clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

NFL Draft 2016: Senior Bowl preview

New, comments

On the eve of the start of Senior Bowl festivities, here are the players to watch.

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 college Senior Bowl begins tomorrow with the weigh-in, followed by practices Tuesday-Thursday, with the game next Saturday January 30th. This is my position-by-position breakdown of who I’m liking and who I’m looking to gain more information on going forward:

Cornerback

Always one of the positions that has had the most distinct Seahawk archetypes, CB begins with a player that is near 6’0" and 190lbs. We’ve seen exceptions (WT3 and Burley pretty much the only two in six years…and Burley wasn’t a draftpick), but for the most part it’s those benchmarks. Weight is less of a deal-breaker than height/length. A guy can put on 10lbs but you can’t make a short guy tall.

That gives us our first pass at filtering down to a list of:

James Bradberry 6’1"/213

Eric Murray 6’0"/199

William Jackson 6’1"/185

Jalen Mills 6’1"/194

Deiondre Hall 6’2"/190

Harlan Miller 6’1"/180

Maurice Canady 6’2"/195

So, the good news is that is a pretty long list of options. But a) that list will probably filter down again after weigh-in when the arm-lengths are announced, b) I’ve already filtered that list down in my mind to one.

After considering all of the intel that I have access to, the only CB that I am currently considering as a draftpick from this group is Maurice Canady. And even with him, I think I’d have to see him on the board in the 6th round to be interested. I don’t think he’s WT3 in the 4th, nor Sherm or Tye Smith in the 5th…I think he’s more Byron Maxwell in the 6th. And he’ll need two years on the PS/active-redshirt/bench to get his technique complete.

Now, before making you think this makes the CB class seem a disaster, keep in mind the declared Juniors includes Jalen Ramsey, Mackensie Alexander, Vernon Hargreaves, Eli Apple, Kendall Fuller, Artie Burns, Rashard Robinson, Xavien Howard, Zack Sanchez, Daryl Worley. About 7 of those guys are over 6’0".

Defensive End

I don’t recall ever seeing such an extreme, across the board swing to a 3-4 style DE in a single class. These guys, outside of Noah Spence, are MASSIVE. And, quite frankly, many are being mislabeled as DE. Literally, f you look at the North/South specific rosters, the South lists only one guy as a DT (Quinton Jefferson), and then lists seven DE’s. And those DE’s run 261, 265, 275, 283, 303, 313 lbs. The two obvious names mislabeled are Sheldon Rankins (303) and Jarran Reed (313). Both also played inside at DT this year, and that is where both will end up as pros.

Noah Spence has found himself as a unique player in this draft. A year after the class held Vic Beasley, Shane Ray, Hau’oli Kikaha, Nate Orchard, Randy Gregory, Markus Golden, Eli Harold as the OLB/DE tweener/LEO types, this draft has Spence, maybe Victor Ochi day 2, and then a pretty sharp drop-off to the day 3 group of Dadi Nicholas, Kamalei Correa, Ian Seau, Matt Judon, Yannick Ngakoue, James Cowser. So Spence may hold higher value for that distinction. But then how much does he drop for the drug redflag from OSU? I don’t think he drops out of the 1st, but Gregory did. Regardless, Spence is going to be an exciting player this week.

Dadi Nicholas will be an interesting case. Undersized at 227lbs, Nicholas was asked to play 5 technique for Virginia Tech, when his size is a clear disadvantage in the run game. If Nicholas can be allowed to play more of a wide-9, 3rd down, pass-rush specialist in Mobile, he may regain some of the form that saw him finish with 18.0 TFL and 8.5 sacks in 2014. Then again, Bruce Irvin was asked to play a 3-3-5 DE in his Senior year, and his sack total did suffer…but it dropped from 14.0 to 8.0. Nicholas’ number dropped from 8.5 to 2.5.

Shawn Oakman has had a similar path to Nicholas…after posting 19.5 TFL and 11.0 sacks in 2014 everybody loved the 6’9"/275 freak show as a 1st round player. Now, after slumping to 14.5 TFL and 4.5 sacks in 2015, his stock has plummeted to almost 4th round. While I think there’s a degree of boxscore scouting going on there, within boxscore scouting there is generally an element of truth: and it’s the rate of finishing plays, and Oakman hasn’t been good enough this year to finish plays. I, certainly, have taken part in the boxscore scouting, but if we know Pete Carroll, wouldn’t you guess he would take the half-full view of Oakman and believe the player we saw in 2014 is still in there? Worth considering.

Bronson Kaufusi is one of a trio of monster DE at the game. At 6’8"/280, Kaufusi is a shade smaller than Oakman at 6’9"/275 and a shade bigger than the 6’6"/295 Jihad Ward. After beginning his tenure at BYU playing both football and basketball, Bronson gave up hoops after his Freshman year, but it seems he held on to his knack for shot-blocking, as he blocked 5 kicks this year alone. That’s 2 more than everyone else in the country. Kaufusi really stuffed the stat sheet this year: 63 tackles, 19.5 TFL, 10.5 sacks, 3 QBH, 2 PBU, 1 INT, 3 FF, 5 blocked kicks, AND an 18 yard punt return. This is going to be a guy to watch, not only this week, but also at the combine.

