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Senior Bowl 2014

2014 Reese’s Senior Bowl Game Recap and Scouting Notes…

Twitter @CFBMetrics

Everything you would want to know about my Senior Bowl week experience was encompassed with an event that happened with a little over two minutes to go in the Senior Bowl game on Saturday.

Let me set up the context…

What is the Senior Bowl for, really? It is a chance for some of the nation’s best college senior football players to show their stuff to their future employers. Most every NFL team had between 5-10+ people from their organization milling around that event all week. Lord knows how many media folks were present as well. The practices were covered everyday by the NFL Network. Fans of the players and NFL Draft hung on every morsel of buzz the media sent out. This entire event is a big career deal for a college prospect.

As a player, I would want a chance to show the world what I can do. As a fan, or NFL exec, I want to see what these players can do against other talented players. You would think the NFL coaching staff assigned to each team would play into that thought process all week, because nobody cares who wins the game; everyone cares about observing top CBs face off against top WRs, and DL vs. OL, and QBs throwing in 7-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills. The Atlanta staff (coaching the North) seemed to be much more in tune with that reality of show casing the players. The Jacksonville Jaguars staff (coaching the South) seemed much more in tune with showcasing their own coaching ‘prowess’.

I watched most of the practices during the week. I was particularly annoyed with what the Jacksonville Jaguars coaches were doing at every turn. Each team had just two hours to practice each day. They only went full pads a couple of days during the week. The Atlanta staff seemed to jump right into organizing several head-to-head drills that scouts could semi-sink their teeth into. The Jacksonville staff chewed up a huge amount of time stretching, doing arm circles, and light high-knee running. About 10% of the valuable time was used on things a Pee-Wee football coach would do for the first 15-20 minutes of a nightly practice. This turned into a showcase for the conditioning coach who barked silly things like, “We got to get better every time,” while finely tuned athletes did standing neck rolls. The comedy of that was most players were out on the field 20-30+ minutes ahead of the scheduled start time warming up on their own. They probably worked out in the gym before practice. They are in peak physical condition. So it only made sense for the Jags staff to run 15-20 minutes of more stretching and low-speed backpedal jogs. In a very critical showcase for these college seniors, the Jags took a chunk of it to show off their conditioning coach’s passion.

When the Jacksonville staff wasn’t getting players all stretched out, they were very quick to work on setting up punt coverage and kick return formations. I realize that in the NFL, if you coach the Jaguars, that punting and kick returns are of the utmost importance, because you spend an inordinate amount of time engaged in both activities…but why waste so much time doing it in for a college all-star game? There was so much wasted time in practice with a machine spouting a faux kickoff, while the players worked on their lanes and getting lined up in a non-contact format…I was stunned. They could have done all that at the “in shorts” practices. Why do that when you can during your limited full pad events? That really helps everyone know the capabilities of the players…watching them milling around and lining up for onside kick coverage.

At a certain point during one of the practices, the Jaguars staff took time to do an end-around play on offense, and also to set up a lateral pass to a WR for him to then throw a pass…a double-pass. Why would you waste time with this? With the hectic, limited time you have, why would you not stick with meat and potatoes plays and just let these guys shine at what they do? What good is it having WRs throwing passes in practice? I thought, surely, they would never waste time with a double-pass in an all-star game…what would be the point? I was wrong.

Sure enough, with the South (Jacksonville coached) team driving with 2+ minutes left in the game, they tried a double-pass. Now, at that point in the game, David Fales (7-8 for 104 yards, 1 TD/1 INT) had been leading an excellent drive, and was on the verge of possibly being named MVP of the Senior Bowl had he punched in another TD pass from the 12-yard line. Had Fales thrown another TD, he would have been 7 of 8 passing with 2 passing TDs—and he would have dwarfed all the other QBs despite his limited snaps. On 2nd and eight from 12-yards away…they called for the double-pass. What an excellent time to show all the fans, and NFL scouts, what a brilliant coaching staff you are by calling for a play you worked on once or twice in practice. What a service you do for the QB who needs red-zone exposure, or a big WR who would like to show how he can fight for an alley-oop, or for the RB who would like to pound the ball in close quarters…what a service you are doing to them by tossing the ball backwards to Kevin Norwood (4 rec. for 53 yards and 1 TD, 0-1 passing with an INT), so that he can under throw a wounded duck that gets picked off in the end-zone. How utterly delightful. How clever. How blind, and arrogant.

