The NFL draft is no longer just a weekend event that happens on the Eve of Summer. It’s a process that consumes its most loyal and even some casual fans 365 days a year.
You could argue the NFL draft process begins at the first kickoff each season in August, but if we’re being honest — and more respectful to the college football season — the process really starts to hit its stride at the Reese’s Senior Bowl.
The Senior Bowl is a great way for NFL scouts to gather information and accomplish a few goals. The first is to get updated, accurate measurements of some of the top prospects in the class. Schools will often list their players and inch or two taller or a few pounds heavier on their official websites to flatter their guys, so this is a good way to check the validity of that. The next is to get these big-name players some exposure to not only new competition but new coaching too. It allows scouts, and the NFL staffs who coach them all week, to evaluate how each player deals with new concepts, new terminology and an overall unfamiliar learning environment.
What’s important to note is that performances during Senior Bowl week should not be a base for scouting; they should act as a complement. If a player shows certain traits in his game film, scout want to see those same traits in person in this hands-on environment. If a player has an off week in certain areas of their game, maybe that’s a sign for scouts to go back and examine his tape more carefully or with a different perspective.
With that said, here are a few SEC players who seem to have had their perception shifted up or down from sources in Mobile, Ala. and from people who tend to know how NFL teams evaluate players.
Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama
Ragland is known as a feared inside linebacker. But this week he decided to show scouts a different side of his game, coming off the edge as an outside linebacker.
Getting away from your bread-and-butter during a job interview can be a risky decision, but I think this one really helped Ragland. Anytime you can prove you’re a five-tool asset instead of just a three-tool one, you’re doing yourself a favor as a prospect. Mike Mayock of NFL Network called Ragland a top-10 pick during the broadcast, and added his ability to play multiple roles is what locks him in the top half of the draft.
Even his head coach Nick Saban supported the decision.
“I’m sure it intrigued, especially 3-4 people, to see him play outside, but I think the more diversity you have, the more value you have,” said Saban.
Jordan Jenkins, OLB, Georgia
Jenkins was a winner in both the measurements and for his performance this past week. He came in at 257 pounds with 82-inch arms, which, for a pass-rushing defensive end, is quite ideal. He’s not a polished pass-rusher, but the explosiveness is there. He was generating some buzz from more than a few people.
As a guy who watched a lot of UGA tape this year, he was always a guy I kept waiting to see pop out of my screen, but never did consistently. However, after this week, I think scouts took notice of a guy they can really mold. His outlook is higher today.
— Chase Goodbread (@ChaseGoodbread) January 26, 2016
Jerell Adams, TE, South Carolina
Adams has never recorded more than 30 receptions in a season. In fact, he only had more than three receptions in a game twice in 2015. But, last week coaches saw a guy who could be effective in the passing game, and they made sure to test Adams in every way they could.
Separation is key for any kind of player receiving a pass whether it’s a wide out, a tight end or a running back. The video below was just one of the handful of times Adams showed his ability to gain separation while being covered. They even used him on a tight end screen, according to a few reports I read. After the Senior Bowl, I expect scouts to chalk up his lackluster stats to sub-par quarterback play. Sounds like they see a guy who can not only line up at tight end, but a mismatch in the slot or near the sideline as well.
Jake Coker, QB, Alabama
Coker came into the Senior Bowl fresh off being crowned a national champion. But, as we’ve seen many times before, that doesn’t mean the NFL has to love you.
Such is the case for Jake Coker. He measured in at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, but that’s about all he could boast in terms of the “eye test” you read some scouts talk about. When it came to the drills and performances, Coker, as he has all year, was a hair slow when reacting to coverages, and took added time getting the ball out of his hand with a longer motion (which is expected for a guy that big). The consensus at the end of the week was that Coker looked the part, but didn’t play it.
Kenyan Drake, RB, Alabama
Drake is a dynamic player and will find himself on an NFL roster if nothing else but for special teams purposes. But in order to earn playing time on offense, you have to be able to protect the quarterback with some sort of consistency. Drake simply does not do that well enough to be trusted right now. He’s a smaller back, which already puts him at a disadvantage, and he’s also vulnerable to basic pass rushing-moves.
— SEC Country (@seccountry) January 26, 2016
— UGA Football Live (@UGAfootballLive) January 26, 2016
All of that is very easy for me to criticize behind my computer, but it’s the truth. The two things that will get you on the bench the quickest if you’re a running back are fumbles and blown blocking assignments. Drake didn’t look great in the blocking category this week.
Deion Jones, LB(?), LSU
Deion Jones is a wild card for me because, though most of what I’ve read say he impressed everyone who coached him, he came in as a 219-pound linebacker. That’s very thin for a guy playing outside linebacker, a position that consistently has players take on offensive lineman who are 300 pounds or heavier.
This leads me to think, if people were emphasizing that his speed and athleticism were as impressive as any safety throughout the week, is a box safety (a strong safety who primarily lines up in the box with the linebackers in blitzing or run-stopping situations) his best position in the NFL? How much more weight could he keep on his body? Because if it’s not another solid 20-30 pounds, his transition as a linebacker might not be maximizing what he does best.
Just my take from a guy who has the talent to play, but could be used in a unique way.