Upwardly Mobile

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Upwardly Mobile by Warren DeLuca

The Senior Bowl is one of the most important postseason, pre-draft events each year. NFL scouts, coaches and personnel men converge on Mobile, Alabama to see some of the top prospects face off against each other in both the game and the preceding practices, and to observe how the players respond to coaching from NFL staffs. Some players in previous years, such as Philips Rivers in 2004, have taken full advantage of their Senior Bowl opportunities to elevate their draft stock.

Neil Stratton of Inside the League was in Mobile for this year’s Senior Bowl events and he shared his thoughts with us.

HPF: Did you notice or hear whispers of the Texans’ contingent showing an interest in any players in particular?

Stratton: Scouts and team officials always play such a shell game that it’s hard to figure out what’s a true read and what’s not. I know this: they have a lot of places to address on defense, and in Mobile, they saw a handful of good cornerbacks, some interesting defensive end/linebacker types and a lot of good defensive linemen. On offense, there were 2-3 tackles who rate a first-day look and probably the same number of guards.

HPF: By all reports, LSU defensive lineman Marcus Spears helped himself quite a bit last week. What do you think of Spears, and at what point in the draft do you expect him to be taken?

Stratton: Spears had his ups and downs this season, but he picked a great time to have a big week. He’s a mammoth athletic talent, and right now we have him slated to go somewhere after the middle of the first round (specifically, No. 23 to Seattle in our latest mock draft). He’s got the size/speed combination to be a success in nearly any scheme.

HPF: How well do you think USC’s D-linemen, Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson, would fit into a 3-4 defense like the Texans run?

Stratton: Patterson was virtually unblockable in Mobile and you had to love his motor and his consummate knowledge of defensive line play, but at under 6-0 and 300 pounds, he probably lacks the frame to play up front in the 3-4. I think Cody makes a lot more sense from a physical standpoint, though there’s some doubt about where exactly he fits along the line. He played outside for the Trojans but strictly inside in Mobile and didn’t seem entirely comfortable there (he relied almost strictly on a spin move to get separation, which some teams really frown on and see mainly as a college move).

HPF: Troy State rush end Demarcus Ware also appeared to have a strong week in Mobile. Do you think he can play outside linebacker in a 3-4, and where will he be drafted?

Stratton: We still have him rated as a first-rounder, but Ware looks more like a feast-or-famine player to me. He’s not especially big (a ripped 247 pounds, but he got pushed around on the edge when asked to try to rip/swim offensive tackles on the edge) and may have trouble getting the corner on the next level. Then again, if he gets just a little stronger and can adapt well in space, he could be a Pat Swilling-type guy.

HPF: What about the other "tweeners" in the game, such as Bill Swancutt of Oregon State, Matt Roth of Iowa, Trent Cole of Cincinnati, and George Gause of South Carolina?

Stratton: I’d rank them Roth, Gause, Swancutt and Cole, in that order. I expected Roth to have a big week and he didn’t disappoint. Gause surprised me a bit; he was nails as a freshman, kind of fell off the last few years, but looked good in Alabama. I think Swancutt, based on his athleticism (he was used to catch passes on fake field goals at OSU) and speed-rushing skills, could be a real sleeper as an end/linebacker type. Cole, I think, is still learning, but was really making strides late in the week. So, as I said, there were several defensive linemen who were impressive.

HPF: What do you think will be Michigan’s David Baas‘ best pro position – guard or center?

Stratton: I think his best bet is at center. He looked good there in his reps at the position last week, it’s an easy transition from guard, and with respect to his draft status, it’s a thin year for centers and he’s likely to have higher standing there.

HPF: What other players made a strong impression on you, from either a positive or negative standpoint?

Stratton: Among positives, I liked Oklahoma State CB Darrent Williams, Georgia WR Fred Gibson, Fresno State OG/OT Logan Mankins, Roth, and Spears. Among negatives, the old saw is that you only help yourself, not hurt yourself, in all-star games. With that said, I thought UNLV SS Jamaal Brimmer, Mississippi St. OT David Stewart, and Arkansas QB Matt Jones really looked out of sorts. I know a lot of people made a big deal out of Jones in the national media, but believe me, he dogged it a lot and didn’t seem real eager when he had the chance to run routes and line up at tight end. He has exciting possibilities, but scouts won’t forget that.

HPF: Former Florida State and Arena Football League quarterback Adrian McPherson wasn’t eligible to play in the game, but he was in Mobile last week to meet with NFL teams. What’s your assessment of McPherson?

Stratton: I think a team that takes McPherson late (sixth or seventh round) has a high reward and low risk; he’s got a lot of spark to his play and may be the next Ronald Curry (Oakland WR who played QB at North Carolina). Take him too much higher than that, and you’re taking a chance because he’s not a very finished quarterback.

HPF: There have been some rumblings that the talent level in the Senior Bowl is not what it once was. Do you agree with that, and if so, what do you think they can do about it? Do you think we’ll see underclassmen that have declared for the draft playing in the game in the future?

Stratton: I don’t think there’s any question that the talent level was down this year; at times, the North team looked like it had about as many impact players as you’d find at the bus station. With that said, I don’t see any changes in the way the Senior Bowl will do things, since they’ll continue to get the best seniors available (there will still be 10-12 first-rounders that come out of this year’s game). As for the other games, I think things could definitely change, especially with how competitive the all-star games have become for talent. The East-West Shrine Game, for example, took Louisiana Tech RB Ryan Moats this year, who was a junior early entry. That’s probably going to continue.

Inside the League is an information service for football professionals and fans alike, tracking the players through the season, all-star games, workouts, and the draft. Neil Stratton is president of Inside the League. He began the service after four years as senior writer for Lone Star Football, a now-defunct NFL draft publication. Stratton has appeared on radio shows all over the nation, contributed to numerous publications, and is the draft expert for KFFL.com.

We thank Neil for his insight.

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