While underclassmen generally dominate the early portion of the draft, there are plenty of seniors wothy of high round selections. The Senior Bowl provides them with one last chance to stand out in a game situation amongst their peers. Plenty of players have used a great week in Mobile to improve their draft stock. Last year's top pick, OT Eric Fisher, used Senior Bowl week to begin his push to the top. While there didn't appear to be anyone looking to jump to the top of the draft, there were plenty of players that utilized this week to their advantage.
No player may have gained as much from this week as Auburn edge rusher, Dee Ford. He was an undersized defensive end for the Tigers, but projects to stand up in the NFL. Ford entered the game as a possible third round pick with upside as a pass rusher. He leaves Mobile with an excellent shot at landing in the first round to a team looking to upgrade it's pass rush. Ford displayed an excellent burst, change of direction ability, and closing speed. He's an explosive pass rusher that will be coveted by many 3-4 teams.
Aaron Donald of Pitt had a tremendous senior season, taking home the Outland, Bednarik, Nagurski, and Lombardi awards this year for his standout play on the interior line. He was a name player entering this week, but everyone wanted to see his measurements and see him continue to dominate against top level college players. While Donald didn't blow anyone away with his size, he did check in at 6'1 288. Many thought he might not reach the 6-foot mark, so that is a positive measurement for him. He then went out and continued to disrupt the action, no matter who lined up against him. Donald does not fit every defensive scheme, and that may ultimately play a role in where he is drafted, but he definitely entrenched himself as a top notch DT prospect for 4-3 defenses.
Fresno State's Derek Carr was another ‘name' player coming into this week. Most people know him because of his brother, David, but also because he's one of the better QB's available this year. The top three at the position look to be set in stone, consisting of a group with Teddy Bridgewater(Louisville), Johnny Manziel(Texas AM), and Blake Bortles(Central Florida). Carr struggled a bit in the Las Vegas Bowl against a talented USC team, but he bounced back this week, showing his arm strength, quick release, and polish. He could potentially crack the end of round one, but the performance may have made him the #4 QB in the draft.
Notre Dame OL Zach Martin entered the week with some questions about what position he will play on Sundays. While that question was not definitively answered, there is a clearer picture of where he plays. Martin has been a standout at left tackle for the Irish, but he had the shortest arms of any offensive linemen at the Senior Bowl, and only stands 6'4. That likely pushes him inside, but you can't ignore the success he had at left tackle. The quickness, mobility, and strength is there to play tackle, but you do have to wonder if he has enough length to protect the edge. Wherever he lines up, he's going to be a tremendous pro. He looks like a rock solid first round pick, whether you project he's projected inside or out.
Utah's Keith McGill was definitely a player flying under the radar entering this week. He was a junior college transfer that played safety before having his season cut short due to a shoulder injury. He missed the following season recovering from the injury. McGill made the switch to the corner position this year, and did an excellent job there with limited experience. This week, he checked in at 6'3 214lbs, then impressed with his athleticism and speed. While teams wanting big, fast, and athletic corners is not exactly a new desire, more teams are looking at Seattle's success and my try to copy their recipe. McGill is tall, strong, and athletic and should be able to make the transition to the NFL. The backup option of being a big free safety is an excellent fall back option.
This week gave players from smaller schools a chance to shine and prove themselves against better competition.
Princeton defensive tackle Caraun Reid did just that. He checked in jacked at 6'2 301lbs, then displayed tremendous quickness and burst on the field. He had two sacks on game day, beating arguably the draft's top guard, Cyril Richardson of Baylor with his quickness. Reid has the size, quickness, closing speed, and intelligence to produce at the next level, and could draw attention near the end of day two for 4-3 teams.
Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward was one of the unheralded names entering the week. He is now firmly in day two discussion. He's always shown the aggressiveness, instincts, and ball skills to play in the NFL. This week, he showed off his versatility and did it against much better competition. Ward isn't the biggest safety at 5'10 193lbs, but he displayed the ability to cover receivers, tight ends, and make plays in the running game. This year's safety crop is not the most talented unit after Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor, so Ward's performance this week will go a long way towards positioning himself in that next tier.
Jimmy Garappolo of Eastern Illinois continues to build his resume. He was a popular sleeper candidate during the regular season. He was a standout at the East/West Shrine Game, and now had a strong showing this week. He's a very cerebral quarterback. He is tough, poised, polished, and intelligent. He isn't going to blow you away with his size, arm, or athleticism, but he's got solid physical tools and is just a very good football player. He may have pushed himself into day two consideration with his performance this week.
Other impressive performances this week: Brandon Thomas(OL, Clemson), Morgan Moses(OT, Virginia), Weston Richburg(C, Colorado St), Pierre Desire(CB, Lindenwood), Christian Kirksey(LB, Iowa), Chris Borland(Wisconsin).
Just as players can standout and improve their stock, players can struggle and watch themselves slide down draft boards. A few players really struggled this week, headlined by a couple quarterbacks.
Clemson's Tahj Boyd entered the year as a potential first rounder. But questions about his height, decision making, and a lack of progression has caused him to slide. He had a chance to bounce back this week, but he just raised further questions about his game. He was extremely erratic all week and was passed by a couple QB's in Mobile, if he wasn't already.
Stephen Morris of Miami is another talented signal caller that failed to live up to expectations as a senior, and has continued to slide down boards this week. His accuracy was poor all week and made some poor decisions in the game. Garoppolo and Logan Thomas appear to have jumped both Morris and Boyd in the QB rankings as the draft approaches.
There may not be a player who hurt himself more this week than Alabama QB AJ McCarron. He opted to not play this week, despite a great opportunity to lock himself in as the #4 QB in the draft. Going head to head to Derek Carr would have been fun to watch. McCarron is already viewed by some as a game manager type, and his unwillingness to duke it out in person is another question. McCarron may even be overtaken by Garoppolo if he doesn't standout in the rest of the post season circuit.
Baylor's Cyril Richardson came into the week atop most guard rankings, and some viewed him as a potential right tackle candidate. His performance here left no doubt he's an interior linemen. And if you view Zach Martin as a guard, he's lost his spot at the top.
Missouri's Michael Sam is an undersized end that will have to transition to OLB in a 3-4 if he hopes to become a starter in the NFL. The transition to standing up may be a long journey, as he struggled with the move this week. He looks out of place in space and may just be a situational pass rusher at the next level.
DT Will Sutton of Arizona State was lumped together with Aaron Donald on most rankings, because both had similar builds and games. While Donald was at the 290 mark, Sutton came in 25 pounds bigger at 315. It was not good weight however. He wasn't as explosive and will need to trim down in the coming weeks to help re-establish his stock as a potential second rounder. Not only did Sutton's performance hurt him bit, but Donald's tremendous showing definitely put space between the two. There aren't many teams looking for 6-foot defensive tackles, and Sutton just fell down that list a notch.