'The NFL Beat': Scouting the Senior Bowl
The 'Chronicle' has it covered
By Alex Dunlap,
4:18PM, Fri. Jan. 27, 2012
This is "The NFL Beat" and I’ve spent the last week in Mobile, Ala., rubbing elbows with more than 800 NFL general managers, coaches, and scouts during Senior Bowl week.
Three Texas Longhorns will be playing in the all-star game Saturday afternoon, starting for the South defense. Emmanuel Acho is the “Mike” (middle) linebacker for the South squad and the obvious vocal leader on the defense. Most of the scouts I spoke with thought he was a little bit undersized, but were impressed with his athleticism and leadership ability. Kheeston Randall is making a name for himself at the nose tackle, but the obvious standout of the group is LB Keenan Robinson. Robinson is one of the best-looking physical specimens in Mobile this week, and has been impressive enough on the field to garner some serious attention. He interviewed with more than 20 NFL teams this week, and every scout I talked to could not say enough about his maturity, confidence, and demeanor. When we talked with Robinson, he told us he expected to be drafted in the late-first or early-second round of this year’s NFL draft, and I think that is an appropriate estimation.
Texas A&M Aggie WR Jeff Fuller has met this week with the Oakland Raiders, the Seattle Seahawks, and the Carolina Panthers. Fuller had a disappointing follow-up to his breakout junior year as a senior in 2012, and we found out why. Fuller was not healthy this season. His “strained” hamstring was a major issue, requiring weekly draining of fluid from the area starting in two-a-days. After week six, he added a turf toe to the mix.
We spoke with Dallas Cowboys Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan about their needs in the 2012 draft, and his sentiment was very clear. “I’m only looking at DBs. Nothing else. DBs.” It is evident that the Cowboys’ defensive backfield has become a major liability. We will not be seeing a repeat of the 2011 season in 2012, when 10 of 11 defensive starters returned for the Cowboys. One player that Rob Ryan covets is Iowa State cornerback Leonard Johnson. He is a stout corner who looks a little bit more like a safety, but has terrific ball skills and electric speed as a kick returner. If he is available in the third round, look for LJ to have a star on his helmet next season in Dallas.
In speaking with the agent of uber-talented North Carolina WR Dwight Jones, I have learned that Jones is coveted by our own Houston Texans as a possible compliment to Andre Johnson. Jones is an unusually long 6’3”, 225-pound receiver with a knack for running tough routes and creating mismatches in zone coverage. He reminds me a lot of Marques Colston, but Dwight told me he likes to think of himself as an Andre Johnson-type. Jacoby Jones was re-upped for three years this summer, but Kevin Walter is getting old and the contracts of Andre Davis and David Anderson are expiring. If he does not go to the Jets at pick 16 as an eventual replacement for Plaxico Burress, look for the Texans to pull the trigger on Dwight Jones at the end of the first round.
We had the distinct pleasure of speaking at length with award-winning NFL writer and senior editor for the Cleveland Browns Vic Carucci regarding former Longhorn Colt McCoy and the general state of the Browns headed into 2012. Carucci believes it is the sentiment of the organization that Colt was beginning to turn the corner and play more aggressively at the time he was injured against the Steelers. He believes that Colt will indeed come in as the starter for Cleveland in 2012, and he reminded us that there is generally a three-year learning curve for QBs transitioning to the West Coast system they are currently running in Cleveland.
Baylor RB Terrance Ganaway has had a pedestrian week of practices, but his body of work in college has been enough to gain the attention of several scouts. The team you see keying in on Ganaway the most is the Oakland Raiders. In speaking with the Raiders director of college scouting, we learned that the Raiders would love to be able to keep RB Michael Bush on board as a compliment to the electric but injury-prone Darren McFadden, but it is not necessarily reasonable. Bush will command a huge new contract after his impressive 2012 season filling in for McFadden, and the Raiders are very happy with rookie RB Taiwan Jones. The Raiders do not pick until the third round in 2012, and if they are not able to retain Bush, I believe they will look long and hard at Ganaway who is a very similar runner. Other than that, the Raiders will be targeting LBs as the club seems to have become somewhat disenchanted with former first-round pick Rolando McClain’s off-the-field issues and lackluster performance.
Former Westlake Chaparral and University of Arizona QB Nick Foles had a tough week of practices. While he is the tallest and most NFL-ready-looking QB of either squad, most every scout I spoke with was concerned with the same two major issues: arm strength and mobility. He came into the Senior Bowl with billing as the possible third QB taken off the board after Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, but I don’t think this week helped in that endeavor. Foles has shown he can improve with time, though and I am rooting for him like crazy. He improved every year in most every category while in college and I am hoping for the same gradual transition to the NFL level.
The most impressive player at the Senior Bowl is North Carolina DE Quinton Coples. He is a devastating pass rusher who is all of 6’7” and 315 pounds. He has arms like an octopus and is an absolute disruptive force along the defensive line. He is unstoppable and I would be amazed to see the Julius Peppers clone slip out of the Top 10 picks with the premium that teams are now putting on elite pass rushers.
The least impressive player (for me) was Boise State QB Kellen Moore. I was excited to see him after his dazzling college career, but he is looking more and more to be the product of a great system. His arm strength is suspect at best, his delivery is as sloppy as his footwork. At this point, I think he will be a sixth or seventh round pick.
The biggest surprise of this week (for me) was Michigan DL Mike Martin. The former wrestler is a little shorter than you would like, but this 320-pound beast does not have an ounce of fat on his body and looks like a small bear. He uses his leverage impeccably and speaks like a man with 10 degrees from 10 different institutions of higher learning. He is a pleasure to watch, a pleasure to speak with, and an absolute nightmare to line up against.