The NFL Draft evaluation period is ramping up this week with Senior Bowl practices under way. Practices at the Senior Bowl are often well-attended by NFL scouts and draft personnel, more so than the actual game (which, by the way, will be this Saturday at 5pm PT on NFL Network).
Practice?!?! We talkin' ‘bout practice, man?!?! Practice?
Yes, we're talking about practice.
Real game situations are limited by both lack of practice time and defensive restrictions. Defenses are only allowed to line up in a 4-3 front and cannot blitz. It's impossible to get a feel for how good a player is or can be during a game that's not really a game.
So coaches (NFL coaches mind you - Atlanta's Mike Smith will coach the North team and Jacksonville's Gus Bradley will coach the South team.) make practice rather demanding to get the most out of the players during the week they're on display. This gives scouts a chance to see how ‘coachable' some players are and if they respond well to technique changes.
Take last year for example. Eric Fisher (No. 1 overall) and game MVP E.J. Manual (No. 16 overall) used a solid week of practice at last year's Senior Bowl to vault them to the top of the draft in Fisher's case or into the first round in Manual's case.
Still, while scouts and draft personnel value their first up close look at these prospects, a player's film and individual interviews will factor more into scouts' opinions. And don't forget the ultimate NFL meat-market, the NFL Draft Combine, is next month.
Considering the needs of the 49ers here are some seniors generating buzz at this week's practices:
Robert Herron, Wyoming: Herron is a 5-10, 186lbs speedster that really opened some eyes on the first day of practice. In fact, Fox Sports' Coy Wire reported that Steelers scout Kevin Colbert said Herron was the most impressive receiver at the Senior Bowl.
Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt: Matthews, a prospect sure to be high on the scouting radar for the 49ers, struggled out of the gate on Monday dropping a few passes. He rebounded nicely and was consistently one of the better receivers on Tuesday. He isn't a burner and lacks a quick burst which could lead to problems separating from NFL defenders. His plus route running and solid technique could make him a fine number two receiver in NFL but I'm not sure he's a first rounder like some have predicted.
Keith McGill, Utah: The tallest corner in the draft at 6-3, McGill has tremendous upside. He's played some safety in college but excelled at corner. He's quick and fluid enough to stick with smaller receivers and physical enough to matchup with the big ones. Taller corners are becoming more and more popular and McGill may be the best of the bunch in this year's draft class.
Marqueston Huff, Wyoming: NFL's Gil Brandt has been on Huff for sometime and scouts have apparently been raving about him so far. Huff has sub 4.4 speed and played both safety and corner at Wyoming. His athleticism and coverage skills could vault him into round three or better.
My @SeniorBowl scout called and raved about player I've been talking about for some time. Keep eye on Wyoming CB Marqueston Huff.— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) January 21, 2014
Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois: the small-school safety made his mark in one on one drills and showed he is an above average tackler as well. He's a bit small at 5-11, 191lbs so I'm not sure he fits the 49ers' mold of big, hard-hitting safeties. His coverage skills, however, are what make him a solid mid round prospect.
Deone Bucannon, Washington State: Bucannon's best trait will probably not be on display this week. That's because Bucannon is probably the biggest, most violent tackling safety in this class. He's no slouch in coverage either as he consistently locked down tight ends and receivers this week. Bucannon is likely a late first round or early second round pick and is probably squarely on the 49ers' radar.
Interior offensive line:
G Cyril Richardson, Baylor: At 6-4, 334lbs Richardson has ideal size for a power run attack. Richardson isn't the most athletic big man and has been suspect in pass blocking. Conversely, he might be one of the most powerful guards in the draft and is an excellent run blocker. Richardson could play either left or right guard although I think he'd fit best at right guard.
C Weston Righburg, Colorado State: Richburg came into this week looking to prove he's the top center in the draft. He may have done just that. Richburg impressed with explosion of the line and excellent power and handwork. Richburg also consistently beat top interior defensive linemen like Aaron Donald and Ra'Shede Hageman in one on one drills.
To keep up with the rest of the week of practices check out Dan Kadar and SB Nation's coverage.
We'll be back on Friday with a full week recap and then again on Saturday with a few players to watch during the game.