2014 Senior Bowl: Saturday Standouts and Disappointments

While Logan Thomas and the other quarterbacks struggled in Saturday’s Senior Bowl, Auburn pass-rusher Dee Ford teed off on the North squad. (Photo: Derick E. Hingle — USA Today Sports)

BBD Editor: Dan Hope

Though the 2014 NFL Draft is still more than three months away, Saturday’s Senior Bowl was the last opportunity to watch any top prospects take the field in a fully-padded, 60-minute football game.

The game itself was only one part of the evaluation process that took place this week in Mobile, Ala., and the Senior Bowl itself is just a small part of each participating player’s evaluation. Still, the game gave each prospect playing in it a chance to stand out.

A strong performance Saturday meant little to any prospect who didn’t show the same ability in actual college football games and in Senior Bowl practices earlier this week. A few players, however, further proved their ability from strong collegiate careers and standout practices by making big plays on gameday.

Dee Ford, DE, Auburn

Dee Ford was a clear-cut choice as the MVP of this year’s Senior Bowl. The Auburn pass-rusher continued to show the same explosion he did all week in practices, and wreaked havoc off the edge to lead the South squad’s defensive effort.

Ford was so good on Saturday that by the game’s last play, the North was triple-team blocking him to keep him off the quarterback. He consistently exposed the North squad’s offensive tackles outside by anticipating the snap, coming off the line of scrimmage with outstanding burst to speed and then dipping and bending his way to taking down the quarterback.

Ford had the equivalent of three sacks, recording two while drawing a hold on what would have been another sack. He broke up a pass in the backfield and brought heavy pressure on another play to force a throw-away.

If it wasn’t clear already, Ford proved this week that he is one of the most explosive pass-rushers in the 2014 NFL draft class.

There are some concerns about his size and strength after he weighed in at just 6’2” and 243 pounds this week, and getting run through by Toledo running back David Fluellen on a tackle attempt in space in this game didn’t help his cause. But his athleticism just to get there, six yards upfield out at the right sideline, is what should ultimately make Ford a first- or second-round pick.

Crockett Gillmore had a shorter opportunity to impress NFL scouts than most Senior Bowl participants this week, but he took advantage of the time he had. (Photo: John David Mercer — USA Today Sports)

Crockett Gillmore, TE, Colorado State

A late addition to the Senior Bowl after Fresno State’s Marcel Jensen went down with a groin injury, Colorado State tight end Crockett Gillmore did not partake in his practice until Wednesday. But although his window of opportunity to impress was shorter than most of the other prospects in the game, he was able to make up for lost time.

Gillmore’s athleticism and receiving ability was immediately on display from his first practice Wednesday, and it continued to be Saturday, a game in which he led all players with five receptions for 61 yards, including a 17-yard catch-and-run touchdown.

Having measured in at 6’5” and 263 pounds earlier this week, Gillmore proved himself as a big receiving target over the middle of the field, but who also runs solid routes. He is a better receiver than a blocker at this point, but he has shown significant upside between his collegiate career, the Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl.

In a top-heavy crop of tight ends, Gillmore could turn out to be a Day 3 steal.

Chris Borland, ILB, Wisconsin

Even though he had a quiet second half, Wisconsin inside linebacker Chris Borland deserves recognition for putting a fine stamp on a week that was arguably the best of any prospect in Mobile.

Borland might not stand tall at only 5’11”, but his play stands out. It wasn’t hard to tell when he was on the field in this game, because he was consistently around the ball.

He made a number of strong run stops around the line of scrimmage, including one on which he popped Georgia Southern running back Jerick McKinnon hard enough to knock the ball out of his hands and force a fumble that was recovered by the offense, but resulted in a seven-yard loss. Borland could also be seen around the ball on multiple occasions on special teams coverage units.

After a very productive career for the Badgers, Borland made it clear this week that despite his subpar measurables, he deserves to be a top-50 draft selection. He is a well-rounded linebacker with great instincts, who hits hard, can play on all three downs and make an immediate impact at the next level.

More Impressive Players

Wisconsin running back James White was named the North team’s Most Outstanding Player for this game. He looked strong running the ball both inside and outside the tackles, gaining 61 yards on 11 carries.

The highlight of his day was a goal-to-go touchdown on which he received a pitch to the left side, then stiff-armed Arkansas defensive end Chris Smith on his way to the end zone. One of the more underrated but well-rounded running backs in this year’s draft class, someone should get a solid player by drafting White on Day 3.

Speaking of Chris Smith, that play and an offsides penalty were the lowlights of an otherwise very impressive day for the Razorbacks pass-rusher. Like Ford, Smith exposed the North’s offensive tackles on multiple occasions with his outside speed rushes. He did not record any sacks, but impacted plays throughout the game, including a leaping pass deflection over Miami right tackle Seantrel Henderson on the first series of the game.

Alabama wide receiver Kevin Norwood was named the South team’s Most Outstanding Player. That seems like a pretty ridiculous designation after Dee Ford won MVP, but nonetheless, he had a solid game, catching four passes for 53 yards.

His day was highlighted by a 24-yard touchdown on which he got wide open, but he also showed his ability to quickly accelerate and gain extra yards off a few short passes. He missed an opportunity for an even bigger play, however, when he hesitated on a 55-yard deep ball over the middle by Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr; had he committed fully to the deep pass, he could have caught it and likely ran for a 75-yard touchdown.

