Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State
Early in the week, I happened to be standing behind a pair of scouts at practice, one area scout from the AFC and one from the NFC. The AFC scout was not as familiar with Wentz as some of the other Midwest scouts on hand. He remarked that Wentz was the “absolute real deal.” The NFC scout didn’t miss a beat.
“If you need a quarterback after [pick number] 12 or 13 [in the NFL draft], forget it, you’re not getting Wentz.”
That was the type of week it was for Wentz. Some NFL fans had likely never seen Wentz play until Saturday when the South beat the Wentz’s North squad in the actual Senior Bowl game. For some NFL scouts, like the AFC scout mentioned above, there was a ton of intrigue heading into the week. As such, Wentz’s ascent over the past few weeks has been meteoric, yet chaotic. But, Wentz approached the week with the goal of staying grounded.
“I try to stay really humble, grounded,” Wentz said. “I’m a faith-based person so I realize that I’m nothing special. I’m just another guy trying to impact the world. I have good people in my life that’ll put me back in my place.”
There are some NFL players that should heed that advice but I digress.
Regardless, Wentz was the star to see in Mobile and he didn’t disappoint in the slightest. Off the field, he honored every interview request, did it all with a smile and respected every single person he met. On the field, he wasn’t perfect throwing the football, but no quarterback can be in an all-star situation. Still, he exhibited the skills NFL teams want to see, starting with his physique.
He’s built exactly as you’d want an NFL quarterback to be. He has a fluid throwing motion and the ball comes out of his hand quickly and accurately. Many tall quarterbacks struggle getting the ball out of their hands as they have a prolonged arm motion and delivery, Wentz does not. Furthermore, at 6-foot-5, 233 pounds, he’s not just a pocket passer.
“With my size and my unique abilities, I can do a number of different things,” Wentz said. He’s not wrong.
NFL people walked in wanting to see if the hype was real and walked out knowing that he’d be a top-16, first-round draft selection.
Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville
Rankins has lived in the shadows of the better-known giants at his position, but he’ll be the one creating the shadow in the near future with his performance in Mobile.
One NFL head coach remarked during the South team’s first practice, “[you] can’t move a guy that’s all butt and legs.” With an impressive lower half, Rankins excelled throughout practice before he left in the middle of the week with a minor injury.
He’s built like a fire hydrant, at 6-2, 308 pounds, but the defensive lineman can move and showed as much in those early practices. Facing Michigan center Graham Glasgow in pass-rush one-on-one drills, Rankins destroyed the Wolverine with a vicious spin move that had his South teammates and the entire sideline buzzing. The advantage of standing a shade under 6-2 with great lower-body strength is that taller offensive linemen struggle trying to win leverage battles against him. Furthermore, Rankins’s quickness frustrated the opposing offensive line throughout those early practices.
He traveled down to Mobile with an early second-day grade, but based on the reaction from the scouts and coaches on hand, he’ll hear his name called on Thursday night in Round 1 for certain.
Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State
Miller may not hear his name called in Round 1, but should be off the board early in Round 2 after an impressive week. Everyone is still adjusting to “Braxton Miller” and “receiver” being in the same sentence after his previous life as a Buckeyes quarterback, but Miller laid out his plan at the Senior Bowl for how he’ll approach his position talk in the days ahead.
“Depends on what the team needs at the time, but for right now, I’m going to play receiver,” Miller said. He followed that up by detailing the one aspect that can make him a dangerous weapon going forward in the NFL. “I can come in the backfield too. Whatever they need from me … come out of the backfield, go against a linebacker. You know, make plays … playmaker. As long as the ball is in my hands, I’m good.”
He didn’t get too much chance to go into the backfield in Mobile and that was better for him overall, as most NFL personnel people wanted to see how he’d react at receiver. Although some thought he was outstanding on the first day, I wasn’t in that camp. He was good, don’t get me wrong, but he wasn’t playing receiver as much as he was just trying to be in the right spot and catch the ball. He didn’t seem to make his route cuts at the right time. He seemed a little slow in his reaction times. Consequently, he seemed a bit herky-jerky in all his movements. But, it was clear that he could get separation, he just needed to do it quicker.
But, the second day, was a completely different story. He made some serious money on that second day, all things considered. The progress he made, as a receiver, just from Day 1 to Day 2 was remarkable, and everything he did had the look of a polished receiver, not just an athlete trying to get open. He got separation from everyone on routes at every single level. A couple of his slant routes were nearly comical with how quickly, easily and definitively he left defensive backs behind him.
As a former defensive back myself, I joked during our interview that I wanted our videographer to get a shot of the two of us because it might be the closest a defender may get to him all week.
I was right, actually. He sent the Senior Bowl DBs sprawling throughout the week and left scouts mumbling to one another. He still needs work at the fine points of the position, but if the progress he made in a week can be replicated when he arrives inside an NFL building, he’ll be just fine.
Others on the uptick
A few others made money during the week in Mobile as well. Rutgers receiver Leonte Carroo, Illinois defensive end Jihad Ward, Clemson defensive tackle D.J. Reader and any defensive lineman on the North team had most scouts’ attention during the week in Mobile. The NFL scouting and personnel community is a difficult group to impress but these players surely got their attention at the Senior Bowl.