Takeaways From The Senior Bowl: Who Makes Sense?

Saturday’s Senior Bowl featured dozens of NFL hopefuls who looked to improve their draft stock over the past week. A handful of these players were first round locks (guys like Washington’s Danny Shelton), but the majority of them came into the week as Day 2 or Day 3 prospects, looking to stand out. I wasn’t able to watch the week’s practices, but here are some of the players, at positions the Jets and/or Giants may look to target in this year’s NFL Draft, who stood out during Saturday’s game.

Arie Kouandjio, OG, Alabama: Both the Jets and Giants could stand to improve their guard play, and Kouandjio was probably the best run-blocking guard out there today. From the left guard spot, he was able to seal defenders off to create running lanes for his backs, pull to the right side to act as a lead blocker there, or get to the second level. After South Carolina’s A.J. Cann, I think Kouandjio may be the second-best guard in this draft class. Tre Jackson from FSU and Max Garcia from Florida weren’t bad, either.

Steve Nelson, CB, Oregon State: Again, both New York City teams need to upgrade at corner, and Nelson provides a nice Day 2 or Day 3 option at the position. Nelson did a great job on Saturday, perfectly shadowing whoever he was told to cover. He did an especially good job matching up with potential first-rounder Sammie Coates. Quinten Rollins flashed good ball instincts, especially for someone who, this year, played his first organized football since high school, but Nelson was much more consistent.

Rob Havenstein, OT, Wisconsin: The big right tackle out of Wisconsin was an absolute vacuum today. He was terrific both as a pass blocker and a run blocker. He didn’t have any crushing blocks, but when his quarterback dropped back, he gave a clean pocket to work with; when his team ran behind him, the did a great job of sealing off defenders and making holes. Both the Giants and Jets could use him. T.J. Clemmings from Pittsburgh was good, too, but is already widely considered a first-round lock.

Donovan Smith, OT, Penn State: While Havenstein was a monster on the right side of the line for the North squad, Smith dominated on the left. He wasn’t perfect– there were a few times were he was beaten with speed on the edge. But there were even more times where he simply swallowed any pass-rusher that came his way. There aren’t many mid-round prospects who have a legitimate chance to be good starting left tackles in the NFL. Smith is one of them. Again, the Giants and Jets (yes, D’Brickashaw Ferguson is starting to hit the end of his career) could use him.

Nate Orchard, OLB, Utah: Orchard has been described as a tweener, caught between outside linebacker and defensive end, but after watching him play today, I see him as reminiscent of Anthony Barr, who went 9th overall to the Minnesota Vikings in last year’s draft. Barr was an elite pass-rusher at UCLA, just like Orchard was at Utah, but he played exceedingly well as 4-3 OLB in the NFL. I think Orchard is destined to play the same position. He showed great football instincts (FBIs), played with tremendous discipline, and did a great job of chasing down the ball in the open field. I think he profiles well as a weakside linebacker in the NFL. At worst, he’s a great special teams player. He fits well with the Giants.

Ladarius Gunter, DB, Miami (FL): I list Gunter as a defensive back here, as opposed to as a cornerback, because the traits he flashed today looked like those of a free safety. He didn’t show particularly great coverage skills, but he played like a true center fielder, flying to the ball either after the catch or in the run game. He’s got the FBIs to play safety at the next level, if he gets good coaching. New Jets’ head coach Todd Bowles helped Tryann Mathieu convert from corner to safety in the NFL with the Cardinals; I think he could do the same with Gunter, although Gunter would fit well with the Giants, too. Three pure safety who flashed positive traits: Penn State’s Adrian Amos, Arizona State’s Damarious Randall, and, from FCS school Samford, Jaquiski Tartt.

Nick Boyle, TE, Delaware: Coming in to the game, Boyle was known primarily as a a blocking tight end, and he blocked well tonight. But he showed off much more pass catching ability and athleticism than I thought he possessed. On his very first catch of the game, he hurdled clean over a would-be tackler to gain extra yards. He was active in the passing game all day. Though he doesn’t have the softest hands in the world, he could be a very nice number two tight end for either the Jets or Giants. Conversely, Clive Walford, who was known primarily as a pass-catching tight end, blocked well on Saturday, though he didn’t show off great hands during the game.

Hau’oli Kikaha, DE, Washington: The Giants won their two most recent Super Bowls off the strength of their pass rush. Now, it needs to be beefed up again. Kikaha is probably a pure hand-in-the-ground pass-rusher, and doesn’t offer much in the way of run defense for now, but he showed off a diverse array of effective moves to get to the QB, and was in the backfield a good amount of the time. He’s a fit for the Giants more than for the Jets. Deion Barnes out of Penn State wasn’t as good as Kikaha, but he disrupted the pocket a few times.

Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn: I’m cheating a little here, because Coates is a possible first round pick (though he’s more likely to go off the board on Day 2). But he really impressed me today. Going in to the game, I though of Coates as a burner, a straight speedster who didn’t have the ability to run short or intermediate routes. I was wrong. Aside from when Nelson was on him, Coates did a great job making breaks in his routes. In the first quarter, he ran a very crisp slant, where he showed great hands by plucking the ball out of the air from behind him; later in the game, he ran a really good fade route in the red zone, caught the ball at its high-point, but forgot the game was being played with NFL rules and only got one foot down in the end zone. You know he could have made the catch if he’d wanted to. He proved that he could do the things he hadn’t proved he could at Auburn. He would make a lot of sense for the Jets with their second round pick. Other receivers who impressed me today were Baylor’s Antwan Goodley and Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett (one of my favorite players).

Other Notes from the Senior Bowl:

– No QB really stood out, but of the ones there, I thought Bryce Petty showed the most upside; he’s a developmental quarterback, though, and wouldn’t fit with the QB-needy Jets.

– The running backs today were fantastic. David Johnson of Northern Iowa showed great patience, while Minnesota’s David Cobb and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah were both very explosive, with Cobb especially flashing great vision.

– I would have liked to see Ohio State receiver Devin Smith make more of an impact today than he did. 

– Colorado State OT Ty Sambrailo disappointed me; he looked really overwhelmed at times. Same went for Duke guard Laken Tomlinson, after what was supposedly a great week of practice. LSU’s La’el Collins, on the other hand, looked like a natural at left tackle, though he’ll like play on the right side at the next level.

– TCU CB Kevin White was really good in practice this week, and was solid in the game, too; just not as good as Nelson. Meanwhile, I think Texas’s Quandre Diggs could be a solid corner for Seattle, Atlanta, or Jacksonville, who all run defenses where a corner is responsible for shutting down a third of the field. Diggs showed on his interception on Saturday that he could do just that.

– Carl Davis, the Iowa DT, and Preston Smith, the Mississippi State DE, both had less of an impact than what most expected after strong weeks of practice. Neither played badly, but I expected more penetration from both guys. Neither established themselves as a first rounded, but are solidly in the early Round 2 mix.

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