Norwood, who had an inconsistent week catching the ball and might not have the explosive athleticism for his game to translate to the next level, was also intercepted when he attempted to throw on a double-pass play.

Princeton defensive tackle Caraun Reid was not great all game, but he finished off a great week strong when he had back-to-back sacks on a third-quarter sequence.

There were a number of cornerbacks who made big plays in Saturday’s game, which featured five interceptions, but the best among them might have been Auburn’s Chris Davis. He was solid in coverage throughout the game and made an interception by establishing inside position on Troy wide receiver Eric Thomas on a pass into coverage by Miami quarterback Stephen Morris.

Stanford fullback Ryan Hewitt showed his versatility in Saturday’s game. He ran the ball three times for 11 yards, caught two passes for 11 yards, made some solid lead blocks on the ground and contributed a special teams.

While the above players all made themselves look good on Saturday, a few others struggled in the spotlight.

Jack Mewhort, OT, Ohio State

Though Jack Mewhort had a great senior season as Ohio State’s left tackle, he has been exposed by outside speed rushers in each of his last two times on the field for game action.

Against Clemson in the Orange Bowl, Mewhort looked completely overmatched against pass-rusher Vic Beasley, who beat Mewhort on numerous occasions with his speed and finished the game with four tackles for loss. Playing at right tackle in the Senior Bowl, Mewhort continued to have problems. He was beaten twice around the edge by Dee Ford on one series, resulting in a holding penalty and a sack. Another SEC speed rusher, Chris Smith, also gave Mewhort with his burst and speed off the edge.

Mewhort rarely loses a battle when he gets his hands on an opponent, but his issues with kicking out quickly enough to handle explosive edge rushers have become evident. He has the potential to be a great NFL guard, but he might not be able to hold up on the outside of an NFL offensive line.

He wasn’t the only offensive tackle to have this problem Saturday. Clemson’s Brandon Thomas gave up pressures to both Ford and Smith. Like Mewhort, he is not well suited to play at left tackle as he did in this game, but has the potential to be a very good guard.

While Mewhort and Thomas were the victims of the explosion of Ford and Smith on Saturday, they frequently beat North Dakota State’s Billy Turner around the edge during the week of South team practices. Lined up at right tackle for most of Saturday’s game, he was beaten badly on another speed rush by Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, further corroborating the thought that the might also be best suited to kick inside to guard.

Quarterbacks

As was the case throughout the week of practices, Saturday was not a good day for the Senior Bowl’s quarterbacks.

The exception all week to the poor play of the position has been Fresno State’s Derek Carr, the only one of the group considered to be a potential first-round pick. Carr did not exactly stand out at any point this week, but he was solid throughout in terms of his accuracy, decision-making and mechanics. He completed seven of 11 passing attempts for 45 yards and a touchdown Saturday.

San Jose State’s David Fales never showed much at any point this week to quell concerns about his limited arm strength, but he was arguably the best quarterback in the game. He had a couple of big-time throws, first on a rolling downfield throw under heavy pressure to hit wide-open Kevin Norwood for a 24-yard touchdown, then later on a precise deep ball up the right sideline to connect with Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews for a 33-yard catch against tight coverage.

In total, Fales completed six of seven passing attempts for 104 yards, but was intercepted by Utah State cornerback Nevin Lawson on a hanging throw, in part affected by a hit from Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

There wasn’t much good to take away from the other four quarterbacks Saturday.

Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo showed some physical tools, but never quite looked comfortable in an up-and-down week against top competition. While he puts no shortage of velocity on his passes, touch proved to be a problem Saturday as he simply too much mustard on overthrowing a number of his receivers.

Miami quarterback Stephen Morris had a rough day in Saturday’s Senior Bowl. (Photo: John David Mercer — USA Today Sports)

There wasn’t much good to say about the North quarterbacks all week, and that remained true Saturday.

Erratic in his accuracy all season, that continued to be the case for Miami’s Stephen Morris on Saturday. He completely missed on a number of throws, including one in which Wisconsin tight end Jacob Pedersen was as open as could be. He also threw two interceptions in this game: One was not his fault, as Michigan State wide receiver Bennie Fowler fell on the break of his comeback route, but the other was simply a bad throw into double coverage.

Clemson’s Tajh Boyd showed a serious lack of touch on his downfield passing, was intercepted on a throw into double coverage and had multiple passes tipped at the line of scrimmage. He completed just seven of 16 passing attempts for 31 yards.

Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas saw the least playing time of the three quarterbacks Sunday, but was as sacked as many times (four) as he completed passes. He goes down much too easily for a 6’6”, 250-pound quarterback who should be able to run through more contact. As a passer, there was no meaningful evaluation to be taken away from Thomas’ game as he did not have any opportunities to throw the ball deep.

Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, 2014 Senior Bowl, Brandon Thomas, Caraun Reid, Chris Borland, Chris Davis, Chris Smith, Crockett Gillmore, David Fales, Dee Ford, Derek Carr, Jack Mewhort, James White, Jimmy Garoppolo, Kevin Norwood, Logan Thomas, Ryan Hewitt, Senior Bowl, Stephen Morris, Tajh Boyd

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