Senior Bowl – North Practice Report

Written by Ryan Lownes on January 23, 2014

North Team Practice Report

Maybe the North quarterbacks were not morning people, or maybe they simply were all who we thought they might be. Stephen Morris was difficult to watch at times. After weighing in at a disappointing 6’1 ¾”, 206 pounds, his practices did little to encourage evaluators. While he flashed the live arm we had seen since he stepped into the starting position at Miami, erratic might be too kind a word to describe his performance in Mobile. Accuracy was an issue all week for him and there were some in the stands that criticized his seemingly lackadaisical approach to the event.

More disappointing, however, was the play of Clemson’s Tajh Boyd. Like Morris, he was unable to ever find a consistent rhythm in Mobile. At 6’0 ¾” 222 pounds, he is built more like a running back than an NFL signal-caller. His accuracy was an issue all week and, when throwing toward the sideline, he struggled to keep the ball on the field. This inconsistency unfortunately supported what I had seen on tape and I believe it would be a surprise if any team felt strongly enough about him to invest a pick before the fifth round.

You could say Logan Thomas was the best of the bunch, but I am not sure just how much of a compliment that is. Weighing in at 6’5 ¾” 250 pounds certainly drew scouts’ attention, but he was unable to take full advantage of a golden opportunity. He demonstrated a strong arm and was slightly more precise than his North counterparts, but failed to show anticipation. For a tall quarterback, you would like him to see the field much better than he appears to. He was very tentative at times, holding the ball for too long and not making throws until he saw a wide-open receiver. Ultimately, there will be at least one team that will view him as an ideal developmental option, as it is possible to teach things like accuracy and anticipation, unlike size and mobility.

The running back group in Mobile, as a whole, was very average; however, the North roster possessed the two best prospects in West Virginia’s Charles Sims and Wisconsin’s James White. Sims won the weigh-in beauty pageant, rocked up with muscle at 5’11 ½” 214 pounds. He handled himself better than the other North backs in passing drills, faring well in pass-protection and catching the ball cleanly out of the backfield. He also demonstrated vision to find cutback lanes and lateral agility. White, who appeared to be carrying a bit of bad weight at 5’9” 206 pounds, displayed the vision and burst that were evident on Badgers’ tape.

The wide receivers for the North squad were forced to work hard due to shaky quarterback play, but this helped bring the best out of some on-hand. I thought UCLA’s Shaq Evans had a fantastic week, beginning with an excellent weigh-in where he checked in at 6’0 ¾” 210 pounds with great upper body definition. On the practice field, he created constant separation. For his size, he possesses quick feet and impressive route technique, accelerating out of cuts. The big knock on Evans has been inconsistency catching the football. While he did have a couple drops this week, he high-pointed passes and showed good body control when making a few nice adjustments on poorly thrown balls.

A couple big school guys, Oregon’s Josh Huff and Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis, had solid weeks and really began to shine on Wednesday. Huff is a player that offers tremendous value, as he not only wins with physicality at the top of his routes and can make plays outside his frame, but also does the little things such as contributing as a blocker and on special teams. Few players in Mobile plucked the ball out of the air quite like Abbrederis. Throughout the week, he showed a wide catch radius and ran fairly crisp routes. He may not be the strongest or fastest player out there, but his style is somewhat reminiscent of breakout Bengals receiver and former Senior Bowl stud Marvin Jones.

Perhaps the player who made the most money out of that North group was Wyoming’s Robert Herron. He measured in slightly smaller than most expected at a shade less than 5’9” and 193 pounds, but was very cut and had the look of an NFL slot receiver. His ability to beat defensive backs at the line of scrimmage was unrivaled in Mobile. Blessed with extraordinarily quick feet, he showed blistering speed and changed direction effortlessly.

Northwestern’s Kain Colter and Wake Forest’s Michael Campanaro also fit the slot mold. Both are more quick than fast and were able to win 1-on-1 matchups, but neither struck me as plug-and-play guys at the NFL level. The former Wildcat quarterback may appeal more to teams due to upside, as he is new to the position.

