Tim Twentyman offers insight on 15 players who stood out at the Senior Bowl

Posted Jan 25, 2013

While this year’s senior class was devoid of a lot of top-end, first round talent in April’s NFL Draft, it was a good group across the board, and some players certainly improved their stock over the course of the week.

The North and South squads wrap up practice on Friday at 3 p.m., which will air on the NFL Network, in preparation for Saturday’s Senior Bowl down in Mobile Alabama.

While this year’s senior class was devoid of a lot of top-end, first round talent in April’s NFL Draft, it was a good group across the board, and some players certainly improved their stock over the course of the week.

Here are 15 players who stood out:

Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan, 6-7, 305: The former 6-foot-7, 230 pound quarterback, tight end, linebacker and offensive and defensive lineman in high school has certainly grown into his frame. The great thing about Fisher is that he hasn’t lost a lot of the athleticism he had with that trimmer frame. He’s got great footwork, he’s powerful and he can get to the second level in a hurry. He was by far the most impressive player at the Senior Bowl through the week.

“(Coaches) wanted to see consistency in the run and pass game,” Fisher said. “We got a lot of good work in and got a lot of good looks off a lot of good players so I’m just coming to work every day and trying to prove myself.”

Draft projection: Top 15 pick

Desmond Trufant

Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington, 5-11, 190: He’s the next Trufant in line to hear his name called on draft day. Brothers Marcus and Isaiah, both in the NFL, watched their little brother closely throughout the week and had to be impressed with what they saw. Trufant was physical at the line of scrimmage and got his hands in on a number of passes through the course of the week. He showed fluid hips when changing direction and good closing speed.

"He's got that moxie and swagger and I like that that," said Oakland Raiders head coach Dennis Allen, who is coaching the North squad. "He believes he should be in the NFL and I like that about him."

Draft projection: Late first, early second round

Alex Okafor, DE, Texas, 6-4, 261: Okafor worked almost exclusively at right end over the first three days of practice and had some good battles with Fisher.

“It’s just great competition and it will prepare me for the next level,” Okafor said Wednesday of going against Fisher. “Just being able to go against that top competition every single day will prepare me for the next level.”

Okafor won a few of those matchups, too.

He had 12.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss this past season but was out to prove this week that he was also a versatile player, who could also stand up against the run.

“I think the biggest concern people had with me was consistency and I think I’ve proven day in and day out and produced the same way I did before, especially against the run,” he said. “I think I’ve gotten better every day.”

Draft projection: Middle to late first round

Lance Johnson, OT, Oklahoma, 6-6, 302: The second-team All Big 12 selection this year had a solid week. He began his college career as a tight end and that athleticism showed in drills. He’s got a long wingspan and his frame looks like it can easily handle 20 more pounds without him losing any of his quickness. He was a big riser this week.

Draft projection: Late first, early second round

Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State, 5-11, 183: Wheaton had some of the best hands during practice and showed that he could consistently separate from defenders. It’ll be interesting to see if NFL teams project him on the outside or in the slot. Watching him all week, he could probably play both. His work this week in practice certainly matched his production this season at Oregon State -- 91 receptions for 1,244 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Draft projection: Second round

Datone Jones, DE, UCLA, 6-4, 280: The biggest thing scouts wanted to see from Jones was whether his skills as a 3-4 run stopper for the Bruins this season would translate as an edge rusher in a 4-3. He had 19 tackles for loss but only 6.5 sacks as a senior. Jones is powerful as a bull rusher but also showed a deceptive first step and had a few nice rushes in drills and team periods. He helped his stock.

Draft projection: Mid to late first round

Leon McFadden, CB, San Diego State, 5-9, 193: He was consistently the one cornerback who stood out at South practice all week, despite his stature. McFadden has great instincts, probably because he was recruited as a receiver at San Diego State. He plays bigger than his size, but his stature will make some teams take a very close look.

Draft projection: Fourth round

Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU, 6-5, 275: Ansah shined in drills that allowed him to utilize his speed and athleticism. Ansah ran the 100-meters in 10.9 seconds as a walk-on to the BYU track team and that speed was on full display Wednesday when South coach Jim Schwartz ran defensive players through an up/down drill and then asked them to sprint 25 yards downfield. As expected, Ansah blew away the competition. He’s only been playing football since 2010 -- so he’s a bit of a gamble early in the draft – but he’s drawn comparisons to Jason Pierre-Paul.

"I have to learn a few techniques and pad level and (get my) shoulder down and a bunch of stuff,” he said early in the week. “Every single day I have to keep learning."

Draft projection: Early first round

Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor, 6-2, 201: Scouts wanted to see if Williams, who led the nation in receiving yards this year with 1,832, could pick up a pro scheme and run precise routes. He could still be more polished as a route runner, but he was a huge threat down the field all week and has big play written all over him at the next level.

Draft projection: Late first, early second round

Jordyn Poyer, CB, Oregon State, 5-11, 182: Poyer had a lot of production at Oregon State this year (51 tackles and seven interceptions) and it translated to the Senior Bowl. Poyer has great instincts and should excel in a zone scheme. He also showed some very capable man skills in one-on-one drills with receivers and in seven-on-seven.

Draft projection: Second round

Kewan Short, DT, Purdue, 6-3, 308: Short had the quickest first step of all the defensive tackles down in Mobile. Offensive lineman struggled at times to get good leverage on him because he consistently beat them to the punch. He’s short at 6-3, but has long arms and good hands. If he puts on a little more weight without losing the athleticism, the Purdue product has real potential.

Draft projection: Second round

Mike Gillislee, RB, Florida, 5-11, 207: His best day of practice was Wednesday when he showed some terrific natural running instincts. He busted off two nice runs during the team portion of practice that got him a pat on the helmet from South coach Jim Schwartz. He’s got good speed and proved that he can catch the ball out of the backfield, which was one of the question marks for him coming in.

“Everybody on the defense is fast so all I can do is get better out here,” Gillislee said early in the week. “I hope to show I’m a complete back and catching out of the backfield and pass protection and running down hill.”

Gillislee got better in each of those areas as the week went on.

Draft projection: Fourth or fifth round

Montori Hughes, DT, Tennessee-Martin, 6-5, 328: It wasn’t hard to miss Hughes, he was the one smacking teammates on the shoulder pads in encouragement and talking trash to opposing lineman all week. He plays with a ton of energy and you’ll hear about it when he makes a play. His energy seemed infectious.

Draft projection: Fourth or fifth round

Quinton Patton, WR, Louisiana Tech, 6-0, 202: Patton and Baylor’s Terrence Williams seemed to be the two receivers making the most plays down the field for the South squad during the week. Patton showed great speed separating from defenders on deep rounds and solid hands. He’s remarkably crisp in his route running coming from a small school.

Draft projection: Second round

J.J. Wilcox, S, Georgia Southern, 5-11, 214: It wasn’t an overly impressive safety class this week, but Wilcox seemed to be around the ball more than the others. That’s a little surprising seeing as how he’s only played safety for year after beginning his college career playing running back and receiver. He showed good ball skills and the ability to cover. He’s an interesting prospect to say the least.

Draft projection: Fifth or six round