The 2014 Senior Bowl is now in the books, with the North besting the South by a score of 20-10. In reality it wasnít even that close and the outcome was never really in doubt after the South took control early. By and large the NFL doesnít place a major emphasis on the actual game as scouts are more concerned with how a player performs in practices during the week. With that said it would be misguided to completely disregard the chance to evaluate these top prospects in a highly competitive environment. Who stepped up under the lights on a big stage? Who stood out amidst the best competition they've faced in their lives to this point? In short, who was the best of the best? Of course itís impossible to take in everything in a single viewing and the tape will be analyzed thoroughly in the days and weeks to come but the following are some initial impressions and thoughts.
DEE FORD, DE / OLB, AUBURN
An argument can be made that nobody made more money at the 2014 Senior Bowl than Auburn DE / OLB Dee Ford, who capped off an outstanding week of practices with a dominant performance on gameday. Ford finished with two sacks but that doesnít even begin to tell the whole story. Ford was a force to be reckoned with throughout the game, utilizing that fantastic speed and explosiveness as well a wider array of counters and moves than most give him credit for to terrorize opposing blockers and quarterbacks. Itís still unclear whether Ford will fit best as a defensive end in a 4-3 or an outside linebacker in a 3-4 and that lack of prototypical length remains a concern. However, at the very least Ford has launched himself into first round consideration with his showing in Mobile and will surely be on the radar of any team that is looking to generate additional pass rush pressure off of the edge. So basically all of them. If Ford went from say the 75th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft to 25th, which appears to be a distinct possibility, that would be a difference of about $4.7 million on his rookie contract. Not too shabby at all for a weeks worth of work!
AARON DONALD, DT, PITTSBURGH
Itís getting to the point where we should just stop doubting Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald. Sure he doesnít have the ideal size that you look for at just 6-0⅞ and 288 pounds with 31 ¾-inch arms but at the end of the day all that matters is what happens on the field and Donald just continues to wreak havoc in backfields. Donald routinely got the best of Baylor OG Cyril Richardson in practice all week long then really took it to Mississippi St. OG Gabe Jackson in the game, winning with both speed and quickness as well as power. There are a lot of people who have first round grades on Richardson and / or Jackson yet Donald clearly got the best of both. It will be very interesting to see if a team will be able to overlook that small frame and pull the trigger on Donald in Round 1 but if not he wonít have to wait very long to hear his name called on Day 2. I encourage anyone who has this game taped or saved to go back and rewatch while focusing on Donald (#97). It truly was a sight to behold!
PIERRE DESIR, CB, LINDENWOOD
Oftentimes the best sign that a cornerback is having a good game is when you donít hear his name called. That was the case for Pierre Desir of Lindenwood, who took a huge step toward solidifying his status as one of the top small school prospects in this class in Mobile. Desir wasnít tested until late in the game, surrendering a 33-yard catch to Jordan Matthews on a well-thrown ball but also coming away with an interception of San Jose St. QB David Fales in the endzone. Exactly the type of tall, long-armed, rangy cover guy that the pros are looking for these days, Desir is rough around the edges technically but most of his flaws can be addressed with time and some good coaching. If Desir runs a respectable forty time in workouts the Top 100 should be well within reach. Honorable mention goes to Liberty CB Walt Aikens.
CROCKETT GILLMORE, TE, COLORADO ST.
Players who are added to the roster mid-week as injury replacements are always at a disadvantage as they are forced to play catchup when it comes to learning the playbook, adjusting to new coaches and teammates, etc. Colorado St. TE Crockett Gillmore made it look easy though, flashing in practice on multiple occasions then leading both squads in receiving with 5 receptions for 61 yards and 1 touchdown. While not a freakish athlete or dynamic vertical threat Gillmore has a big frame and can be effective in the short to intermediate passing game while also getting the job done as a blocker. Gillmore wonít be mistaken for Jimmy Graham anytime soon but profiles as a solid backup at the next level. Needless to say Gillmore made a positive impression and a very strong case for why a team should invest a draft pick on him.
CARAUN REID, DT, PRINCETON
I have maintained for quite some time that Princeton DT Caraun Reid is one of this yearís most underrated prospects. Perhaps his two sack performance in the 2014 Senior Bowl will lead to a little more recognition. The most important thing that Reid proved in Mobile is that he can hang with the big boys, which was a legitimate concern as he attempts to make the daunting jump from the Ivy League to the NFL. A fantastic athlete with terrific quickness and a great motor, Reid is versatile enough to play multiple positions and fronts in the pros but projects best as a disruptive three-technique in a 4-3. In terms of value you even have to wonder if it might be wiser to target Reid in Round 3 or 4 rather than someone like Aaron Donald of Pittsburgh or Timmy Jernigan of Florida St. in Round 1. Just something to consider.
It should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the practice reports this week that Wisconsin ILB Chris Borland led both teams in tackles with 8...There seems to be a consensus that Derek Carr of Fresno St. was the top quarterback in Mobile followed by Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois then Logan Thomas of Virginia Tech. The question was whether someone from the other group of three would emerge after disappointing in the practices. San Jose St. QB David Fales had his best session of the week on Wednesday and carried that momentum over into the game, finishing 6 of 7 for 104 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception, which was by far the most impressive stat line from this years crop of signal callers. Meanwhile Clemson QB Tajh Boyd and Miami (FL) QB Stephen Morris both continued to struggle, combining for three interceptions. Despite all of the hype neither Boyd or Morris looked like anything more than Day 3 picks this week...Virginia OT Morgan Moses didnít have the standout senior campaign that most were expecting but there is still plenty of chatter that he might sneak into the first round when all is said and done. After all you just canít teach that rare blend of size (6-6 ⅛, 325) and athleticism and the pedigree is pretty impressive as well with Moses following in the footsteps of former Cavaliers blockers such as DíBrickashaw Ferguson, Eugene Monroe and Oday Aboushi. Notre Dame OL Zack Martin emerging as a potential Top 20 overall pick may work in Moses' favor too as it could create an opening for another offensive lineman in the latter stages of Round 1. Moses is rarely mentioned as a first round option but neither were Duane Brown, James Carpenter or Kyle Long, even right up to the day of the draft...Wisconsin RB James White may be undersized but all the guy does is produce. White actually finished as the Badgers second-leading rusher as a senior but still ran for 1,444 yards and 13 touchdowns with 39 receptions to boot. White was consistently one of the most impressive running backs throughout the week of practices and led the way in the game with 61 yards (5.5 avg.) and 1 touchdown. White still most likely profiles as more of a backup at the next level but his performance in Mobile may have got him drafted...Alabama WR Kevin Norwood finished with 4 receptions for 53 yards (13.3 avg.) and 1 touchdown and really opened some eyes this week. Norwood was the second leading receiver for the Crimson Tide the past two seasons but was never featured in an offensive system that relied heavily on the rushing attack. Perhaps Norwood was underutilized? Not only does Norwood offer intriguing size but he also showcased superb leaping ability, ball skills and some big play ability. The 2014 NFL Draft boasts an incredibly deep crop of wideouts so a guy like Norwood could very easily get lost in the shuffle but he now looks like a pretty intriguing possibility for Day 3.
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