MOBILE, Ala. -- With three days of practices wrapped at the Senior Bowl, it's worth taking a look at a few of the players who helped or hurt their cause this week. This is by no means a complete list -- it'd take a few pages for complete notes on everyone playing -- and in some cases, this may just be the media catching up to what those inside the NFL already knew.
Still, these are the players who stood out most.
Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State
Wentz was the class of the quarterbacks this week, which -- given the overall struggles of the group -- could be considered damning with faint praise. But even without the comparison, he stood out.
Wentz's throws were accurate and had a ton of zip, and he showed plenty of arm strength for downfield throws, even though his arm isn't better than NFL average. He is still healing from the wrist injury that took him out for two months during the season, but there was enough in his performance to indicate he's on track and will continue to look better.
Any concerns he couldn't perform against FBS talent seem to be unwarranted, given that he played well here. We'll get a better indication when the bullets start flying during the game on Saturday, but he certainly doesn't shy away from challenges or play scared.
Wentz also excelled in interviews both with teams and the media. The latter really shouldn't surprise, given he played (and won) two FCS Championships. Is he perfect? No. There are still questions about how he handles pressure, and he admits his footwork needs to be improved. Still, this was the first in-person look for most teams and media, and Wentz performed beyond expectations.
He came in with buzz that he might be a first-rounder in April's NFL draft. He left with buzz indicating he could be a top-10 pick in April.
Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State
Miller ended the week jawing with defensive backs who'd had enough of him, and that's a good indication that he won't be shy about contact and the physicality in the NFL. Miller's routes, footwork and hands caught eyes early, and he only seemed to get better as the week progressed.
For a guy who is still raw, has been playing the position for a grand total of about a year and didn't produce much in his senior year, Miller looked very good.
Of course, you do have to wonder why he didn't put up better numbers last season, as well as why he would occasionally disappear from the game plan. There are also concerns about whether he will fight through the small, nagging injuries every NFL player has to deal with. Thursday saw him pull up with some sort of calf injury or lower leg cramp, which won't do him any favors allaying that concern.
In his favor, though, is a willingness to do whatever coaches ask of him and a clear desire to improve. When the Cowboys staff spoke to him, he would quickly apply what they said in his next route. That may seem like an obvious thing, but a lot of players struggle with it.
Miller has a lot to work on, but with that comes upside. While sites like CBSSports.com had him getting picked in the second or third round in April, the talk this week was about him going as a firm second-rounder. You never want to overreact to one week, and there's an awful lot of process to go. He'll have to look good next to the top players -- all juniors -- at the NFL combine in February, but Miller has definitely captured some early momentum.
Matt Ioannidis, DL, Temple
Ioannides had a consistently strong week, catching the eye with a nice burst off the snap and the ability to consistently disrupt on passing downs. I'm really excited to see what he does this weekend during the game, when things are live.
Ioannides stood out from among a very solid group of defensive lineman on the North side, including Ohio State's Adolphus Washington, Penn State's Carl Nassib and Austin Johnson. That he was able to get our attention among that group is a great sign that there is something there. Certainly it's worth going back to the tape after this week and seeing what translates to game tape and delve into why some of what he did this week didn't.
Ioannides also has some versatility to him and might be able to kick inside to tackle if need be. That's always important in today's NFL.
Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky
Spence has a lot of questions about his off-the-field behavior, after he was dismissed from Ohio State because of issues with drugs, but he did a good job of meeting those questions head on in interviews this past week. He'd already talked about his addiction, so in some ways answering questions in Mobile isn't a big deal.
Handling it with teams though - and some reporters who will push harder than previous journalists have - is different, and it sounds like he made strides with teams in that area.
Of course, on the field he was a beast, and he kicked things off by having to be separated from Georgia tackle John Theus. Spence abused offensive linemen in one-on-one drills and was a problem coming off the edge. We'll see how he does on Saturday, as the practices the Jaguars ran were not as intense as they were with the Cowboys, but Spence the tape doesn't lie so we know what he is on the field.
Now it seems like he is winning people over off of it.
D.J. Reader, DT, Clemson
Reader was the only Clemson player in the trenches, so it was easy to know who you were looking at when you saw the orange helmet with a paw on it in the backfield. And it was something I saw frequently.
