With all the important practices at the Senior Bowl complete, now it’s time for the actual game. There has been much written about the players who helped and hurt their draft stock during practice this week, but the game takes places on Saturday, so players have one final chance to impress NFL evaluators. Below is a short look at some players that I will be watching closely on Saturday.
Quarterbacks Tyler Wilson of Arkansas, Ryan Nassib of Syracuse and Mike Glennon from North Carolina State all stood out at one point during the week and displayed the physical talents to be a productive starter in the NFL. However, they all also struggled to maintain a high level of play throughout all three practices, especially in terms of accuracy. This game provides Wilson, Nassib and Glennon a platform to prove they deserve to be a first round pick in a game situation. A big game by any of them could help them jump into the lead amongst the quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl.
During the season we kept hearing from NFL scouts that Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor lacked the quickness and agility to be a productive starter in the NFL. However, after a strong week of practice we have a different opinion and a number of scouts told us they agreed with us. Taylor displayed quick feet and agility making sharp cuts to get to hole and was quicker through the hole than expected. In addition, his combination of strength, balance and good body lean helped him to run through contact easily. A productive game Saturday could help Taylor prove he warrants being a second or third round pick.
Two receivers who need to play well in the game after not practicing up to expectations are Denard Robinson and Aaron Mellette. Robinson was expected by many to have a huge week in Mobile because of his special athleticism, but he struggled all week. Despite showing rare foot quickness and explosiveness, Robinson’s route running was raw and he really struggled catching the ball. He needs a big game on Saturday to slow his slide down draft boards.
On the other hand, Mellette generally had a good week of practice displaying surprising quickness and speed for a big receiver, which enabled him to consistently gain separation from cornerbacks. Despite catching nearly every pass thrown his way, Mellette concerned me with his habit of body catching nearly every pass that was within his frame, which led to him fighting the ball and having to double catch it to make sure he made the catch. If Mellette can step up in the game he could set himself up to be a third round pick, which is pretty amazing for a receiver from Elon.
In a draft class with a lot of talented offensive linemen, Saturday’s game offers Eric Fisher, Lane Johnson, Larry Warford and Jordan Mills a chance to build on a strong week of practice while at the same time it gives Hugh Thornton, Xavier Nixon, Ricky Wagner and Oday Aboushi a chance to improve how they are viewed after a disappointing week of practice.
Fisher’s performance this week has him in position to over-take Luke Joeckel to be the first offensive tackle drafted, so shining on Saturday could further help his case to do so. Lane Johnson and Larry Warford’s strong week of practice has them both in position to be first round picks and as long as they play at the same level on Saturday they can feel confident they will be picked on day one. While Jordan Mills is not going to be a high draft pick, he played well enough once he arrived in Mobile that he could cement a spot in the third or fourth round with an excellent game.
While those players are just building on a strong week, Oday Aboushi needs a good game to overcome an up and down week of practice. He came to Mobile with a chance to prove he warranted being selected in the first round and was not able to solidify that position due to his struggles, especially concerning was his ability to consistently win pass protection battles against the better pass rushers.
No one expected Ricky Wagner to dominate and force his way into the first round, but he was expected to be solid and justify a second or third round grade. However, his lack of good feet and athleticism showed up from the first practice and has us convinced that he will struggle protecting the corner vs NFL pass rushers. He has to play much better in game to ease concerns that he may have to slide inside to guard to make it in the NFL. Both Hugh Thornton and Xavier Nixon are well built linemen who block most effectively in a small area, but they struggled with consistency throughout the week. They both need to play their best on Saturday to keep their slide from dragging them down to the late rounds of the draft.
Email Russ at Russelllande@yahoo.com and Follow Russ on Twitter @RUSSLANDE