(CBS) A week-long interview for NFL hopefuls culminated in a 20-10 win for the South team coached by Gus Bradley and the Jacksonville Jaguars at the Senior Bowl.
Auburn defensive end Dee Ford capped off his buzz-worthy week with a dominant performance, earning game MVP honors. Most Outstanding Player honors were awarded to Alabama wide receiver Kevin Norwood (South) and Wisconsin running back James White (North).
Here’s my stock up/stock down report based on game performances, quotes and notes from Mobile, Ala.
- Auburn defensive end Dee Ford. Ford was the talk of the town all week, earning praise for his quick get-off and low pad level, which allows him to bend the edge and dip and rip underneath bigger offensive tackles. Lining up as a wide-nine defensive end in a 40-front, Ford was credited with two sacks and a pass breakup, but his impact on the game was even larger than the stat sheet shows. By the end, Ford was being triple-teamed, doubled at the point of attack and chipped by running backs. Ford’s performance may have pushed him into the bottom of the first round.
- Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin. Martin also carried over a successful week of practice to the field, showcasing first-round talent. Initially lining up at left tackle, Martin played with patience from a solid base, quickly reacting and re-anchoring in one-on-one situations. Additionally, Martin showed his versatility by playing left guard, blowing defenders off the ball and driving them down the field.
- Princeton defensive tackle Caraun Reid. The Princeton Tiger didn’t dominate Ivy League competition, but he made the most of his Senior Bowl experience, displaying quick feet and an arsenal of interior pass rush moves. While raw, Reid possesses ideal size (6-foot-2, 301 pounds) for a three-technique in a 40-front, and he could immediately contribute in sub packages. Reid registered back-to-back sacks on Saturday using both a speed and power move to disengage.
- Colorado State tight end Crockett Gillmore. A late addition to the game, Gillmore made the most of his opportunities, hauling in a game-high five passes for 61 yards and a touchdown. Gillmore, a former defensive end, also flashed as an in-line blocker, controlling down linemen to set the edge in the run game.
- Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton. Sutton was relentless on Saturday, setting up blockers with his quick feet and then winning hand fights. Sutton’s conditioning became a focus throughout the week, and when I spoke with him after the game he said his focus now will be conditioning and dropping weight prior to the combine, though not all teams want him to. “Depending on what team, 4-3 teams like my weight down, 3-4 teams like the way I am right now, because I can do some things that bigger guys can’t, a little more athletically,” Sutton said. Sutton’s scheme versatility will work to his advantage in the draft.
- Arkansas defensive end Chris Smith. Like Ford, Smith measured out a touch short for an ideal edge rusher (6-foot-1), but he has a thick frame and a wingspan equivalent to someone who is 6-foot-5. Smith flashed elite burst and quickness off the snap on Saturday, to bend the edge. While he didn’t flash an array of pass rush moves – primarily a rip move on an outside speed rush – Smith’s speed to flatten his path to the quarterback and ability to keep blockers off of his pads bodes well for his NFL future.
- Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste. At 6-foot-2, 216 pounds, Jean-Baptiste looks like a safety, but he played well on an island, showing fluid hips and the ability to press and bail during practices. In the game, Jean-Baptiste excelled while playing off-man coverage. He successfully read the quarterback’s eyes on a few plays to quickly break on the ball, with a pass breakup and a near interception on a slant route. Additionally, when he did give up a reception, he quickly clamped down, making sure tackles. A solid combine performance may seal Jean-Baptiste as a second-round selection.
- Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland. Every practice, Borland was knifing through the gap and quickly making tackles in the hole in run support. Borland transferred over his success on the practice field to the game, finishing with eight tackles, a tackle for loss and a forced fumble. While he’ll be knocked for his height (5-foot-11), Borland is a student of the game who quickly diagnoses formations and finishes with burst. The combine will be crucial for Borland, who drew comparisons to Zach Thomas. If he shows the athleticism to match, he should be a second-day selection.
- Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd. Boyd started the game for the North but didn’t impress. His lack of height came into play on more than one occasion, getting passes batted down at the line of scrimmage and not getting clean passing lanes on intermediate and deep throws. Boyd’s interception came on a double move – which worked – but he simply put too much air under the ball. Some teams considered Boyd undraftable based on his week of practice, and his game performance did little to change opinions.
- Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas. Thomas will be overdrafted simply because of his size. Teams can’t teach quarterbacks to be 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, but teams can (sometimes) mold that size into a capable starter. Personally, I was never a fan of Thomas at Virginia Tech, as he was simply too inconsistent and wildly inaccurate. On Saturday, Thomas took as many sacks (five) as he did pass attempts. That’s an unfortunate ratio that demonstrates indecision, and he doesn’t get through his progressions quick enough.
- Miami quarterback Stephen Morris. While Morris led the North’s only touchdown drive, he missed wide open receivers and threw two interceptions, one of which was a miscommunication. The other was inexcusable, staring down a receiver who was double-covered. Compounding problems, Morris didn’t have a strong week at practice either, showing poor accuracy on throws to every level of the field.
- Miami offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson. Henderson’s tape from Saturday may end up being the worst of all Senior Bowl participants. He was routinely beaten on the edge by Ford and Smith. Henderson has a tendency to bend at his waist instead of his hips, which gets him off-balance with his shoulders over his feet. Combine this with a slow kick-slide, and the results were numerous sacks and quarterback pressures surrendered. Henderson’s size will pique the interest of scouts, but his footwork and technique need a lot of work.
- Of the scouts left in Mobile – other than the Jaguars and Falcons, whose teams were coaching in the game – the Bears were the most represented in the press box. General manager Phil Emery, director of college scouting Marty Barrett and area scout Francis Saint-Paul were all in attendance and stayed until the final play, taking copious notes throughout.
- Time to retire the 3-4 / 4-3 designations? Obviously, some teams will continue to run traditional 40 and 30-front systems that require specific skills sets from prospects. However, the top-five pass rushers on Saturday – Ford, Smith, Reid, Sutton, and Aaron Donald – are all under 6-foot-2. As hybrid fronts become more in vogue around the league, the onus should shift to coaches to find ways to successfully utilize the skill sets of prospects with less-than-ideal measurables, instead of scouts having to find players that fit a specific mold.
- The effect of the Seahawks “Legion of Boom” secondary was evident. In a copycat league, the size-to-speed ratios of several secondary prospects – Jean-Baptiste, Washington State safety Deone Bucannon (6-foot-1, 216 pounds), Lindenwood cornerback Pierre Desir (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) – demonstrates that teams have taken notice of what the Seahawks have done with their defense and they want a closer look at similarly-sized prospects. The assumption has long been that a defensive line makes up for a mediocre secondary, but the Seahawks’ success illustrates the inverse can also apply.
- Desir, coming from Division II Lindenwood, made a name for himself. Desir was grateful for the invite and felt he made the most of the opportunity. “This week has been a chance for me to prove myself, and that I can compete with these talented receivers, and to showcase to everybody that myself doing well at Division II was because I’m a talented player,” Desir said. Desir put the exclamation point on his week, snaring an interception in the end zone.
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