January 22, 2014
2014 Senior Bowl - Wednesday North Practice
Scott Wright
President, Draft Countdown

   Temperatures were hovering near freezing as the North took the field at Ladd-Peebles Stadium for their third practice of the week and second in full pads. By this point all of the players have had plenty of time to settle in and get comfortable so there are no more excuses and peak performances are expected. After today many of the NFL personnel will begin to leave town so it was time for the prospects to put their best foot forward. Let's take a look at who made favorable final impressions.

They're Talking About Sherman

   The NFL is a copycat league and other teams are already attempting to emulate what the Seattle Seahawks are doing with big cornerbacks such as Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. Needless to say itís no coincidence that this years Senior Bowl rosters are loaded with tall defensive backs. Perhaps the most intriguing is Nebraska CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste (6-2 ⅜, 215), who like the aforementioned Sherman is a converted wide receiver. ďSJPĒ has only been playing on the defensive side of the ball for two seasons but the light began to come on as a senior. As a result Jean-Baptisteís stock has soared and itís difficult to imagine a cover guy with his rare blend of size and athleticism, not to mention seemingly unlimited upside, making it out of Day 2. Itís often difficult for high-cut guys like Jean-Baptiste to transition smoothly but today he did a relatively good job considering his dimensions and made a number of nice plays in coverage. Lindenwood CB Pierre Desir (6-1 ⅛, 195) isnít quite as big as Jean-Baptiste but he too very much looks the part with a rangy frame and long arms. Desir is extremely rough around the edges, which is to be expected coming from a small school program, but a little development and patience could ultimately pay huge dividends. Overall itís been an up and down week for Desir and today was no different, with some fantastic plays as well as some miscues and near misses. In some ways Desirís performance is reminiscent of Brian Quickís from a couple of years ago. Granted they play different positions but Desir, like Quick, clearly possesses all of the physical tools and it will simply be a matter of adjusting to a higher level of competition and some good, old-fashioned coaching.

The Forgotten WR's

   With so many underclassmen coming out early and dominating the top of the wide receiver rankings the top senior pass catchers have almost been forgotten. Oregon WR Josh Huff is doing his best to remind everyone that the old guys have some game too. Even though Huff paced the Ducks with 62 receptions for 1,140 yards (18.4 avg.) and 12 touchdowns he was essentially considered to be the third option in that powerful offense behind Marcus Mariota and an uber-productive backfield that included DeíAnthony Thomas. Despite the lack of headlines Huff has had a very strong week in Mobile and that continued today. Huff was consistently able to get open and separate to make plays, including attacking and high pointing balls amid traffic. Wisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis has quietly done a nice job as well, showcasing reliable hands and polished route running ability. Donít forget that Abbrederis is also a good return man and the Badgers only scaled back his special teams role because he was such an irreplaceable part of their offense. Even though the youngsters are getting all the hype now there will be room for a handful of senior wideouts in the Top 100 too, with Huff and Abbrederis as good of bets as anyone.

E.J. Manuel or Andre Woodson?

   While Logan Thomas of Virginia Tech has been the best signal caller for the North he is also clearly behind Derek Carr of Fresno St. and Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois based on their performances this week. Physically Thomas is the prototype of what you look for, with a huge, solid frame, a strong arm, good mobility and excellent athleticism. Unfortunately the sum is not the equal of all the parts as inconsistency continues to plague Thomas, much as it did during his final two seasons with the Hokies. There are times when Thomas looks like a #1 overall pick and itís easy to fall in love with that scintillating talent and upside. Then there are times where Thomas does something that makes you wonder whether he is even worth rolling the dice on in the seventh round. We saw a similar phenomenon a year ago with Mike Glennon. Evaluators face the unenviable task of trying to determine at what point of the draft the potential rewards outweigh the considerable risks with Thomas. While most of the draftnik community has already written Thomas off that definitely hasnít happened in scouting departments. In fact there are plenty of people around the league that are still infatuated with Thomas and view him as a Day 2 value. Despite his schizophrenic tendencies on the field donít be surprised if Thomas comes off the board ahead of contemporaries with more stellar rťsumťs.

Linebacker Nest

   In recent years the Iowa Hawkeyes program has developed quite a reputation for producing pro linebackers and Christian Kirksey will help build upon that tradition, following in the footsteps of guys like Chad Greenway, Abdul Hodge, Mike Humpal, Pat Angerer, A.J. Edds and Jeff Tarpinian. Despite just average size Kirksey (6-1 ¾, 234) has been extremely active and made quite an impression this week. Not only has Kirksey flashed a superb blend of athleticism, explosiveness, range and power but he has also earned praise for his motor and intensity. The 2014 NFL Draft features such a deep crop of talented linebackers that a guy like Kirksey could slide into the early portion of Day 3, at which point he would offer terrific value. Even if Kirksey never develops into a starter at the next level his floor may be the role of a quality backup and core special teamer. Keep an eye on this underrated prospect.

Extra Points:

   By now it almost goes without saying but Notre Dame OT Zack Martin and Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald continue to shine. Martin actually got some work inside at offensive guard today which set up a highly-anticipated showdown with Donald. In that head-to-head matchup between two of this weeks most dominant performers it was Martin who was finally able to slow down Donald...Wisconsin LB Chris Borland just continues to make plays in practice, coming away with another interception and just constantly being around the action in general...Today was basically a microcosm of Miami (FL) OT Seantrel Hendersonís college career. In other words two steps forward and one step back. Henderson once again flashed first round talent and was dominant for stretches before the inevitable lapse. Henderson has also been admitting to teams that the multiple suspensions during his time with the Hurricanes stemmed from marijuana use. Obviously each organization will have to make a determination as to how important of a factor that is but according to reports some have already removed Henderson from their boards all together...Marcus Smith of Louisville is attempting to make the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker and is struggling, much like Michael Sam of Missouri. There are no concerns about Smithís ability moving forward and rushing off the edge but whether or not he can get the job done in coverage is still a major question markÖKain Colter of Northwestern is performing about as well as anyone could have expected as he makes the move to wide receiver after playing mostly quarterback in college. Colter has made a few fabulous catches this week and seems to flash at least once every practice. Colter is also getting work as a return man and that versatility will only enhance his value. There is no doubt that Colter has been much more impressive than Denard Robinson was in a similar situation last year...Brandon Thomas of Clemson protected the blindside in college but most assumed his best fit at the next level would be inside at offensive guard. That is why it was somewhat of a surprise to see Thomas listed as an offensive tackle when the roster was released. However, Thomas has actually held his own on the outside this week while also showing well on the interior and improving his draft stock...Virginia Tech DE James Gayle left practice in considerable pain with an apparent arm injury.

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