It seems like over the last few years several quarterbacks have come into the Senior Bowl game with a lot to prove. Last year it was Tim Tebow, in 2009 it was Pat White, 2008 was Joe Flacco’s opportunity and this year that pressure falls on the shoulders of Jake Locker. Locker was a lock as a top ten pick if he would’ve come out for the NFL Draft last season but decided to return to Washington for his senior season…what a mistake. Locker raised some serious question marks with his wildly erratic play this season including two absolutely miserable performances against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. In the two meetings he went 9-36 for 101 yards two TDs throwing, two rushing and two picks…COMBINED! He’s shown flashes of brilliance throughout his college career and has the mobility, stature and arm strength to be a franchise quarterback in the NFL. The aforementioned QBs were all picked in the first or second round and Locker should fall into that range as well but there’s no doubt that he needs to demonstrate consistency, accuracy, and sound decision making this weekend to make him one of the top passers taken in April.
Joining Locker on Saturday will be a cast and crew of several talented playmakers on offense. Here’s a look and the skill position players to keep an eye on at Mobile on Saturday.
Andy Dalton, TCU (6-2, 213 pounds): Dalton is perhaps the most intriguing quarterback prospect in the Senior Bowl, even more so than Locker. Dalton has the leadership capability and the winning attitude that teams pray for. Out of all the quarterbacks coming out in the draft this season he may not be the most gifted but he has all of the intangibles. Dalton has started for TCU since his freshman season. He had his best statistical season last year finishing with a 66.1 completion percentage, 27 touchdowns, while only throwing six picks and finishing with an astonishing 166.48 QB Rating. Although it wasn’t his greatest statistical performance of the year, Dalton’s most impressive game was the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin. In a back and forth game Dalton kept his composure and looked great under pressure to lead the Horned Frogs to perhaps the biggest victory in school history. Like Locker, Dalton is very mobile but showed much better recognition, accuracy and decision making than the Huskies QB this year. He can do a lot for his draft status this weekend but I pray that he is available in the third or fourth round for the Bills to take a shot on.
Christian Ponder, Florida St (6-2, 222 pounds): You want to talk about disappointing senior seasons, look no further than Ponder. Going into the season Sporting News had Ponder pinned as their preseason sleeper for the Heisman Trophy. Very often great expectations are never realized and Ponder can be the poster child for that very fact. Reading this may be a little bit confusing considering the fact that Ponder through for 20 touchdowns compared to eight interceptions and led the Seminoles to a 10-4 record. If you delve deeper into his season however you’ll see that he looked mediocre at best against Oklahoma and NC State, two of the four good teams that Florida St. played this year. In the 11 games that Ponder participated in (he was injured for Clemson, VA Tech and most of the Chick-fil-A Bowl against SC) he managed to throw for over 200 yards in only three. Compare that to the seven games that Dalton and Locker each surpassed the 200 yard mark this season. Now stats aren’t everything and I realize that but in the games that I was able to watch him in this season (SC, Oklahoma, UNC, and Miami) Ponder looked average at best with the exception of the UNC game where he actually looked like he could realize his potential. Like Locker, Ponder has all of the physical tools to become a very good NFL player but also like Locker, he needs to demonstrate consistency. He has a lot to prove this offseason and it all starts on Saturday.
I know that wide receiver is not a top priority for the Bills this offseason with the development of Steve Johnson, David Nelson, Donald Jones and even Roscoe Parrish, but there are some intriguing names participating in the All-star game this weekend that I wouldn’t mind seeing Buffalo take a long look at.
Titus Young, Boise St (5-11, 174 pounds): I know that the Bills are already extremely undersized at receiver but Young is lightning in a bottle. Every time he’s on the field there’s no telling if he’s going run, catch or throw the ball. He went over 70 catches and 1000 receiving yards in both his junior and senior seasons (1215 in 2010), and finished 2010 with nine receiving touchdowns. His production is sometimes put into question because of the quality of competition he faced with the Broncos but Young shined in Boise’s games against their three ranked opponents this season. Against VA Tech, Young caught six balls for 80 yards; he also had six catches against Nevada for 129 yards and one touchdown; and in the bowl game against Utah he again tallied six catches for 64 yards. He has to have a good showing this offseason to prove he can play in the NFL but I look forward to watching him tomorrow.
Austin Pettis, Boise St (6-2, 205): There’s no concern with Pettis’s size but he doesn’t have the playmaking ability of Young. Don’t get me wrong Pettis is a solid receiver and playmaker in his own right but he doesn’t bring the electricity to the game that Young does. Keeping that in mind, Pettis is a solid possession receiver and can be a real threat in the red zone. Like Young, Pettis raked in over 70 catches this season and went over double digits in touchdown receptions with ten. Both Young and Pettis should be early to mid-round draft picks and it would be interesting to see what the Bills would do if either were around in the fourth or fifth round.
Like I said I didn’t want to go into great detail about the available wide receivers but the Bronco duo are fun to watch and could develop into show stoppers in the NFL.
Luke Stocker, Tennessee (6-4, 255 pounds): Stocker is probably the most complete all-around tight end at the Senior Bowl. He’s gained national recognition this week for his run-blocking ability and he has great hands as well. In his senior season he caught 39 passes for 417 yards and two touchdowns and finished the season with a strong performance against North Carolina tallying five catches for 58 yards and a touchdown. If the Bills continue to only use the tight end in running and short passing situations, Stocker might be worth a look in the early to mid-rounds.
D.J. Williams, Arkansas (6-1, 236 rounds): With the exception of Kyle Rudolph, Williams is probably the top tight end prospect in the draft. The raining Mackey Award winner as the nation’s top TE, Williams finished the year with 54 catches for 627 yards and four touchdowns. Not only is he a great player but Williams’ story is remarkable. The victim of domestic abuse by his father throughout his childhood, Williams persevered to become the Mackey Award winner and was also bestowed the 2010 Disney Spirit Award, which is given to the nation’s most inspirational college football figure. Williams is a player that I haven’t seen a lot of this season but I’m going to keep an eye out for him on Saturday.
Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin (6-3, 240): A consensus first-team All American, Kendricks led the Badgers in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. It may not seem like a great accomplishment on a team that runs the ball on about 75% of the time, but Kendricks is a solid pass catching tight end. He finished the year with 43 receptions for 663 yards and five touchdowns.
I’m not going to waste my time talking about the Senior Bowl running backs because I honestly could not fathom a situation where the Bills would draft one before the seventh round. A couple of exciting guys to keep an eye on though: DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma; Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State; and Noel Devine, West Virginia.
Check back tomorrow before the Senior Bowl for the last installment of Draft Watch focusing on the top offensive lineman in Mobile.