Three Questions For The Senior Bowl
By Bill Lund
The 2014 Reese's Senior Bowl is just around the corner, and it is the first opportunity for some of the nation's best prospects to increase their draft stock in the eyes of every GM, coach and scout in the NFL.
1. Which quarterback will will increase his draft stock the most?
With A.J. McCarron choosing to skip the Senior Bowl, the six quarterbacks players who have accepted the invitation to play all have something to prove. Tajh Boyd, Steven Morris and Logan Thomas will be taking snaps for the North squad. Each prospect has his respective pros and cons. Morris may have the most NFL-ready tools, while Boyd has shown he is dangerous as a runner and a proven winner, and Logan Thomas hopes to improve his stock after a lackluster season. David Fales and Derek Carr, rivals in the Mountain West, are together leading the South squad. Both Fales and Carr have been on NFL radars the last two seasons. Carr has a strong arm and athletic ability, but he must show he has consistent mechanics in the pocket, while Fales maybe the diamond in the rough. Fales played this season without his top two receivers and still produced. And then there's Jimmy Garoppolo, the quarterback from Eastern Illinois, who claimed McCarron's spot and looks to build on a strong showing in Saturday's East-West Shrine Game, in which he was the East squad's Offensive Player of the Game. Out of all the talent in Mobile, Garoppolo, Carr and Fales have the best chance at separating themselves from this pack.
2. Who will establish themselves as the best pass rusher in the senior bowl?
Khalil Mack chose to skip the Senior Bowl knowing he is a sure-fire first rounder. These next seven prospects are hoping to show they can be an edge terror at the next level:
* Trent Murphy, DE, Stanford: He was a consensus All-American, who led the nation with 14 sacks in 2013.
* Kareem Martin,DE, UNC: He comes from a line of pass rushing Tar Heels who have produced in the NFL (like Robert Quinn, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year). Martin was an All-ACC first team selection who had 20 tackles for loss along with 11 sacks.
* Dee Ford, DE, Auburn: A tweener who could be an OLB at the next level. Ford performed at a a high level in the ultra-talented SEC, recording 12.5 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks.
* Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU: Mentioned as a first rounder at the start of the 2013 season, his performance dipped. But a strong showing against some of the best may put him back in the mix.
* Michael Sam, DE/OLB, Missouri: Another tweener with a huge motor. Sam was a Walter Camp first team All-American and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, who finished with 10.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss.
* Marcus Smith, OLB, Louisville: A Walter Camp second team All-American who finished with 16.5 tackles for a loss and 12.5 sacks, which was second in the nation.
* Jeremiah Attaochu, OLB, Georgia Tech: Attaochu may be the least-known prospect to fans, but he could be the most intriguing to scouts. A tweener playing mostly DE this season, he had 27 career sacks, ranking him third among active FBS players.
In a league where pass rushing prowess is a premium, these seven candidates look to be the best of a talented field in Mobile.
3. Can Jordan Matthews rise high enough to be the first wide receiver drafted?
Matthews was the primary playmaker for Vanderbilt most of his career. Even when he commanded bracketed coverages, he still excelled in the tough SEC. Matthews has great size and ball skills. At 6-foot-3 and 206 pounds, Matthews has the tools teams look for when trying to find a Calvin Johnson-type player. With Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and Marqise Lee being underclassmen, Matthews has the large Senior Bowl stage to himself to make his case as the best receiver in the draft.