Like most all-star games, the final score (North 34, South 13) mattered little in the 2015 Senior Bowl. In reality the game itself doesn’t matter as much as the week of practice as far as scouts are concerned, but the ability to step up under the bright lights does carry some weight. Some players are just gamers who find another level of performance during games that doesn’t always show in practice for some reason. Athletic ability shines in practice when players are put on an island in 1-1 drills and other drills set up to highlight strength, speed, and agility, but what practices don’t highlight is football instincts and the natural ability to make plays.
Saturday’s game was the last time these NFL prospects are taking the field in a game format before the draft. Here is a breakdown of players who made the biggest impact on their draft status in this year’s Senior Bowl game.
UP – CB Steven Nelson, Oregon St (5’11 | 199 | 4.53): Was thrown at seemingly every time he was on the field, but didn’t get beat once from what I saw. Nelson was in receivers hip pockets all night. He shut down Sammy Coates on two drives, despite Coates 4 inch, 20 pound size advantage. Nelson made a habit of cutting underneath routes to break up passes. He got called for 2 questionable penalties and also dropped a pick that would have been a 95-yard pick-6 had he caught it. Those are pretty minor negatives and for the most part had an awesome performance and locked up a spot on day 2 of the draft.
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UP – RB David Johnson, Northern Iowa (6’1 | 224 | 4.57): Backed up a great week of practice with a jaw-dropping performance in the game on Saturday. Johnson opened the scoring with a 19-yard TD run where he ran through 3 arm tackles, made two nice cuts, displayed vision and patience, and showed really impressive feet for a big back. That play alone would have put him on team’s radars, but he also had a long kick return late in the game where he again showed off great vision and footwork.
DOWN – WR Sammie Coates, Auburn (6’2 | 213 | 4.36): Had a catch for 13 yards on the first drive of the game and then nothing the rest of the way despite being targeted more than any other receiver on either team. Coates was shut down by smaller CBs all day and just didn’t look like he knew how to use his considerable physical gifts to get open. He almost had the catch of the game in the end zone, but couldn’t get two feet down and was also flagged for a blatant offensive pass interference. Coates has the size, speed, and athletic ability to be an early pick in the draft, but today’s game showed that he may need a year or two before he is NFL ready.
UP – RB Amir Abdullah, Nebraska (5’8 | 198 | 4.48): Led all players with 113 total yards (73 rushing, 40 receiving) and had multiple flash plays. Abdullah has great acceleration though the line and made some sharp cuts in traffic that were reminiscent of LeSean McCoy. There are some questions about Abdullah’s pass pro and ball security, but there shouldn’t be any about his talent to run the ball. He’s clearly the 3rd best RB in the draft in my opinion (behind Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley) and should be a lock for day 2.
UP – RB David Cobb, Minnesota (5’11| 229 | 4.58): A big back who showed excellent vision and cut-back ability on two long runs (25, 16). He also showed the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and lower his shoulder to punish tacklers in the open field. Cobb did miss a block in pass pro and dropped a pass that was high but catchable, overall though he had a great day and boosted his draft stock into the 3rd-4th round range.
DOWN – QB Bryce Petty, Baylor (6’3| 230 | 4.64): Came into Mobile as the favorite for best senior QB, but left as the biggest disappointment from the QB group. Petty’s stat line was OK, but most of his completions were dump off passes and he was wildly inaccurate on down field throws. Petty was picked off once and should have been again but the linebacker couldn’t make the catch. He continues to look uncomfortable under center, made a bad decision to run out of bounds instead of throwing the ball away, and missed too many downfield throws. Petty’s stock is in free-fall right now, but he can stop the bleeding with a good combine and pro day.