Previewing the 2016 Reese’s Senior Bowl

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With the college football season over it is officially NFL Draft Season! Underclassmen have until January 18th to declare but for a lucky few Seniors they will have one more chance to show scouts and teams what they got when they head down to Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl on January 30th.

I was fortunate enough to cover the Senior Bowl a few years ago and hope to get back down there again in the upcoming years but for now I’ll give you a little preview of this year’s prospects  that will be attending and what it is they will be looking to prove.

The one on one matchups that take place in the week of practice leading up to the games is really must see. Whether it’s Offensive Lineman vs Defensive Lineman or Cornerbacks vs Wide Receivers it’s a battle of strength and technique. Not to sound too dramatic but what it really boils down to is your livelihood. Millions can be made or lost during the week of practices and these guys need to be on their “A” game every snap.

Offensive Lineman 

It’s become clear that the Packers don’t have a competent 3rd offensive tackle on the roster so it will be worth monitoring how these guys do.

Two names jump out immediately when looking at the accepted invite list, Taylor Decker from Ohio St. and Jason Spriggs from Indiana.  Decker who is listed at 6’8 315lbs is nasty in the run game and can get to the 2nd level easily, despite his good feet he can stand to work on his pass protection. Spriggs, listed at 6’7 305lbs, is very athletic and is proficient in both run and pass blocking but needs to be more consistent. Decker looks to be a sure fire 1st rounder while Spriggs could easily be selected on day 1 of the draft.

Decker

There is also a nice mid tier of offensive tackles prospects who have accepted invites that include, Le’Raven Clark from Texas Tech, Kyle Murphy from Stanford, John Theus from Georgia, and Spencer Drango from Baylor. Those 4 should all be drafted at some point. Clark to me has the most to gain, with a solid week he could put himself in a position to get drafted at the back end of round 1, but firmly be in the conversation of the 2nd round.

Cole Toner from Harvard and Willie Beavers from Western Michigan are the small school prospects who hope to show they belong with the division 1 guys. Beavers was a rock in pass protection and Toners has developed some real buzz among scouts. Both may ending up moving inside in the NFL but will get there chance to impress at tackle.

Vadal Alexander from LSU and Joe Dahl from Washington St. both played tackle for their respective schools but both project better at guard at the next level. Alexander could hear his name called on day 2 of the draft as he has displayed the ability to move his man in the run game throughout his career for the Tigers.

alexander

Other Offensive Guards who have accepted invites are Josh Garnett from Stanford, and Cody Whitehair from Kansas St., Connor McGovern from Missouri, Sebastian Tretola from Arkansas, and Christian Westerman from Arizona St. Garnett could be the best guard in the draft and could easily be selected in the 1st round while Whitehair from Kansas St. really has a lot of the traits Ted Thompson looks for in an offensive lineman. He played left tackle in college but projects better to guard in the NFL. He is very athletic, is down right an S.O.B in the run game, and is solid in pass protection. It also wouldn’t be surprising to see Whitehair hear his named called on day 1 but more realistically day 2.

Overall it’s a solid group of big name guys as well as some small school sleepers. There are guys who can go as high as the 1st round and guys who will be waiting until day 3 to get drafted.  Don Barclay is a Free Agent, David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga have had their share of injuries this year, it would be wise for the Packers to take a look at offensive tackle at some point in this draft.

Defensive Lineman 

Both the Packers nose tackles BJ Raji, and LeTroy Guion are set to become free agents at the end of the year. It’s hard to predict if they bring either of them back but the Packers will definitely be looking at the defensive lineman closely in Mobile.

As of writing this just a few Defensive Tackles  have officially accepted invites. The big name is Aldophus Washington from Ohio St. Washington enjoyed a lot of success for the Buckeyes, and listed at 6’4 290lbs he’d be a great fit for the Packers at defensive end.  Washington will have to answer some questions about some off the field transgressions he made which resulted in being suspended for his bowl game.

washington

The other interesting defensive tackle that accepted an invite is Vernon Butler from Louisiana Tech. He’s a 6’3 309lb menace. He had a terrific senior season and really made a name for himself among scouts. If he has a big week in Mobile he will firmly put himself in day 2 contention. Don’t be surprised if you hear him as one of the week’s biggest risers.

Other prospects who would fit well in the Packers 3-4 defense at end would be Carl Nassib from Penn St., Shawn Oakman from Baylor, Charles Tapper from Oklahoma, and Jihad Ward from Illinois.

Oakman is sure to win the weigh-ins, at 6’8 275lbs he is built like a greek god but unfortunately for him he doesn’t play like one. It will be a big test for him during the week to show he has some lateral agility and that he understands how to play to his strengths.

