Mobile, Alabama last week played host to the Under Armour Senior Bowl and CFFI was there to evaluate the nation’s top collegiate seniors as they received their first taste of the NFL. Coaching the former collegians were the staffs from the Cincinnati Bengals and Jacksonville Jaguars.
Below is a short summary of some of our observations during the five days we were there, along with an analysis of where we think the days and weeks following Saturday’s night’s 35-18 win by the South leaves some of the biggest (and not so big) names in collegiate football heading into the NFL Combine in March and draft in April.
Graham Harrell, QB, Texas Tech Red Raiders
The big story on the North side of the ball early on in the week was how good Harrell looked in comparison to teammates Rhett Bomar of Sam Houston State and Nathan Brown of Central Arkansas during practices. Such observations quickly turned to a discouraging display of application however, as Harrell finished Saturday’s contests completing just four-of-13 passes for 40 yards and the game’s only interception. Harrell looked comfortable facing off against the North’s lack of defensive presence and pass rush for much of the week and looked to CFFI to have little trouble controlling the ball when throwing to receiver nearly anywhere on the field. Yet, going up against the likes of Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga of USC at linebacker Saturday night and forcing throws against a strong defensive secondary headed up by West Virginia’s Ellis Lankster, the hotshot quarterback from Ennis, Texas once more left more questions than answers about the ability of a Red Raiders quarterback to make the transition from the college to professional game. Will yet another Texas Tech passer succumb to a lackluster NFL career like those suffered by Kliff Kingsbury and Sonny Cumbie? After this year’s Senior Bowl, the chances don’t look too promising for Harrell to break such a trend.
Cedric Peerman, RB, Virginia Cavaliers
It was odd to see Peerman at the end of practices each morning for the North. Scouts swarmed the field to talk to the likes of Harrell and Juaquin Iglesias (the latter, for good reason), but often left Peerman to stand to the sides with little attention paid to him. A handshake and a pat on the back to Peerman yielded a very friendly and open conversation with the Cavaliers’ lead rusher. He seemed well-grounded, a faithful proponent of Christianity, and maintained emphatically that all he needed was a shot to prove to NFL scouts the talent that he possessed. No one running back broke away from the pack for the North throughout the week the way that Rashad Jennings did for the South. But Peerman did prove he could run and run hard, that he was a physical back. Kory Sheets saw more carries in Saturday night’s game and earned that right; he was shifty in practice, incredibly fast, and hard to bring down. Still, it was the quiet Peerman that let his play on the field do the talking for him, finishing the Senior Bowl game with five carries for 34 yards. Subsequently, watch for Peerman to quietly make his way up the 2009 Draft charts. Chad Reuter of The Sports Xchange highlights that Peerman’s small hands could cause problems holding on to the ball, especially in the short passing game, but his physical style of running as well as comfort in catching the ball (44 receptions was best for backs in the ACC for 2008) should still leave Peerman a solid grab for a NFL squad in search of a versatile back.
Juaquin Iglesias, WR, Oklahoma Sooners
Iglesias was the one player that dominated both the North’s practices and Saturday’s game. We, along with countless others, oftentimes stood breathless at the ability of Iglesias to grab the ball, no matter where tossed or how badly placed, and he rarely dropped anything thrown his way. Equally good on short inside routes as well as breaking away from coverage downfield, Iglesias was dominant as a pass catcher throughout the week, with no one adequately capable of covering (either on the North’s defense or in the South’s secondary) the 6’0”, 204 pound youngster from Killeen, Texas. Finishing as the Senior Bowl game’s top producer at wideout (six catches for 90 yards), the Oklahoma senior undoubtedly left Mobile at the top of his game. Scouts are sure to be buzzing about what Iglesias can add to the wide receiver position at the next level and could very well make him one of the first players of his type to be called in April.
Derrick Williams, WR/KR, Penn State Nittany Lions
Williams’ time in Mobile was spent much the same as it was playing at Happy Valley. On offense he served as a decoy for a more dominant pass catcher (Iglesias) or as the short-to intermediate-target whose speed allows him to captures yards after the catch, or even as a hybrid tailback. On special teams he proved a nightmare of a returner for opposing coverage teams. The Nittany Lions’ burner put together 89 yards on just three returns in Saturday night’s game and had two receptions for nineteen yards on top of five yards rushing coming on a sweep in the second quarter. He’s a do-it-all type of athlete that can make plays no matter where inserted, but speed isn’t everything at the next level. Can Williams prove himself the whole package in the NFL? That is a question that remains to be answered.
Additional Players of Note:
Nathan Brown, QB, Central Arkansas Bears
After struggling mightily in practice sessions Brown emerged Saturday night as the North’s best passer. Look for him to continue the trend, as discussed on ChampionshipSubdivisionNews.com, of a small school quarterback being selected with the first 100 picks of an NFL Draft, as has been the case the last three years.