Given his weight -- he was the heaviest player in Mobile at 340 pounds -- you might be concerned he couldn't move well, but that wasn't the case. While he won't be breaking Chris Johnson's 4.24 40 time at the combine, he was quick enough off the snap to alleviate concerns. He destroyed just about everyone he faced in the run blocking drills and was a real force in the 9-on-7 drills as well.
Reader has been tabbed as a potential sixth-round pick, and the tape will still likely support that thought, but he could have a lot of teams going back to double check their work. There are certainly plenty of teams desperate for help stopping the run.
Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor
Oakman had an odd type of buzz coming into this week. He had supporters who really loved him and detractors who really didn't. There seemed to be no middle ground.
This week didn't give the former group a lot of supporting evidence in their favor.
Oakman has a very odd body type for his position -- he almost looks like a safety or defensive back. His lower body is underdeveloped for defensive end, which will have to be a focus in the weight room at the next level.
The former Bear was constantly sent to the ground and slow to get up during drills against the offensive line. When the play went away from him, Oakman repeatedly jogged after it while other players were giving full effort. For a guy who appears to have great speed and size, he was far too ineffective rep to rep. That reinforces what you see on his game tape, which is the complete opposite of what you want when you come to an All-Star game like this.
A good performance Saturday could help but his stock -- which already was sitting around the second or third round -- might continue to dive anyway. This was a poor outing for him.
Cody Kessler, QB, USC
While Wentz impressed and Stanford's Kevin Hogan and Louisiana Tech's Jeff Driskel were who we thought they were, Kessler continued to make us wonder what happened over the last four years at Southern Cal.
You see moments when Kessler looks the part -- sure presence in the pocket, comfort in a pro-style offense, good accuracy on shorter throws -- but there are far too many occasions when he struggles.
His biggest problem could be arm strength, especially when it comes to velocity. Kessler's ball floats too much (even on the shorter passes he excels at) and it's slow. While he got away with that more often than not at practice, he's going to be giving interceptions away like candy on Halloween against faster and savvier defensive backs in the NFL.
Kessler has been full of promise since he took over at USC in 2013, but he never really delivered on that promise. Sure, he had good numbers, especially under Steve Sarkisian, but it seems like a lot of that was scheme and the players around him.
We keep waiting for the day when Kessler takes his game to the next level, but that day never seems to arrive. It sure didn't in Mobile. Kessler is, at best, a backup quarterback, someone expected to go in the mid-to-late rounds. He had a chance to start building some momentum for a different outcome but fell short.
His physical limitations (weak arm) and how he reacts to pressure (not well) both hurt him this week and might knock his stock down further.
The South Quarterbacks
Yes, even local boy Jake Coker. The Alabama quarterback checks off a lot of boxes in terms of size and leadership, but his accuracy was shaky, his delivery looked a bit too long and while he was overall the best of the South quarterbacks, he didn't build off a solid end to the season with a good Senior Bowl week.
Day 3 was especially rough for the South quarterbacks, who threw multiple picks in a red-zone drill. While the drill itself favors the defense a little, passes from Arkansas' Brandon Allen, North Carolina State's Jacoby Brissett and Mississippi State's Dak Prescott were poor. Coker struggled a bit as well.
It's one thing to struggle early in the week, because you're not familiar with the receivers you have to throw to. It's another to still throw bad passes on the third day of practice. Especially troubling was the poor location on passes -- throwing to the wrong shoulder or too wide of the receiver.
Any one of these guys could have stood out if they had even played consistently average. Instead, they all fall under the heading of "wasted opportunity."
BONUS TUMBLER: Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State
At one point, another media member turned to me and said, "It's crazy that the guy that people -- teams and media -- talk the most about isn't even here." The buzz on Cook wasn't good, as is often the case when a potential top quarterback skips the Senior Bowl.
That's how you land on the "Tumbler" side of this list despite not showing up. Teams want you to compete, and want you to want to compete. It's not the end of the world, and there is a long way to go before the draft, so Cook can certainly recover with good performances at the combine, his pro day and private workouts.
Given the struggles by nearly every quarterback in Mobile this year, though, Cook missed a chance to give himself a leg up and maybe build some early distance on juniors like Cal's Jared Goff and Memphis' Paxton Lynch.