Carl Nassib really burst on the scene this year leading CFB with 15.5 sacks. Teams may view him as a traditional strong side end in a 4-3 but he has the tools to play end in a 3-4. He’ll have to try and show it wasn’t just a one year wonder season and that he can beat good left tackles throughout the week.

nassib

Charles Tapper and Jihad Ward both have good body types but both need to work on consistency, too often both players would disappear for stretches. The Packers will have a good idea about the kind of player Charles Tapper is with his old  coach Jerry Montgomery now on the Packers staff.

There are two other interior defensive lineman who have accepted invites, Sheldon Rankins from Louisville and Sheldon Day from Notre Dame. Rankins is been a hot name lately in scouting circles, he doesn’t have ideal size to play end in a 3-4 and is definitely more of a gap penetrator but that hasn’t stopped Thompson from drafting that type of lineman before. Day also doesn’t have great size but has experience playing end in a 3-4 defense for the Irish.

The Packers haven’t been shy about addressing the defensive line early in drafts and with potential free agents coming off the books there will be holes to fill. It will be great to see if a few of these guys stand out battling in the trenches against a group of good offensive lineman.

Outside Linebackers

As with the defensive lineman the Packers will see a few players with contracts up. Mike Neal, Nick Perry, and Andy Mulumba are set to become free agents and Julius Peppers’ future is in doubt with the team as well. It’s fair to say that the Packers will more than likely sign at least one of those players but looking for an edge rusher at outside linebacker is going to be a pretty big priority for the Packers this offseason.

One name that immediately jumps out at me is Noah Spence from Eastern Kentucky. Spence, who is 6’3 261lbs, started his collegiate career at Ohio St. before he was expelled for off the field issues. By all accounts he’s been on the right path and dominated the lesser competition as he should have at Eastern Kentucky. Practices will be important for Spence as he challenges himself going against premier tackles again but the interviews will be more important for him. With a few of the underclassmen edge pass rushers deciding to go back to school Spence could potentially be a 1st round draft pick.

spence

Two other players who appear to be day 2 type players are Kyler Fackrell from Utah St. and Jordan Jenkins from Georgia. Both have experience playing in a 3-4 defense rushing the quarterback out of a 2-point stance off the edge. Jenkins isn’t as heralded as his teammate Leonard Floyd but has been extremely consistent throughout his four years at Georgia. Fackrell has ideal size for the position at 6’5 250lbs and has been one of Utah St.’s best players. He’s had a hard time finishing sacks this year but he had 13 QB hurries to go along with 15 tackles for loss.

There are three other prospects who rushed the passer in college participating at the Senior Bowl but all project better to outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense. Those include Joe Schobert from Wisconsin, Eric Striker from Oklahoma, and Dadi Nicolas from Virginia Tech.

Nicolas was miscast in Virginia Tech’s defense as a down defensive lineman often lined up right over the offensive tackle. At 6’3 227lbs it really made no sense and his production suffered from it. If he bulked up about 20lbs he could potentially play on the edge for the Packers but again he’s a better fit at his weight to play off the ball and use his athleticism.

nicolas

Striker and Schobert both played outside linebacker for their respective school’s 3-4 defense but both are undersized to consistently hold up against NFL offensive tackles. Striker is a passing rushing specialist and could be used in that role while I think Schobert’s ability to cover, play zone and get after the quarterback could find him a home as a starter for a 4-3 defense.

Overall the edge class is pretty weak and the Senior Bowl invited a good mix of guys who should go early as well as some guys who might be better playing off the ball in the NFL.  If any of these guys gives the offensive tackles fits during the week of practice look for them to see their name rise up draft boards.

Inside Linebackers

The Packer still haven’t really seemed to nail down their future inside linebackers. It’s up in the air how Sam Barrington will do when he comes back and the book is still out on Jake Ryan. It would be ideal to move Clay Matthews back to his more natural outside linebacker position but time will tell if they are able to draft or sign anyone worthy of moving Matthews back out there.

Looking at the players who have accepted invites there are  quite a few who are intriguing. You have 3 of the top 8 leading tacklers in the nation with Kentrell Brothers from Missouri leading the country with a 152 total tackles. He’s constantly around the ball and has shown the ability to make plays in the backfield as evidenced by his 12 tackles for loss. It isn’t easy for off the ball linebackers to show off in practices but if he has a good week he could hear his name called on day 2 of the draft.

brothers

Blake Martinez from Stanford was 5th in the country in total tackles with 140. He has experience playing inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense and can really move well on the field. He has great size at 6’2 245lbs and has been one of the leaders of the Cardinal defense. Martinez is currently projected to be a mid round selection.

