Senior Bowl Notebook – Day 1

This is the 31st straight year that I have attended the Senior Bowl. When I was a young scout, it was the premier all-star game and you had a chance to see at least half of the first round practicing for a week. While it is still the premier game, the overall talent level isn’t what it used to be. There are still many of the top seniors in this year’s class, but with over 100 underclassmen in the 2014 draft, that stripped this year’s class of many of the top players. The same thing will hold true for next year as there are over 80 players with eligibility in this year’s draft. In addition, over 25 players (for various reasons) turned down an opportunity to play in this game. Some couldn’t play because of a serious injury late in the season. That group included Oregon corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.

Others that could have played in the game but turned down the chance were players like Vic Beasly from Clemson, A.J. Cann from South Carolina, Cam Irving from Florida State and Bud Dupree from Kentucky. One of the top linebackers in this draft also declined to play and that is Eric Kendricks from UCLA. Top receivers like Kevin White from West Virginia and DeVante Parker form Louisville also declined invitations. In the last few years, the NFL has allowed the senior bowl to invite underclassmen who graduated before they used up their eligibility to play in the game. This year that group included Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and UCLA quarterback Ricky Hundley. Last week, Hundley declined his invitation, and it wasn’t until over the weekend that Mariota decided not to play. Having just finished his college season last week, I can’t blame Mariota for opting out.

That said, there are still over 100 players in attendance and trying to perform well for the hundreds of scouts, coaches and front office staff form all 32 NFL teams as well and many scouts from the CFL. This year, the schedule was pushed back a day with the official weigh in yesterday morning and the first practices Tuesday afternoon. In essence, that gives scouts one less day to observe the more intense practices, and on Thursday, the practices will start to scale down with the game being played on Saturday. The best practices of the week, as far as contact goes, will be today.

Some players who caught my eye at the North squad practice on offense Tuesday afternoon were Duke wide receiver Jamison Crowder, Yale running back Tyler Varga, Hobart offensive lineman Ali Marpet and Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah.

Crowder isn’t big at 5081 – 174 and has small hands (8 3/8), but he is lightning quick and very difficult to cover one on one. He is a quick cutter who is very quick getting in and out of cuts and is able to get instant separation. Though he has small hands, he caught the ball very well. With his size, he will need to be a slot receiver. In the late 80’s or early 90’s when I was with the Giants, we had a very similar receiver who was very productive for us. The receiver’s name was Stephen Baker (the touchdown maker) from Fresno State.

Ali Marpet is from Division III Hobart. Many times when you get a Division III player in this type of game, they look out of place. That was not the case with Marpet. He has good size at 6036 – 307 and is fairly athletic. Though he is raw from a technique point of view, he was able to hold his own physically against the D-I players.

If they had an award for the best physique at the game, Yale running back Tyler Varga may have won it. The Ivy League running back is a very solid 5102 – 227 with virtually no body fat. In practice, Varga showed quick feet and very good body control. He caught the ball very well and has a nice burst after the catch. When running with the ball he stays low and has good vision. Varga is from Canada, and there are some CFL teams here who were hoping he didn’t stand out. One told me after the North practice “we have no chance at him now”. That said, it remains to be seen if he stays in the NFL very long. Varga is an excellent student in the pre-med program at Yale.

Ameer Abdullah doesn’t have great size at 5082 – 198 but he is very quick and strong. He has outstanding balance and excellent vision on the move. He reminds me of two former great Buffalo Bills' running backs (Thurman Thomas and Joe Cribbs). If he turns out like either, some NFL club will have themselves a great back. Everyone I talk to raves about Abdullah's character.

While I spent most of my time watching offense, two defensive lineman did jump out at me. Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton is a load. At 6016, 346 he is a huge, wide body. In one-on-one drills, he showed excellent initial quickness and quick hands. Every time I saw him take a rep he was able to shed the block very quickly to get penetration. He is an ideal nose in a three-man front.

Some scouts knocked Iowa defensive tackle Carl Davis for his consistency during the season. Yesterday, he showed very good athleticism and strength. He is a huge man at 6045 – 321 and light on his feet. Like Shelton, he was a load to block in one on one drills. He has the size and athleticism to play in a three or four man front and an interesting guy to track during the week.

Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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