Top Matchups To Watch During The 2016 Senior Bowl


The Senior Bowl practices will be aired in their entirety on Wednesday and Thursday on ESPN U, which means that even people who aren’t lucky to attend the festivities in Mobile, Alabama will get a chance to evaluate the players attending.

The best opportunities to evaluate will be during the one-on-one drills and during the team scrimmages, which are the most competitive parts of practice. Each drill gives scouts and evaluators an opportunity to analyze different aspects of a player’s game that they haven’t gotten a good feel for yet on their college film. They are a great way to evaluate a player’s athleticism, as it can be hard to get a full understanding of that on game tape, the nuances of their technique, their temperament and how they take coaching.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few matchups that you should keep an eye on during the week of practices in Mobile.

North Defensive Tackles vs. North Interior Offensive Linemen

These two position groups are so stacked that it is impossible to pick out just one matchup to watch. The North has a ton of talent in the interior trenches on both sides. At defensive tackle, the north squad has top-100 talents such as Sheldon Day, Vernon Butler, Adolphus Washington and Austin Johnson with Butler, Johnson and Washington having an outside shot at going in the first round. Opposite of them, the north has future NFL starters in Austin Blythe, Nick Martin, Jack Allen, Joe Dahl and Josh Garnett.

Day and Butler are interior penetrators who will likely do extremely well in the pass-rush drills. They both possess great quickness and active hands, which will give them a leg up on their offensive counterparts. Washington may be the most talented of the group with impressive quickness, strong hands and an ability to one- or two-gap; however, his motor runs hot and cold and he tends to let his pad level rise, which gives offensive linemen a huge target to attack. Johnson is the best prospect of the bunch. He may get labeled as a nose tackle, but don’t let that fool you, he can do much more than take up blocks. The Penn State defensive tackle lived in opponents’ backfield with his impressive power and great hand work to defeat blocks.

All the interior offensive lineman are technicians with average athleticism, outside of Blythe. The best of the bunch is likely Michigan State’s Jack Allen. He is an extremely smart player who has impeccable punch timing and placement. Notre Dame’s Nick Martin isn’t nearly as good as his brother Zack, but he is a solid player with decent movement skills. Iowa’s Austin Blythe will get overlooked because of his lack of size, but his athleticism, intelligence and functional strength are all plus traits. Stanford’s Joshua Garnett is a dominant run blocker, who struggles to create space in pass protection.

Overall, it appears as though the defensive tackles will have the edge during the pass-rush drills, but it will be interesting to see how things go during the team scrimmages. The interior offensive linemen could do a number on the defensive tackles in the run game.

Sterling Shepard vs. Sean Davis and Jalen Mills

The South squad may boast the best offensive prospect in the entire Senior Bowl in Oklahoma wide receiver Sterling Shepard. He will have a big test when he lines up against two solid defensive backs in Maryland’s Sean Davis and LSU’s Jalen Mills.

Shepard may not have great size (5-foot-10 and 190 pounds) but he has the unique ability to win in the big and small wins. He can create separation with speed, quickness and nuanced route-running ability, but he also has the ability to go up and win at the catch point with great body control and hands. The question surrounding Shepard will be his ability to win at the line of scrimmage versus press coverage.

The two players with the best chance to stop Shepard are Davis and Mills. Both players have position flexibility with their ability to play safety and cornerback along with the fact that they both possess great size, which they can use to disrupt Shepard at the line of scrimmage. Mills is a more fluid athlete than Davis, but the Maryland defensive back is a much more disciplined technician.

Both players have to win early in the route or they will get eaten up by Shepard’s nuanced footwork and route-running.

Noah Spence vs. Le’Raven Clark

Eastern Kentucky’s Noah Spence is the best prospect at the Senior Bowl and this game will likely catapult him into a top-15 type of prospect. The player who has the best chance to slow him down is Texas Tech’s Le’Raven Clark.

Spence is the best pure pass-rusher in the entire draft with his incredible quickness, bend and sophisticated pass-rush repertoire. With offensive tackles fearing his speed around the edge, Spence has developed an excellent inside spin and swim to take advantage of their wide sets.

Clark has great size and movement skills for an offensive tackle. He has more than enough foot quickness to keep up with any pass-rusher and he utilizes his length to stop rushers before they can get started. Now, he tends to get sloppy with hand placement and he has a bad habit of getting his weight on his toes.

Ultimately, there isn’t a player at this game, or possibly in this draft, who can consistently stop Noah Spence one-on-one, which these offensive tackles will have the inevitable task of doing. Clark may have a good rep here or there, but expect Spence to win an overwhelming majority.

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