2014 Senior Bowl: What to Watch For

Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz — and the safeties he will be going up against — should be on the Buffalo Bills’ draft radar at the Senior Bowl. (Photo: Jesse Johnson — USA Today Sports)

BBD Editor: Dan Hope

If you’re excited for the 2014 NFL Draft, then you ought to pay attention this week as more than 100 of the nation’s top seniors seek to impress NFL coaches, executives and scouts at the 2014 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

Here at Buffalo Bills Draft, we will bring you practice observations, weigh-in notes and notable quotes in full recaps of each of the first three days of action.

For live analysis from Mobile throughout the next three days, you can also follow me on Twitter. What will I, and more importantly NFL decision-makers, be looking for during the next three days?

Accurate measurables

Weigh-ins kick off Senior Bowl week on Monday morning, and while it might not seem like a particularly enticing part of the evaluation, it carries significant importance.

If you’ve ever wondered why I incessantly include the source of each player’s listed height and weight in articles, it’s because those listed measurables from colleges’ official websites often prove to be inaccurate. While an inch or two or a difference of 5-10 pounds shouldn’t make or break a player’s too draft stock, it can certainly take away perceived scouting positives or raise red flags about how a player’s game will translate to the next level.

Players with something to prove in Monday’s weigh-ins include Wisconsin inside linebacker Chris Borland, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton, who all have the overcome the stigma of being short for their positions.

On the other end of the spectrum, players like Tennessee’s Daniel McCullers and Mississippi State’s Gabe Jackson can show that they truly are as big as they are listed, but also need to show that they carry their weight well.

Quarterbacks with a real chance to impress

The quarterbacks at this year’s Senior Bowl are far from the game’s most overall talented position group. That said, all six players have at least the developmental potential to be NFL starters, though none are sure bets to ever have that chance.

Regardless of the consensus evaluations of their talents, the spotlight of the Senior Bowl almost always falls upon the performance of its quarterbacks (or in the cases of players like Alabama’s AJ McCarron, their decision not to attend).

This year will certainly be an important year for the six quarterbacks playing in the game, however, as there are could be anywhere from five to seven teams looking for quarterbacks in the first or second rounds of this year’s draft. One of those could be the Jacksonville Jaguars, who will be coaching the South squad in this year’s game.

All three quarterbacks on the South team — Fresno State’s Derek Carr, San Jose State’s David Fales and Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo — are early-round possibilities.

Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, Miami’s Stephen Morris and Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas have not developed into the potential first-round picks they were once expected to become, but the three North quarterbacks all have promising physical tools. With a strong week, any of the three could make a team become enamored and draft him relatively early.

One-on-one matchups

Though they might not necessarily be the most practical drills in terms of how they translate to actual football games, the one-on-one drills are often the most useful tools for evaluation during Senior Bowl practices.

From offensive linemen versus defensive linemen to skill-position passing and blocking drills versus linebackers and defensive backs, the head-to-head competition provides a useful means of comparison to determine which prospects are the best among the group.

While every repetition counts as long as scouts are watching, matchups of particular interest could include:

Jeff Janis, WR, Saginaw Valley State vs. Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska and Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood - Janis has great size (listed at 6’3”, 218 lbs by Saginaw Valley State’s official athletics website) and was very productive at the Division II level, but he will be tested against tough competition when he goes up against Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Pierre Desir, arguably the two best tall cornerbacks in the 2014 draft class.

C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa vs. Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois - Fiedorowicz is a big tight end who is both a reliable receiver and strong blocker, but improving his draft stock in Mobile comes down to whether he shows he can make plays as a downfield receiver. He will have a good test in Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward, who has a chance at the Senior Bowl to establish himself as the 2014 draft’s third-best safety.

Billy Turner, OT, North Dakota State vs. Dee Ford, DE, Auburn - Billy Turner has a chance to establish himself this week as a top-three offensive tackle in the draft class, but if he is going to do so, he needs to dominate in pass protection. He should have a number of matchups from the South squad’s pass-rushers, including explosive Auburn edge defender Dee Ford, who can challenge him in that capacity this week

Cyril Richardson, G, Baylor vs. Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota - Richardson and Hageman will be one of the top matchups to watch in the trenches when they line up against one another. Both players have great combinations of size, athleticism and power for their position, and each is trying to establish himself as a first-round pick in this year’s draft.

Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas vs. Daniel McCullers, DT, Tennessee - The South squad’s offensive line is arguably the strongest position group on either team in this game, but the spotlight could especially be on Travis Swanson, who is the projected top center in this year’s drat class.

He should face a number of interior defensive linemen who can challenge his prowess this week, but possibly none more imposing than Tennessee’s Daniel McCullers. A mammoth who needs to “win” his weigh-in, McCullers who has enormous size and can be a challenge for any center to handle one-on-one.

Potential Bills targets?

If you’re reading this post as a Bills fan, then your most pressing question is probably of which Senior Bowl prospects Buffalo is likely to have their eye on.

While we cannot read into the minds of the Bills’ decision-makers, we can pinpoint some prospects who would make sense to address areas on the Buffalo roster where improvement is needed. While the No. 9 overall pick is unlikely to come out of the Senior Bowl, some strong Day 2 or early Day 3 possibilities could include Richardson, Fiedorowicz, Ward and Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews.

Developmental options later in the draft could include Morris, Thomas, Fresno State tight end Marcel Jensen and Wisconsin running back James White.

Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, 2014 Senior Bowl, Potential Bills, Senior Bowl, What to Watch For

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