The final day of practices for the 2016 Senior Bowl were met with slightly warmer and much less windy conditions, making the evaluation process a bit more enjoyable than the near frozen tundra conditions yesterday.
I focused most of my attention today on the running backs and linebackers, but I made sure to get a some looks at the tight ends as well.
Louisiana Tech RB Kenneth Dixon started his week with a great weigh-in (5’10”, 215 lbs) and finished with an impressive third day of practices. He ran with an aggressive and decisive style of play and displayed the kind of quick feet needed to navigate to and through the hole. Dixon caught the ball well and was just about impossible for the linebackers to cover in the one-on-one drills. If he runs in the 4.4’s at the Scouting Combine, he’ll have a legitimate chance to leapfrog Derrick Henry (Alabama) as the RB2 in the class.
Alabama RB Kenyan Drake is a really good-looking prospect. He’s a lean 210 lbs with speed to spare. He has a legitimate 3rd gear. Drake was another tough draw for the linebackers in coverage; he has legit shake-and-bake talent. My biggest issue with Drake coming into the week was whether he was a controlled runner; he has a crazy-legged style on film. I came away from today with a newly found appreciation for his overall skill set. I’m going to go back and study his tape more, as he has a chance to be one of the big risers down the stretch.
San Jose State RB Tyler Ervin is as quick as he is fast, but he’s just not big or powerful enough to be an every-down RB in the NFL. He’s bigger than I initially thought (weight-in at 192 lbs), but he still looked pretty tiny compared to the other runners. There were a few times where he was knocked off track by a thump that a bigger back would’ve been able to maintain their balance through. All that said, I think Ervin can be a dangerous weapon in the NFL as a return specialist and receiver out of the backfield. He proved today (and this week in general) that he possesses the kind of rare quicks that NFL teams will always employ.
Arizona State RB D.J. Foster was added to the Senior Bowl roster after the weigh-in, but he failed to do anything overly impressive throughout the week. He lacks any one trait to separate himself from his peers, and today was no exception. I’d imagine that Foster will go undrafted in April.
Arkansas RB Jonathan Williams certainly looks the part, and I was impressed by his combination of plus size, good feet and power in pass protection. Williams’ week should be taken with a grain of salt, as it was his first live action since August.
Texas Tech RB DeAndre Washington is someone that I hadn’t studied at all prior to the practice sessions in Mobile. I came away impressed with his burst and explosive style of play, but he’s tiny: 5’7″, 199 lbs. In fact, I think his size will be a bigger problem for him than it will be for Ervin. Washington doesn’t have the kind of twitchy quickness that Ervin does (to be fair, not many prospects do) and his lack of that borderline rare quality makes his size a more difficult hurdle to overcome.
I was disappointed with the play of TCU RB Aaron Green. Based on his film I was expecting to see a running back with a lot more homerun hitting ability. And while Green certainly displayed some appealing speed and quickness, he wasn’t able to separate himself from the pack in that department. In fact, I’d say he was probably the fourth-most explosive back in Mobile behind Kenyan Drake, Kenneth Dixon and Tyler Ervin. And when you’re on the smaller side of the aisle for the position, it’s hard to maintain high draft value without that elite big-play ability.
Northwestern FB Dan Vitale is going to have a long career in the NFL. He’s a true thumper who consistently stonewalled linebackers in one-on-one’s. He also displayed a reliable set of hands and a good enough athletic skill set to be a viable target for an offense. He’ll be an eight year hammerhead in the pros.
Alabama LB Reggie Ragland has received a lot of praise for his play this week, but I didn’t see it today. In fact, the few times I was able to get a look at him before today’s practice resulted in the same opinion: he lacks the twitch required for reliable pass coverage and doesn’t appear to have the juice to get the edge against tackles as a pass rusher. He certainly has the power to bang heads in the run game, but he didn’t look like he has the speed or quickness required to excel in pursuit. He’s a guy to keep a close eye on at the Scouting Combine. I sense he could fall a bit lower than the masses are projecting right now.
A linebacker that did display the necessary twitch and athletic traits to excel both in coverage and in pursuit is LSU’s Deion Jones. He was coordinated, quick and instinctive today and made the best play by any of the linebackers when he stuffed Aaron Green in a goaline drill. He’ll be a riser.
Wisconsin LB Joe Schobert is a tough and powerful guy. He was putting RBs on skates during the pass protection drills and played with the kind of violence that I like to see from the position.
Utah State LB Kyle Fackrell looked out of place in coverage, reminding me a lot of how Hau’oli Kikaha (Saints) struggled at the 2015 Senior Bowl. Fackrell weighed-in at 6’4″ and 244 lbs; I’d imagine that he’ll end up with his hand in the dirt once he gets into an NFL training camp. He’s simply too tight to win in pass coverage at a consistent rate in the pros.
Oklahoma LB Eric Striker is small by anyone’s standards, weighing-in at 5’11”, 228 lbs. But man, he can play. He’s a true linebacker that I believe showed the traits on the practice field to suggest he will be successful despite his size. There are some players that you just have to take the generally accepted position minimums and throw them out the window. I’m doing that for Striker. He’ll be a starting WILL in a 43 front. No doubt in my mind.
Ohio State TE Nick Vannett was a fun player to watch this week. You can tell that he wants to be Gronkowski-like, despite the fact that he’s not quite as big and not quite as athletic. He needs some refinement in his route running, as he tries way too hard to bully corners at the top of his stem. If he can be coached into a better technician, he’s got a chance to be a really good pro.
South Carolina TE Jerell Adams had a great day today. He was consistently shaking coverage and securing the catch. At 6’5″ and 244 lbs, he looks the part of a viable option in an NFL passing attack.
Iowa TE Henry Krieger-Coble displayed some soft hands and good route running, making a few nice grabs in the end zone in one-on-one drills. I’m excited to go back and look closely at his tape.
Kansas State TE Glenn Gronkowski appears out of place at tight end. I’d rather see him line up at fullback and crack heads with linebackers. I just don’t think he’ll make it in the NFL if he’s expected to follow his brother’s footsteps.
I was really hoping to see a better performance from East Carolina’s Bryce Williams. I didn’t. And I’ll just leave it at that.
On a side note, I thought it would be impossible for a ball boy to have better hands than the kid from the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the Dallas Cowboys have a potential flag football superstar. He was snagging passes from Carson Wentz and Jeff Driskel with hands that would rival Larry Fitzgerald’s.
The 2016 Senior Bowl was a fantastic scouting experience, and a ton of gratitude is owed to Phil Savage and his entire staff.