Though he battled drops throughout the week, Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz was clearly the best player at his position in Mobile. Standing 6’5 5/8” 262 pounds, he possesses prototypical size and appears to be an extremely capable blocker. He is a fairly smooth, fluid mover with a wide catch radius, but is more likely to be a complementary player than an every down tight end.

Ohio State’s Jack Mewhort had a nice week of practice. At 6’5 5/8” 306 pounds, he certainly looks the part and carries his weight well. Whether it is still unclear if he will be selected to play tackle or guard at the next level, he was one of the North’s better offensive linemen. His base was a bit inconsistent, but when set, he comfortably kept defenders at bay with decent foot quickness and length. His hand technique could stand to improve, but he at least flashed the potential to start in the NFL.

Notre Dame’s Zack Martin made a case to stay at tackle this week, operating almost exclusively as a left tackle down in Mobile. At a hair over 6’4” and 305 pounds, he may lack the prototypical size for the position, but was rarely beaten in practice. His balance, feet and technique were relatively consistent and he did not often let defenders get into his body. Whether inside or out, he appeared to cement his status as a Top 40 pick.

My favorite North offensive lineman to watch may have been Colorado State center Weston Richburg, who I thought was clearly the best player at his position. Whether he was matched up against size and power or devastating agility, he employed different strategies to neutralize his opponents. He showed not only the feet and quickness off the snap, but also the base and balance to stone defenders. He may have been the only interior lineman on the North that could block Aaron Donald this week.

Another player that was similarly steady in Mobile was Clemson tackle Brandon Thomas. At 6’3 ½” 316 pounds with long 34 3/8” arms, he impressed at the weigh-in and on the practice field. Though his frame may lead you to believe he would be better suited to play guard, he fared well at tackle showing a wide base, balance, and used his length to negate rushers.

Baylor guard Cyril Richardson had a rough week. As expected, he looked to be carrying some bad weight at 6’4 ½” 343 pounds. Whatever team drafts him will likely be looking for him to play a bit lighter than that. His struggles began on Monday, matched up against Aaron Donald. Not only could he not handle the quickness of the Pitt defensive tackle, he was also buried on several snaps throughout the week, winding up on the ground far too often for a 340-pounder. He is at his best moving forward as a run blocker, but has inconsistent hand placement and does not sustain blocks. I doubt he will be seen as an option by any zone blocking team and his struggles in pass protection this week were worrisome.

Miami’s Seantrel Henderson is absolutely massive at 6’6 7/8” 331 pounds, and at the weigh-in I had the impression that there was still room for him to grow. I was unable to watch him closely throughout the week, but when I did, he came very much as advertised. His size, length, and power are pretty remarkable, but he was fairly inconsistent snap-to-snap and occasionally late off the ball. He is a guy that can dominate, however, when he gets his hands on his opponent.

Michigan’s Michael Schofield started the week at guard, but looked much more natural when he moved out to right tackle on Wednesday. He struggled inside when defenders got their hands on him and lacked technique for the position. Right now, he appears to be a backup right tackle at the next level that may be able to develop into a versatile sixth or seventh lineman.

The story of the week was Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald. While undersized at 6’0 7/8” 288 pounds, he actually checked in bigger than his school listed him, but appeared maxed out at that weight. In Mobile, much like this season at Pitt, he was virtually unblockable. Quick off the snap with tremendous lateral agility, he had the North linemen on their heels. There were several occasions in which guards could not even get a hand on him. When he was not winning with speed, he showcased a devastating bull-rush, attacking much bigger linemen with outstanding use of leverage and lower body strength. He displayed quick, strong hands that jolted his opponents on impact. But, while his week of practice could not have been much better, his role in the NFL remains a question.

One of the biggest disappointments in Mobile was Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman. Measuring in at 6’6” 318 pounds with long arms, his body type is reminiscent of former Jaguars Pro Bowler Marcus Stroud. While he clearly possesses the size and raw power to give interior offensive linemen fits, I thought he was invisible for much of the week. He appeared very linear, not displaying much in terms of agility or quickness. His technique has a long way to go and smaller players were able to neutralize him. I thought he had the chance to really help himself this week in terms of draft position, but his performance was underwhelming and he ran hot-and-cold, much like I saw when watching his college tape.

