MOBILE, Ala. — Anyone in the know — scouts, team execs, agents, media veterans — will tell you that the time to shine during Senior Bowl week is during the practice sessions on Tuesday through Thursday. The game on Saturday is of secondary value to players trying to bolster their draft stock.
During the three practice sessions, NFL coaches can test players in a multitude of various situations. It’s easy to put these draft-hopefuls in a power-on-power setting (there’s little better than watching two elite, first-round talents battle one-on-one), into drills where they should overpower or be consumed by an opponent (watching how a player reacts to a huge win or loss can tell a lot about a player’s mental makeup) or even place a guy in an unfamiliar situation. Watching a player learn or adjust on the fly can show an NFL team a tremendous amount.
Being able to construct these situations over and over, and in front of scouts and coaches from every team in the NFL, is one of the best scouting tools around. But what happens if a player under-performs during the Senior Bowl practice sessions? A quick fix to a bad week in practice can be a huge game-day showing.
Here are three SEC players that need to bring it big during the Senior Bowl on Saturday:
John Theus, OL — Georgia
Theus’ three practice sessions weren’t a total bust, he had his moments … but they came few and far between. Too often the former Bulldog was “burned” or “blown past” as was heard from various scouts and talent evaluators on the side of the field watching.
Eric Striker/Oklahoma just toasted John Theus on back to back plays.
— Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) January 26, 2016
Theus had a good day on Wednesday, but too many pass-rushers got the better of him on Tuesday and Thursday. He was a four-year starter at Georgia, which should give him the experience needed to overcome an iffy week by turning things up a notch on Saturday. A poor showing in the game could get NFL teams thinking his only viable pro position is at right tackle … and we all know left tackles make the money and grab the top draft slots.
Vadal Alexander, OL — LSU
One reason why offensive linemen make up the majority of this list can be attributed to the extremely high skill level of the defensive-line prospects at the Senior Bowl. There is some incredible pass-rushing talent in Mobile this week.
That’s still not an excuse, as talent is everywhere in the NFL.
Alexander had troubles on Tuesday and Wednesday and many defenders made the former LSU star stumble and look lousy. There’s also the issue of where Alexander will play in the NFL. He’s got experience at tackle and guard, but looked more like an interior lineman this week than anything.
Noah Spence needs to be in your 1st round mock. Vadal Alexander does not.
— Jeff Risdon (@JeffRisdon) January 28, 2016
Jake Coker, QB — Alabama
It was hard for any quarterback to get noticed with the supernova hot hype surrounding Carson Wentz of North Dakota State. Wentz backed up much of that hype and will leave Mobile in a much better place, from an NFL draft standpoint, than when he arrived.
The same can’t be said, yet, about Coker, who never looked bad, but wasn’t able to steal any of Wentz’ thunder. Some of that might be because the receiving talent isn’t all that high here at the Senior Bowl this year, but Coker must find a way to rise above that on Saturday.
Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott was called the best quarterback of Day 1 on an NFL Network broadcast, and many scouts named both Prescott and Arkansas’ Brandon Allen as passers who impressed even though their name wasn’t Wentz (yes, Wentz really was that big of a deal this week).
Coker needs to have one of those emergence moments on Saturday, somewhat like he did in Alabama’s game against Texas A&M this past season. He broke out of his shell and led the Crimson Tide to a national title starting with that win over the Aggies. Something similar needs to happen for him to shake this ‘could-be-good’ tab and turn it into a ‘must-draft’ moniker.