Finding the Golden Ticket
The Senior Bowl is my favorite pre-draft analysis tool, especially when you get to see FCS and smaller school prospects match up against players from the SEC, Big Ten, and other power five conference programs. Players will get an opportunity to showcase their fundamental talents in front of NFL coaches all week, then compete in a full-speed tryout running real NFL offensive and defensive schemes. It’s a nice tool for scouts and evaluators, but it’s an even more valuable asset to a number of prospects looking to catch the eye of a coach or GM watching from above.
In 2015, an FCS running back by the name of David Johnson from Northern Iowa showed up and caught the eye of the Arizona Cardinals in Mobile; the rest is history. Johnson had over 2,100 total yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns in 2016 for the Cardinals, was an AP 1st Team All-Pro, and propelled many fantasy football owners to supremacy, ranking first overall in points.
The case may differ for a player like Clemson’s DeShaun Watson, who played the game of his life a mere several weeks ago against the perennial powerhouse Alabama Crimson Tide, a defense that is oozing with first round talent. Watson can afford to take a break and begin preparing for his pro day.
I mention a guy like Watson because these games aren’t for guys like him. He doesn’t have much more to prove in this sort of setting. The Senior Bowl is for guys like David Johnson, Ty Montgomery, Jamison Crowder, and Tyler Lockett, who all joined Johnson in having stellar second seasons in the NFL, and who all performed well and maximized their draft potential in the 2015 draft with good performances in the Senior Bowl.
There are more than a few interesting prospects in this year’s Senior Bowl that I believe can have the impact that the guys I mentioned above have had through their second seasons. It’s pretty obvious the Bills will need to find replacement players for the likes of Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, and Justin Hunter at the receiver position. When you combine that with the potential departures of linebacker Zach Brown, cornerback Stephon Gilmore, and pass rushing and special teams specialist Lorenzo Alexander, who led the team in sacks in 2016, you face the challenge of filling multiple crucial positions with young players in the draft.
When you combine the departures of key players and salary cap restrictions, you see the value of the Senior Bowl, especially to an organization like the Bills. Let’s take a look at a few guys on each squad (North and South) that you, the fans, will want to keep an eye on.
Nate Peterman – QB – Pittsburgh
Height: 6-3, Weight: 225, 2016 Stats: 13 games, 2,855 yards, 27 TDs, 7 INTs, 60.5 comp. %
Peterman is an interesting guy with his measurables. He ranked fourth in the nation in yards per completion with 15.42 and was seventh in the nation in yards per attempt with 9.33. This tells you a majority of Peterson’s throws were down field and not at the line of scrimmage or screen passes behind the line. His deep ball accuracy was evident in film during the regular season and has been on display all week at the Senior Bowl practices.
Pitt QB Nate Peterman to East Carolina WR Zay Jones. Thing of beauty. pic.twitter.com/aUhNlRx4gy
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) January 26, 2017
His ability to throw an accurate ball in the red zone makes me especially interested in the potential of him playing in Buffalo. He’s the kind of guy who has played in cold weather, having played in Pittsburgh. He looks the part and ran a more pro style offense than many of his counterparts. CBS Sports has his projected draft position somewhere in the fourth round, but after an outstanding performance in practice this week and a good showing Saturday, Peterman may find his stock on the rise.
Cooper Kupp – WR – Eastern Michigan
Height: 6’2, Weight: 198, 2016 Stats: 13 games, 117 rec, 1,700 yards, 17 TDs
Kupp is the most prolific pass catcher in college football history at any level, having amassed 6,464 career-receiving yards. He has tremendous patience, and route running footwork. He has a knack of finding the holes in a zone defense, which is a critical attribute to have as a receiver in the NFL.
Oh my Cooper Kupp. The Eastern Washington WR has been great this week pic.twitter.com/vWvOnm6Sj8
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) January 26, 2017
I like that he’s got experience playing in cold weather. He’s posted 100 or more receptions in three of his four collegiate seasons. He would appear to be the perfect slot receiver for Tyrod Taylor or whoever is calling the shots in 2017 to have as a security blanket. Kupp has also shown he can be a lethal downfield threat, which adds to the intrigue. Add all his collegiate success with a tremendous Senior Bowl thus far, and Kupp could find himself on the cusp of a first round selection. CBS Sports has him projected to come off the board in the second round.
