon - Along with being blessed with NFL bloodlines, Long is a physical blocker who came into his own in 2012 at both left guard and left tackle. You can’t teach his mobility and mirroring skills, but if Long can reign in his tendency to overextend, he can be a long time starter at a variety of offensive line positions.
9. DT Sylvester Williams (6’3/305), UNC - Williams’ parts seem to be greater than the sum, as the Tar Heel consistently finds contact through his hands, displays strength shed with force, and quick feet to work around blocks despite going through stretches of ineffectiveness. After one block was beaten, another would frequently appear, slowing Williams’ momentum. His two biggest issues seem to be a productive counter move after resetting and giving up his shoulder in the running game.
10. RB Andre Ellington (5’9/195), Clemson - The lean runner could weigh in taller and heavier than his listed measurements, which isn’t common. Ellington displays excellent straight-line speed, but his willingness to stick close to blocks and balance to spin or break tackles is what makes him the best senior running back.
11. OL Dallas Thomas (6’5/310), Tennessee - Tackle or guard? Thomas has experience and good tape at both spots, and that kind of versatility should impress decision makers in April. The question is, can he play at a high level at either position? Thomas certainly has the arm length and athletic lower body to absorb talented pass rushers.
12. DL Margus Hunt (6’7/280), SMU - I was not impressed with Hunt during the first two weeks of the season, but it all made sense after reading he was limited due to an injured back. The Mustang’s pad level and ability to work around the edge or bend to make plays was much improved when healthy. Five technique ends are usually drafted earlier than expected, and Hunt fits the bill.
13. OLB Khaseem Greene (6’1/234), Rutgers - I struggle to evaluate run and chase linebackers correctly. Greene is a physical hitter when lined up and he is comfortable in coverage, but the issue is with his lack of hand use while working through trash. There’s no doubt Greene can be an effective weakside linebacker in the NFL, but the Scarlet Knight needs to improve how he handles second level blocks.
14. WR Markus Wheaton (6’1/182), Oregon State - Wheaton is an absolute burner in the mold of Mike Wallace, but the Beaver’s catch radius is probably larger. He is much more than a vertical target, however, since Wheaton consistently creates separation when breaking off his routes and can take any catch to the endzone thanks to his great speed.
15. OLB Chase Thomas (6’4/238), Stanford - Thomas lacks ideal edge speed and quickness off the snap, but few players have the same technical shedding ability. The Cardinal played from a variety of spots while in college and completed each with a gap sound mentality. He will likely spend the week in Mobile at strong side linebacker.
16. CB Jamar Taylor (5’11/196), Boise State - The Bronco was asked to play a variety of coverage, but seemed to thrive in press bail situations where he frequently ran the receiver’s route for him. Taylor takes tight angles and keeps a good distance when trailing. To top it off, he consistently makes plays in the open field and brings his arms when tackling. This could be a real coming out party.
17. S Jonathan Cyprien (6’0/210), FIU - The ultra physical safety displays comfort in the box against the run or getting aggressive with tight ends hoping to find open area. Cyprien’s game is not limited there, however, since he shows enough range to make plays in cover two situations and is at his best when disrupting at the catch point.
18. G Larry Warford (6’3/343), Kentucky - The massive guard wins despite poor technique, but there is no reason in trying to fix that if Warford continues his consistent domination. he reminds me a lot of Cordy Glenn in that regard, especially for a player that is so mobile despite his monstrous size.
19. CB Robert Alford (6’0/185), SE Louisiana - Speaking of corners that could have a coming out party, Alford is another strong possibility. The small schooler just makes plays, whether it be undercutting passes from shallow zones or quickly closing on outside breaking routes. He tends to ball watch in zone coverage, but this week should be a nice test for Alford.
20. OLB/DE John Simon (6’2/263), Ohio State - Simon is slated to play strong side linebacker, but expect him to see a handful of snaps each practice near the line of scrimmage. His frame is not exceptional, but Simon’s motor, power, and leverage will allow him to stick on a roster for a very long time.