FIU’s Jonathan Cyprien (far right) pursues Duke WR Conner Vernon (center)
With the college football season in the rear view mirror and NFL staffs continuing to work on their draft plans, the Senior Bowl is a great opportunity to get a final look at prospects in a competitive environment before April’s draft.
I spent the week in Mobile, Ala. to check out both the North and South squads practice and to see who stood out.
Here are my four key takeaways from this week’s Senior Bowl practices:
- Homegrown Talent: Although the overall numbers from the state of Florida were down, there were a couple of high-impact senior prospects from the Sunshine State in Mobile. The player that stood out the most, in my opinion, was FIU safety Jonathan Cyprien, a local product from North Miami Beach High School. He’s an all-around type of player because he can defend the pass well, he has great recovery speed, plays center field and tackles well in the open field. I believe that he’ll make a positive impact, no matter where he’s drafted in April. A couple of others with Florida ties that had a nice week: Florida State’s EJ Manuel, who was accurate and put better velocity on the ball than people give him credit for; Florida running back Mike Gillislee, who reminded me a little bit of Reggie Bush; and Duke’s Conner Vernon, who played his high school ball at Gulliver Prep. He has every trait that Wes Welker possesses and didn’t drop any that pass that came his way this week.
- Wide Receiver Talent: The sure-handed Vernon wasn’t the only receiver that caught my eye at the Senior Bowl practice. I like the way Louisiana Tech’s Quinton Patton stretched the field. And not only was he able to beat you with his speed, but when he got behind defensive backs he consistently caught the ball. Kansas State’s Chris Harper is probably more of a slot receiver, lacking the elite speed needed to play on the edge, but he was just as consistent as Vernon when it came to catching the ball . The only thing that worries me about Harper is being able to separate enough at the next level, but I have not doubt about his ability to make catches when the ball comes his way.
- Pressure From The Edge: When it comes to bringing the heat, there were a couple of players that caught my eye. LSU’s Lavar Edwards and Clemson’s Malachi Goodman were two guys that rushed the passer with a nice blend of speed and power. Another standout performer: Georgia’s Cornelius Washington, who had two really strong days but was slowed by a left leg injury on Wednesday. When he was at 100 percent, it looked like he could really get to the quarterback, as well. Two players too look out for on the North’s squad are Illinois defensive end Micheal Buchanan (7.5 sacks in 2012) and Texas’ Alex Okafor, who recorded an impressive 4.5 sacks in the Longhorns’ 31-27 Alamo Bowl win over Oregon State. If you’re looking for an inside push, North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams was impressive, as was UCLA’s Datone Jones.
- Putting on the GM Hat: If I had the luxury of being a general manager and was continuing to put together a draft board, I would have highlighted the following prospects from this week’s Senior Bowl practices: RB Mike Gillislee, Florida; WR Conner Vernon, Duke; T Xavier Nixon, Florida; LB Zaviar Gooden, Missouri; DB Jonathan Cyprien, Florida International; S TJ McDonald, USC; CB Phillip Thomas, Fresno State; CB Jamar Taylor, Boise St.