You wonder why I am not shaken in my belief that Ricky Stanzi is an NFL talent being overlooked…’shaken’ because the Jaguars didn’t use him this year. Now you know why anything Jacksonville does will not affect my own scouting evaluations. I was miffed at the wasted practice time stretching, and the WR double-pass in a showcase game, PLUS watching the Jags QB coach taking time to make his non-mobile QBs (Carr, Garoppolo, Fales) practice doing 360 spin moves out of the pocket…because that’s so natural. Do you really have to teach QBs at this stage that when pressure is coming to get out of the way? Making slow QBs do a 360 is just allowing more time for them to get creamed.

You think the NFL is filled with the best and the brightest. You think they have some special insight because they work with the players up close. I spent almost a week in Alabama behind the scenes, and I can tell you it is as flawed a business model; just like any big corporation or bureaucracy…only the NFL has more nepotism than the other business models. There are great organizations, and great NFL executives and scouts, no doubt. But like any big company—there are more duds working there, than mega-talents. I’m not saying that to put them down, or to shame them. I’m just pointing out it’s not as magical as we would all think it is. It’s just a regular dude, flaws and all, behind the curtain in the land of Oz. We, as fans or journalists, are not insane for critiquing or second-guessing them.

As far as the players in the game:

 

The South QBs:

Let me just point out this. I’m not sure when the secret meeting was held, but I know it happened, to promote Derek Carr (7-12 for 45 yards, 1 TD/0 INT) as the best QB ever…but everyone at the NFL Network got the memo. Pre-game and post-game coverage was all about how great Derek Carr looked in practice all week, and how awesome he was in this game. I was there most all week, and I watched the Senior Bowl game…he was neither.

Carr looks like a really good QB in a quick visual snapshot, so scouts with a bad eye will like him…especially if they put in little work, or don’t know what they are looking at otherwise. It’s easy enough to just copy what the guy before you said, and you’re apt to sound smart on TV. I watched the South QBs more than anything this week (Carr, Garoppolo, Fales), and none of three stood out…meaning they were all fine; they all looked solid in non-contact drills and basic 3-on-3, 7-on-7 work. At worst, anyone covering practices should have commented how Garoppolo and Fales held their own with the more lauded Carr…but that doesn’t fit the narrative. The template is set: Derek Carr is great…and no one else exists (a little hyperbole’). That message is subtly shoved down viewer’s throats and becomes an accepted mantra…as fans covet Carr for their team…or Fantasy Football GMs make a play for Carr this year. Carr was not as good as advertised. He was fine, but not leap years ahead. I’d argue he was 3rd best of the three South QBs.

Carr led a scoring drive on the opening possession of the Senior Bowl. He did what he seemingly always does—one-step, quick throws to a WR, and/or seeking out short crossing routes. He is excellent with those. He has a cannon arm with a quick release. The problem is that Carr is flustered (to me) looking deeper down field. He’d rather dump things short. I saw it on his college tape. I saw it in Senior Bowl practices, and I saw it in the Senior Bowl game. He throws short like none other…but as his game against USC showed us, when superior athletes start to take that away, Carr is in trouble. Later in the Senior Bowl game, defenders started jumping Carr’s short passes…a pick-six rocketed off a DBs chest in this game. None of the NFL Network talking heads harped on that.

When Carr went out, Jimmy Garoppolo (6-11 for 32 yards, 0 TD/0 INT) came in and went anti-Derek Carr. He immediately started looking deeper and over-the-middle. Garoppolo has a very quick release, and throws a tight, fast-paced spiral. He is aggressive and fearless…where Carr (to me) plays scared and safe. To me, no scout could possibly watch the difference of Carr and Garoppolo in this game and not be panting over Garoppolo. Except, every NFL Network analyst came on to talk about how great Derek Carr was in the post-game. Garoppolo instantly took charge, and tried to make things happen down field—he just has the presence of a high-end QB. Carr looks like every safe-throwing backup QB in the NFL.