Defensive Tackle

Senior Bowl week will be our best look so far at this fabled DT class. Jarran Reed, Sheldon Rankins, Sheldon Day, Adolphus Washington, and Austin Johnson make for a quintet of probable top-63 picks. Some keep Vernon Butler in that group, but I’m not. I think Butler is getting way too much heat right now (we’re talking 10 TFL, 3.0 sacks vs mostly Conference USA competition).

I know Reed is rated very well, but I just have trouble watching Bama and not thinking that Reed is succeeding off of the play from A’Shawn Robinson, who looks to me to be the superior talent. Both are projected gone before Seattle picks.

Sheldon Day has been getting some of the Aaron Donald comp for most of the year. I don’t see that. I think Day is one of the best locker room guys in this entire draft, all positions; but I see him more as Will Sutton than AD. This year’s more apt Donald comparison is Jon Bullard, who is not at the Sr Bowl.

This will be Washington’s first appearance since his arrest, and subsequent "guilty" plea for soliciting a prostitute before the end of OSU’s season. His stock has dropped him out of the 1st, and it will be interesting to see if he can repair that or if he ends up staying available to the Hawks’ 57th overall pick. This draft, for Seattle, is really one of two stories: will the better value player at #57 come from OL or DL? Answer that question and it can inform which direction to prioritize at #26. If Adolphus drops because of his indiscretion, THAT can give you the value you need at DT in 2nd to allow you to go hard for need at OL in the 1st.

Similar could be thought of Sheldon Rankins and Austin Johnson who both currently have projection more to the upper end of the 2nd round. I wrote once before that there holds some plausibility to going OL in the 1st and then trading UP in the 2nd round using our native 3rd to get a DT. Rankins and Johnson would both be worth that maneuver.

Johnson is a 6’4"/323 lb DT that can play a 3-4 NT, but whom also holds enough athleticism to play 1 technique and up into the 3 technique. On the year, AJ compiled a statline of:

78 tackles, 15.0 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 2 PBU, and 1 FF.

Compare that to the line of mystery DT:

43 tackles, 15.5 TFL, 7.0 sacks, 4 PBU, and 1 FF.

Rankins played more DE than DT this year, but at 6’2"/303 I liken him more to a Geno Atkins type once he gets settled inside. Shelly Rank had a year of 58 tackles, 13.0 TFL, 6.0 sacks, and one pretty nifty 46-yard fumble return TD.

Inside Linebacker

Seattle doesn’t have a need here, so I haven’t spent a lot of time studying MIKE’s, but I do appreciate the seasons that Kentrell Brothers and Tyler Matakevich have put together. Deion Jones should test well at the combine, but he’ll be undersized and moved to WILL at the next level.

Outside Linebacker

I’m curious if Joe Schobert can have a Clay Matthews-like rise during the next couple months. After opening 2015 with 9.5 sacks in Wisconsin’s first 7 games, Schobert got completely shutout of the sack column in the Badgers’ final six.

Three more of the OLB at Sr Bowl have projections in the 1st, which is likely far too rich for Seattle’s blood, let alone if they’d even be available at #26.

Perhaps the best mix of value and ability that could make him of interest to Seattle is an OLB from the same school we last drafted a Sr Bowl LB: Utah State. Kyler Fackrell is 6’5"/250, finished the year with 82 tackles, 15.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks, 13 QBH, and 2 FF. Valued at the early 4th round, Fackrell does potentially fall at the early end of where Seattle could take a shot at filling the potential void at SAM from Bruce leaving in FA.

Offensive Center

I believe at one point Alabama’s Ryan Kelly was meant to be a part of this group, but he withdrew sometime after the National Championship game. The group now consists of Jack Allen, Graham Glasgow (promoted from Shrine), Evan Boehm, and Austin Blythe. I feel similarly about this group to how I feel about the CB group: none are bad, but are any particularly special?? With two practices and the game being televised, I hope to find that out this week.

Offensive Guard

I mean, Joe Dahl y’all. More on that in a second.

Interestingly, of the eight players now listed as OG on the Sr Bowl website, only three were playing OG during the regular season. Willie Beavers, Cody Whitehair, Connor McGovern and Joe Dahl are moving inside from OT, and Nick Martin is moving out from OC. This suggests this is a pretty weak OG class. But that’s okay…I’ve always been expecting any Seahawk OG pick this year would come from the ranks of an OT.

I talked to a rep from the Sr Bowl this week to get a sense of the reasons players move positions from their natural college starting spot to a new position for the Sr Bowl…his answer was that it was a collaboration between player request, Sr Bowl evaluations, and NFL personnel projections. So it is some combination of those that has pushed Dahl, McGovern, and Whitehair inside. All three felt inevitable, but there is still some disappointment Dahl won’t get to compete at OT.

