Top 10 rising prospects out of the Senior Bowl
There are multiple ways for players to stand out during Senior Bowl week, either with their combination of measurables and athleticism, or their interviews with teams, or their on-field play.
For the purposes of this article, however, we’re going to focus on how prospects performed during practices and in Saturday’s games, while also weighing in with how they graded in practice and during the 2015 season.
Here are the 10 players who helped their draft stocks the most during the Senior Bowl:
1. Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky
For Spence, this week was important for multiple reasons, as his off-field meetings with teams were of utmost importance due to his checkered past, and on the field, it was important to prove that the now small-school prospect could succeed against the best players in the country.
Consider it a win, as Spence was unblockable for much of the week, especially as a pass-rusher. It helps that the class of edge defenders has no clear No. 2 player behind his former Ohio State teammate Joey Bosa, so Spence’s performance could put him in the mix as a top-10 player assuming teams are satisfied with him off the field. Because he played for an FCS school we only have two graded games from him this season, versus NC State and Kentucky, but he played well in both.
Whether in one-on-ones, team drills, or Saturday’s game, Spence’s explosion and ability to get to the quarterback were on display, so expect his hype to jump through the roof in the coming weeks.
2. Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State
The Wentz hype this week was rather predictable, and it had as much to do with his look as his on-field play. Wentz was by far the best “looking” quarterback from a size, athleticism, and arm strength standpoint — so much so that evaluators were willing to overlook his play on the field.
It’s not that he performed poorly, but Wentz was always going to make a strong impression, especially when throwing the ball side by side with an average crop of passers. The ball clearly came out of Wentz’s hands better than his peers, and he flashed some of the big-time throws that have wowed scouts. Wentz is by no means a lock as a prospect — there are still some decision-making, timing, and accuracy concerns — but this week solidified his hype as a top-10 prospect as his tools alone will be difficult for a QB-needy team to pass up.
3. Carl Nassib, DE, Penn State
Nassib is the opposite of Wentz, as many scouts will point to his lack of athleticism as a negative. But Nassib simply produced on the field, especially in one-on-ones where he dominated over the course of three days. So while you’ll hear that he can’t turn the corner and can’t rush the passer at the next level, Nassib simply backed up his +27.8 pass-rush grade that ranked 13th in the nation this season. He explodes into blockers, playing with good power and often winning with his hands, even if he’s not going to turn heads with a quick first step or change-of-direction ability.
4. Sheldon Rankins, DE/DT, Louisville
Unfortunately Rankins was unable to play in the game due to injury, but he’d already created plenty of hype beforehand with his practice work. Coming off back-to-back seasons grading at +55.4 in 2014 (second in nation among interior defensive linemen) and +42.3 (14th in nation), Rankins showed those grades were no fluke by giving offensive linemen fits all week. He was excellent in one-on-ones, backing up what we saw on tape that he can win at the line of scrimmage whether lined up head-up or in a gap. The interior defensive line group is deep with a number of first round potential, and Rankins is firmly in that mix.
5. Sheldon Day, DE/DT, Notre Dame
Rankins and Day both stood out all season, with Day eventually edging Rankins on the PFF All-American team after posting the second-highest grade among interior defensive linemen in the nation. While undersized, Day proved difficult to block all week, whether taking on guards in a 3-technique defensive tackle role or even kicked outside to more of a true defensive end position. His ability to win on the edge against left tackles only helped his stock, as he showed he can do more than just create havoc on the interior.
6. Jerell Adams, TE, South Carolina
We first brought Adams to the nation’s attention back in October due to his strong in-line blocking and flashes of big-play ability, and he showed well in both departments this week in Mobile. All season, Adams went head-to-head with defensive ends in the running game, performing well on his way to a +13.7 run-block grade that tied for ninth in the nation.
Unfortunately, South Carolina’s poor passing offense limited his opportunities, as he finished with only 28 catches for 421 yards and three touchdowns. He made the most of them, however, forcing 10 missed tackles on the 28 catches and showing subtle elusiveness in his route running. Keep an eye on Adams over the next few weeks as he’ll get even more buzz in a tight end class that lacks top-end talent.
7. Christian Westerman, G, Arizona State
The one-on-one drills in the trenches largely favor the defensive players, but Westerman acquitted himself well all week. He came into the week with the top pass-blocking grade among the guards in attendance (+8.4), after surrendering only a sack, five hits, and nine hurries on 608 attempts this season, and he backed that up this week, as he was one of the top one-on-one performers. While this class has a number of power-blocking guards such as Joshua Garnett and Sebastian Tretola, Westerman will rank higher for teams looking to shore up interior pass protection in a zone-blocking scheme.
8. Jonathan Jones, CB, Auburn
Jones did not stand out in our grading, finishing at +5.8 over a two-year period, but he excelled this week, particularly in the one-on-ones. Few passes made it to receivers’ hands in his coverage, with Jones getting his hands on a number of passes himself. The cornerback class in Mobile had a few different types of player and Jones stood out above the rest on the practice field.
9. Maurice Canady, CB, Virginia
Another cornerback whose grades do not jump off the page but was in the middle of the action this week, Canady stood out for his fearlessness and his 6-foot-2 frame. Whether playing in tight man coverage or breaking hard on the ball in off coverage, Canady was aggressive all week — even too aggressive and grabby at times. Still, there was more good than bad, and given his size, he’ll move up draft boards for teams looking for long, outside cornerbacks.
10. Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State
The hype on Miller became real by the second day of practices, as it was clear that he had the athleticism and shiftiness to become a factor in the passing game. It wasn’t all perfect for Miller, who struggled to catch the ball at times and often took way too long to get into his routes, but expectations are lower for the former quarterback in that regard, and most evaluators are looking at both areas as places he’s expected to improve. If Miller can tidy up some of the route-running issues, he has the ability to create separation and become a threat out of the slot or even out wide as he did this week.