David Fales has already been written off at the same secret group football meeting that decided Derek Carr was awesome. Fales got the “weak NFL arm” label from one person…and the echo chamber, group-think machine went to work to pass it along to the masses. All Fales did was come in and fire a rocket, deeper over the middle for a 23-yard gain on his first throw…a longer pass than Derek Carr ever dreams about, and it was greeted with “ho-hum.” Actually, it was a little more shocking for analysts…because Fales is supposed to be weak-armed, that’s what the talking points said. Fales’s arm strength is fine.

In practices, I would say it was close to an even split on how all three of the South QBs looked. In media hype all week, it was 90% accolades for Derek Carr, and 10% scraps for Fales and Garoppolo to fight over.

 

The WRs:

Kevin Norwood got the target attention in this game early on, but my eyeballs all week told me that Jordan Matthews (2 rec. for 38 yards) of Vanderbilt was the best WR at the Senior Bowl, and it wasn’t close. Matthews got ignored the 1st-half of this game by Derek Carr…again, quite a savvy QB to not look for your top WR talent. David Fales did not totally ignore Matthews. Later in the game, Matthews got in with Fales (he was usually in with Carr). Fales hit Matthews on a perfectly lofted deep ball down the sidelines where Matthews had to go Willie Mays with a gorgeous over-the-shoulder catch…the best, NFL-like catch of the game.

I don’t like Matthews just because he had a nice catch in an all-star game. I’m not sure I will like Matthews until I see his NFL Combine data. I do know that I liked what I saw of Matthews on the practice field all week. He was a guy I often saw interacting with coaches pre-practice, and the guy who was talking and working with other players on technique…and was not just idly milling around. I will tell you what our computer thinks about Matthews in a few weeks, but if he has NFL measurables—he’s going to be a great addition to an NFL locker room and team.

I feel bad for the North WRs, because their QBs were so horrific. On the South, you had three QBs who will all start for an NFL team someday (deserved or not). On the North, you have three QBs that may never take a snap in the NFL. It was hard to judge the WR/TE talent for the North squad in this atmosphere.

The best WR I saw all week on the North had to leave with an emergency, and that was WR Jared Abbrederis of Wisconsin. Abbrederis has phenomenal hands. He will be like an Austin Collie (back in the Colts days) type of WR.

Robert Herron (1 rec. for 12 yards), a 5’8”+, 193-pound WR out of Wyoming caught my eye a few times. He was kinda Lance Moore-ish. It was hard to tell for sure because of the QB play.

Eric Thomas (1 rec. for 8 yards) was a very late add to the team, and had a brilliant, leaping catch for a key 1st-down. I look forward to researching him more post-NFL Combine.

I can tell you this: Jeff Janis (2 rec. for 7 yards) looked a step behind the others all week in practice, and had a bad pass drop in the game. Every time I watched Janis, I wondered how he got an invite. He seems like a nice dude, and a scrappy player, but he also looked over his head—gotta be honest.

 

The RBs:

Lorenzo Taliaferro (8 carries for 31 yards) was the best RB on either team—best in practice, and best in the game. He is a 6’0, 231-pound wrecking ball of a runner.

Toledo RB David Fluellen (8 rec. for 44 yards) might be the best all-around RB prospect. He is 5’11”+ and 226-pounds, and is built to run for power, but looks faster than Taliaferro. Fluellen didn’t stand out as much as Taliaferro, but he might rate more highly for us once the NFL Combine numbers hit.

Wisconsin RB James White (11 carries for 62 yards and 1 TD, 5 rec. for 15 yards) saw a ton of touches, but I was not impressed with him in the game or in practices. He is NFL-worthy, but not an NFL difference-maker.

The TEs:

Colorado State TE Crockett Gillmore (5 rec. for 61 yards and 1 TD) had a nice game, and he is definitely worthy of an NFL roster spot, but this is not the next great NFL TE. He is solid at-best.

Arthur Lynch (1 rec. for 1 yard) was the best TE that I saw all week in Mobile, but he didn’t see many looks in the game. He physically looks like a starting NFL TE…but more of a stable, mid-tier TE talent for the NFL, not a future star.

