Checking in from the Senior Bowl..

Thumbs Up

-to Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher, who won the award for best overall practice player. Fisher was a top 25 certainty heading to Mobile, but his oft-dominant performances rocketed his prominence and will almost certainly make him the second tackle off the board and a top 15 lock. Not only was he very good on the field, he exhibited a legit nastiness and genuine confidence that endeared him to many scouts. In reading some accounts you would think he did no wrong. That’s over-reactionary hyperbole from irresponsible amateurs who are ignoring his real issues with some technique, but there is no doubt Eric Fisher had a fantastic week and made himself a lot of money.

-to the increased organization and formality of the Senior Bowl organizers. There was a lot more structure to the interview availability process instead of the random hodgepodge tradition of accosting players as they exited a room or wandered across the 2nd floor of the host hotel. The color-coded credentials were a nice implementation, allowing quicker recognition of who was media, NFL, agent, or organizer. The attention to details all over the events of the week made the Senior Bowl experience much better, cleaner, and more professional. Kudos to Director Phil Savage and his staff for breathing life and relevance into something that more NFL execs have viewed with increasing wariness and lethargy the past few years.

-to the lesser-known players who had strong weeks. Louisiana Tech WR Quinton Patton had one NFC East team seated within earshot peppering the area scout responsible for him with questions about if what greatness they were seeing was legit. Florida International safety Jonathan Cyprien sent a lot of NFL people scrambling for info and game tape with his impressive body and body of work. Nevada safety Duke Williams built on a great Shrine Game week with another striking few days of practice, proving he’s better than some of the big boys. Southeastern LA corner Robert Alford impressed as both a potential slot corner and a blazing return man, while Cal corner Marc Anthony consistently demonstrated that speed isn’t everything, demonstrating excellent instincts and aggressive ball skills. Kansas State WR Chris Harper outshined his more heralded teammates, easily running the best routes all week. Missouri Southern DT Brandon Williams and Tennessee-Martin DT Montori Hughes both showed they had the explosive power to hang with the big boys. The two best tight ends in Mobile were Rice’s Vance McDonald and Western Kentucky’s Jack Doyle, not their SEC and PAC-12 counterparts. Kentucky guard Larry Warford was far and away the best interior lineman on the field.

Other players that helped themselves: UCLA DE Datone Jones, Cal C Brian Schwenke, Florida RB Mike Gillislee, Florida State LB Vince Williams, San Jose State OL David Quessenberry, Oregon State WR Markus Wheaton, Hawaii LS Luke Ingram (the best long snapper I’ve seen at these events), Georgia safety Shawn Williams, UCLA RB Jonathan Franklin (the best pass protector by a wide margin), Texas DE Alex Okafor, and Okafor’s Longhorn speedy teammate WR Marquise Goodwin. 

Thumbs Down

-to Denard Robinson. The former Michigan quarterback came to Mobile as a wide receiver, but donned the non-contact yellow jersey like the quarterbacks the first two days. He had a legitimate finger injury, but it befuddled those of us in attendance. On the field he showed an alarming fundamental inability to catch the ball as both a wideout and return man, and his footwork was sloppy. Obviously there is a learning curve for a position change, but Robinson is a lot slower into the curve than anticipated. Many in Mobile also noted that he did not look as fast or quick in person as they expected. He appears nothing higher than a 5th round project at this point. I’ll reiterate my stance to Mr. Robinson: embrace the switch to running back, which better takes advantage of his vision and burst. For those who think he’s too slight, he’s visibly bigger than the similarly skilled Kenjon Barner, another player who did not help himself this week.

-to Margus Hunt and Ezekiel Ansah. I featured their disappointing weeks on Wednesday, a column that had more than one NFL team personally thanking me for curbing the enthusiasm on fan expectations.

Others who did not help themselves: Notre Dame C Braxton Cave, my winner for worst player in Mobile; Penn State DT Jordan Hill, Florida State DT Everett Dawkins, Arkansas WR Cobi Hamilton (as one AFC West South quipped “they must count his catches twice because he catches every ball twice”), Florida T Xavier Nixon, Fresno State RB Robbie Rouse, Rutgers LB Khaseem Greene (doing nothing to dispel his “weak” label), USC safety TJ McDonald, and Alabama safety Robert Lester, who looked very stiff and slow compared to his competition.

Thumbs Twiddling

-to the quarterbacks not named Tyler Wilson. Mike Glennon, Landry Jones, Ryan Nassib, EJ Manuel, and Zac Dysert all had golden opportunities to separate themselves from the giant pack below the top two QBs (Wilson and Geno Smith). None capitalized on their chance. Glennon probably did the best job at elevating himself, particularly with a very strong showing in Wednesday’s practice, but there were still some mechanical issues that reared their ugly heads all week. Dysert really dropped the ball, as a lot of NFL people were seeing him for the first time and he was pretty unanimously the weakest overall QB here. I’m not sure how much any of their draft stocks will take a hit come April, but nobody inspired enough confidence to move them upward. If you asked me to rate them based strictly on performance this week I would ordinate like this: Wilson, Nassib, Glennon, Manuel, Jones, Dysert. But other eminently trustworthy talent evaluators might have that top three inverted and it would be hard to quibble. God help teams that need a rookie starting QB in 2013.

-to Alabama tackle DJ Fluker, who appeared shorter at 6’4.7” and heavier at 355 pounds than expected at weigh-ins and then missed the rest of the week with lingering calf and groin issues. His initial appearance was a real positive, as he is a 4th year junior who graduated on time, and that’s an important breakthrough for both Fluker (and Syracuse T Justin Pugh, who held the same status) and the Senior Bowl as a whole. Fluker was genial and witty in interviews, making light of his awkward gait (“you see why I ain’t playing”) and showing real pride in graduating with a 3.2 GPA. Because his forte is run blocking and he couldn’t handle speed rushes at all in college this probably wasn’t an ideal showcase for Fluker, so missing out might be a real blessing for him.

Thumb Sucking

-to the seven players specifically singled out by Senior Bowl Director Phil Savage for opting not to come and compete. West Virginia QB Geno Smith, Wisconsin RB Montee Ball, North Carolina G Jonathan Cooper, Alabama G Chance Warmack, Notre Dame LB Manti Te’o, Utah DT Star Lotulelei, and Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro all refused offers to display their skills. It’s not likely to impact Warmack, Smith, or Lotulelei much in terms of draft stock, and Te’o had a viable excuse with his puzzling personal behavior. But for Cooper, Vaccaro, and especially Ball, choosing to duck the competition of practice is widely seen by the NFL people here as a sign of weakness and a lack of confidence. A good week here could have ensured Ball a spot in the 2nd round, but from what I gathered here he will be lucky to sniff the third and got passed by Jonathan Franklin and Mike Gillislee in the RB pecking order. Whoever advised him to stay away cost him, at minimum, hundreds of thousands of dollars in signing bonuses.