Lou: This week there will be a daily report here on Draft King direct from Mobile, Alabama, the site of the Senior Bowl on Saturday after noon. This comes as a special from the outstanding website KFFL.com, which has been a must-visit web information source for me for the past several years. Enjoy!
January 25, 2008
NFL Draft Grapevine
By: Cory J. Bonini, KFFL.com
Welcome to KFFL's first NFL Draft Grapevine of the 2008 season! In this edition we will focus on the 2008 Senior Bowl week. KFFL was in attendance in Mobile, Ala. this week, but we have returned home just in time to watch the game on television. Trust me - it's a lot warmer when you view it on the tube. After several days of meeting industry peers, coaches, players and scouts, KFFL brings you this analysis from San Diego.
We watched practice Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, before leaving on a jet plane Thursday. We attended the meet-and-greet sessions and even were able to sneak in a little taste of Alabama's nightlife. Richard Garcia, another editor here at KFFL, joined me on the trek, but not even San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trent Dilfer's height could help me find Richard in a crowd at a busy Mobile bar.
I could babble aimlessly for hours - or pages, in this case - regarding the trip, the town, the people, the nightlife and the food, but you're here to learn about what I saw on the practice field.
I'll give you a positional rundown of who stood out, who fell flat and which players left me wanting to see more before I come to any form of a conclusion.
University of Michigan quarterback Chad Henne impressed me with his footwork. He also threw several passes into tight spots and, in general, appeared to be picking up the offense at a rapid pace. I liked what I saw, and Henne's North team head coach, the Oakland Raiders' Lane Kiffin (for the time being, at least), stated that he felt Henne had a bright future in the NFL.
I liked what University of Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge showed early on during the week, but he worsened as the Tuesday practice went along and was really shaky the final day. Much like with Henne, I liked Ainge's footwork a lot, too, but he threw some ugly passes Wednesday. He occasionally side-armed a few, but those seemed to come under pressure. Clearly, when you throw a side-arm pass the velocity isn't going to be there. He was intercepted once on a pass that he didn't appear to have a great grip on, throwing it down the sidelines to University of Texas defensive back Marcus Griffin.
The biggest surprise to me of the quarterbacks was how poorly University of Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan performed. I have never been a big fan, but his throws weren't tight, his velocity seemed down, and his footwork was borderline laughable. San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Martz worked with Brennan extensively on his footwork during mock play-action drills, and he repeatedly told the former Rainbow Warrior to "settle" his hips while dropping back. Brennan seemed antsy and didn't look like he was quite grasping everything that Martz was instructing him.
University of Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson seemed to be the most fluid of the group and appeared more fluid than anyone at the position. The former Wildcat looked like he understood what was being asked of him and didn't need too much coaching up throughout the week.
Two players set themselves apart from the competition as a whole: University of California-Berkeley running back Justin Forsett and Georgia Tech tailback Tashard Choice. Forsett looks like a bowling ball and reminded me, to a degree, of Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
Forsett catches the ball well out of the backfield and has a very good burst through the line. Despite his smallish size, he held his own in pass-protection drills.
Choice, overall, was the most impressive back to me. He caught the ball better than I expected him to while showing vision and burst through the line. The only area of his game that I thought needed some were was pass blocking. He whiffed a few times in the one-on-one pass-protection drills, but most running backs in the NFL struggle in this department when they are fresh out of college, so I won't hold it against him too much. Call me a fool, but I thought I may have seen a little Terrell Davis in him when he was running through the hole.
I liked what I saw from East Carolina running back Chris Johnson, sans his ability (or lack thereof) to protect the quarterback. He was so bad in this department that I really question if he will ever be more than a two-down back in the NFL. His speed is unparalleled amongst his senior peers, and his ability to start up from a dead stop makes watching him exciting.
Others of Note
· University of Arkansas running back Peyton Hillis (6-foot, 240 pounds) looked very slow.
· University of Kentucky running back Rafael Little is a player that I really want to see more of. He was very good at times and equally as inept in some situations. His pass protection isn't very good, and he seemed like he wasn't sure of himself at times during seven-on-seven drills.
· I want to see more of Southern California running back Chauncey Washington's natural athleticism show through on a more consistent basis.