Obi Melifonwu – S – Connecticut
Height: 6’4, Weight: 219, 2016 Stats: 12 games, 73 tackles, 4 INTs
Melifonwu is another guy turning heads at Senior Bowl practices. When he weighed in at just under than 220 pounds and measured 6’4, NFL evaluators and media members likely had a collective gasp. He’s a guy that played on a poor Connecticut team last season, but he has the ability to pay in the box and cover NFL tight ends.
Draft prediction: UConn safety Obi Melifonwu is going to be a first-round pick.
— Chris Trapasso (@ChrisTrapasso) January 25, 2017
UConn S Obi Melifonwu: Nobody who is 6’4″, 220 lbs should be able to move like him. Has the speed to cover the entire field.
— Erik Lambert (@ErikLambert1) January 26, 2017
He’s the kind of guy I’d love for the Bills to take a long look at if he’s still available in the second round, which looks to be a stretch at this point. He’s an ideal replacement if Aaron Williams can’t come back from injury in 2017 and would be a perfect guy to put up against some of the league’s best tight ends. CBS Sports currently has him projected to go between the third and fourth rounds, but he’s gotten a lot of hype early in the pre-draft process.
Taylor Moton – OT – Western Michigan
Height: 6’5, Weight: 330
Moton is big and has dominated at the mid-major level in the MAC conference. He was part of one of the best offensive lines in college football, according to Pro Football Focus. When he has gone up against slightly better competition thus far during Senior Bowl practice week, Moton has continued to shine.
Taylor Moton really establishing himself as a good offensive lineman today in senior bowl practice
— 2017 NFL Draft (@DraftRT) January 24, 2017
Taylor Moton still North best OL imo. That’s including Feeney
— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) January 25, 2017
The Bills are certainly in the market for an offensive lineman in the draft, but Moton may not fall to them in the second round and isn’t good enough to take with the 10th overall pick. He’d certainly be a nice addition, and I think a day one starter at RT for the Bills come Training Camp. CBS Sports has Moton projected in the second round, but don’t be surprised if he’s ultimately a late first rounder.
Amara Darboh – WR – Michigan
Height: 6’2, Weight: 215, 2016 Stats: 13 games, 57 rec, 862 yards, 7 TDs
Darboh, in my mind, could be a nice get for the Bills. Like Kupp, I believe Darboh may be better served playing in the slot. His precise route running and lack of top-end speed suggest he’ll make a living with underneath routes and beating defenders at the line of scrimmage.
— Rob Lowder (@Rob_Lowder) January 26, 2017
With a clear need at the receiver position it’ll be best to do your homework on a number of players at the position. There is certainly some talent, and you may see Doug Whaley choose two of them if the value is right. CBS Sports has him projected anywhere in the second or third round, so he’s someone to keep an eye on.
Davis Webb – QB – Cal
Height: 6’5, Weight: 229, 2016 Stats: 12 games, 4,295 yards, 37 TDs, 12 INTs, 61.6 comp. %
The Texas Tech transfer played out his senior season at Cal, where he enjoyed quite a year, statistically speaking. Maybe I’ll get killed for this, but I like his throwing motion and NFL arm talent more than 2016’s number one pick Jared Goff, who was Cal’s signal caller last season. He reminds me a lot of Nick Foles, except he can move around a little better. He has the ideal height and weight to play the quarterback position in the NFL.
Way early thoughts: Davis Webb has the best arm on the South roster.
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 24, 2017
Also 5:10 on @news4buffalo: With a lack of big name QBs at the Sr Bowl… is Davis Webb the hidden gem? We’ll hear from the Cal QB
— Josh Reed (@4JoshReed) January 25, 2017
Webb has real-deal arm talent. He can sling the rock all over the field and certainly has showed he isn’t afraid to make any throw on the field, no matter the size of the throwing lane. I think he could end up being the best passer in this draft and could end up being a steal for the team that takes a chance on him. But like his predecessor, the offense he ran at Cal was quarterback friendly and doesn’t translate well to the professional game. CBS Sports has Webb going somewhere between the fourth and fifth round, so he could very well be in play for the Bills.
