With a record of nearly 100 prospects 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 A.J. McCarron, OLB Khalil Mack, OLB Anthony Barr, T Jake Matthews, T Taylor Lewan, CB Darqueze Dennard, CB Justin Gilbert, CB Jason Verrett, ILB C.J. Mosley and S Lamarcus Joyner) the 2014 Senior Bowl remains loaded with early-round talent.
The Senior Bowl squads will be coached by two current NFL staffs (Jaguars and Falcons), 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, Alfred Morris and Terron Armstead were examples in recent years.
Just like my Shrine Week coverage, I will be constantly tweeting (@JoshNorris) and producing frequent articles.
All heights and weights are projected until weigh-ins take place early Monday.
“Evaluating the Evaluator” - Waldman
Before we dive into my top 20 prospects heading into the week, let us discuss the conclusions that can be drawn from practice. I have a baseline evaluation for every player attending this week, with the main goal of understanding where each player wins. This is important, since many of these prospects will be utilized in new ways and in a new environment this week. Therefore, their success might be limited or they might put forth poor performances. These will be written up in practice reports in a negative light, but sometimes without context.
Take Alfonzo Dennard for example. A few years ago, DBs coach Rahim Morris asked his corners to play off coverage during one on one drills, and Dennard was smoked play after play. He was used to pressing and getting physical with receivers at the line of scrimmage, then sticking with them downfield at his own pace. Dennard has improved in off coverage, but it has taken some time. His week of practice was bashed by many. I think it lacked understanding and context.
Practice notes are great and I learn so much from watching prospects this week. Just use your own judgment in some of the conclusions and do not be afraid to ask the author questions regarding certain performances.
Out Of Place
Senior Bowl Executive Director Phil Savage is a smart man. He evaluates so many prospects on his own and is not afraid to ask NFL evaluators who they want to see and in what role. With that said, I believe some prospects will be practicing out of position this week. Or, at the very least, are listed in the wrong spot.
The corner group is thin thanks to some of the previously mentioned dropouts, so safety prospects like Wyoming’s Marqueston Huff and Wisconsin’s Dez Southward are listed as cornerbacks. That might get tricky when facing receivers like Robert Herron and Jared Abbrederis in practice. Other prospects that might be in a position to fail include: Edge rusher Michael Sam (listed as traditional OLB), Edge rusher Marcus Smith (listed as traditional OLB), OL Zack Martin (listed at T but I think his projection is at G), OL Brandon Thomas (listed at T but I think his projection is at G), Christian Jones (listed at ILB, which he has played, but did his best work as an edge rusher) and edge rusher Jeremiah Attaochu (listed as traditional OLB, but struggled when given multiple responsibilities outside of pass rushing).
Top 20 Attending
1. DT Will Sutton, Arizona State - I believe evaluators have been too critical of Sutton’s play this season due to a drop in production, and have used his weight as a crutch. He is not Jerel Worthy, who won by timing the snap to burst off the line and shoot gaps. Rather the foundation of Sutton’s game is hand use and leverage to work through his opposition, then quickness to close. Sutton takes advantage of space. Whether it be shooting past reach blocks in the sliver of time afforded to him thanks to an animated first step and forward lean, or hand use and quick feet to generate that separation on his own, Sutton finishes with closing speed. His flexibility to bend and gain positive positioning is tough to find. He likely as a three technique in a four man front, could play some in pass rushing situations. I would be foolish to overlook that he had poor games against Stanford, as he spent far too much time on the ground. I like Matt Waldman’s comparison of La’Roi Glover.
2. DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh - Donald has excellent burst off the line to play on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Despite size knocks, he has good length and active hands. Able to get skinny to work through gaps and trash. Closing quickness is there to make tackles for loss. The productive Pitt Panther is an obvious nickel or dime rusher, but likely not limited to that. He disrupts fronts. Could see him lining up in a variety of sub-package sets at 1, 3, or 5 technique. Mike Daniels, who will get paid this offseason, is a good comparison.
3. DT Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota - Hageman has the build of a 5 technique, but I loved what I saw from him as a one or zero. There might be some Michael Brockers to his game, but a better athlete from a Combine perspective. Hageman has improved his hand use and motor, extending his arms against interior defensive linemen with less length to keep them off balance. His pad level can certainly improve, which would help to keep his opponent on skates, but Hageman looks to shed once finding a crease to disrupt the backfield. He might fit every defensive style, depending on how a team wants to develop him.
4. Edge rusher Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech - As a junior Attaochu was asked to do too much. That is why I have an issue with his listed position of outside linebacker. I don’t care if he stands up or is in a three point stance, as long as he lines up in an edge alignment and is not asked to do too much. Let him pick a spot in the backfield and run. No dropping into coverage or checking what the offense is doing, at least at this point in his career. Attaochu has burst, strength in his hands, and bend to go along with good movement skills to work back inside on an oversetting offensive lineman. I would not be surprised if he ultimately goes in the first-round, but that team’s fit and plan.
5. Edge rusher Marcus Smith, Louisville - With Vic Beasley staying in school, Smith might be the edge rusher to replace him in the top 40 picks. The more I watched the Cardinal, the more I liked him. Not only can he bend around tackles, Smith loves to chase from the backside and converts speed to power with good length and hand use. I know I keep bringing up hands and technical skill, but it really does set great rushers that can win on counter moves apart from good ones that have one trick. Like Attaochu, I don’t care how Smith lines up as much as where.