NCAA

2016 Senior Bowl Practice Observations

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The padded portion of the 2016 Senior Bowl practices have come to a close and there was a ton to glean from the drills and scrimmages in Mobile, Alabama. The north squad was led by the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff and the Jacksonville Jaguars coaching staff led the south squad. Both teams have a huge advantage in the evaluation of these players because they get hands on experience working with them and seeing how they fit into their scheme and mentality.

North Squad

The talk of the North Squad’s practices was North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz. While he did prove that he was by far the best quarterback at the Senior Bowl, he also showed that the top-five talk was probably a little premature. Wentz’s problem is that he tends to get concrete feet in the pocket, which leads to poor throws and bad decisions.

It is hard to make an impression as a running back, but Kenneth Dixon was a step above any of the other running backs on the north roster. He showed the quickness and agility to make layers of cuts and he was consistently solid as a receiver and in pass protection.

If it wasn’t for Wentz, Braxton Miller would be the most talked about player from the Senior Bowl. He has shown the type of athleticism that makes offensive coordinators swoon. In fact, he has high expectations for what he thinks he will run in the 40-yard dash,

“It’s going to be a low 4.3, but I want to run 4.28 seconds,” Miller said. “I feel like I’m capable because I ran 4.36 when I was 215 pounds and I had bad eating habits too. Now I’m on a strict diet, working out and training hard.”

Outside of that athleticism, Miller has shown natural hands and a propensity for improving his route running. If he ever becomes a technician with his routes, he could be an elite wide receiver in this league.

The North squad was blessed with a good group of offensive linemen, especially at guard and center. Notre Dame’s Nick Martin was solid and showed a great punch and body positioning. Stanford’s Josh Garnett was a bully in the run game and he showcased a great ability to anchor versus power in pass protection. Washington State’s Joe Dahl did a great job transitioning from tackle to guard and he was fantastic with his footwork when defenders tried to work to his edge. The best offensive lineman from the North squad was probably offensive tackle Jason Spriggs. He was rarely beaten throughout each practice and he really vaulted himself up draft boards.

As was the case with the offensive line, the North squad was very strong up front on defense. Ohio State defensive tackle Adolphus Washington was up and down throughout each practice, but when he was on, there was no one better. Penn State’s Austin Johnson showcased the power that you would expect from a player his size, but he failed to utilize the quickness that showed routinely at Penn State. Louisiana Tech’s Vernon Butler was consistently good at knifing throughout the line and getting to the backfield. The defensive linemen that really stood out with Illinois’ Jihad Ward. He consistently was the best with utilizing his length, power and quickness to beat offensive lineman against the run and pass.

At linebacker, Joe Schobert really made an impression with his ability to win in pass-rush drills and in coverage. He showcased the ability to be a solid outside linebacker in the NFL. Kyler Fackrell is at his best as a pass-rusher and he showed why as he was stiff in space.

According to Miller, there were two cornerbacks who really stood out to him during practices, but for different reasons.

“My man from Minnesota (Eric Murray) is really aggressive. I asked him how many flags he got this year. We’re cool out there though. Him and the guy from Virginia (Maurice Canady). It’s competitive so it’s fun,” Miller said.

Canady even saw some time at safety, which proved to be worthwhile move as it hid his weakness against double moves. At safety, Boise State’s Darian Thompson was the standout player who did well against the run and pass.

South Squad

Unfortunately, none of the South quarterbacks really stood out during the two padded practices at Ladd-Peebles stadium. Jacoby Brissett and Dak Prescott were very inconsistent with their ball placement and Brandon Allen had trouble with his decision making.

Arkansas’ Jonathan Williams proved that he has recovered well from his injury that didn’t allow him to play this season. He showed burst and good change of direction along with an ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. TCU’s Aaron Green is a jitterbug with the ball in his hands, but you have to question his vision and his ability to pass protect at the next level.

Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard proved why he was the top-ranked wide receiver in Mobile with his work against the South squad defensive backs. He may get typecasted as a slot receiver because of his size, but that would ignore his ability to win at all three levels of a defense in a variety of ways. Shepard was quick and sudden with his routes and he showed the excellent hands that allowed him to be so productive with the Sooners. Outside of Shepard, Baylor’s Jay Lee and Georgia’s Malcolm Mitchell were impressive with their hands and ability to generate separation throughout each practice. Unfortunately, all three of these receivers were held back by poor quarterback play at times.

The theme of the South squad practices was how dominant the defensive line was over the offensive line. No matter what the drill was, the defensive line seemed to get the better of their offensive counterparts. Arizona State’s Christian Westerman and Michigan’s Graham Glasglow were the two players who held their own during drills. Westerman was one of the few players who could create push during run drills and Glasglow was very solid when he wasn’t going against Sheldon Rankins. Westerman showed great power transfer and strong punch while Glasgow did a great job of mirroring defenders and with his punch placement.

Before he got hurt, Rankins was basically unblockable as he was the only defensive tackle who won with power, speed and hand technique. Rankins showed that he should be in consideration for the No. 1 defensive tackle prospect in the draft. Shawn Oakman continued to be a disappointment despite his physical gifts. He struggled with his hands and balance throughout the practices. Jarran Reed was predictably disappointing during pass-rush drills, but he was fantastic in the run defense drills as he is nearly impossible to move off his spot. The best player from either team through the padded practices was Eastern Kentucky pass-rusher Noah Spence. It was abundantly clear that the south squad offensive linemen had no answer for the talented redshirt-junior. Spence won with speed and power, if he can develop an electric inside counter move, there is no reason why he should be a double-digit sack guy in the NFL.

LSU’s Deion Jones proved that despite his small stature, he isn’t afraid to stick his nose in against blockers. Jones consistently made splash plays against the run and pass with his great athleticism and impressive instincts. Alabama’s Reggie Ragland moved over to outside linebacker to try and improve his stock,

“I just want to show that I can cover and rush the passer,” he said when asked about what playing outside linebacker this week. “I want to show that I can do multiple things at the next level. I know I can play inside, but I want to be able to show that I can play outside too. If a guy goes down, I want to show I can go out there and play it too and not miss a beat.”

Even though he wanted to show he can play on the outside, he proved that he should be an inside linebacker at the next level. He doesn’t have the coverage ability or athleticism to be a threat off the edge or in space.

LSU Jalen Mills was a standout during the one-on-one period with his ability to read routes and jump them as the quarterback was making a throw. Mills did a great job of reading the quarterback’s drop to identify what route the receiver was running. Samford’s James Bradberry was another defensive back who impressed with his coverage abilities. Auburn’s Jonathan Jones was similarly impressive with his fluid hips and quickness to break on balls.


About John Owning

John Owning

John Owning is a NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has years of experience covering the NFL, NFL draft and NCAA football. John's work has been featured on the Bleacher Report and DraftBreakdown.com