2011 NFL Draft
Top Ten Senior Bowl Storylines
2012's Top Returning NFL
Prospects - Offense
2012's Top Returning NFL
Prospects - Defense
2010's Top Ten Senior
2010's Senior Bowl
2011's Senior Bowl
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1. Washington QB Jake Locker
Phil Rivers went from being a nice prospect to a must-have, top five-caliber pick by wowing all the scouts and coaches with his smarts, skills, and ability in the 2004 Senior Bowl. Then-San Diego head coach, Marty Schottenheimer, couldn’t stop raving about Rivers, and the rest was history. But for every Rivers, there’s a Pat White or a Dan LeFevour who rock in Senior Bowl practices and dominates the game, but simply doesn’t have high-level NFL passing skills and ends up fizzling at the next level. Jake Locker falls somewhere in between the two extremes.
The best comparison to Locker, like it was in college, continues to be Tim Tebow. Both could succeed and both could lead an NFL attack, but it’s going to take something different for them to be winners on a regular basis. With major issues to overcome, neither one will ever be cookie-cutter pro passers and each still has glaring question marks, even after Tebow's solid end to his first season in Denver. Tebow’s mechanics were awful out of college and continue to be a concern, but his accuracy has never been questioned. Locker, on the other hand, looks the part and his mechanics are solid, but he’s Nuke LaLoosh when the ball comes out of his hand.
There’s no questioning Locker’s raw ability, his size, his arm strength, his character, or his stature, but he didn’t do anything in the practices to change anyone’s preconceived notions about his passing skills. While he was able to wow everyone with his ability to make every throw in the route tree, and the talent and athleticism are undeniable, he’s not consistent enough or accurate enough to warrant a top ten draft slot.
Someone late in the first round will want Locker in the hopes that he can find his niche and can improve his NFL passing ability, but if consistent accuracy is hard to teach, as many scouts and coaches like to say, then the Washington star is going to be a risky pick. Basically, he was the best of the mediocre lot of quarterbacks in Senior Bowl practices, and he still is.
2. Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick
Everyone couldn’t wait to see if Kaepernick’s size, arm, and athleticism could translate in a pro-style offense. Could he go from being a running quarterback who threw well at Nevada, to a passer with next-level ability? The short answer is maybe. Unlike Locker’s consistency and accuracy issues, which might be hard to correct without a ton of work, Kaepernick’s problems appear to be more easily fixable.
Kaepernick has to shorten up his delivery in a big, big, way. A star baseball prospect in high school, it’s almost like he carried over a bit of a pitcher-like wind-up to football, and he’s not going to be able to get away with it at the next level. However, it’s correctable with time, as is his apparently drilled-in desire to look to run when the first option breaks down. Because he was such a special runner in the Wolf Pack Pistol system, it has become second nature to not force a throw that isn’t there and take off when he has to. It’s going to take a lot of work, but he’ll have to do a far better job of reading defenses.
While there’s no question that Kaepernick needs at least a year of pro coaching and seasoning, and even then he’ll take some major lumps if and when he gets regular playing time, he proved he was able to throw well when he had one option and one play to make. While he has the gun to be a power passer, he also did a nice job of taking some steam off some of his throws.
3. The Rest of the Quarterbacks
Here’s the general rule of thumb when it comes to the Senior Bowl; a quarterback can’t necessarily become a must-have draft pick after a great week, Pat White and Dan LeFevour can attest to that, but it could be the end of the discussion for anyone who doesn’t have it, like former Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell. After this week, it’s going to take something special for Andy Dalton, Greg McElroy, Christian Ponder, and Ricky Stanzi to ever be a quarterback for an NFL playoff team.
Dalton needs a lot of work to go from being more of a spread quarterback to a pure passer, and unlike Kaepernick, the former TCU star doesn’t have the raw skills that demand a decent investment in time, effort, and money. McElroy had his moments this week, but there was nothing there to suggest that he’ll be holding the Lombardi Trophy unless it’s passed to him by a true No. 1 starter. Ponder needs another look in a few weeks when he’s hopefully 100%. Despite his objections and claims that he's fine, he just doesn’t seem like the same guy he was before getting hurt; he didn’t let it rip enough in practices. And then there’s Stanzi.
The former Iowa main man has good size and he has the arm to make NFL throws, and he looked good at times, but he didn’t do enough to be considered a real, live starter. Yes, there’s a chance he could be Colt McCoy and be just good enough to get the call from time to time, but considering it takes a quarterback with top-flight skills to be in the hunt for the Super Bowl, he’ll have to do far, far more in workouts over the next few weeks to be anything higher than a fifth rounder.
