10 players to watch in the Senior Bowl and beyond

Jordan Plocher reports from Mobile, Alabama with analysis on the top prospects taking the field on Friday.

| 9 months ago
(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

10 players to watch in the Senior Bowl and beyond

With two days of practice in the books and one ahead, our team has had a closer look at all of the biggest names taking the field at the Senior Bowl. Here are 10 players you should keep an eye on during Saturday’s game:

North team

North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz has been the biggest attraction here in Mobile. This is an opportunity for him to play against a higher level of competition and so far in practice he has looked the part of an NFL quarterback. He has great size at 6-6 and 235 pounds but isn’t a lumbering athlete — he has shown quick feet and an ability to throw on the move. The ball comes out of his hand differently than his peers on the North team and one can simply look at the ball in flight and know that it was Wentz’s throw, as it comes out quick and usually in a tight spiral. The Dallas Cowboys are coaching him this week and there is buzz that he could possibly be in consideration for them to select with the fourth pick in the draft.

Louisiana Tech running back Kenneth Dixon is our No. 3 running back overall in the draft class. Dixon is an elusive player that should make some people miss in the open field during the game and really excels as a pass catcher. Dixon had our top receiving grade for running backs in this draft class and seeing him in person it’s easy to see why. He was close to un-coverable when running routes in practice. His quickness and easy change of direction ability helped him to get open and he catches the ball well and runs surprisingly polished routes for a running back.

Indiana offensive tackle Jason Spriggs has really helped himself this week and moves very well for a man his size. His ability to cut off speed rushers to the outside as well as step back inside to defeat inside counter moves has put his athleticism on display. Spriggs ranked seventh among offensive tackles in this draft class in pass blocking efficiency. He is probably better suited to playing on an NFL team that employs a zone-heavy run scheme more so than a gap/power run scheme. He will be very attractive to teams that place a premium on athleticism in their offensive linemen.

Notre Dame defensive tackle Sheldon Day has been a stellar performer all year. Day is our No. 1 defensive tackle in the draft class. Day has a balanced skill-set and excels both against the run and the pass. At 6-2 and 285 pounds Day isn’t a large defensive tackle by any means but his size also contributes to his skill-set. Day is very quick off the ball and can penetrate into the opposition’s backfield in a hurry destroying run plays as well as pass plays. Day can provide an NFL team with an interior pass rush which is one of the most coveted talents there is in all of football.

Ohio State wide receiver Braxton Miller has been one of the more talented skill position players in Mobile. Miller’s athleticism has made his transition from quarterback to wide receiver seemingly with ease. He stated in Mobile that he views himself as a wide receiver at the next level and has slimmed down his frame to become even more quick and explosive. Miller is a player that an offensive coordinator is just going to want to get the ball in his hands and let him make a play. He could be used not only as a receiver but also as a runner on end arounds in the game.

South team

Oklahoma wide receiver Sterling Shepard has been the most impressive wide receiver this week in Mobile. Defensive backs have had a difficult time staying with Shepard in one-on-one’s. While he isn’t a very big wide receiver that doesn’t mean he has to be pigeon-holed as just a slot receiver. Shepard can line up outside and defeat man coverage to get open deep or he can line up in the slot and use his lightning-quick change of direction ability to get open over the middle. Shepard is well-rounded and ended the season as our No. 1 wide receiver in the draft class.

Eastern Kentucky defensive end Noah Spence is one of the more talented edge rushers in this draft class. Spence has been dominant in practices winning both in one-on-one drills and in team drills. He has a quick burst off the edge and the athleticism and flexibility to bend around offensive tackles on his way to the quarterback. Look for him to make a few big plays in the game on Saturday and could be a first-round draft pick if a team is okay with his off-the-field issues.

Louisville defensive linemen Sheldon Rankins has been very disruptive in the practices this week. During the season Rankins was our fourth-ranked 3-4 defensive end but we don’t think he is scheme-dependent. He can line up at different places along the defensive line and beat the man across from him and should appeal to a wide array of teams in the draft. Rankins won more than his share of one-on-one’s this week. He showed off an impressive spin move but he might be a bit overly reliant on it at this point.

Brigham Young defensive end Bronson Kaufusi is a PFF favorite and has been one of our highest graded 3-4 defensive ends this year. At nearly 6-7 with 34-inch arms, Kaufusi has the ideal length that teams look for at that position. He adds to his length with good body lean and can really keep blockers at a distance and then discard them in either direction and make a play. Kaufusi would be a great fit for teams that ask their defensive ends to play head up on a tackle and be responsible for the gaps on either side. He has proven to be very well-rounded defender, grading out in the top 10 at his position both as a pass rusher and a run defender.

Duke safety Jeremy Cash has been one of our favorite players all season long. Many internal discussions have occurred between our analysts as to where he fits in the NFL. Cash is listed as a safety and was our top-graded safety overall as well as our top-grade safety in run support and as a pass rusher. His coverage grade wasn’t nearly as high as he didn’t actually play a true third-level defender role. Cash only had a handful of reps all year as a true deep safety and spent the majority of his time lined up as a slot defender or a linebacker. He is outstanding at defeating blocks and we love him as a second-level defender where he can help out in run support and rush the passer and truly play to his skill-set. Opinions on how best to use Cash are probably all over the board in the NFL but he was one of the better defensive players in the nation. Keep an eye on how he performs in the Senior Bowl and especially in coverage.

  • Mike J.

    I saw Kaufusi on TV late in the season, & have been banging his drum ever since. He has a lot of traits that teams are looking for, & is athletic enough to have played some hoops at BYU; I could see him as a red-zone TE, even. I don’t think Bronson will escape the second round.