The 8th leading tackler in the country who accepted an invite is Tyler Matakevich from Temple. He is a animal on the field, at 6’1 232lbs he plays bigger than he’s listed. If you turn on a Temple game he’ll definitely pop out. Despite being a bit challenged athletically he isn’t a liability in coverage and can make a lot of splash plays in opponent’s backfield. Matakevich could have his name called on day 2 of the draft and would be a good steal if he can be had on day 3.

Other linebackers who have accepted invites are Josh Forrest from Kentucky, Joshua Perry from Ohio St., Deion Jones from LSU, Antonio Morrison from Florida, and Jared Norris from Utah.

Joshua Perry who is listed at 6’4 254lbs moves around the field like he weighs less than that. Perry can play sideline to sideline while still also being a force in the box. While Darron Lee his counterpart at Ohio St. may be more heralded Perry may fit better on the inside of the Packers 3-4 defense.

perry

Deion Jones is also the more under the radar linebacker at his school playing second fiddle to Kendell Beckwith at LSU. Jones is a bit undersized at 6’1 227lbs but is all over the field for the Tigers defense.

Antonio Morrison is also a bit undersized but when he’s kept clean he likes to fill gaps and an really lay the wood.

Both Josh Forrest from Kentucky and Jared Norris from Utah have ideal size to play inside linebacker and should hear their names called in the middle of the draft.

One of the more under the radar linebackers in the country is Nick Kwiatkowski from West Virginia. Kwiatkowski was great in coverage this year, registering 7 pass break up and 3 interceptions. He is no slouch in the run game either as he logged 6 tackles a game. He’d be a linebacker who could potentially play all 3 downs and not have to leave the field.  He’s projected to go late in the draft but is a sleeper I’m definitely keeping my eye on, I’m glad he has a shot to show what he’s got in Mobile.

Overall it’s a good group of inside linebackers. Again, it’s a bit hard to stick out as a linebacker at the Senior Bowl but a few splash plays here and there and these guys could improve their draft statuses. The Packers should definitely be looking for upgrades at the position.

Tight End

The tight end position for the Packers right now is severely underwhelming. Richard Rodgers runs like he has cement blocks on his feet and Andrew Quarless is a free agent. The Packers better look for help in the draft or at possible free agents.

This group of tight ends that have accepted invites is really quite good. The position itself this year is a bit “meh” but the Senior Bowl has done a good job getting a few of the potential good ones down in Mobile.

The highest rated tight end who is going is probably Nick Vannett from Ohio St. Vannett has ideal size at 6’6 260lbs but wasn’t asked to be a go-to pass catcher in Urban Meyer’s offense. When he was called on he displayed good hands and some run after the catch ability.

vannett

Bryce Williams from ECU also has great size at 6’6 258lbs and was a very good pass catcher notching 58 catches for 588 yards but also has the tools to work with as a blocker.

Jerrell Adams from South Carolina is a bit underweight at 231lbs but was primarily used as a receiving tight end at South Carolina. He’ll need to bulk up to play in-line at the NFL level.

Tyler Higbee from Western Kentucky is probably my favorite tight end in this class. He was primarily a pass catcher and at 6’6 250lbs he has prototypical size. He was one of the leading receivers at the tight end position in the country with 563 yards. He doesn’t go down on first contact and can stretch the seam, something the Packers are sorely missing.

higbee

The other tight ends who have accepted invites are Jake McGee from Florida and Henry Krieger-Cole from Iowa. Keep an eye on Jake Mcgee, he has great size and hands to be a very good tight end at the NFL level.

Wide Receiver

The Packers wide receivers this year have been bad to be blunt about it. Randall Cobb hasn’t played like a 10M/yr player and Davante Adams has failed to take any steps forward. James Jones is a free agent and Jordy Nelson will be coming back from a torn ACL. The Packers could really use a wide receiver with good size and can stretch the defense as teams have really sat on the short throws this year.

Overall this is a really strong group who have accepted invites. The big names that stick out are Josh Doctson from TCU, Leonte Caroo from Rutgers, and Sterling Shepard from Oklahoma.

Doctson is one of my favorite players in this draft class to watch. At 6’3 195lbs he is a bit thin and doesn’t exactly run the best routes, but he may be the best wide receiver this year at high pointing the ball. He has a “my ball” mentality and has been a consistent deep threat for the Horned Frogs offense averaging over 16 yards per catch. He’ll likely be a 2nd round pick come May.

doctson

Caroo has had a few off the field incidents and injury problems but when he’s on the field there is no denying his talent. He has arguably the best hands in the draft and can stretch the defense. Interviews will be important for him and if he does well he could play himself into the 2nd round as well.

