Everything a player does in his collegiate career is scrutinized by NFL scouts and executives leading up to the NFL Draft, but it seems that in recent years the Senior Bowl has led to participating prospects’ draft stock “rising” or “falling” based on their performances in practices and the game. After all, it’s the most level playing field most of these prospects have seen in their career, as the game features the best of the best among seniors across the country. Players like Noah Spence, Carson Wentz and others were looking to improve or solidify their status as top players.
So which players helped or hurt themselves the most this week in Mobile, Alabama?
2016 NFL Draft “Risers”
EDGE Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky
Noah Spence’s Senior Bowl was one of the most anticipated among the participants this year, as he spent the last season at Eastern Kentucky after being dismissed from Ohio State following multiple failed drug tests. Throughout practices he routinely beat whoever was in front of him in one-on-one drills. Here, he embarrasses Texas Tech left tackle Le’Raven Clark.
During the game, Spence was unblockable—showing the ability to win both around the edge or with inside moves, converting speed to power and displaying heavy, violent hands.
Former Scout and NFL.com Columnist Daniel Jeremiah stated, “There’s a huge gap (between the defensive ends). There’s Noah Spence and then everyone else.”
Safety Darian Thompson, Boise State
Ohio State’s Tyvis Powell was the popular name leading into the week, but Boise State’s Darian Thompson was the most impressive defensive back throughout the week. Former NFL safety and BleacherReport Analyst tweeted that Thompson has a smooth backpedal, closes to the ball, is physical and finishes every play, noting that he liked his footwork and range for his 6’2” 215-pound frame.
Tony Pauline and Ian Rapoport reported that Thompson was one of three players that NFL scouts from multiple teams were raving about. During the game, Thompson was in on several plays, recording five tackles, breaking up a pair of passes and recording a special teams tackle while being named the North team’s MVP.
LB Deion Jones, LSU
Five years ago, a linebacker weighing in at 219 pounds would likely be asked to convert to safety. However, in today’s every-growing passing league that’s seen players like Telvin Smith and Kwon Alexander have success early despite weighing around 220 lbs, Deion Jones helped his draft stock by showing great instincts in coverage, sideline-to-sideline range and adequate strength to hold his ground against the run.
Jones impressed in practices, making a tackle for loss after shedding a block in a goal-line drill and made five tackles during the game.
DL Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech
Overshadowed by the big name defensive linemen from Power 5 schools heading into the Senior Bowl, Vernon Butler stood out all week, coming in at 6’4” 325 pounds with 34 1/8” arms at the weigh in before dominating in positional drills, 7-on-7’s and then during the game.
Here in practice, Butler uses an arm-over move to get into the backfield, allowing the linebacker to make the play.
NFL.com’s Chase Goodbread reported that scouts were “buzzing” about the disruptive big man.
2016 NFL Draft “Fallers”
LT Le’Raven Clark, Texas Tech
After being the talk of the weigh-ins where Le’Raven Clark came in at nearly 6’6” 312 pounds with 36 1/4” arms, Clark had a disappointing week of practices. While he has the physical tools to develop into a quality tackle, Clark has a long way to go in terms of development as he comes from an offensive system that didn’t ask him to do much in terms of pass protection or run blocking. Texas Tech’s “Air Raid” kept Clark in a two-point stance and the quick passing game made it so he was either cut-blocking defenders or didn’t have to sustain a pass set for more than a second or so.
Those issues showed up all week, as Shawn Oakman was really the only edge defender Clark was able to block. During the game, Noah Spence, Kyler Fackrell and others had their way with him.
Here’s Noah Spence beating him in a practice (top of screen).
— Buccaneers on Scout (@TBBucsOnScout) January 28, 2016
And here’s Fackrell abusing him during the game.
Kyler Fackrell abusing Le’Raven Clark here. pic.twitter.com/lxz8IWQ7Co
— Ethan Young (@NFLDrafter) January 31, 2016
DE Shawn Oakman, Baylor
While Shawn Oakman recorded two sacks (one of which was a clean-up) during the Senior Bowl, he showed up at the weigh-in weighing just 269 pounds while standing nearly 6’8”. During the game, Daniel Jeremiah noted that Oakman had some of the skinniest legs he’s ever seen among defensive players he’s scouting.
His lean lower-half causes a lot of issues, particularly in the run game where he doesn’t have the strength to set the edge and will often get moved off the ball—something you definitely don’t want happening from a man of Oakman’s size.
Nonetheless, Oakman’s size will keep him an enigma, but it was reported by several media members that teams that spoke with him wanted him to bulk up. At his current size, it’s hard to pinpoint a position for him, whether in a 4-3 or a 3-4 system.