MOBILE, Ala. – Let the NFL Draft predictions begin.
The Senior Bowl is a time to recognize top players for standout performances in college. But the event also is a chance for NFL teams to receive an up-close look at what makes top prospects tick.
From observing practices to conducting one-on-one interviews, team representatives have ample time to discover more about players who pique their interest. It’s all part of an important discovery process before the NFL Draft begins on April 27.
On Wednesday, Pro Football Focus lead SEC writer Gordon McGuinness spoke with SEC Country at Ladd-Peebles Stadium about a number of SEC-related NFL Draft topics:
Who are intriguing under-the-radar SEC prospects?
“So a guy who I think has just turned up (Wednesday) is Robert Leff, the tackle from Auburn. He was our top-graded tackle in the SEC last year. Loved him on second-level blocks. He did a great job getting to the second level. Auburn averaged something ridiculous like 4.5 yards before contact on runs to the right side last year, so he did a tremendous job on that front.
“On the defensive side of the ball, Aarion Penton at Missouri, real interesting guy who did a really great job at breaking up passes last year. Very good at getting his hands on the ball. I think the reason why he’s probably not in the first-round mix is because he’s a little bit inconsistent. There were a few plays (Tuesday) during practice where he was grabbing onto guys and (he was) a little bit inconsistent. He’s definitely a guy who can have an impact.”
Who are some overrated SEC prospects?
“I don’t know if I would use the word ‘overrated,’ but Cam Robinson is going to be a very interesting guy to see where he gets drafted, because he’s very polarizing in the sense that if you’re looking for the traits that a left tackle has, he has them and displays them. If you sit down and watch his tape for about 15 minutes, you’ll see three or four plays and you’ll think, ‘This guy could be a top-five pick in the NFL Draft. He’s that good.’
“You then study him for a little bit longer, and there’s another four or five plays where he just makes a mental error or just makes a mistake. He’s a guy who I think if he goes to the right team with the right offensive line coach, he could be a very good prospect.”
What’s your overall read on the SEC’s talent entering the NFL Draft?
“I think it’s pretty good. I actually just wrote an article on ProFootballFocus.com about whether or not Alabama has chance to break the record for most guys to go in the first round this year. I think they’ll probably be right around the five-or-six mark. I think whether or not someone like Cam Robinson or Ryan Anderson maybe sneaks into the first round will be the difference in whether they can. But there’s a lot of talent with guys here from the SEC. Dalvin Tomlinson on the defensive line for Alabama is a guy who graded very well for us last year, did a very good job. So I think the SEC class is pretty deep.”
What goes into somebody becoming a surprise selection like Dak Prescott?
“The weird thing with Dak was that he graded OK for us, but there really wasn’t anything that made you think he was going to be a top rookie quarterback in the NFL. I guess NFL teams felt the same way, because he didn’t go until round four. So I think one of the things that is quite interesting – and it’s something that we’re interested to find as time goes on – is we get grades on guys based on how they played over the course of the year and how it balances out.
“It’s going to be interesting to see if what makes a good NFL player is a guy who has a lot of positive grades, and it doesn’t really matter how many negative grades he has because you can coach them out of them. Or (if) you better get a guy who’s more consistent. So I think a guy who’s a late-round guy but who did a lot of good work and it didn’t quite balance out with the negatives – that’s the kind of guy who can, with the right coaching, become a surprise package in the NFL.”
Do you think Alabama will break the single-year record for most first-round picks in the NFL Draft?
“I think it’s going to be close. I think when you look at the guys they have, I think (the players who) will definitely go in the first round are Jonathan Allen, almost definitely O.J. Howard, Tim Williams, Marlon Humphrey is a guy who I think could be up there. Cam Robinson, obviously. And then you’ve just got another couple of guys like Ryan Anderson and other top guys like that. You could easily have three guys who go in the top 10, 15 picks. So at that point, it just becomes about who goes off the board at other positions. They definitely have a chance to have six or seven guys go in the first round.”
Whose stock can improve the most at the Senior Bowl?
“I think Dalvin Tomlinson is a guy who was a little bit overshadowed by Jonathan Allen because of everything Allen could do, because (Allen) could kind of take over games. Tomlinson is just very solid across the board. Fantastic against the run, very tough to move. So he has a chance this week to kind of prove to people that he wasn’t just a byproduct of Jonathan Allen’s success.
“I don’t think he’s going to be able to push himself into the first round. But I think he’s a guy who could potentially go early second round as a big guy who’s kind of tough to move against the run.”