As I've said many times via Twitter, I will be attending the 2011 Senior Bowl practices Monday through Wednesday. I'll be providing practice tweets and updates as well as having a recap of the day Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, with a game recap as well on Saturday.
Tomorrow I'll take a look at the defensive players for this Senior Bowl, but for this week, I'll explain which guys at each position I'm looking forward to see and who has the most to prove at this 2011 Senior Bowl.
The top guy in this class is Jake Locker from Washington. He struggled much of the year, but based on his 2009 film and the games where his receivers stepped up, he has great potential if a team gives him a chance to settle down and not have to make every play. I look for him to have a huge week, keep himself in the Top 15 discussion. Also, I like Andy Dalton a lot. He doesn't have the live arm or the deadly accuracy, but he wins games, is consistent, and reportedly a high character guy. He may not be a 1st round talent, but with so many teams looking for a QB, he's a safe bet to be a starter for a long time. After him, I really want to see what Christian Ponder of Florida State can do. He dealt with an elbow injury the entire season, but based on 2009 film, he looked like a first round quarterback. I wouldn't rule out him getting back up to that level. Finally, Ricky Stanzi and Greg McElroy need to show better than average arms or they'll be looked at as backups only, and Colin Kaepernick needs to show he has better control and a better overall throwing motion.
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Thanks to 12 underclassmen running backs declaring for the draft, I would say that only half of these running backs will be drafted come draft day, depending on how the juniors run at the Combine. Two guys that are locks to be drafted and should be somewhere in the Top 50 picks are Demarco Murray and Daniel Thomas. Both Big 12 running backs have number one back type of skills, where Murray is more of an open field, versatile guy while Thomas is a bruising, power rusher. After those two, I think Bilal Powell of Louisville will emerge as one of the better backs. He's probably more of a number two power back, but he could really breakout in the NFL with a zone blocking scheme.
Speed backs like Derrick Locke, Noel Devine, and Kendall Hunter will most certainly be looked at to see how the play in space and their hands as a receiver. Also, Anthony Allen of Georgia Tech never got a chance to showcase his hands after he transferred from Louisville, but was a solid receiver while at Louisville out of the back field. Roy Helu Jr. is a physical, bouncing running back who needs to show me a lot if he hopes to get drafted. and Stanford's do it all fullback Owen Marecic will get a chance to show his versatility as a fullback and maybe as a linebacker
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Unfortunately, Jerrell Jernigan will not be able to perform in the Senior Bowl because of an injury, so Terrence Tolliver of LSU, who ended the season very well and practiced this past week at the Shrine game will take his place. I'll be watching two Boise State receivers in Austin Pettis, who's routes are extremely impressive, and Titus Young, who has big play ability, to see if they can perform against top cornerback prospects consistently. Leonard Hankerson impressed me this year, but not as a number one receiver. I think he'll fall to the 2nd round, but I think he'll be a productive number two for a long time in the NFL. A great week here could change that opinion, however.
Niles Paul has been underappreciated at Nebraska this year at times, but he's a big play waiting to happen and I'll look forward to seeing if he can continue that here. Ronald Johnson of USC, Greg Salas of Hawaii, and Jeremy Kerley of TCU really didn't impress me much this season, so I won't be expecting much but they have a chance to rise on our board to more of a lock to be drafted with a good week. Finally, Abilene Christian's Edmund Gates will have a chance to live up to his billing as the top D2 prospect on our board with a great week here. Separation, game speed, and routes are the biggest factors for me when looking to see if a small school guy can make the jump and compete with FBS guys.
I count only five tight ends on this roster, but DJ Williams of Arkansas might be considered more of an H-Back, as that's the role I think he'll take in the NFL. He's a great athlete, moves well for a tight end, and is very reliable. While it may be more of a down year for tight ends (20 tight ends drafted in back to back years) because I see only 10ish being drafted, two other seniors I like a lot are Luke Stocker of Tennessee and Lance Kendricks of "Tight End U" (not Miami (FL), but Wisconsin). Both are very good receivers, both have the body type to be solid blockers as well. Finally, Mike McNeil and Preston Dial I believe are fringe, late round draft guys. Neither stands out as either great pass catching or great blocking tight ends and they'll really have to impress this week to be draftable on our board.
This draft, as of now, has ZERO tackles I think are locks to make it at left tackle in the NFL. However, I think six guys on this Senior Bowl roster will have a chance at it, and the ones that can show it will likely be first rounders. Anthony Castanzo of Boston College is built more like a right tackle, and while he maybe could slide over to left, I think he'll prove he's the draft's best right tackle. Gabe Carimi was high on our board early on, but lack of quick feet made him a fringe left tackle, but the Outland Trophy award winner have a chance to showcase his feet this week. Nate Solder has great (maybe too great) size at 6'9, and despite tackles that tall usually struggle with smaller, speed rushers. Solder has been impressive. He'll have his hands full at left tackle this week. Finally, James Pinkston, Derrick Sherrod, and Demarcus Love will get their chance as well at left tackle. Pinkston is a technician but lacks great athletic ability, Sherrod has great focus and sliding ability, and Love has the arm length and punch to play the position in the NFL.
After those six, their are a few tackle/guard in-betweeners. Of the ones remaining (Danny Watkins, Lee Ziemba, Marcus Gilbert, James Brewer, James Carpenter, and Ben Ijalana) my two favorites are Ijalana and Gilbert, as I think both have the power, push, and quick enough feet to play right tackle in the NFL or at worst be athletic guards. At guard, Clint Boling of Georgia is my top guy, with John Moffitt and Stephen Schilling not far behind, but lack the movement and versatility that Boling showed this year. At center, Rodney Hudson, who is ranked as a guard by us, is the top guy, with Mike Pouncey and Kris O'Dowd right there. I think we could see as many as three interior lineman in the first round this year. Finally, Division II's Slippery Rock features Brandon Fusco at center, who has good balance, push, and command, but needs to show he can do it versus NFL talent.
Look for our Defense article tomorrow for more Senior Bowl insight. Follow me on Twitter for Senior Bowl Updates: www.twitter.com/OptimumScouting