For whatever reason, amongst those three, Whitehair is getting the most buzz. Which I don’t understand, at all. Dahl has the superior technique. McGovern is probably the superior athlete. Whitehair feels like B-minuses across the board. Whitehair is similar to Jack Conklin in his footwork…both show nice short-area quickness in their kicksteps, and then become more plodding going forward in run-blocking. The difference is, Conklin is a monster once he gets his hands on a DL’s chest. Whitehair looks concerningly weak in his upper body.

Even if I’m wrong about the order in which Dahl, McGovern, Whitehair should come off the board, I find it very difficult to see Whitehair at his #44 overall draftscout ranking, and then look at Dahl as #209 and McGovern as #224. Just their mere inclusion on the Sr Bowl roster should suggest scouts want to see these two.

Offensive Tackle

The strength of this OT class will not be on full-display at the Sr Bowl. Four of the top six OT can’t attend as underclassmen, and then the other two elected not to attend. Plus a couple interesting OT will be playing OG.

The top-rated OT that is attending AND playing OT ends up being Jason Spriggs, who is a mid-2nd projection. Spriggs should test well at the combine everywhere but in the bench. I love his feet, but I have serious concerns about his functional strength and football IQ. Some of these really large Sr Bowl DL are going to destroy him.

Kyle Murphy might be the most underrated OT in this class.

Man…sitting here trying to write this, looking at this list of OT…I’m exceedingly unimpressed. I think the DL’s are going to steal the show.

Quarterback

Don’t care. Don’t need to.

Okay, okay…but just to give you a little something…the two I’m most interested in are Jeff Driskel and Brandon Allen. Both of these two kept their INT’s to single digits this year. Allen comes from a Bret Bielema team, which means there could be some system carryover from when Bielema coached Russell at Wisconsin. Driskel had a nice little 3.51ypc and 5 TD’s on the ground this year, so if you want a QB2 that can do some read option stuff; he likely can. Both were top 15 passer rating in the country.

Running Back

Here’s another position where it feels like one guy is head and shoulders above everyone else. This is Kenneth Dixon’s game to steal.

Safety

Jeremy Cash had arguably the best overall season of any Safety prospect. He’s a known entity with a known high price. 18.0 TFL on the year, from a SAFETY is crazy. Also 101 total tackles. But do you want  to spend a 2nd round pick with Kam and Kelcie both under contract next year?

I have a sneaking suspicion Miles Killebrew gets exposed versus this higher level of competition. KJ Dillon flashed enough while watching Karl Joseph to warrant observation. Darian Thompson plays great, but tests my intuition for something off the field. Tyvis Powell is the opposite of Thompson; he seems fantastic off the field, but then his tape is disappointing. Powell is one I will keep studying further. His 6’3"/210 frame is very intriguing.

The guy that I come around to really liking is Sean Davis. At 6’1"/202, Davis played CB for Maryland all year but still managed to 88 tackles. 88 tackles from a CB?? That’s a crazy number. But part of that is Davis’ experience at Safety from 2012-2014. Sean checks off a lot of boxes for me when I watch his tape, not to mention his 5th round projection is perfect value.

Tight End

I don’t think it’s a great year for TE, but I think the Sr Bowl did great finding the best of what’s available.

I think Tyler Higbee is probably the best TE I’ve watched this year, and if he’s still there at his currently projected #123 overall, I seriously consider it. Higbee at 6’6"/250 has great size, and his 38/563/14.82/8 TD this year are pretty high marks in the current under-used TE college climate.

Nick Vannett looked very promising in preseason, but then put up only 19 catches at 8.53 ypc for the year. Feels a reach in the 3rd round.

For size, hands, production, blocking, and value; the TE I find myself liking best is Jake McGee. 6’6"/249 with 41 catches on the year. And potentially available in the 6th round.

Wide Receiver

Tajae Sharpe just got the callup to Sr Bowl from the Shrine, so I already wrote some on him in that piece. My hope is that he will play more in the actual game this week than he did in the Shrine. At Shrine practices, Tajae was consensus fantastic.

Sterling Shepard is very much like this year’s Tyler Lockett, only as a result of Lockett doing what he did, Shepard won’t last until the 3rd round. Great kid though. Great route runner. Very high volume producer.

I didn’t know about Paul McRoberts until like two weeks ago, but I was instantly fascinated once I saw the tape. Listed 6’3"/197, with massive hands and a basketball background, McRoberts has some pretty massive upside. In the one game I saw from him, he displayed nice hands, really impressive RAC, and the obvious big WR frame. What he needs to show this week (or perhaps better-put, what he needs to learn this week) is that he doesn’t need to fall in love with the flashy play. Make more of the routine plays more often and the flash plays will come.

I’ve been tracking Charone Peake for most of the season, but I had left him recently because he just hasn’t had the same volume that it seems PCJS have looked for in WR recently. But then John Schneider made the comment last week about wanting the team to return to being physically dominant like they were 2 years ago. Well, Peake is without question one of my top two most-physical receivers available this year. What he did to a Miami CB in October is the stuff of highlight reel legend.