By Russ Lande
MOBILE, Ala. -- Senior Bowl practices are complete, so the only thing left is to watch the game on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. central time. It is important not to place too much weight on a player's performances this week as many have struggled or shined at the Senior Bowl and then performed drastically differently when they played in the NFL. With that said, below is a breakdown of eight players that had the most problems during the week of practice in Mobile (listed in alphabetical order).
Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
With the success of Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Ryan Tannehill, mobile passers are all the rage in the NFL and Boyd came here trying to prove he can be the next one. Unfortunately, things clearly did not go as planned. His athleticism was readily apparent and he displayed the arm strength to make every NFL throw with ease, but struggled greatly with accuracy all week. While quarterbacks often have similar issues at the Senior Bowl since they're playing with receivers they've never practiced with before, they do usually improve each day as they become more comfortable with each other -- but Boyd did not do this. Combining what I saw on film during the season with what Boyd did in Mobile, I think he will likely end up being a third day draft choice.
Will Clarke, DE, West Virginia
After a strong week of practice at the East-West Shrine Game led to a Senior Bowl invite, Clarke was not able to maintain the same level of production going against the more talented offensive tackles he faced in Mobile. His foot quickness still showed up in his initial burst off the ball, but he had a hard time maintaining focus on the snap as he jumped offsides in drills more than once. More of an issue, though, was his ability to pressure the quarterback. When he tried to speed rush, he struggled to maintain balance as he tried to turn the corner and was either ridden around the pocket or pushed off his feet. Too often he popped upright at the snap when he tried to beat the offensive tackle with pass rush moves and this left his chest wide open -- once the pass blocker got their hands on him, he could not get free and the play was over. His performance this week makes me believe that he will be a fifth or sixth round draft pick by a team that plays a 3-4 defense and wants to try him as an outside linebacker.
David Fales, QB, San Jose State
Perhaps the player I was most disappointed in this week is Fales. He's outstanding in so many areas that if he had a good showing in Mobile he could have been a much higher draft pick. He is an extremely smart quarterback who does a great job of identifying the defense, making quick decisions and getting the ball to the correct receiver fast. However, this week in practice the slight hitch he showed on film looked even worse live and it really slowed up his release quickness. In addition, his passes lacked zip coming out of his hand (It actually looked like he was pushing the ball rather than throwing it) and tended to float in the air on the way to the receiver. Fales' performance this week places him in the group of passers who have all the mental attributes and intangibles of a starting NFL quarterback, but lack the arm strength. And while everyone will say "then he can just improve his arm strength," the reality is that the list of elite college quarterbacks who had the same issue and never overcame it is long -- Greg McElroy, Tim Rattay, Graham Harrell, Kellen Moore and Ken Dorsey to name a few -- which is why I believe Fales will be a late round selection.
Cody Hoffman, WR, BYU
The week started out well for Hoffman as he definitely looked the part of the prototypical big NFL receiver during the weigh-in when he checked in at 6-foot-4 and 218 pounds. However, once he got on the practice field, his lack of quickness, athleticism and speed became apparent. At the snap of the ball, Hoffman did not show the burst to get separation from defenders. He also displayed stiffness, which greatly hindered his route running. Although he has the size and showed off good hands throughout the week, his athletic limitations will likely lead to him being a late round pick at best and possibly even going undrafted.
Gabe Ikard, C, Oklahoma
I was surprised when Ikard was invited to participate in the Senior Bowl after watching his unimpressive practice at the East-West Game the week. Unfortunately, he was not able to improve his level of production given the opportunity. His lack of size led to him being driven backwards by bull rushers and stood up and stopped in his tracks on run blocks. His lack of athleticism hindered his ability to adjust in time to handle quick, change of direction pass rush moves. Based on what I saw this week in Mobile, I do not feel Ikard will be drafted before the late rounds of the draft, if he is drafted at all.
Jack Mewhort, OT/OG, Ohio State
While evaluating Mewhort during his career at Ohio State I thought he was an underrated player who would shine in Mobile, but unfortunately he had a much tougher time of things this week. When lining up at right tackle, he struggled to kick-slide out in time to get to the turn point and too often was chasing the pass rusher around the corner trying to ride/push him past the quarterback. Not only did Mewhort have problems with speed rushers, but his ability to sink hips and pass block with leverage limited his strength, which allowed power rushers to jolt and drive him backwards too easily. After two rough days at offensive tackle, the coaches moved him inside to guard during Wednesday's practice and he performed much better when he did not have to protect the edge and battle the premier athletes he did on the outside. After a disappointing week, Mewhort is not likely to be selected until the third day of the draft, but performing better at guard proved to NFL teams that he has the versatility to be at worst a five position backup in the NFL, which definitely helps his value.
Trent Murphy, DE, Stanford
In recent seasons, Stanford pass rushers Chase Thomas and Thomas Keiser, who were both better players in college than Murphy, ended up going undrafted, so Murphy had a lot to prove this week to avoid the same fate. However, things did not end well. Murphy -- who's not all that big - didn't prove that he has the explosiveness to threaten the corner as a speed rusher and lacks the agility to change directions and beat the pass blocker back underneath. To compound his problems, Murphy lacks the playing strength to free up from blockers once they get their hands on him and he can be driven off the ball too easily by run blocks. After his week in Mobile, I think Murphy could be a late-round selection, but will more likely go undrafted.
Michael Sam, DE/OLB, Missouri
As one of the leading sackers and tackle for loss guys in the nation this season, Sam came to Mobile with a chance to impress and put himself in position to be a first round pick, but after his play this week I think he is more likely to be a third day pick than a first rounder. Although he no doubt has the size and strength to play strong at the point of attack and be a good run defender, he is lacking in nearly every other area. He did not show the burst and speed to threaten the corner as an edge rusher and lacks the quickness, agility and balance to change directions fast to defeat pass blocks with a variety of moves. More than anything, Sam looked like a stiff, try-hard defender who lacks the athleticism to play off the ball as a linebacker and does not have the explosiveness off the ball to be an impact pass rushing defensive end.
* * *
Russ Lande writes about college scouting and the NFL draft for Sports on Earth. He is GM jr. scouting and college scouting director for the CFL's Montreal Alouettes and the Big 10 Network. He is a former scout for the Cleveland Browns and former scouting administrator for the St. Louis Rams. You can follow him@RUSSLANDE.