FOX Sports South invokes a detailed look at 10 players to watch closely during Senior Bowl Week (North vs. South), as we officially enter that phase of the NFL calendar when all 32 teams are squarely focused on the future -- the 2015 draft in May. And that includes this season's Super Bowl entrants, the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots. (Photos: Shanna Lockwood/Jerome Miron/Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports)
QB/DB Nick Marshall, Auburn (South)
2014 STATS: 2,532 yards passing, 31 total TDs (20 passing) ... DRAFT-ROUND RANGE: 6-7-Free Agent ... SKINNY: 1) Truth be told: Marshall wasn't one of the original 10 players selected for this countdown. But everything changed on Tuesday (sorry, Ohio State corner Doran Grant), when it was reported the Auburn QB -- and one-time defensive back at Georgia -- would pursue cornerback as an NFL occupation. 2) Frankly, Marshall should explore other avenues for making a pro roster this summer. His arm strength won't wow anyone in the NFL, but his athletic skill set could work at other positions -- namely wide receiver. 3) It's hard to recall the last big-time college QB to flourish as an NFL corner. In Mobile, perhaps Marshall will ask for a few practice reps at cornerback and slot receiver, as well.
QB Blake Sims, Alabama (South)
2014 STATS: 3,487 yards passing, 35 TDs (28 passing) ... DRAFT-ROUND RANGE: 5-7 ... SKINNY: 1) NFL executives aren't usually keen on selecting QBs with only 14 collegiate starts. 2) Sims registered only two 300-yard passing outings this season -- an odd stat considering he attempted 27-plus passes nine times ... and that Biltenikoff Award winner Amari Cooper accounted for 124 catches/1,727 yards/16 TDs. 3) Sims was particularly prolific against Florida (445 yards passing/4 TDs) and Auburn (312 yards passing/5 total TDs). Of course, the fickle pro guys will carve up that Iron Bowl tape, since Sims also tossed three INTs. 4) Sims needs to practice well during the week, or run the risk of Colorado State's Garrett Grayson logging the majority of vital QB snaps on gameday (Saturday).
CB Kevin White, TCU (South)
CAREER: 6 INTs ... DRAFT-ROUND RANGE: 3-6 ... SKINNY: 1) You can never have enough quality cornerbacks in the pros, but White could get lost in the draft-day shuffle come May, minus a standout effort at the Senior Bowl and NFL combine. (CBS Sports has White tabbed as the 13th-ranked corner.) 2) The Texas native anchored the last line of a Horned Frogs defense which ranked 8th nationally (19.0 PPG). 3) White has the requisite size (5-foot-10, 174 pounds) and quickness for the next level. He's probably destined for a "nickel" role in Year 1. 4) Being projected for the latter rounds is hardly a death knell to prosperity. In the last five years, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Buster Skrine, Perrish Cox and Reshad Jones have all gone in Round 5.
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WR Sammie Coates, Auburn (South)
2014 STATS: 34 catches, 741 yards, 4 TDs ... DRAFT-ROUND RANGE: 1-3 ... SKINNY: 1) Coates can flat-out fly down the field -- just like Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Martavis Bryant. Coates also accounted for 11 receiving TDs in his final two collegiate seasons -- just like Bryant (formerly of Clemson). 2) Unlike Bryant, though, Coates stands to benefit from a weaker draft class among wideouts, depth-wise, by perhaps going in the second round. 3) Forget about Coates' 2014 body of work. Instead, just focus on the three supreme efforts against top-shelf defenses like LSU (4 catches/144 yards/1 TD), Ole Miss (5 catches/122 yards/1 TD) and Alabama (5 catches/206 yards/2 TDs).
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Safety Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss (South)
CAREER: 112 tackles, 12 INTs ... DRAFT-ROUND RANGE: 1-3 ... SKINNY: 1) Ole Miss's humbling defeat in the Peach Bowl (42-3 to TCU) might have been a high-profile calamity for a school that harbored national-title hopes in October, but it wasn't a total loss. Prewitt collected perhaps the most athletic interception of the bowl season, sprinting from afar, leaping high and then outmuscling a Horned Frogs receiver for the ball in the end zone. 2) Prewitt, a two-time All-SEC performer and two-time All-American (first team, second team), consistently ranks as the draft's top prospect at free safety. 3) It's easy to connect Prewitt -- who's comfortable with physical and finesse play -- to Steelers star Troy Polamalu. But the long, flowing hair clinches the deal. Maybe he'll even endorse Head and Shoulders someday.