A favorite of the Shrine Game crowd, Louisiana Tech’s Justin Ellis fared well again in Mobile. At 6’1 7/8” 342 pounds, he has a squatty build with tree trunks for legs. His lower body strength and use of leverage gave opponents fits this week, as he showed once again why he should have the full attention of NFL scouts and evaluators. Teams employing a 3-4 scheme ought to give him a long look at nose tackle.

One player who probably cost himself some money was Missouri defensive end Michael Sam. It was apparent as early as Monday that his transition to linebacker would not be a smooth one. He looked very stiff in space and failed to show the necessary quickness or speed all week. He was no match for the North running backs out of the backfield and spent much of his time in Mobile trailing in coverage. In 1-on-1’s he was beaten regularly and failed to threaten the edge. After accumulating 11.5 sacks as a senior, I hoped to see much more from him when lined up as a pass rusher.

A pair of highly productive defensive ends, Stanford’s Trent Murphy and North Carolina’s Kareem Martin, also failed to impress consistently. While I liked Murphy’s motor and relentlessness, I am just not sure where you play him at the next level. He does not win the edge with speed and does not possess the type of bulk or strength that would help him translate to end in a 4-3 scheme. Martin certainly looked impressive at 6’5 7/8” 272 with vines for arms, but showed very little substance this week. He is not a speed rusher, nor is he strong enough to win with leverage at the point of attack. On Wednesday he was slightly more disruptive, but for most of the week when he was blocked, he stayed blocked. At the next level, he will need to develop counter moves because physical talent alone will not be able to take him as far.

While I did not focus much on the North linebackers, Wisconsin’s Chris Borland and Iowa’s Christian Kirksey helped themselves most. At 5’11 3/8” 245, Borland lacks ideal size but possesses the requisite intangibles for the position and hits like a truck full of bricks. Additionally, he plays with excellent range and has a nose for the football. Kirksey displayed good closing speed for 6’1 ¾” 234 pounds and has the look of a good coverage ‘backer. He may have one of the lesser-known prospects coming into the week, but opened eyes with his fluidity in space.

A couple of the North defensive backs really struggled this week. Both Marqueston Huff of Wyoming and Michigan State’s Isaiah Lewis were frequently beat and failed to show the athleticism necessary to succeed in the secondary at the next level. I am willing to give Huff a bit of a break, as he was playing out of position at cornerback, but quicker receivers gave him a very hard time. Along with being undersized at 5’10” 205 pounds, Lewis was also a step or two late all week. Unfortunately, Baylor’s Ahmad Dixon could be lumped into this group. While he showed off an eight-pack at the unofficially named “Underwear Olympics,” his play in coverage left much to be desired.

I felt the best cornerback on the North side was Utah State’s Nevin Lawson. He may have been the smallest of the bunch at 5’9 7/8” 184 pounds, but exceeded my expectations. He was the stickiest in coverage without being overly physical, displaying impressive movement skills and good timing to break up passes.

A pair of big corners, Nebraska’s Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Pierre Desir of Lindenwood, impressed at the weigh-in but had very uneven performances on the field. Both struggled with the quickness of the North receivers and resorted to grabbing them frequently. While NFL trends dictate that corners must be taller than ever, these two endured their fair share of struggles this week.

Finally, a couple safeties turned in solid practice performances this week. Neither Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward nor Washington State’s Deone Bucannon made a ton of plays in coverage, but they generated the most buzz among scouts and amateur draft analysts at the event. The hometown kid, Ward, was one of the North’s best defensive backs in press-man coverage despite being a safety. Bucannon looked great at the weigh-in, rocked up with muscle at 6’0 7/8” 216 pounds, and was one of the more consistent secondary players I watched. These are both guys I will have to go back and check out on film, but I liked what I saw in Mobile.

Ryan Lownes

Ryan is currently an undergraduate student at Ohio University pursuing a degree in Sport Management. He has been attending the NFL Draft in New York City since 2005 and has aspirations of a career in scouting. He is currently a draft writer and analyst on the Draft Breakdown team, posting his latest rankings, mock drafts, scouting reports, and more. Be sure to follow Ryan on twitter for year-round NFL Draft analysis.

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