The purpose of Senior Bowl week is to supplement completed area-scout evaluations in practice and interviews. No evaluations are made based on a single week, but a handful of players did help or hurt their 2012 NFL draft stock on an evened playing field. As I did in my East-West Shrine review, I will break down the top players at each position. For comparison, click here for my rankings entering Senior Bowl week.
These are overall rankings by position, not strictly based on success or failure in practices.
1. Brandon Weeden (6-3/219), Oklahoma State - Willing to fit passes into tight windows with velocity and touch, Weeden was the lone surefire NFL starter at this year's Senior Bowl. Weeden needs to improve his footwork, but that applies to most college signal callers. My main concern is Weeden's off-hand tap once he picks a target, lengthening his throwing motion. Weeden's accuracy is among this draft's best, not just putting the ball in a catchable area but leading his receiver in full stride. Too much has been made of Weeden's age. It is more difficult to win without a starting-caliber quarterback than any position. If a team feels Weeden can play effectively early, it should not hesitate to draft him. He deserves to go in the late first round.
2. Nick Foles (6-5/244), Arizona - Foles has little or no chance to be a successful early-career NFL quarterback, but some teams may project him as a future starter due to his impressive arm and frame. Foles was one of the worst signal callers in Mobile, displaying uncoordinated in-pocket movements with inconsistent accuracy and limited touch. Foles' inability to confidently work through progressions was obvious when reviewing practice tape. He stares down his first read, then panics to pull the trigger on bail-out throws. Despite 33 career college starts, Foles is purely a developmental prospect. He ranks second on this list because the rest of the Senior Bowl quarterbacks were so unimpressive beyond Weeden.
3. Russell Wilson (5-11/203), Wisconsin - From a vision standpoint, Wilson's smaller frame will limit him throughout his career. Wilson's high release does help, but he possesses less than adequate arm strength and struggles to find open targets in trash when pressured from the interior or forced to step up. To Wilson's credit, he was the only rival to Weeden in terms of working through progressions and finding the correct target in coverage, even on the run. As for comparisons to Drew Brees, it's important to understand that Brees is an exception and nothing close to a rule. Wilson projects as no better than an NFL spot starter.
4. Kirk Cousins (6-2/209), Michigan State - Cousins is adequate in every area: Height, arm talent, confidence in the pocket, and progression reading. His experience as a three-year college starter should help. In Mobile, however, Cousins failed to stand out in practice when surrounded by Wilson and Kellen Moore. More adept playing under center than other college QBs, Cousins is still hurried when the pocket collapses, leading to sporadic throws and decisions. Cousins' throws outside the numbers lack velocity and precision. Unless there are clearly open downfield targets, Cousins tends to check down. He also has a tough time getting the ball out quickly.
5. Ryan Lindley (6-4/229), San Diego State - Lindley had a rough start to the week, with almost half of his passes hitting dirt during the first practice against air. Lindley has a quick, compact release and tremendous amount of velocity, but very little touch to guide throws into a quality catch point. Lindley improved as the week went on, but he is a big-armed project that will need tremendous refinement of his technique. He also frequently looks squeamish in the pocket. Lindley resembles a poor man's John Skelton.
Running Backs/Tight Ends
1. Doug Martin (5-9/219), Boise State - A true three-down back, Martin is a fantastic prospect with a great chance to be drafted before most expect. Though he is built thickly, Martin has an impressive combination of flexibility and balance with a low center of gravity that allows him to consistently break tackles. Martin lacks elite explosion from a standstill and open-field wiggle, but he's much more than a power back. Martin will be an asset on third downs as both a pass protector and receiving threat. If he runs in the 4.4s -- and I expect him to -- Martin will have a legitimate shot to be a first-round pick.
2. Chris Polk (5-10/224), Washington - As stated in my midweek breakdown, Senior Bowl week did not play to Polk's strengths. A patient runner with spectacular vision and balance to bounce off defenders, Polk will do his best work in actual games. I usually don't put much into weigh-ins or non-contact practices, but Polk has a soft frame and core, which was unexpected for how often he breaks tackles. Also surprisingly, Polk struggled in Senior Bowl pass-protection drills, absorbing rather than delivering contact while overextending himself. Despite an arguably weak performance in Mobile, Polk will remain my No. 3 back because of his consistent receiving ability, smooth running style, and outstanding anticipation when reading blocks.