WR Josh Harper, Fresno State (South)
2014 STATS: 90 catches, 1,097 yards, 7 TDs ... DRAFT-ROUND RANGE: 2-3 ... SKINNY: 1) Harper, who tallied 13 touchdowns as a junior (2013), might have been the West Coast equivalent of Amari Cooper this season. Against UNLV, Harper rolled for 12 catches, 187 yards and one TD; and in the Mountain West championship against Boise State, he notched 10 receptions and 131 yards. 2) That success aside, Harper may be the least prominent of the consensus top-9 wideouts for this year's draft -- a group which includes Cooper, Kevin White (West Virginia), DeVante Parker (Louisville) and Jaelen Strong (Arizona State). 3) Based on preliminary reports, Harper has the capacity for a 4.4 40-yard dash at the combine. He also has underrated game speed, meaning it's hard to recall him ever getting caught from behind during live action.
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QB Bryce Petty, Baylor (North)
2014 STATS: 3,855 yards passing, 35 total TDs (6 rushing) ... DRAFT-ROUND RANGE: 2-4 ... SKINNY: 1) There's no need for Petty's handlers to create a seasonal highlight DVD. The absurd production against Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl -- 550 yards passing, 85-percent efficiency, four total TDs -- should be enough to warrant a Round 2 look. Also, Petty's monstrous outing came with the Bears leading for three-plus quarters. 2) At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, Petty (two-year starter, 62 career TDs) has the requisite size, mass, experience and toughness (back fracture) to satisfy most NFL clubs. And if he should post a 4.5/4.6 40, it may clinch his status as the fourth QB taken. 3) Some teams will be skeptical of spread-offense QBs. When reviewing Petty's tape, they'll be on the lookout for accurate "pro throws" in tight spaces.
DE Za'Darius Smith, Kentucky (North)
CAREER: 11 sacks ... DRAFT-ROUND RANGE: 3-5 ... SKINNY: 1) Here's the beauty of Smith playing second fiddle to Alvin 'Bud' Dupree (a potential top-10 overall pick this spring) at Kentucky: As the NFL GMs and personnel directors pore over mountains of digital game tape, a large handfull will undoubtedly fall in love with Smith's skill set -- whether it's the massive size (6-foot-5, 294 pounds), lightning-fast hands or quick burst off the edge. 2) At the same time, the rigid Smith may only fit the schemes of certain clubs, eliminating his value right off the bat.
OT T.J. Clemmings, Pittsburgh (North)
DRAFT-ROUND RANGE: 1 ... SKINNY: 1) Don't read too much into the current rankings for offensive tackle prospects -- regardless of the publication. The order amongst Brandon Scherff (Iowa), Andrus Peat (Stanford), La'el Collins (LSU), Cedric Ogbeuhi (Texas A&M; ACL injury in last month's bowl game), Ereck Flowers (Miami), Ronnie Stanley (Notre Dame) and Clemmings will likely undergo constant reshuffling over the next three months, as NFL teams seek their perfect match. 2) With strong Senior Bowl and NFL combine showings, Clemmings -- a two-year starter after being converted from defensive end -- may possess the highest physical ceiling of the seven prominent prospects. And that may be enough to motivate forward-thinking franchises to tap Clemmings (6-foot-5, 305 pounds, good mobility) as a worthy long-term project.
RB Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska (North)
2014 STATS: 1,880 total yards, 22 total TDs ... DRAFT-ROUND RANGE: 2-3 ... SKINNY: 1) Abdullah was an electifying talent at Nebraska, posting back-to-back campaigns of 1,600 yards rushing in 2013 and '14. 2) A number of Web sites have Abdullah tabbed as a middle Round 2 pick -- a cool endorsement given his average size (5-foot-9, 195 pounds). 3) Abdullah may be part of the NFL's greatest class of running back in 10, 15 years -- starting with Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin), Tevin Coleman (Indiana), Duke Johnson (Miami), Jay Ajayi (Boise State), T.J. Yeldon (Alabama), Jeremy Langford (Michigan State), Josh Robinson (Mississippi State) ... and ending with Georgia's Todd Gurley, who could be a Round 1 choice despite a late-season knee injury. 4) It's common knowledge: NFL teams have devalued this position -- for various (inexplicable) reasons.