January 21, 2014
2014 Senior Bowl - Tuesday South Practice
Scott Wright
President, Draft Countdown

   After a crisp, windy morning the South squad enjoyed much better conditions at Ladd-Peebles Stadium a few hours later as they conducted their first practice in full pads. The South sessions are usually star-studded affairs and today was certainly no different with the one and only Nick Saban of Alabama as well as a host of others showing up to take in all the action. Even though there was plenty to see along the sidelines the real attraction was on the field where some of the premier pro prospects in the country were competing head to head.

DE? OLB? Pass Rusher!

   Some eyebrows were raised when Auburn DE Dee Ford (6-2⅛, 243) and Arkansas DE Chris Smith (6-1⅛, 266) checked in with less than ideal measurables but the results on the field have been impressive. Ford in particular has been one of the stars of the week, showcasing the athleticism, explosion, speed and burst that made him a standout for one of the best defenses in the SEC. In fact, Ford has proven to be almost unblockable at times and has been giving the entire South blocking unit fits. Whether or not Ford can work out as well as former teammate Corey Lemonier, who was a third round pick of the 49ers in the 2013 NFL Draft, remains to be seen but on tape Ford is a better player. Ford is definitely opening some eyes this week and one person who has taken notice is Head Coach Gus Bradley of the Jaguars, who said that Ford would be a good fit at the ďLeoĒ position in his defensive scheme. After finishing dead-last in the NFL in sacks the past two seasons the Jags will undoubtedly be in the market for a pass rusher in the early rounds and Ford could be a realistic option. Meanwhile Smith may not be quite as fast as Ford but carries more bulk on a thicker frame and is not as reliant on pure speed thanks to a diverse repertoire of moves. Physically Smithís body type is somewhat reminiscent of Melvin Ingram. Ford and Smith may ultimately wind up playing outside linebacker at the next level but regardless of where they line up the goal will be to apply pressure to the quarterback and both have shown the ability to do exactly that so far this week.

The Star is Shining

   Expectations were running high for Fresno St. QB Derek Carr heading into the 2014 Senior Bowl, with rampant speculation that a strong week could not only push him into the first round but perhaps all the way into the Top 10 overall. So far Carr has lived up to the hype and has clearly been the best signal caller in Mobile. Not only is Carr getting the job done on the field by showcasing his arm strength and athleticism but he is also drawing rave reviews for his intangibles. You better believe scouts have noticed Carr getting up early to watch film and staying after practice to get some additional reps. That is exactly the type of work ethic and dedication to his craft that teams want to see from someone who they hope will be the face of their franchise. While Carr has undoubtedly set the pace for signal callers this year the consensus seems to be that Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo is next in the pecking order. That is ironic considering it took a standout performance at the East / West Shrine Game plus A.J. McCarron inexplicably opting not to compete for Garoppolo to even receive an invitation. Garoppolo has made the most of the opportunity though, showing off that quick delivery and proving that he can hang with the big boys despite those small school roots. Jacksonville is getting an up close and personal look at the two best quarterbacks in this game and you have to wonder if they might consider going with the best player available at #3 overall (Jadeveon Clowney? Anthony Barr?) then targeting either Carr or Garoppolo at the top of round two. Based on the way those two have performed this week in front of the Jags organization it is absolutely a possibility to keep an eye on as Draft Day approaches.

The Next Jamie Collins

   Itís still not totally clear what position Florida St. LB Christian Jones (6-3⅜, 234) is best-suited to play in the pros but heís the type of dynamic athlete that you bring into the fold and figure out what to do with later. Jones is officially listed as an inside linebacker this week but he also saw action at both outside linebacker and defensive end during his college career. Blockers simply couldnít handle Jonesí incredible speed and explosiveness as a pass rusher today and he also flashed a lighting quick spin move that proved to be extremely effective. Just ask Georgia TE Arthur Lynch. Each team may evaluate Jones differently based on their scheme but regardless of whether itís an even or odd front there should be a place for a rangy playmaker with pro bloodlines such as Jones. In many ways Jones is a clone of Jamie Collins, who was a second round pick of the Patriots a year ago. Don't be surprised if other teams around the league now start searching for their very own version of Collins after the way he performed in the recent playoffs for New England.

The Other Watkins Brother

   Florida CB Jaylen Watkins was one of the least heralded members of arguably the best secondary in the nation but showed today that he is a pretty good player in his own right. Watkins is playing cornerback this week but actually moved to safety as a senior to make room for the likes of Louchiez Purifoy, Marcus Roberson and Vernon Hargreaves III, which is a testament not only to his versatility but a team-first attitude that is sure to endear him pro coaches and decision makers. While Watkins may be best known for his aggressive, physical style today he showed both the ability to press at the line of scrimmage but also the quick feet and fluid hips to turn and run with wideouts in coverage. Watkins was also around the ball a lot and made a number of big plays that didnít go unnoticed by the evaluators on hand. At this point it still appears as though Watkins will come off the board after former teammates Purifoy and Roberson and while not quite as flashy he could offer more bang for the buck a round or two later. Itís also worth noting for those who werenít aware that Watkins is actually the older brother of Clemson WR Sammy Watkins, who is widely expected to be a Top 10 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Perhaps even the Top 5.

Extra Points:

   Best wishes go out to Oklahoma CB Aaron Colvin, who suffered what turned out to be a torn anterior cruciate ligament during practice today...Western Kentucky RB Antonio Andrews quietly led the nation in all-purpose yards the past two seasons and is showcasing that well-rounded skill set, excelling as a runner, pass catcher and blocker for the South...Coastal Carolina RB Lorenzo Taliaferro was dominant in the blocking drills and even though he ran for 1,729 yards and 27 touchdowns as a senior his best fit at the next level may come at fullback. Then again the same was said about Alfred Morris...There are always injuries that occur during the week and this year is no exception, with Alabama DE Ed Stinson, Tennessee OT Ja'Wuan James and Fresno St. TE Marcel Jensen dropping out and Colorado St. TE Crocket Gilmore and Boston College OT Matt Patchan being added to the roster...As underclassmen South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney and North Carolina TE Eric Ebron aren't eligible to participate in the Senior Bowl but they are in town anyway to meet with NFL teams and were spotted taking in the South practice this afternoon.

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