John Phillips, TE, Virginia Cavaliers
Phillips showed strong route running and good hands as perhaps the best tight end for the North. Brandon Pettigrew was the favorite overall for NFL scouts, at least on paper, but Phillips should see his stock rise after Mobile.
Pat White, QB, West Virginia Mountaineers
Cold weather and wind left the dual-threat quarterback for the Mountaineers struggling to make much happen in the South’s passing game throughout the week at practice, but the hometown hero from nearby Daphne, Alabama departed Ladd-Peebles Stadium on Saturday evening as the Senior Bowl’s MVP. For the game, White was just four-of-10 throwing for a total of 95 yards, but he led two scoring drives for the South, including a 39-yard pass to Mississippi’s Mike Wallace in the third quarter. It was quite a way to leave an impression, especially after continually missing targets in passing drills and scrimmages Monday through Friday afternoons; we figured he’d be relegated to running the ball himself or pitching on option plays out toward the corners when it came to gametime. White was truly a surprise for the week and could up his stock as a quarterback (as opposed to a potential receiving threat) heading into March’s Combine and April’s NFL Draft.
Rashad Jennings, RB, Liberty Flames
Go figure. You get a collection of running backs for the South that features names like James Davis and Andre Brown, and the Senior Bowl’s leading rusher for either squad ends up being a 6’1”, 230 pound youngster from Forest, Virginia that played for a school most college football fans have never heard of – Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. A player that had a huge year in 2008 (he played for Pitt in 2005, but did not see the playing field again until this past year with Liberty, partly as a move to be closer to his sick father), Jennings tore up the field for the Flames this season, accumulating 1507 yards and 17 touchdowns on 264 rushing attempts. He’s considered very quick on his feet, is as good catching the ball as he is running with it, and is a dedicated player that will stay in the backfield as an adept pass rush blocker when asked to. Perhaps no other running back in Mobile made as much a splash as did Jennings, and thus it was fitting he ended Saturday’s game with nine carries for 41 yards.
Patrick Turner, WR, Southern California
Think USC and the 2008 season, and a majority of college football aficionados will tell you that defensive players like Cushing and Maualuga were the names to watch heading into Mobile. Scouts drooled over the speed and physicality of both the aforementioned players, as well as Clay Mathews, but Turner, the 6’5”, 220-pound wideout from Nashville, Tennessee also managed to turn more than one NFL scout’s head throughout the week. Wide receiver was a deep position for the South, with Greg Carr of Florida State and Kenny McKinney expected to exhibit big time playmaking ability as pass catchers heading into the early part of the week. Carr looked good at times, particularly going up for the ball and bringing it down, and McKinney was quick out of the slot; but Turner proved himself a worthwhile starter out on the edge with good speed, concentration, and the physical ability to wrestle the ball away from defenders. He was the leading receiver in terms of number of catches for receivers in Saturday night’s win over the North, pulling in three catches for 30 yards and seems to have greatly benefitted from participating in this year’s edition of the Senior Bowl. Watch him creep up the NFL draft projection charts after what some would deem an underachieving career with the Trojans.
Mike Thomas, WR, Arizona Wildcats
Thomas came into Mobile the shortest of all players on the South roster in weigh-ins held Monday afternoon, but showed just how good a player he was out in Tucson as a slot receiver in practices held throughout last week at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. It was a whirlwind week for the native of DeSoto, Texas, who a week prior to Saturday’s Senior Bowl led all receivers in the Houston, Texas East-West Shrine Bowl (five catches for 73 yards). His impact wasn’t nearly as noticeable on the field in Mobile, but the end of the week provided opportunities for Thomas to show off his quickness and athleticism across the middle as he grabbed mid-range passes. He had only one reception for 32 yards for the South, but he accounted for the third-longest play from scrimmage on the night in the 35-18 win.
Shaun Nelson, TE, Southern Mississippi
As impressive as Iglesias was at receiver for the North, it could be said that Nelson made a similar impression catching the ball for the South. A solid target with soft hands, good eyes, and a dominating physical presence downfield, the native of Gonzales, Louisiana was a favorite target of the South’s quarterbacks, especially later on in the week. Scouts representing NFL teams swarmed all over Pettigrew on Monday and Tuesday but seemed to take longer looks at Nelson as well by Wednesday afternoon. At 6’5” and 239 pounds, he is smaller than the remainder of those tight ends represented in the 2009 Senior Bowl, but produced the best numbers as a receiver during the 2008 season (53 receptions for 557 yards and three touchdowns). Pettigrew will likely continue to get the accolades as the premier playmaker at tight end for the draft class of 2009, but don’t be too surprised if Nelson manages to make a serious push himself.
Additional Player of Note:
John Parker Wilson, QB, Alabama Crimson Tide
Pat White surprised onlookers Saturday night with his arm; Wilson did much the same for the South, utilizing his legs to scramble four times for 17 yards, including a score late in the first quarter. Of all the South’s quarterbacks, Wilson was the most consistent in practice and should only continue to impress as he heads into the Combine in March.