· West Virginia running back Owen Schmitt has all of the tools that I look for in an NFL fullback. He showed quality feet, didn't shy away from contact, has solid hands out of the backfield and only fudged one blitz pickup.
I'm probably going to anger a few draftniks, but I just don't get the love for Kansas State wideout Jordy Nelson. He seems to be a hardworking player, has great hands and a solid frame at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds. Where does he fit in with NFL clubs? He's not fast enough to outrun anyone, and he isn't tall enough to be a legitimate red zone threat, so where does he hold value? Unless he wows me at the 2008 NFL Scouting Combine next month, Nelson didn't show me enough to make him worth anything more than a fifth-round flier pick.
Oklahoma State wide receiver Adarius Bowman looked like he was the real deal and should translate well to the NFL. He has quality size at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, and showed more speed than I thought he had (not much more, though). Bowman ran solid routes and made a few tough catches along the sidelines. If he runs better at the combine than the 4.50 40 time that I figure he will post, he could start moving up draft boards over the course of the next few months. For now, I liken him to Baltimore Ravens wideout Demetrius Williams, which isn't all that bad of a comparison for you Bowman lovers out there.
There was no question in my mind that Louisiana State wideout Early Doucet (hamstring) separated himself from the pack, but he befell an injury to his hamstring Tuesday and didn't practice Wednesday. The South's head coach, 49ers head honcho Mike Nolan, said he wasn't sure what would happen to Doucet as the week winds down, but Doucet has bowed out of the game. The South team added Appalachian State receiver Dexter Jackson to their roster to replace Doucet. While healthy, Doucet ran crisp routes, caught the ball well and showed respectable open-field running - even on the questionable grass field at Fairhope Stadium. I think he would be a great fit in a West Coast offense, a system that requires receivers to run precise routes and gain yardage after the catch. The biggest fear here is that Doucet is battling his second injury in a matter of just a few months.
Others of Note
· California wideout Lavelle Hawkins hauled in four nice passes during Wednesday's practice and likely gained the attention of many in attendance.
· Eddie Royal, the Virginia Tech wide receiver, showed that he isn't just a return specialist by snagging a touchdown over Boston College defensive back DeJuan Tribble during Day 2's practice.
· University of New Mexico wide receiver Marcus Smith struggled catching passes and really didn't help himself much with his lackluster performance.
· Louisville wide receiver Harry Douglas looked average, at best, and really had me questioning his route-running ability.
Tennessee tight end Brad Cottam was impressive catching the ball, but much of that can likely be attributed to the quarterbacks not fully comprehending the complexity of Martz's system, albeit a "dumbed down" version. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? With the quarterbacks checking down regularly to Cottam, I questioned if they either didn't know the system well enough or if they were simply going through their progressions. If it is the latter, I may have to change my view a little bit on the situation. A little more investigation is required here, so I'll have to get back to you.
USC tight end Fred Davis continued to find a way to get open and, while not flashy, he impressed me all week long. I think he solidified himself as the No. 1 prospect at his position in a lot of minds.
Others of Note
· University of Missouri tight end Martin Rucker had a good showing and could creep his way up a few draft boards as the evaluation process churns along.
I liked the tenacity of miniature Newberry College offensive lineman Heath Benedict. He reminds me of San Francisco left tackle Joe Staley. However, I really don't know if Benedict translates to an offensive tackle in the NFL just yet.
Arkansas offensive guard Robert Felton was consistent and showed extra mobility that I didn't think he had.
Texas A&M center Cody Wallace looked really sharp during the Day 1 activities. However, he was up-and-down during the following days. Wallace is another player that I would like to see more of in terms of consistency.
Chris J. Williams, the massive offensive tackle from Vanderbilt, duked it out with Texas A&M defensive lineman Red Bryant in one of two Day 3 South squad fights. Bryant seemed to have instigated the skirmish, but it didn't last long before coaches separated the pair. Coach Nolan later joked that he wasn't sure how bright the guys were for throwing punches at each other's facemasks.
Others of Note
· USC offensive tackle Sam Baker didn't disappoint and further solidified himself as one of the premier offensive linemen available.
· Boston College offensive tackle Gosder Cherlius likely moved himself into a top-10 draft placement by living up to expectations.