By Rob Staton
Before I start this review of yesterday's Senior Bowl, I want to qualify that I firmly believe you can only learn so much from a game like this. The event is a good opportunity to give the prospects some NFL level coaching, meet coaches and scouts and show what they can do. However, precious little of what happened yesterday has influenced my original thoughts during the 2009 season. There's absolutely no substitution for watching numerous games, studying the tape in detail in proper game scenarios.
Brandon Graham was the Senior Bowl MVP and he's getting a lot of attention because of it. I would have been more surprised with his performance if he hadn't done well. When you watch Michigan last year, clearly Graham is the stand-out performer on their entire team. Yesterday, he was going up against Ciron Black who isn't going to play tackle in the NFL. He's an interior project who is likely a late round pick at best. He's not athletic and nine times out of ten you'd expect Graham to win that battle.
He also came up against Selvish Capers - someone who probably doesn't get drafted in the first three rounds. When you watch Graham destroy Bryan Bulaga (a first round prospect) to the tune of two sacks and nine tackles during the season - you just expect the same to happen in Mobile against lesser opponents. All yesterday did was confirm what we knew - that Graham is a likely late first round pick for a team looking for a 3-4 outside rush. I had him going to San Diego in my latest mock draft and that would be a good move for both parties.
So what about Tim Tebow? He generated the most attention this week and yesterday was no different. It was a difficult afternoon for all the quarterbacks, but then they're under the most scrutiny and are working in unnatural situations - quickly learnt schemes, new receivers, new offensive lines. They're thrown in at the deep end. Tebow didn't look great, but I don't think his situation changes all that much. If a team felt they could mould him into a NFL starter before this week, they probably still do. Those teams will be in the minority of course, but as Tebow himself has stated often - he only needs one team to believe in him, not thirty-two.
Mike Iupati is someone who really caught my eye during the season. He worked out really well in Mobile, but during the game he struggled with leverage. Too often he was caught standing too tall, allowing the defensive lineman to get underneath and force him backwards. The combination of Dan Williams and Lamarr Houston really tested him at both guard positions. He's a huge guy, very athletic and he has all-pro potential. However - he needs to work on getting better leverage at the point of attack. He was ineffective in the run game yesterday.
Speaking of Williams and Houston - if anyone helped their stock significantly yesterday it's this pair. In a year when defensive lineman - particularly tackles - are going to go early and often, these two will be amongst the rush. Williams could play in a 3-4 or 4-3 system, but I think a team looking for that guy who can play the valuable nose tackle will take him early. Houston could be a mid-first rounder for 4-3 teams, you can see where both went in my latest mock draft.
LaGarrette Blount had a good performance. He'll get drafted at some point. The Oregon runner is best in a downhill running system that values power in the trenches. I'm not sure he's an ideal fit in the Gibbs system and for that reason - he's possibly unlikely to land in Seattle. But teams that run a man-blocking scheme will find some value in a power runner who hits the hole hard and fights for yardage. A proper power-back, unlike Jonathan Dwyer who's just out of shape.
I know Dexter McCluster had a good week, but I think yesterday showed up that he's still a later round pick rather than the hyped up 2nd-3rd rounder some were suggesting. That's Senior Bowl hype for you. He's playing in the 160lbs range and when he got levelled in the fourth quarter, coughed up a key fumble. People talk about using him as a Percy Harvin-esque receiver/runner/returner. My message to those people - go and watch Ole Miss from early 2009. They tried to force McCluster to be that all round threat and it backfired badly. He ran bad routes that led to some interceptions, he was ineffective - it helped put Snead in a slump from which he never recovered. When the Rebels reverted back to just using him as a pure runner, he had success. NFL scouts need to ask if they can trust a guy this small to carry a work load at running back and if not - he's a return guy. That's only worthy of a mid/late round pick.