With the BCS National Championship game already under our belts here at PFF, we’ve decided to make the move to grade this year’s Senior Bowl as well. The one-game caveats apply more than ever given the unique circumstances for this postseason all-star game, so be sure to read the note below.
It’s also important to note that all of the “winners” and “losers” articles that you’ll see around this week include an inside look at all of the practices, while also taking into consideration player interviews. Our grades include only the action that occurred on the field on Saturday afternoon in Mobile.
So which players stood out when the lights shone the brightest? Let’s take a look. And for the complete player grades and snap counts for both sides, check out Page 2.
* Note: This is only a one-game sample. At PFF, we pride ourselves on analyzing every single snap of the NFL season which amounts to over 1,000 plays for some players. The grades for this game should be kept in perspective as they are the equivalent of 1/16th of an NFL season. For example, Arizona Cardinals defensive end Darnell Dockett posted a +9.8 grade on opening day in 2012 before stumbling to a -15.4 grade for the year. The grades for this game are just a fun look into the draft process and are by no means a proper representation of a player’s college production and/or draft status.
North Team – Three Performances of Note
Donald Wins the Week
A perfect example of week-long hype showing up in the game, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald continued his march toward the first round with a dominant performance. He picked up a hit and four hurries on just 22 rushes, but he was well on his way to even more pressure had the opposing quarterbacks not gotten rid of the ball in less than two seconds on a few occasions.
Donald was right in the middle of the action in the middle of the second quarter when he put guard Gabe Jackson on skates on a bull rush that flushed quarter David Fales from the pocket. He came back two plays later with more of the same, this time using the bull rush to put Jackson on the ground while teammate Michael Sam broke free for the sack. It was left guard Gabe Ikard feeling the strength of the bull rush later in the quarter as Donald put pushed him into QB Derek Carr’s lap. Carr’s quick release got the ball off in 1.4 seconds to avoid the “official” pressure, but Donald’s strong work was noted toward his +6.4 pass rush grade.
While Donald didn’t make as big of an impact against the run, he did provide disruption on a few plays and his +6.4 overall grade put a nice bow on his strong week in Mobile.
O-Line Struggles in Protection
North quarterbacks found themselves under pressure throughout the afternoon as the offensive line has some issues in pass protection. A pair of Miami linemen, guard Brandon Linder and tackle Seantrel Henderson, struggled early and often grading at -2.9 and -2.4, respectively in pass protection. Linder got tossed to the ground by DT Caraun Reid at the 11:20 mark of the second quarter before letting Reid get inside him for the pressure two plays later. He was later the culprit on Reid’s sack with 9:51 to go in the third. As for Henderson, he let DE Dee Ford get to QB Tajh Boyd in just 1.9 seconds early in the first quarter before whiffing on an IK Enemkpali spin move at the 8:29 mark of the first. He gave up a sack, hit, and hurry on his 23 attempts.
In addition to the two Miami linemen, guard Cyril Richardson had his issues as a pass blocker, grading at -1.9 while surrendering a sack and a hurry on 15 attempts. He gave up Reid’s first sack as he surrendered too much ground to the inside on the three-step drop. Despite the poor effort in pass protection, all three of the aforementioned players did fare a bit better in the run game, as did the rest of the North’s offensive line.
Borland All Over Field
It was obvious early on that linebacker Chris Borland was one of the North’s top defenders as he made plays both in the running game and in coverage. One of the knocks on Borland coming into the game centered on his inability to shed blocks, but he had no issues juking past fullback Jay Prosch’s lead block to get in on the tackle at the 11:27 mark of the first. It was an impressive show of agility from Borland and could bode well for his second-level block shedding in the NFL.
He later showed his closing ability in coverage as he quickly sniffed out the screen pass and forced the fumble on running back Jerick McKinnon. As the draft process continues to unfold, Borland will be an interesting case in the yearly debate about measurables vs. production, but his +2.9 effort Saturday was a good step in the right direction as he states his case.
South Team – Three Performances of Note
D-Line Gets After the Passer, Struggles Against the Run
As is probably obvious from the North offensive line’s struggles in pass protection, the South team did a nice job pressuring North quarterbacks. Ford led the way picking up two sacks to go along with a hit, hurry, and a batted pass on his 33 rushes. He was amazingly quick off the snap, as he often had a step on opposing tackles before they even got out of their stance. Ford finished at +3.6 as a pass rusher, but some over pursuit against the run and two penalties knocked his overall grade down to +0.2.
Fellow defensive end Chris Smith was getting similar jumps off the snap. He picked up three hurries and a batted pass on his 28 rushes, but a -1.6 run grade and an offsides penalty brought him down to -1.3 overall for the game. The other top pass rusher for the South was Reid who finished at +3.1 with his two sacks. Throw in a sack and +1.2 rush grade for LB Kyle Van Noy, and it was a strong pass rushing performance for the South, even if the run defense had its lapses.
Playmakers in Coverage
It certainly wasn’t a great performance by the North’s quarterbacks, but the South’s defense did their part in coverage, and they did so at all levels of the defense. Linebacker Telvin Smith’s +2.2 coverage grade stemmed from his quick reactions to the North’s screen game as he was almost always in on tackles to keep them to minimum gains. College teammate Christian Jones also had a strong game, breaking quickly on short routes on his way to a +1.5 coverage grade.
The secondary got into the act with three interceptions, starting with free safety Craig Loston’s nice play on an errant deep ball from Boyd at the 12:45 mark of the first quarter. CB Keith McGill had a similar interception, taking advantage of a falling wide receiver to make the sideline pick on QB Stephen Morris. Overall, the South defense surrendered only 137 yards through the air to go along with their five sacks as they shut down the North’s passing game.
The South’s quarterbacks weren’t all that much better than their North counterparts. Fresno State’s Derek Carr got the starting nod, and while he leaves Mobile as the consensus top quarterback of the group, it wasn’t from anything he did during Saturday’s game. Like his college offense, Carr got the ball out quickly on screens and short passes as his wide receivers did a lot of work after the catch. His longest pass of the day was a 17-yard touchdown to Gillmore as the Colorado State tight end broke free on a busted coverage and Carr hit him on the 2-yard shallow cross.
It says a lot that the highlight of Carr’s day may have been his incomplete deep ball to WR Kevin Norwood who appeared to flatten his route a bit more than Carr expected. When you throw in a near-interception on a slant, it wasn’t a great overall performance for Carr who finished at +2.0.
After Carr came Jimmy Garroppolo who showed his quick release while flashing some ability in the boot game, but his downfield inaccuracy kept him at -0.5 for the game. The last South quarterback was David Fales who threw the best pass of the game as he hit WR Jordan Matthews in stride with an over-the-shoulder ‘Go’ route. Fales’ only incompletion was a badly underthrown deep ball with Donald in his face, so while it wasn’t a perfect day, his +1.1 overall paced the underwhelming quarterback group.
– North OT/OG Zack Martin was the team’s highest-graded offensive lineman at +2.0.
– Enemkpali led all defensive linemen with 50 snaps.
– North defensive end Kareem Martin led all defenders with a +2.5 grade against the run.
PFF Game Ball
Aaron Donald was too much to handle for the South’s offensive line as his +6.8 overall led all players.
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Click to Page 2 for player grades and snap counts…
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