By Jeff Risdon
I’m live here in Mobile soaking up all the practice action and checking out what teams are talking with what players in the hotel lobbies. Here are some observations on who has done very well the first two days of practice.
Eric Fisher, T, Central Michigan--The rangy North offensive tackle has often looked dominant, stoning all comers with a great blend of quick feet and upper body strength. I have some concerns about his technique in handling power, as he tends to try and absorb with his upper body instead of using his lower body strength, but Fisher has been very impressive.
Alex Okafor, DE, Texas--Okafor has proven a real handful in pass rush drills during North practices. There is legit violence to his hand usage, and he coordinates his movement well. In talking with some scouts and coaches, Okafor is a player that is going to get drafted higher than most people believe.
Jordan Poyer, CB Oregon State--One of my top-rated corners heading here, Poyer has not disappointed. His performance in the jam drills have been outstanding, showing excellent mirror skills and the ability to sink his hips and put a real jolt into the receivers. He has made a couple of athletic plays on the ball in the air and consistently displays excellent spatial and ball awareness. Those latter commodities are what separate good from great, and he’s got it.
Leon McFadden, CB, San Diego State--McFadden is another corner that has a very savvy awareness and has shown very good ball skills. He’s built a little more compactly than a lot of corners, with a bit of a bubble butt, but he uses his frame well. McFadden is another guy who is going to get drafted higher than most people expect come April.
Quinton Patton, WR, Louisiana Tech--The South wideout really put on an exhibition in Tuesday practice. He flashed a little of everything you want in a receiver: speed, hands, footwork, strength, football IQ. I was seated in front of a team contingency who were peppering one of their scouts with questions about how Patton played at LaTech, clearly tantalized by what they were seeing.
Vance McDonald, TE, Rice--NFL teams are looking for tight ends with the size and strength to line up tight and the speed to get deep in the seam. McDonald showed both during Tuesday’s South practice, making an athletic catch over his shoulder after blowing past the safety down the field. His open field burst is a cut above all the other tight ends here.
Datone Jones, DE, UCLA--Jones is the player who has given Fisher the most trouble in pass rush drills because he has quick, powerful hands and knows how to use them. He explodes from his stance with controlled force and can win either inside or outside. Jones was also one of the clear winners of the weigh-in, and he plays like the Tarzan his body portends.
Marc Anthony, CB, California--Anthony is a very savvy, long corner who has shown a real acumen for making plays on the ball in the air and excellent instincts. He is not blessed with great speed but he doesn’t rely on speed to be a good corner.
Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas--The quarterback group here carries great intrigue and name recognition with fans, and thus far Tyler Wilson has been the clear-cut best. He’s more athletic than many expected and has shown the ability to process information quickly and react on the fly. The arm strength is very good and his feel for proper velocity and touch blows away his South compatriots.
David Quessenberry, OL, San Jose State--He has looked very technically sound and comfortable playing both guard spots even though he’s naturally a tackle. I’ve been very impressed with his natural bend and how well he recovers quickly if he gets beaten initially. That’s a quality that is underrated, because everyone gets beat; how a player handles it on the fly is critical to success. An AFC North team has been impressed as well.
Some general notes:
There is a rush to report what players are meeting with what teams, particularly in the crush of humanity on the field immediately after practice. Yet, I’ve been told by two different people who would know that you should look for the exact opposite and pay attention to which players are being ignored by a team. Pretty much every player will meet with pretty much every team here in some capacity.
Some players have pulled out due to injury. USM LB Jamie Collins, Texas A&M WR Ryan Swope, and Tennessee OL Dallas Thomas all missed South practice on Tuesday. This was very disappointing for Collins, a player I believed was really going to shine here and make the rest of the football world aware of how good a player he is. It’s not fair, but I can tell you from experience that teams have a subconscious downgrading of players that cannot participate even with valid injuries.
News of Sean Payton’s reinstatement was met with a collective yawn. I can tell you that other coaches are not-so-privately thrilled at his new contract extension and how the Saints really disappointed in his absence. They feel it proves that coaching really matters. Payton will be at practices on Wednesday and he is always popular amongst the coaching fraternity in the stands.
Two players who rebuffed coming to the Senior Bowl that made poor decisions in doing so are North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper and Wisconsin RB Montee Ball. NFL talent evaluators have expressed disappointment in their absence, and they perceive it as those players being afraid of the competition. That may or may not be accurate, but whoever is advising the upper echelon players to skip coming to the Senior Bowl is doing a disservice to them. The other players on the “Refused to Come” list: Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro, West Virginia QB Geno Smith, Notre Dame LB Manti Te’o (whose reason is pretty obvious), Alabama G Chance Warmack, and Utah DT Star Lotulelei.