6 under-the-radar prospects turning heads at the Senior Bowl
Senior Bowl rosters are always an entertaining mixture of big-named players with high expectations and lesser known prospects looking to prove their own value. This year both rosters have a number of players who aren’t yet highly-regarded in the mainstream, but have received top grades from us. Let’s take a look:
Utah State OLB Kyler Fackrell
Playing in the Mountain West conference, Fackrell lacks a national audience at this stage, but we have been fans of his since September. While not a dynamic athlete, he consistently demonstrates the ability to shed blocks and disrupt plays in the backfield.
His skillset suggests he fits best as a 34 OLB, but because the Senior Bowl still only utilizes four-man fronts he is playing out of position this week as an off-the-ball linebacker. Not surprisingly, he has struggled when asked to drop into coverage, giving up too much cushion and not showing the speed and quickness to stay with tight ends and running backs in space.
Fackrell’s performance this week aside, his ability to take games over when asked to get off the passer is likely to result in him being drafted on day two.
Wisconsin OLB Joe Schobert
Schobert has had conversion issues this week similar to those of Fackrell, although he does appear to be a better all-around athlete. He is our second-ranked 3-4 OLB due in large part to his ability attack the quarterback, but thus far has struggled while playing a more traditional 4-3 OLB role in Mobile.
While this week may not be the most optimal showcase of his skillset, we are confident that his 53 total pressures from 2015 will translate to similar pass-rushing success in the NFL.
Boise State S Darian Thompson
The NFL has gone through a bit of a dryspell in terms of identifying talent at the free safety position, thus we have some excitement when breaking down Thompson’s all-around game. He has the size, strength and tackling ability to make plays in the box, but on film also demonstrated the instincts and athleticism needed to be a force in coverage as well.
College QBs had an NFL passer rating of just 62.2 when throwing at him, and some of those very coverage skills have been on display her in Mobile. He has played with a toughness, confidence and proficiency on the back end that suggests he has a shot at developing into that ever-elusive stud free safety.
Temple DT Matt Ioannidis
While much of the media focus is going to be on blue-chip prospects like Mississippi DT Robert Nkemdiche, we are going to be even more intrigued with following Temple’s interior defender, who ranks fourth on the pass rush at the position (one spot ahead of Nkemdiche). Ioannidis had 37 total pressures in college, and we’ve seen firsthand this week why he was such a productive pass rusher in college.
His first step quickness has proved difficult to handle for the North squad’s interior protectors, as he has been able to repeatedly get the jump on his man and either shoot the gap or engage and dictate play at the line of scrimmage in order to create havoc in the backfield.
He did not grade out as positively against the run in college (ranked 42nd in the class), but in Mobile has used his athleticism to effectively hold his own at the point of attack better than he did in college. His play this week has him trending in the right direction, thus we would not be surprised to hear him selected on day two to a team like Tampa Bay in need of athleticism and depth on the defensive interior.
Kansas State OG Cody Whitehair
While Whitehair is a surprise as our top-graded offensive tackle, his size (just under 6-4 and right at 300 lbs) and play this week suggests he’s a more natural fit inside at the next level.
On Tuesday he struggled at times to protect the edge in one-on-one and team drills, he rebounded on Wednesday with a sturdier performance, especially when taking reps inside at guard. He’s demonstrated the strength needed to hold his own at the line of scrimmage the footwork required to adjust to quick defenders trying to penetrate gaps inside.
Although certainly not at one of the sexier (or for many teams, highly prioritized) prospects, Whitehair looks like the type of prospect that can be plugged into the starting lineup very early during his rookie season.
Oklahoma OLB Eric Striker
This draft class has a number of undersized pass rush specialists, and Striker ended the season as our second-ranked pass rusher at the 3-4 OLB position. While history shows that many NFL teams are likely to write him off because of his lack of natural size and bulk (he measured just over 5-11 and 228 pounds at Tuesday’s weigh-in), the team that takes the gamble on him is going to have an excellent third-down specialist.
Striker tallied eight sacks and 48 combined hits and hurries his final year at Oklahoma, and while he hasn’t looked comfortable in off-the-ball drills here in Mobile, he has looked more athletically capable than the two stars on the North squad (Schobert and Fackrell). Attacking forward he’s displayed the ability to defeat blockers at the line of scrimmage to free himself to the QB, mirroring what we saw on his college film.
He is unlikely to hear his name until day three of the draft, but with such a premium placed on being able to get to the quarterback, Striker clearly has a place in the NFL despite his size.