4. California DE Cameron Jordan
For the second year, a California defensive lineman has been the talk of Mobile. Tyson Alualu was brilliant during last year’s Senior Bowl week, and it translated to a No. 10 overall pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Cameron Jordan was a top 50 pick before this week, and now he’s an almost certain first rounder and could go in the top 20. If was wasn’t the best player this week, he was No. 1A showing phenomenal pass rushing ability, the hands to rip past any blocker, and the potential to work in any system. He can be used as a pass rushing, 5-technique defensive end, or he can be a 3-technique gap-shooter in the 3-4. No matter how he was used, no one could block him.
5. Oklahoma RB DeMarco Murray
This is a draft begging for more running back prospects to make a splash, but Murray hasn’t shown quite enough to be a must-have in the top 50. He might be pigeon-holed as a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none type of back who can be had as a nice mid-round pick-up. While he can return kicks, catch the ball, and run inside or out, he doesn’t have the elite burst to do any of them at a NFL third-down back level. He’s good enough to be a part of someone’s offense, maybe like a Chester Taylor or a Kevin Faulk, and every offensive coordinator would love to have him as a No. 2 back, but he’s not a No. 1.
6. San Diego State WR Vincent Brown
While he was a deep ball, big play target at San Diego State, he didn’t show off the type of speed this week that’ll make him a devastating vertical NFL playmaker. However, he did EVERYTHING right. He caught everything thrown his way, was physical when he needed to be, and he was always, always open. While his great week isn’t exactly going to push him into the A.J. Green/Julio Jones district, the spotlight is now on for the Combine and other workouts to potentially be a mid-round steal. However, it wasn’t hard for Brown to look good considering …
7. The Corners Are Mediocre.
And that’s being kind. There are some decent prospects, including North Carolina corner Kendric Burney, USC CB Shareece Wright, and Texas CB Curtis Brown, but there’s no one in Mobile who’ll erase one side of the field once they start playing on Sundays. Outside of Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara, who aren’t in Mobile, this is a light class of corners to begin with and this week didn’t help the position. The Senior Bowl corners didn’t exactly distinguish themselves.
8. Texas A&M DE Von Miller
Cameron Jordan might be the talk of Senior Bowl week, and several prospects have helped themselves, but Von Miller was the best NFL player on either roster and it doesn’t appear to be even close. Already considered a possible top ten overall pick, he did nothing but cement himself as the best outside linebacker prospect in the draft. Unlike the hybrid role he played in college – Butkus Award voters, HE WAS A DEFENSIVE END – he’s a 3-4 NFL linebacker with the ability to get into the backfield on a regular basis while also showing off good pass coverage skills. He’ll be a devastating pass rusher, but he also proved that he’s well-rounded enough to do a little of everything well.
9. LSU RB Kelvin Sheppard and the Inside Linebackers
Martez Wilson of Illinois and Quan Sturdivant of North Carolina aren’t in the Senior Bowl, and outside of Von Miller, there aren’t any “wow” outside linebackers, so the chances are there for someone to stand out and rock on the inside between LSU’s Kelvin Sheppard, Michigan State’s Greg Jones, and NC State’s Nate Irving. The reviews have been mixed. Jones has been flying all over the places and has seemingly been in on every stop, but he isn’t huge and he’s not the most fluid of athletes. He’s the type of defender who might be a team-leader in tackles if things are funneled his way, but he’ll need to be flanked by stronger outside linebackers to keep him free. Irving might be the most versatile of the top inside defenders with terrific size, but he’s not an elite pass rusher and isn’t ever going to be an end. He’s not athletic enough to be a star on the outside, and while he’s good, he doesn’t have elite athleticism. Of the three top inside prospects, Sheppard has been the most impressive.
The former LSU star is a solid 240 pounds and he’s strong enough to fight through the trash to get to the ball. However, he’s not going to do much in pass coverage and he’s not cut-on-a-dime quick. His money will be made as a run stuffer and an occasional blitzer when he gets a free shot to get into the backfield, and forget about using a running back to block him down the field.
10. Notre Dame DT Ian Williams
Sometimes the draft is about finding a good player on the relative cheap. While it’ll take tens of millions to get the top defensive tackles like Nick Fairley and Marcell Dareus, in a great draft for inside defenders, Williams, after a terrific week, could be a phenomenal value just after the second round. The former Irish anchor hasn’t exactly gone off the charts with anything he has done, but he showed he could end up being strong enough and tough enough to be a block of granite on the inside and a possible starting nose in the 3-4. He was terrific in individual drills and didn’t get pushed around by anyone. He’ll never get into the backfield, but if he’s on a line with a few good pass rushers to take the heat off, he could become a very solid unsung cog in someone’s rotation.