The Senior Bowl is college football’s top all-star game and will be held on Saturday, January 29, 2011 at 3:00 pm. Who are the top prospects and who could see their stock dramatically change? Let’s investigate.
Quarterbacks: The top prospect is Jake Locker, who I believe is currently a mid-to-late first round draft pick. This will be scouts’ only opportunity to see Locker on a decent team throwing to NFL-caliber receivers, so this is a big game for Locker. If he impresses, a team like Minnesota or Miami could take him in the 10-15 overall range. Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick will also be playing and I am eager to see how he operates in a pro-style offense. He’s very physically gifted, as is Jerrod Johnson of Texas A&M.
Running backs: Oklahoma’s DeMarco Murray and Kansas State’s Daniel Thomas should be second round picks, but this group is very deep and also features West Virginia’s Noel Devine. Will he be this year’s Dexter McCluster and take advantage of an opportunity to boast his versatility by playing wide receiver? Overall, I don’t expect big changes in draft stock for these guys, but keep an eye out for do-it-all USC fullback Stanley Havili.
Wide receivers: All of the elite receivers are underclassmen, but there is no shortage of intrigue in this group. It features small school superstars such as Villanova’s Matt Szczur and Troy’s Jerrel Jernigan. All these receivers are on even footing in the eyes of scouts more or less, and the one or two players who can separate themselves from the pack could go as high as round 2. I personally like Boise State’s Austin Pettis to rise to the occasion.
Tight ends: Wisconsin’s Lance Kendricks, Tennessee’s Luke Stocker, and Arkansas’ D.J. Williams are the only players worth mentioning. Williams and Kendricks will have to prove they will be more than H-backs at the next level, while I want to see Luke Stocker separate from some of the top linebackers in the country. One of these guys will be a second round pick.
Offensive tackles: There are six quality offensive tackles in the Senior Bowl. I really want to see Nate Solder in pass protection against the top speed rushers in the country. Also, I haven’t really gotten a good read on Arkansas’ DeMarcus Love or Mississippi State’s Derek Sherrod yet. I expect Gabe Carimi to do very well and Boston College’s Anthony Castonzo to struggle mightily.
Interior linemen: I am fascinated to see how Villanova’s Ben Ijalana will do. He completely dominated players at a low level of competition, and I have no idea how he will do against this grade of defenders. Maybe kicking inside to guard won’t even be necessary for him. I also want to see how the undersized Rodney Hudson manages to hold his own if he is able to have success.
Defensive ends: All seven guys could be drafted in the top 50, so there will be fierce competition. Miami’s Allen Bailey has a lot to prove in my eyes as he really isn’t a difference maker. He needs to show scouts why he would be a better pick than Cameron Jordan or Cameron Heyward. Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn must reestablish himself as a top 15 selection because he’s losing ground to Ryan Kerrigan, Robert Quinn, and Aldon Smith by demonstrating a consistent pass rush.
Defensive tackles: I haven’t seen Iowa’s Christian Ballard play at all, so I’ll be sure to keep an eye on him. Will Oregon State’s Stephen Paea prove that he can play nose tackle at a high level? If he does, he goes from a top 25 pick to a potential top 10 guy. Baylor’s Phil Taylor also needs to give teams a reason to roll the dice on him in round 2 or 3.
Linebackers: I really love LSU’s Kelvin Sheppard, but I want to know where his best fit will be in the pros. Mark Herzlich is an inspirational story, but hasn’t sold anybody on the fact that he can be a player at the next level. I’m also eager to see Washington’s Mason Foster, who I’ve heard is very underrated. Watch out for North Carolina’s Quan Sturdivant, who will make plays in any scheme.
Cornerbacks: Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara could be a top 5 pick, and must dominate to cement his status. I was not impressed with his play against top competition, so here’s his chance to prove me wrong. New Mexico State’s star Davon House also must hold his own against the only NFL-caliber wideouts he’s ever seen. I really like North Carolina’s Kendric Burney, but will his 5’9″ frame work against him here? Also, Virginia’s Ras-I Dowling plays great football, but does he have the long speed to run with a Titus Young or Jerrel Jernigan?
Safeties: I really hope I haven’t fallen in love with Florida’s Ahmad Black too soon. He played a phenomenal bowl game but will he be big enough to play safety or fast enough to play corner in the NFL? I’m also really excited to see Clemson’s DeAndre McDaniel and Oklahoma’s Quinton Carter, two talented big-hitters who I haven’t watched enough tape on yet.
I hope this breakdown helps you viewers out there know what to watch for. This year’s Senior Bowl counts as many potential first round picks as I can ever remember, so enjoy. As many as fourteen players participating in this all-star game has a shot at sniffing the first round. Getcha popcorn ready!