It was this week a year ago that Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher came seemingly out of nowhere to begin his move up draft boards, all the way to the first pick of the NFL draft. E.J. Manuel went from what some thought would be a third-round selection to the 16th overall pick. Ziggy Ansah capped a great week of practice with the Senior Bowl MVP Award and would be picked fifth overall by the Detroit Lions.
How important is the Senior Bowl in the evaluation of NFL draft talent? All 32 teams in the league selected at least one player that participated in last year’s Senior Bowl.
Whose stock will rise this week?
Senior Bowl Executive Director Phil Savage, formerly with the Cleveland Browns, prominently mentioned Louisville outside linebacker Marcus Smith, 6-3, 252, the American Athletic Conference defensive player of the year. Savage spoke of Nevada’s Joel Bitonio, 6-4, 315, a player with the versatility to play tackle or guard. Want a sleeper? Savage likes Miami’s Seantrel Henderson, a 6-8, 345, offensive tackle whose college career didn’t match his hype coming out of high school, until midway through last season.
“I think he’ll be a riser,” Savage said.
Over-achiever? How about Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald, 6-0, 285, the ACC defensive player of the year and who swept the Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski and Bednarik trophies. Savage mentioned Donald prominently when asked to evaluate the defensive talent in this year’s draft class.
“We’ve got some really talented defensive tackles,” Savage said. Ra’Shede Hageman, 6-6, 311, of Minnesota “is a giant,” Savage said.
The Packers could use some help at outside linebacker and safety, and Alabama’s Adrian Hubbard, 6-6, 252, and Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward, 5-11, 192, are headliners in this game.
“I feel like I can go in the box. I love to tackle. I can even go to corner,” said Ward, a safety who sent his high school tape to every Division I program in American without creating interest. Following a star career in the Mid-American Conference, Ward is headed for a career in the NFL.
Hubbard comes with a pedigree from the biggest of the big programs, Alabama, where Hubbard played all of the linebacker positions but would seem destined to be a pass-rush type in a 3-4.
“These are the best of the best,” Savage bragged. “We emphasize practice; it’s really important.”
Fisher, Manuel and Ansah were all stars in last year’s practices. Before the game was even played, all three had significantly raised their draft stock. Manuel came out of nowhere to push Geno Smith down the draft; Smith elected not to play in the Senior Bowl.
Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr, brother of former first overall pick David Carr, is trying to do what Manuel did a year ago. The headline quarterback names in this year’s draft, Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel, are underclassmen.
“That’s above my pay grade,” Carr said on Sunday. “I want to show I can play under center,” he added. Carr played in a shotgun in college.
“Hopefully, one of these 32 teams falls in love. I’ll compete against anybody.”
The competition begins on Monday. Somebody will fall in love.