Shepard is the best route runner in this class but is undersized at 5’10 191. Shepard consistently won at the collegiate level on both the outside and in the slot but he will more than likely be relegated to slot duties in the NFL. He is a playmaker and should be a day two selection despite his small stature.

shepard

The other wide receivers to stand out to me are Aaron Burbridge from Michigan St., Malcolm Mitchell from Georgia, and Braxton Miller from Ohio St.

Most people already know Braxton Miller’s story of being a former All-Big 10 first team quarterback who moved to wide receiver this past year. I think more was expected of Miller but it’s understandable that it has taken some time to make the transition. He is still a special athlete with the ball in his hands.

Mitchell from Georgia has decent size at 6’1 196lbs but wasn’t as productive as he could have been do to inconsistent quarterback play.

Aaron Burbridge burst on the scene this year being Connor Cook’s go to receiver for the Spartans. Burbridge was highly productive logging 85 catches for 1258 yards. Burbridge displayed good body control and an innate ability to get open.

It’s hard to predict when or if the Packers would use a draft selection on a wide receiver, a lot depends on how comfortable they are with Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis entering their third year.

Running Back

With James Starks turning 30 and becoming a free agent and Eddie Lacy having a disappointing season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Packers address the running back position at some point in the draft.

Much like with off the ball linebackers it’s tough for a running back to stick out during the week of practices, but there are a few guys who I think could stand out during the game. Jonathan Williams from Arkansas, Kenyan Drake from Alabama, and Kenneth Dixon from Louisiana Tech are the three that are the most highly rated.

Dixon is a bit shorter compared to the typical running backs the Packers like at 5’10 212lbs, but has very good balance and has been an absolute scoring machine for the Bulldogs. He has reached the endzone a total of 26 times this past year.

dixon

Drake has played 2nd fiddle most of his collegiate career at Alabama and has seen his share of injuries. When fully healthy Drake did display good speed and has good size at 6’1 210lbs. Drake projects to be a mid-round pick and that could entice teams earlier if he has a good week in Mobile.

drake

Jonathan Williams has been a bit of an afterthought after going down early this year with an injury. He’s worked in a one two punch with Alex Collins before and had good success. The Senior Bowl will be a good test for him to see how he’s come back from surgery on his foot.

Secondary

I won’t get too in depth with the secondary players because the Packers despite Casey Hayward being a free agent are good with starters and have quality depth after selecting cornerbacks in the first 2 rounds last year.

Cornerbacks who I think will have a good week in Mobile are William Jackson from Houston, Eric Murray from Minnesota, and Kevin Peterson from Oklahoma St. Overall it isn’t the strongest of groups that have accepted invites, they will have their hands full with the great group of wide receivers who they’ll be trying to cover.

Even though the Packers have their two starters under contract at safety, backup special teams player Chris Banjo is a free agent. He could likely be re-signed for a reasonable price so I’ll just give you a few names of safeties who I think will can improve their draft status.

Darian Thompson from Boise St. has shown to be a ballhawk in the back end, Jalen Mills has several years of starting experience for the LSU defense. Both those guys should go on day 2 of the draft as free safeties. The number 1 rated strong safety is Jeremy Cash from Duke, although he may not be able to participate with offseason wrist surgery. I think the big sleeper in the group is Miles Killebrew from Southern Utah. With a good week and with his size he could have a Jaquiski Tartt like rise come draft time.

Quarterback

 Short and sweet the Packers are set at the position. They drafted Brett Hundley last year in the 5th round and if he isn’t ready to be the backup I would imagine they re-sign Scott Tolzien.

A few quarterbacks who I think will have a good week are Carson Wentz from North Dakota St. who could potentially play himself into the 1st round and Jacoby Brissett from North Carolina St.

Overall Phil Savage and the rest of the crew has put together a very strong group of prospects that scan the gambit of first round talent to late round guys. There is also a great mix of small school guys who can really use this time to shine and big name guys from power 5 conferences. Ted Thompson is famous for being the first one there and the last one to leave, he understands that this is an important week for these guys to prove to the team what they can offer. I hope that helped familiarize yourself with some of the names to keep an eye on the week of January 25th.

As I mentioned previously I won’t be able to attend the Senior Bowl this year to give you practice updates but my friend Jeff Risdon will be down in Mobile. This will be the 9th year Jeff has covered the Senior Bowl, he is a very good talent evaluator, and an even better writer. Jeff has written for many websites including RealGM.com and Draftbreakdown.com. Please give Jeff a follow on Twitter @JeffRisdon to get all the updates you need to know about which prospects are doing well and who needs to improve. You’ll thank me later for this follow!

Thank you for reading. Cody Bauer is the lead draft writer for Titletown Sound Off. You can follow him on Twitter @CBauerNFLDraft. For even more Packers content, follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.

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