3. Isaiah Pead (5-10/193), Cincinnati - I compared Pead to a smaller version of DeMarco Murray last week and will stick by that. Pead showed his explosiveness on two long punt returns in Saturday's game, displaying great timing with sudden, lateral hops. Pead's short-area quickness is not outstanding and he should never be left in the backfield to pass protect, but he can make up for some of that with plus receiving skills. Pead will be an asset for teams that prefer a running back rotation in need of a shifty, versatile runner and returner.
4. Ladarius Green (6-6/237), Louisiana-Lafayette - The best tight end in Mobile, Green confirmed that he has the potential to make an impact in a move/joker role at the next level. He handled high-velocity throws very well away from his body while bouncing off contact on intermediate routes. Most importantly, Green gave consistent effort blocking on the line. It's a valuable trait for a small-school tight end attempting to earn playing time as an NFL rookie.
5. Vick Ballard (5-10/217), Mississippi State - Ballard's talent and running style do not match his frame or production, but he displayed more fluidity at the Senior Bowl than he did on tape. Perhaps Ballard is more comfortable from a conventional formation, excelling in South coach Mike Shanahan's pro-style sets as opposed to Mississippi State's spread. Ballard has between-the-tackles skills to push the pile, but lacks lateral agility to be effective outside. Ballard is strong, but not a powerful runner. He may still see the field as a rookie, especially if his receiving ability continues to improve.
1. Dwight Jones (6-3/226), North Carolina - It may be unfair to downgrade Jones after one lackluster week, but his lack of physical dominance on the practice field should be noted. Facing much smaller defensive backs, Jones failed to haul in high contested passes that he should win based simply on height. Jones also occasionally had trouble getting off the jam, which was one of his best skills in college. I doubt Jones will run sub-4.5, but he has deceptive downfield speed with long strides. I do worry that Jones may lack competitive intensity.
2. Brian Quick (6-3/222), Appalachian State - As I wrote previously, one NFL scout told me Quick was the Senior Bowl's most disappointing player due to a lack of confidence and focus. He dropped multiple passes each day despite creating separation. All along Quick has needed to improve his strength in routes and at the catch point, but he lacks coordination when adjusting to body catches. While Quick is a freak athlete with underrated straight-line speed, the jump in competition seemed to surprise him.
3. Joe Adams (5-10/174), Arkansas - Despite a thin frame, Adams was unafraid to make plays over the middle, laying out for contested catches in practice and Saturday's game. Adams showed his vertical speed immediately, using off-coverage cushion against DBs with stops and curls and quickly turning them upfield for yards after catch. It's one of Adams' best qualities; he is never content to be tackled and reaches top-end speed quickly. Adams often played outside in college, but he projects as this draft's top pure slot receiver with game-changing return skills.
4. Marvin Jones (6-2/198), California - I knew little about Jones entering Senior Bowl week because he was a late add to the North roster, but I caught on quickly to the best receiver in Mobile. He runs crisp routes and is very comfortable and coordinated when adjusting to poor throws, leaving his feet in contested situations. I am uncertain about whether Jones has great explosiveness, or if his movements are just very exaggerated. Either way, Jones consistently created space against every type of coverage and sat in soft zones. He was the third wheel in Cal's offense, but Jones seems destined for a better pro career.
5. DeVier Posey (6-2/209), Ohio State - Posey will never be an explosive playmaker capable of dominating a secondary, but he is a fluid route runner and keeps a low center of gravity despite his 6-foot-2 frame. Without space, however, Posey may struggle relying more on body position than physical play. Posey's hands are dependable and he tracks the ball downfield well, but he needs to show he can create more separation to be a No. 2 NFL receiver. With sensible expectations, Posey will be worth a middle-round pick in April.