We’re back from this week’s Senior Bowl practices down in Mobile, Ala., where NFL talent evaluators got one last, up-close, football-style look at some of the top prospects in this year’s draft class.
Unlike the combine, which follows next month, these days of action allowed general managers, scouts and coaches the opportunity to see players running through NFL drills and plays (individual, one-on-one, seven-on-seven and 11-on-11). The practices were conducted in an NFL format unlike those during the previous week’s East-West Shrine game, where those sessions consisted more of walk-throughs, Redskins scouting director Scott Campbell said. So that gave teams a better feel for how players prepare, learn and compete.
As general manager Scot McCloughan put it, “It’s T-shirts and shorts at the combine. Here it’s football pads. You know, you got two NFL football staffs coaching them and it’s live action. The bullets start flying right away and it says a lot because the first day, the second day, third day it’s gonna show character. ‘Cause I mean these guys are the best and they’re fighting each other and guys back down and guys step up and it’s very important to see that.”
We figured we’d do a little look back at the week and discuss who stood out, how the talent pool could impact the Redskins plans and a few other topics in between.
MJ: Master, why don’t you get us started. Who caught your eye the most during the last three days of practice?
MT: There were a few. On the North side, all the talk was about Ohio State wide receiver Braxton Miller. He’s only played the position for a few months after switching from quarterback, but you can see his potential at the position. He’s just overall a great athlete with great footwork and instincts, but it was clear to see he’s extremely raw at the position. All these six-second Vines of Miller running routes might turn heads on Twitter, but it won’t work in the NFL. He’s doing too much on his routes – a lot of hesitation and upper body movement – in an attempt to create separation. If he takes six seconds to run a route in a real game, that ball will go to another receiver before Miller breaks on his route. He’s extremely talented, but he still needs time to develop.
There were some good defensive linemen in Mobile this week as well, especially on the South squad. Eastern Kentucky defensive end Noah Spence has the ability to play in a 4-3 and 3-4 scheme, while Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins was performing well until he sprained his knee. Did I miss anybody?
MJ: I agree on Miller. His versatility and athleticism will serve him well. He was fielding punts, lining up in the backfield, running reverses, making tough catches. I also liked his attitude. He was pretty aggressive and physical. He didn’t mind mixing it up with defensive backs, even got in some of their faces at the end of plays. He’s definitely a competitor. You’re right about him needing to become more precise in his route-running. But a good NFL receivers coach will take care of that. I talked to one scout who said he thinks Miller will go somewhere in the second round.
I thought the main three guys on the North team that stood out were Miller, North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz and Illinois defensive lineman Jihad Ward. Wentz is a big kid (6-foot-6, 235 pounds) with a big arm. He looked like a natural leader out there despite playing with a bunch of guys that he just met three days ago. Ward was impressive. Great length and size (6-6, 295), great explosiveness and strength. He’s currently being evaluated as an end or defensive tackle. He entered the week as a later-round prospect, but I heard his stock is rising.
I know everyone wants to know what players seem like they might be fits with the Redskins. Who comes to mind?
MT: The Redskins will need to improve defensively and address some areas in the front seven. With the strength of the Senior Bowl being the defensive line, guys like Rankins and Alabama defensive tackle Jarran Reed could be around for the Redskins with the 21st overall pick. Both of Washington’s nose tackles last year, Terrance Knighton and Kedric Golston, are unrestricted free agents. The Redskins could use a younger, athletic presence in the middle with the ability to be disruptive both in run and pass-rushing situations.
There were some safeties that caught my attention as well given their build. Duke’s Jeremy Cash checked in at 6-feet and 212 pounds, while Southern Utah’s Miles Killebrew was measured at 6-1 and 219 pounds. Killebrew is one of those hybrid defensive prospects that can bulk up if necessary to play linebacker, where some project him to play in the NFL. Cash appears to be a strong safety, but he moves well in coverage. What about on your end?
MJ: Agree on the need for defensive line help, especially nose tackle. They have ends in Chris Baker, Ricky Jean Francois and Stephen Paea, and they could add another later in the draft. But nose tackle seems to rank high on the needs list. I liked Baylor’s Andrew Billings. He, like Reed, is regarded as a first-round guy and the top at their position. He’s big, and strong, and moves well. He needs some work to expand his pass-rushing bag of tricks. But he overpowers centers and guards.
Inside linebacker is another need. Not sure if Alabama’s Reggie Ragland will still be there, but he looked good. He’s got great speed, looked as comfortable dropping back in coverage as he did pursuing ball carriers or the quarterback. Ragland talked about studying Luke Kuechly, and how he entered the week aiming to display similar versatility. He definitely seemed to do so.
Anybody in particular seem disappointing?
MT: Honestly, the North practices were pretty disappointing. Outside of Wentz and Miller, there weren’t too many other guys that stood out. The South had more talent and had more intriguing prospects to watch this week, and I’d say last year’s crop of Senior Bowl participants were better. I know you talked to a few scouts and agents about this that also felt the same way.
MJ: Yeah, exactly. One local kid I had my eye on was Virginia’s Maurice Candy. I was hoping to see some good things from him, but he seemed to struggle a fair amount. He got beat quite a bit, or got caught in bad situations and would grab hold of receivers’ jerseys to try to give himself a chance. He had a few bright moments with some pass breakups. But he seemed to struggle more often than not. Outside of Wentz, I wasn’t very impressed with the quarterbacks. I guess USC’s Cody Kessler wasn’t bad. But, he didn’t stand out the way I thought he might.
But, as scouts always say, they put more stock in bright spots at the Senior Bowl than they do negatives. For one, everyone’s in a new situation and learning on the fly. Secondly, it’s their first time playing football in several weeks, or in some cases a month. So, they rely most heavily on game film from the season. This is just an opportunity to dot i’s and cross t’s.
It’ll be interesting to see how things play out as the draft draws closer.
Stay tuned …