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Senior Bowl: an NFL player's assessment

Posted Jan 26, 2012

There are a countless number of NFL evaluators in Mobile this week for Senior Bowl practices including Buffalo GM Buddy Nix and their entire scouting department. Also taking in the week of practice was former NFL safety Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41), a columnist for National Football Post and radio/TV NFL analyst in Chicago. A former free agent signee of the Bills back in 2006, Bowen shared some of his observations from the Senior Bowl practice week with Buffalobills.com.

Defense
It’s only natural for Bowen to focus a bit more on the defensive side of the ball, which for Bills fans isn’t a bad thing knowing the need for a pass rusher as well as linebacker and cornerback depth. Here were some of the defensive linemen that stood out to the former NFL safety.

“On the defensive line this Quinton Coples from North Carolina, he’s the real deal,” Bowen said. “I think he’s a top 10 pick. It was too easy for him to get off the edge. He’s just so much bigger, faster and stronger than everybody.

“Courtney Upshaw (DL-Alabama) is an interesting prospect because he’s weighing in at 273 and has played outside linebacker in a 3-4. Some teams down here like him better as a defensive end in a 4-3 as a rush end. He’s real powerful with his bull rush.”

At linebacker Bowen liked a lesser known player from a big program.

“Lavonte David an outside linebacker. He may be a better fit as a weakside backer in a 4-3,” Bowen said. “He finds the ball very easily. Good speed to the ball. Very physical. Not a big guy, he’s only 210, but he’s a good athlete.”

Being a former defensive back himself Bowen had a lot to offer with respect to cornerbacks, a position Bills GM Buddy Nix believes needs to be addressed every year in the draft.

“With corners I liked Jamell Fleming from Oklahoma,” he said. “The first day I don’t think he was trusting his eyes a lot in one-on-one drills. When they put full gear on the second day of practice he looked the part. A good plant and drive, he uses his hands, was physical and competed. He played in a big program and played in a passing conference.

“Alfonzo Dennard is the corner from Nebraska. He’s more of a physical player that’s fit for a cover-two scheme. They were doing snot blocking drills and the receivers didn’t want any part of him. He was putting his helmet right on their jaw. He could probably move to safety if he wanted to.”

As for the position Bowen played himself, safety, there were a couple of prospects that intrigued him.

“Harrison Smith from Notre Dame, he’s probably a strong safety,” Bowen said. “I don’t know if he’s a deep down the field player. He plays good technique and is physical. I think he’d be good in the run front in the NFL and could contribute immediately on special teams.

“I also liked the free safety from Boise State, George Iloka. He’s 6’3” 220 and has good range and good speed. He needs some work on his man-to-man skills, but I think he’s going to rise on some draft boards if he runs well.”

Offense
On the offensive side of the ball Bowen was most impressed by the big Ohio State offensive tackle.

“Mike Adams, he’s a first-round pick,” he said. “He measured at 6’7” and 320-plus pounds. He just buried guys in one-on-ones. He’s got super long arms and he finishes off blocks. I think his feet are good. He’s the best tackle here.

“Quarterbacks, Kirk Cousins from Michigan State is good if you’re looking for a number two. He should be there in the middle rounds. I talked to Nick Foles from Arizona and I was real impressed talking to him. He’s got his head on right and sounds like a leader. I think with his size and ability he could pan out. (Brandon) Weeden I liked the way he threw the ball. At Oklahoma State half the passes he threw were wide receiver screens. Down here he showed he throws a nice ball. So that was good to see.

“The best running back down here is Doug Martin from Boise by far.”

At wide receiver Bowen doesn’t see a particularly strong class, but believes there are some prospects that can help NFL clubs in the right kind of role.

“Brian Quick from Appalachian State, 6’3” 220 and a lot of scouts like him,” Bowen said. “He’s real fluid and has good body control. I don’t know if he can separate though and beat press coverage. But he’s a player there’s some buzz about.

“Marvin McNutt from Iowa is a guy I see because I was back at school once or twice this season. He started out at quarterback and moved to receiver and was very productive at Iowa. The biggest question for him is playing against press coverage. He showed in one-on-ones that he can win at the line.”

Small school prospects
With the handful of small school prospects, Bowen had a few that were of interest to him.

“Dwight Bentley the cornerback from Louisiana-Lafayette,” he said. “He really competed. He’s undersized. I think he was 5’10” and 180, but he’s got good feet. He wasn’t afraid to play press.

“Janoris Jenkins from North Alabama, obviously he’s got off the field issues having transferred from Florida, but talking to scouts there’s a lot of buzz about this kid. He’s really performed well in one-on-ones.”