Senior Bowl week is upon us - the first major scouting circus of the 2011 NFL Draft weekend. The game itself will take place on Saturday. But the week leading up to the event is potentially more valuable as NFL general managers, head coaches, and scouts fill up the stands in Mobile to observe how each prospect performs in each practice.
On Monday, after the weigh in, players took to the field for the first time. Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland and head coach Tony Sparano sat together observing the North squad practice. The fact that the two were even together seems like it should be news, though, when you consider how this offseason began for this organization just a few weeks ago. But what did anyone expect? Both men are battling to keep their jobs beyond 2011 - regardless of what the team wants you to believe after giving both contract extensions. So the fact that these two were together watching practice is really not surprising.
The fact that the Dolphins spent the first day of the week attending the North's practice might be newsworthy, though. Why? Because of the quarterbacks on the North squad - and one guy in particular. Is it any coincidence that the Dolphins spent the first day watching the top player in on either squad go through drills? Probably not.
So let's talk about a few of the players to watch as the week unfolds down in Mobile. And we'll start with the North squad because, after all, that's what the Dolphins did. Please keep in mind that this is a very brief list.
Jake Locker, QB, Washington - How can a guy go from being a potential #1 overall selection to having some scouts question if he's even worthy of being drafted in round one? That's the situation Locker finds himself in after a disappointing senior season. But Jake is a guy who could really shoot himself up draft boards with strong performances this week and at the Scouting Combine next month. He has all the intangibles, is mobile, and can make all the NFL throws. But I'll hold off on anything further about Locker for right now. Much more on him will follow in a day or two, as we begin to get into the conundrum that is Jake Locker.
Ricky Stanzi, QB, Iowa - At 6'4, 220 pounds, Stanzi possesses ideal size for the position at the next level. His arm is good - not great - and he might have the best pure mechanics of all the quarterback prospects in the draft. But his red flags include accuracy and anticipation - two critical elements to NFL success. I'm very interested in reading how Stanzi performs this week.
Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada - Some want to compare Kaepernick to Ben Roethlisberger because of his size, arm strength, and athleticism. He's also a great leader and is known to be a workaholic whose work ethic can rub of on teammates. But he's raw. His mechanics need work. His accuracy and touch are merely average. And he comes from an offense that does not prepare college QBs well for the pros. He could really benefit, though, from a good week of practice down in Mobile and greatly improve his draft stock. Keep an eye on him throughout the scouting process. [Note: PBP's Ben Volin reporting Dolphins "hold a high regard" for Kaepernick.]
Kendall Hunter, RB, Oklahoma St. - I'm going to admit it right now so you are all forewarned: I really like Hunter. He's built kind of like Maurice Jones-Drew (5'7, 199) and possesses similar qualities. He's got good speed. He's quick. He seems to have good vision and recognition. He can catch the football out of the backfield. He can break some tackles. But his ability to carry a full workload has been questioned by many. I'm very interested to hear about how he does throughout the week and to see his performance on Saturday. He's perhaps the best of the "second-tier" running backs.
Titus Young, WR, Boise St. - The Dolphins need a speedy play-maker at receiver. Young is exactly that. He possesses legit 4.4 speed and elite explosiveness. He's also a more polished route runner than most coming out of college. But his 175 pound frame is going to scare off some teams. Scouts will have to decide if the feel Titus can bulk up a little without losing any of that elite speed and quickness.
Niles Paul, WR, Nebraska - Paul is a guy who is probably getting overlooked by some right now just because he didn't have big college numbers. But he has that great combination of size (6'1, 225) and speed that could translate well to the next level. He has very consistent hands and isn't afraid of contact. If he runs a sub 4.5 40 at the Combine, as many expect him to, he's going to rise up draft boards in a hurry.
John Moffitt, G, Wisconsin - Anytime you talk about a four year starter and team captain as an offensive lineman in the Big Ten, you have to take notice. Moffitt has the kind of size (6'4, 314) this regime likes and is knoen for his run blocking more so than his pass protection. He's one of the guys to keep in the back of your mind in that third to fourth round area - with the potential to rise up boards with a strong showing this week.