Five things we learned from Senior Bowl week
Five points, whispers, names to know and observations from Senior Bowl practice sessions this week in Mobile, Ala. …
1. The Cleveland Browns are looking for a quarterback, a bunch of other teams are looking for a quarterback — and they didn’t see one at the Senior Bowl. Plenty of teams are anxious for a longer look at Oregon’s Marcus Mariota (though there are plenty of questions) and few are sure at this point what to think of Florida State’s Jameis Winston and his ability to be the face of a franchise. From there? It’s not pretty. The senior quarterback group lacks sizzle, and the Senior Bowl quarterback group was shaky at best. Baylor’s Bryce Petty is worth a longer look, and two scouts said they see Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson as a prospect who could help himself over the next couple months, but neither are seen as ready to play or franchise-type quarterbacks. See why the Andy Daltons and Alex Smiths of the NFL get the contracts they get? As usual, the chase for quarterbacks in March and April will be interesting, and it appears the pool this year is thinner than it has been in many years.
2. The dozen or so scouts and team executives with whom I spoke almost all wanted to talk Cardale Jones, his fast rise and his NFL potential. One said the lack of appealing quarterback prospects "made it more baffling" that Jones announced his return to Ohio State but said "in a way I’m glad he did. He needs reps, even spring reps. He needs time. The problem with the NFL is it would take a unique situation for a team to draft him and not feel the pressure to play him next year, probably before he’s ready." One team exec said his team had what it thought was "pretty good information" that Jones was entering the draft and was "totally surprised" by his deadline-day announcement that he was coming back. "Maybe he would have gone in the second round," that exec said, "but I think it’s just as likely we could have gone in the top 10 or 15. Look at that body, that arm — and look at his competition (in the 2015 draft)." One team’s director of college scouting said "(Jones) only playing three games isn’t a huge issue; most times, we’re only watching three games on a guy anyway. We need to get to know him, but we love what we see. Speaking for myself, I am surprised he stayed."
3. There was lots of talk about Ohio State’s national championship run — and how it will be the first stop for many scouts next August with all the talent Urban Meyer’s team returns. Entering the 2014 season, most scouts had defensive end Noah Spence as Ohio State’s top-rated draft-eligible prospect. Spence didn’t play a down due to drug-test issues and is transferring to Eastern Kentucky next season in hopes of proving he has his life turned around. Now, though, there are a bunch of prospects who have a chance to be high picks in 2016 or beyond. Joey Bosa is obviously a stud, but the handful of scouts with whom I spoke seemed just as excited about offensive tackle Taylor Decker. And the guy they all wanted to talk about was running back Ezekiel Elliott, who, like Jones, was a breakout star in Ohio State’s final three games when just about everybody was watching. Said one long-time NFL exec about Elliott: "He’s a (expletive) bowling ball. He breaks people."
4. To say Ohio State wide receiver Devin Smith made some money with his performance in Mobile might be true, but it was put to me a better way. "Devin has been making himself money since the Wisconsin game in December when Cardale started throwing him those rockets." Smith was a deep-ball specialist in his college career, though his deep opportunities in Senior Bowl practices were limited — maybe by design. North Team quarterbacks kept him busy, though, and Smith told those who asked he’s aware that some scouts wonder if he can be a complete receiver. He’s also aware that many of those same scouts expect him to run in the 4.3 range in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine next month, and though he’s not putting a number on it he’s not backing down from that either. In a good draft for receivers, Smith will be closely scrutinized and highly sought after. The receiver group at the Senior Bowl was good, with off the radar names like Jamison Crowder of Duke and big receiver (almost 6’4, 215) Dezmin Lewis of Central Arkansas generating buzz and Tyler Lockett of Kansas State and Phillip Dorsett of Miami solidifying their standing among scouts who had tracked them all season. The overall opinion of this year’s Senior Bowl group seemed to be good, not great, with massive Washington defensive tackle probably the highest-rated prospect and "probably" four "but maybe as many as six or seven" Senior Bowlers who could end up going in the first round April 30, according to one team’s director of college scouting. The Senior Bowl game airs Saturday afternoon on NFL Network.
5. There were mixed opinions among the scouts with whom I spoke on Ohio State cornerback Doran Grant. This is not considered a strong draft for cornerbacks, and just about every NFL team is looking for cornerbacks. That’s potentially good news for Grant and for all of the cornerbacks at whom NFL scouts and coaches want a closer look. Grant is a bigger corner at almost 5’11 and 200 pounds and he played his best football in the back half of the 2014 season. While TCU’s Kevin White looked like the best and most active cornerback in the Senior Bowl practice sessions, he’s just 5’9, 180. One name creating plenty of buzz is Miami-Ohio’s Quinten Rollins, a native of Wilmington, Ohio who played four years of college basketball and just one year of college football but had the attention of every defensive backs coach watching the action. Rollins measured at 5’11, 193 and looked like a football natural. He created plenty of buzz in Mobile.