Ben Boulware – ILB – Clemson
Height: 6’0, Weight: 236, 2016 Stats: 14 games, 58 tackles, 11.5 TFLs, 4 sacks, 1 INT
Boulware was the heart and soul of the National Championship Clemson team that fielded one of the country’s top defenses. He’s the sort of gritty leader that I think the Bills’ defense desperately needs and is the kind of guy I think would have tremendous success in Sean McDermott’s defensive system. With Zach Brown likely headed to the open market, the Bills are definitely in need of linebacker depth, especially on the inside.
— Josh Liskiewitz (@PFF_Josh) January 24, 2017
Although his height and weight are a concern at the next level, his athleticism and grit could make him a steal late in the draft. ESPN’s Todd McShay said of Boulware, “While concerns linger about his frame (6-foot, 235) and top-end speed, he has the instincts, toughness and motor to eventually develop into an NFL starter.” Where I think he could immediately help the Bills is on special teams, from which they’re likely going to lose the top-notch services of Lorenzo Alexander. I just really love Boulware’s blue-collar mentality and think he’d be a fan favorite in Buffalo almost immediately. CBS Sports has him projected in the seventh round or as a potential undrafted free agent.
Justin Evans – S – Texas A&M
Height: 6’0, Weight: 193, 2016 Stats: 13 games, 52 tackles, 5 TFLs, 4 INTs
Listed as CBS Sports’s top strong safety prospect, Evans is an intriguing prospect for the Bills in the second round if they choose not to address the safety position with the 10th pick. Evans spent a lot of time as a box defender in the SEC, which should translate well to the pro game, but I worry about his size going up against NFL linemen. It looks like he has the kind of body frame to put on some more muscle mass, but he’ll have to work hard in the gym if he wants to be an everyday NFL strong safety.
Justin Evans (S-A&M) is so underrated.
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 25, 2017
Injuries continue on South team – Gerald Everett, Ryan Anderson, Justin Evans, T. White, Rudy Ford all sidelined. #SeniorBowl
— Chris Brown (@ChrisBrownBills) January 26, 2017
Evans may get a look in the first round if a team falls in love with him, but his grade as a second rounder, to me, is an accurate one. He has shown a willingness to lay the lumber if a receiver goes over the middle, but he has also shown some hesitation going up against bigger, stronger offensive linemen in the SEC. CBS Sports has him going in the second or third round, so he could be an interesting name moving forward for the Bills.
Ryan Switzer – WR – North Carolina
Height: 5’9, Weight: 179, 2016 Stats: 13 games, 96 rec, 1,112 yards, 6 TDs
Switzer was one of my favorite players to watch in all of college football. Although he’s fairly small in size, he plays with a chip on his shoulder. He runs crisp, precise routes and can beat defenders at the next level with his speed and quickness, especially off the line of scrimmage. I love the idea of adding an underneath play maker on this Bills offense, and Switzer is the kind of player that would add some much needed big play potential.
#UNC WR Ryan Switzer leads all WRs in explosive movements. In Wednesday practice (80) he nearly doubled the next highest, Chad Williams (44)
— Reese’s Senior Bowl (@seniorbowl) January 26, 2017
Where I like Switzer to help the Bills immediately is in the return game. Switzer was one of the top return men in the country, and the Bills aren’t expected to retain their top return man from last season in Brandon Tate. CBS Sports has Switzer projected to go somewhere in the fifth round, and I’d love to see the Bills take a look at the North Carolina standout.
Conor McDermott – OT – UCLA
Height: 6’8, Weight: 305
McDermott has the measurables to be a terrific offensive tackle in the NFL. The former basketball player possesses the sort of arm length and foot speed that could make him an intriguing prospect on the right side. With some fundamental concerns, I just don’t see him being able to play the left side in the NFL, but that certainly could change.
Well hello Conor McDermott. Big rep here for the UCLA OT against Clemson’s Carlos Watkins pic.twitter.com/q4aM2fGxgM
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) January 26, 2017
The Bills have a huge hole at right tackle. With Jordan Mills likely heading to free agency and question marks with the availability of Seantrel Henderson, the Bills must, at some point in the draft or free agency, address the tackle position. CBS Sports has him going somewhere between the second and third round, so he’s a real possibility for a tackle needy team like the Bills.
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