Senior Bowl Game Report: Offensive Skill Positions

February 3, 2016

by Grumpy Lindsay

Nothin’ much to see here folks … let’s just move along … College all-star games are usually tough venues for the offensive skill position players. As a general rule, they don’t get many reps and for the most part are playing in unfamiliar systems. So what made this year’s Senior Bowl game somewhat unusual is that NFL personnel people saw pretty much what they were expecting to see – both the good and the bad – from the QBs, RBs, WRs and TEs in Mobile this year as there were really few surprises at these positions.

No doubt the most scrutinized player in Mobile last week was North Dakota State QB Carson Wentz who came to the Senior Bowl hoping to lock up at top 5 grade for the upcoming draft. And while he hardly put a lock on it, Wentz did nothing in the game to hurt his grade. True, Wentz’ stat sheet was hardly the stuff of legends as he completed 6 of ten passes for 50 yards, but he really didn’t get much help from his friends as he had 2-3 sure completions dropped, while he spent much of his quarter running for his life as the South defensive line generally overwhelmed the North offensive front. However, pro personnel people, especially those from teams like Cleveland, Dallas and San Francisco with big needs at the position and early picks, are going to like what they saw. Wentz is remarkable calm, cool and collected in the pocket; his feet are very quiet, he sees the field well and has a quick compact delivery; he also throws darts that for the most part were on the numbers. For good measure, Wentz is also very athletic for a QB, especially one 6-5 or so and 235 pounds; he’s moves around the pocket well and can run out of trouble when necessary.

One could, in fact, make a pretty good case that each of the 8 QBs in Mobile last week showed something in the game. That’s unusual because as noted the all-star format is hardly QB-friendly as they have to work with unfamiliar receivers in unfamiliar offensive schemes. At the same time, though, none of the other QBs in the Senior Bowl exactly blew anyone away as for the most part they were what they are. Dak Prescott of Mississippi State, who was named the game’s MVP after leading the South on a long TD drive late in the 2nd quarter, for example, moved well and showed the arm strength to fit the ball into some tight places, but he didn’t always read the field that well and should have had at least one Pass picked, while the TD pass itself was a poor throw behind his receiver who made a really nice catch off his hip. Meanwhile, Cody Kessler of USC, who came to the Senior Bowl with the rep of a solid game manager who lacks prototype arm strength, moved around well and did a nice job distributing the ball, but needed a full wind up to get the ball downfield.

In fact, all the QBs in Mobile showed good athleticism with the ability to escape trouble in the pocket as well as make the odd play with their legs. They also all showed pretty good arm strength, all of which added to the case that the 2016 draft appears to have a relatively large number of solid second-tier QBs who will be worth 3rd or 4th round picks as developmental type passers. Maybe, the one exception to that was Alabama’s Jake Coker, the local guy from Mobile who just didn’t seem quite as relaxed in the pocket as the others as his feet were bouncing all over the place and he didn’t seem quite as aware what was going on down the field.

If the all-star format isn’t usually kind to QBs, it can be downright frustrating for the RBs who never get enough touches to get into any kind of rythym. What one did see in the actual Senior Bowl game was a lot of quickness from backs like TCU’s Aaron Green, Tyler Ervin of San Jose State and Texas Tech’s DeAndre Washington. Green and Washington, in particular looked like they would be nice fits in a spread offense where their pass-receiving skills and make-you-miss abilities in space would be major assets. Meanwhile, the smurf-sized Ervin looks like he could find as a 3rd down receiver type back. Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon also showed a nice jump cut and ability to find the secondary hole, although he tended to go down a little easier than scouts would like to see from a 210-pound feature back. And continuing the theme of ‘it is what it is’ Alabama’s Kenyan Drake, the prototype complimentary back in college, showed a nice burst and the ability to break tackles in space, but ran a little tall and didn’t appear all that instinctive running between the tackles suggesting that he’d likely be more a complimentary back with return skills at the next level.

Given that the coverage rules in the Senior Bowl severely limit what DBs can do, it’s also tough to get a read on the WRs. However, Paul McRoberts of Southeast Missouri State and Baylor’s Jay Lee, a couple of somewhat unheralded guys coming into Mobile, both made a number of catches and if nothing else sent scouts back to their respective game tapes to see more. On the other hand, it was something of an up-and-down game for Cincinnati’s Chris Moore, who made a couple of nice catches, but dropped a couple more very catchable balls. It was also an up-and-down day for former Ohio State QB-turned-WR/slash Braxton Miller. Miller, who was voted the player of the week during the practice sessions, appeared to be maybe trying a little too hard as he dropped a pass and made some indecisive cuts running other plays when he maybe was looking for a big gainer rather than taking what was there. At the same time, though, one could see the swivel in the hips with Miller on a nice KO return and some other routes where the ball didn’t necessarily come his way.

TEs in all-star games tend be almost anonymous, but there were some noteworthy outings by players at the position in Mobile. Rangy Jerell Adams of South Carolina, for example, blocked better than advertised and showed soft hands and a real nice burst in space on a couple of underneath receptions. Ohio State’s Nick Vannett also had a very solid game, as did Iowa’s Henry Krieger-Coble, although the latter didn’t look very quick or fast. Meanwhile, Kansas State’s Glenn Gronkowski, the youngest of the Gronk crowd, did the family – and they were all there in on the sidelines in Mobile – proud as he was tough and physical drive blocking while he also contributed several receptions, including one big gainer in the seam.