All last week, I combed through available Senior Bowl information. After highlighting some potential targets the Lions might be looking at, I compiled notes from all practice reports I could find, sat down in a comfy chair, and watched the first half or so with a careful eye and a ready spreadsheet. The results?
- Brandon Graham, DE, Michigan: I’ll cut right to the chase: dude's a beast, period. He completely outclassed every other player on the field. He’s not the right size/frame for this defense, and he won’t be there at the top of the second, but it’s worth mentioning that he’s a hell of a pass rusher.
- Geno Atkins, DT, Georgia: The 6'-1", 286-pound Atkins flashed incredible speed and penetration all week in practice, and looked dominant in the game itself. Blowing back several different guards, and getting good push against double-teams, too, Atkins really caught my eye—as anyone who was reading my Twitter feed knows. Obviously, at 286, Atkins doesn’t have the size Schwartz and Cunningham want—but he doesn’t look flabby and maxed-out like last year’s Senior Bowl darling, Peria Jerry, did.
- Mike Iupati, OG, Idaho: The virtues of the 6’-5”, 325-pound left guard had been extolled by all, including Mlive.com's Phil Zaroo, all week long. Talk of his size, athleticism, strength, and total domination of drillwork had spread far and wide. In the game, however, Iupati really struggled—especially when they moved him out of usual left guard spot. NFLN's Mike Mayock was the color man, and pointed out that Iupati was “grabbing” instead of “punching”. That is, slowing down his man by bear hugging him and hoping to control him, rather than driving his hands into the other guy’s chest and pushing him around. Iupati went back to left guard and looked better, but there’s no question that he had a terrible performance to cap a week of hype.
- Ciron Black, OT/OG, LSU: Black stands an impressive 6’-5”, 331. He played both guard and tackle, and showed excellent athleticism for his size. At tackle, Black struggled against Brandon Graham—but then, so did everyone else. During practice, however, Black showed equal adeptness in handling both speed and power rushers. Coming into this week, he was a mid-round guard, but if he performs at the combine looking like a legit LT, his stock will rise significantly. I'm hoping for somewhere in the middle . . .
- Mike Johnson, OG, Alabama: according to SI, the 6'-5", 306-pound cut an imposing figure at the weigh-in, and played up to his stature doing the first day of practice. In the game, I was really impressed at his power, feet, and control; he drove guys back. Chad Reuter of NFLDraftScout.com noted that Johnson had no problem with “Mount Cody” during practice.
- John Jerry, OT/OG, Ole Miss: Jerry, the brother of Peria, weighed in at a whopping 6’-5 1/2”, 332. Absolutely built like a tackle, Jerry has played both RG and RT for Mississippi, and excelled in the first two practices at both of those spots. However, they tried him at LT and he really struggled. I didn’t see much of him during the game, but he’s a prospect I’m going to watch very carefully at the combine.
- Kyle Wilson, CB, Boise State: the 5’-10” cornerback got Jim Schwartz' attention with an enormous custom-painted RV in the parking lot—and mine with some good coverage and strong tackling. Word was that he flashed outstanding ball skills in drills all week long. According to Bill Huber of Scout.com, his best performance was on a one-on-one coverage drill. ($)
- Taylor Mays, S, USC: Mays is well known amongst Lions fans, having garnered a little hype as a candidate to be their #1 overall pick last year. Mays went back to USC and had a okay-but-not-great senior season. Reasons for his relative anonymity have varied from “teams now scheme away from him” to “he’s better off as a linebacker”—but it’s clear that Mays is nowhere near a #2 overall pick. During practice, he dominated on Monday, then was invisible the rest of the week. During the game, he whiffed on several tackles, but did have a very nice interception. Mays remains a head-scratcher: a prospect with Top 10 size and speed, but wild inconsistency.
If you're wondering where your favorite prospect is, don't worry. This wasn't meant to be a complete list--just players at positions of need who established a rep during practice week, who stood out to me during the game, or both. If you’re wondering where the complete three-down backs with blazing speed are, they weren’t at the Senior Bowl trying to improve their stock. Same goes for wideouts who can draw coverage away from Megatron, cornerbacks who can step in as our #1 starter, “franchise left tackles”, etc.
I've been getting draft questions non-stop for weeks now, and I’ve kept replying: “too early, too early, too early”. There’s a rhythm to this pre-draft dance. The college All-Star games are just the first step. Watching them, and keeping tabs on the practice reports, gives me an idea of who to pay special attention to at the combine—which is when we really learn what’s going on.