Again, with the North TEs…who knows? Those QBs weren’t going to give the TEs a showcase.

 

The Defense:

Randomly…

Wisconsin ILB Chris Borland looks like the hype is real. He is a bulldog that is in on all the action, and even worked strong on special teams. We’ll see how the measurables pan out at the NFL Combine.

Liberty CB Walt Aikens impressed me in practices all week. He looks a little wiry, but he is an aggressive, hard-hitting CB. In one-on-one drills, where one WR would block and the CB had to shed the block and chase a runner—Aikens shocked me with how physical he was, and how easily he could move bigger WRs backwards. He has the size, and demeanor, to potentially rocket into the 1st-round if his NFL Combine numbers are hot.

Dee Ford DE/OLB Auburn was the buzz of the practices, and went on to be the game MVP. He has so much buzz it started me thinking he was maybe being ‘pushed’ a little too much. He was very good, but I thought Michael Sam of Missouri was equally, or more impressive playing the same kind of DE/OLB role in practices.

Dan McCullers DT Tennessee is a mountain of a man. I stood within three yards of him and was aghast. I actually thought that if he wanted to, he could kill me in under one minute if he really wanted to. I might be able to live for 3-5+ minutes in a beat down by many other players and humans at the Senior Bowl, but McCullers could have sent me to heaven in under a minute. That being said, I didn’t see him do anything that stood out…besides being giant, and scaring me with how big he was (6’6.7”, 348-pounds).

Deone Bucannon Washington State SS looked mostly bored a lot of the time in practices, because he didn’t have a chance to hit anyone, I suspect. He is a tackler extraordinaire. In the actual Senior Bowl game, massive TE Arthur Lynch caught a short pass and Bucannon came in and exploded him out of bounds. Bucannon has no fear.

Auburn CB Chris Davis seemed everywhere all practice week and in this game. I’m not sure what his athletic measurables will be, or where he will get drafted, but he shows to be a guy you want on your football team. He’s a “ball player,” as they say.

 

The O-Line:

Honestly, who really watches the O-Line in a game?…only if they get burned, or pancake someone. I will make my scouting judgments on all of them after the NFL Combine.

The one O-Lineman that caught my eye all week, was OG/OT Joel Bitonio from Nevada. I think partially because he is a little smaller than the other guys, but then you see him flinging guys all over—he just makes an impression. I cannot wait to do more study on him post-Combine.

 

The North QBs:

Nothing new revealed. I called this all weeks ago. None of them are serious NFL prospects. Tajh Boyd (7-16 for 31 yards, 0 TD/1 INT) would fit a Pistol offense as a nice backup. Logan Thomas (4-5 for 17 yards) should not be playing QB…he should move to another position. As I’ve said countless times this week: Thomas is the best-looking QB at the Senior Bowl in shorts, and in 3-on-3, 7-on-7 drills. It’s the 11-on-11 he has trouble with. Thomas was sacked several times, and his throws in this game were simplistic no-read, one-step fireballs. He does not have next-level QB instincts.

Any scout or football analysts pumping Logan Thomas from the Senior Bowl work are committing a fraud on their viewers/readers. On cue, as I wrote this, I checked the internet to see what the Thomas critiques were from the week, and a video popped up from NFL Network where their on-field correspondent, a former scout was talking about how great Thomas looked. Lovely. When Thomas is drafted ahead of David Fales, I’m going to lose my mind for a 5-10 stretch of the draft.

It was interesting times at the Senior Bowl for me this week. The best thing that happened to me being at most of the practices was seeing how much better the South’s talent was over the North. I used my re-con to place a bet on the game—the South -1.0…that paid for gas to and from Mobile. Now, it’s onto the NFL Combine—which I may or may not attend.

 
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Senior Bowl : Live Streaming Notes…

Twitter @CFBMetrics    7:00pm: Final 20-10 South. We will recap this game in more detail tomorrow. See the College Football Metrics.com home page for that post 6:59pm: Dee Ford, Auburn = Game MVP 6:58pm: The Offensive MVP should be David Fales, San Jose State…but he will never get that honor. No way. I hope I am […].. Continue reading→

 

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