Today, in Mobile, Alabama, the Senior Bowl cranks up again for all of the football world to gather and examine the new crop of players that we will look at carefully before this spring's NFL Draft. The game started in 1950 and has grown steadily over the years to what is now the unofficial start of draft season. There is still one game to play on the NFL docket, but 30 of the 32 teams are now "waiting until next year" and they love the opportunity to see and talk to these many young men in person.
Consider it the first and best opportunity to show your possible employers what you are all about. That is why some cringe when players opt out of this game - if healthy, why would someone not want to compete for the NFL coaches and eyeballs if you wish to be employed there for the next decade?
But, every year, many do opt out. Especially those that fancy themselves in the "I have nothing to prove" category. Unfortunately, many misread their status and actually do themselves a fair amount of harm. Others are noticed here and make their stock rise through the spring because of what they showed that (usually) chilly week in Mobile.
The North Squad has a number of names I will be watching, including a deep WR group that offers Ty Montgomery (Stanford), Jamison Crowder (Duke), Devin Smith (Ohio State), and Antwan Goodley (Baylor). They also have Bryce Petty (Baylor) playing QB, with Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska) and David Cobb (Minnesota) among their RB ranks.
Other likely "Top 100" prospects on the North include (but are not limited to): OT TJ Clemmings (Pittsburgh), DT Danny Shelton and DE Hau'oli Kikaha (both of Washington), S Kurtis Drummond (Michigan State), CB Quandre Diggs (Texas), DT Carl Davis (Iowa), DE Za'Darius Smith (Kentucky).
Meanwhile, the South Squad features some interesting targets as well. Several interesting defensive linemen are on that side, with Trey Flowers (Arkansas), Gabe Wright (Auburn), Lorenzo Mauldin (Louisville), Owamagbe Obdighizuwa (UCLA), and Markus Golden (Missouri) the most notable.
The South is pretty stacked on the OL as well, with Tre Jackson (Florida State), Reese Dismukes (Auburn), Ty Sambrailo (Colorado State), La'el Collins (LSU), Arie Kouandijo (Alabama), and Daryl Williams (Oklahoma) all up front. Several of those big men could be in the very 1st round in April.
Of the South skill position players, Nick Marshall, Sammie Coates, and Cameron Artis-Payne (all Auburn) will get close examination. Others include two smaller receivers you might like for the slot at some point in Phillip Dorsett (Miami) and Tyler Lockett (Kansas State). And Ole' Miss has 2 impressive defensive backs on this side with Cody Prewitt and Senquez Golson.
If you are like me and you really enjoy the easy way to get to know many of these players better, the NFL Network does a nice job of coverage all week from Mobile. Their broadcast times are listed below:
Tuesday (Today): 2pm-4pm; Wednesday: 2pm-4pm; Thursday: 2pm-4pm
Saturday: Senior Bowl - 3pm
DRAFT NERD COMMANDMENTS: I thought about assembling a list of draft premises that have bothered me over the years. I am not sure I have 10 of these, and maybe you would care to add to the list, but allow me to periodically share some things I have been told or learned from experience that are quite helpful. Here is today's.
NEVER ALLOW THE SCHOOL TO CONTROL YOUR PERCEPTION OF THE PLAYER.
Oh, this guy went to USC? He went to Notre Dame? He went to Emporia State? He went to Ouachita Baptist? Well, then, that tells us about all the other famous players who either went to that same school or did not.
No! The school means something, but in the big scheme of things, it does not. Just because California gave us Kyle Boller, Rich Campbell, and Pat Barnes at QB does not mean that Aaron Rodgers isn't there now. Pittsburgh gave us WR Larry Fitzgerald, but it also gave us Antonio Bryant and Doug Baldwin. For every QB like Joe Montana from Notre Dame, we dealt with Jimmy Clausen and Brady Quinn far more often.
You are not drafting the School. You are drafting one single player. Do everything in your power to not have bias (either way) about the uniform you see a guy wearing. This gets very tricky with Alabama or Florida State who have entire defenses filled with NFL Prospects. They all help each other look better and it is tough to separate. Do you like a single player from Troy (DeMarcus Ware) or Memphis (Dontari Poe) who is out there by themselves at times?
Don't get caught up in thinking every DE from Missouri is Aldon Smith or Justin Smith or Michael Sam or Kony Ealy. They are individuals and we have to rate them as such.
With that in mind....
(Each issue of S.O.D., we shall tackle another draft prospect. No, I have never been a scout or a NFL General Manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can.)
Shane Ray, DE, Missouri - 6'3, 250 - Age 22
It is clear at Missouri they have a pipeline to pass rushers, as last year Kony Ealy and Michael Sam were all the rage, and one year later, here comes Ray and Markus Golden to also push into the draft. I want to be careful here with those numbers above. We think he is about 250 pounds, but his weigh-in at the combine is going to really affect his perception as much as anyone in the draft. It is vital that he shows the NFL he can be big enough to deal with the run and maintain his absurd explosion that he showed on film. I will always error on the side of what he did on a college field over the "underwear olympics" in the spring, but I will admit that sitting out the Senior Bowl and trying to bulk up is not a bad idea for his camp. He is thought of as potentially the best pass rusher in the entire draft. I watched the Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Texas A&M games.
What I liked: He is the real deal as an edge rusher with quickness and overall explosion that is just silly. There are times where you wonder what the left tackle across from him must be thinking because in the case of the Kentucky game in particular, that poor guy was overmatched all day. He draws holding calls on a regular basis because his "get-off" is so impressive. At his size, he is just too quick for offensive linemen to deal with. Especially, when Missouri would stunt him inside and get him isolated against a guard. That was a no contest. He rallies to the ball well. He has a swat move where he can knock guys off balance by just using one arm to push them aside. He may be undersized, but unlike Nebraska's Gregory, Ray appears to be very strong for his size. He can move larger men with one arm. He lines up all over as RDE, LDE, and even DT. He produced a silly 36 explosion plays in 2014 (Sacks + Tackles For Loss).
What I did not like: It is true that stopping the run will not be his forte. He does get pushed inside when a team wants to run to his edge. We need to make sure he can be an every down DE in the NFL in the 4-3, or teams will consider him another OLB in the 3-4. I think he has the tools to do either, but this could get him flagged as a potential tweener who is without a true position. He lost his mind in the SEC Championship Game and got ejected for a cheap shot, so he better be able to answer those questions this spring about composure and overall football IQ.
Summary: He is a legitimate 10-12 sack guy in the NFL. I have no problem expecting him to be one of the true risers in the spring and if he gets in to that 4.5, 40 range, he might be gone in the first hour of the draft. Keep in mind, before the snipers argue about Michael Sam, that Ray is so much faster than Sam that there is no comparison whatsoever. Sam ran a 4.91 at the combine. Ray is a physical freak. He has a full arsenal of pass rush moves already. This guy will really help a team's pass rush the moment he arrives.
Today's Email/Tweet Of The Day:
I share your concerns about the future of DeMarco and the idea that this offensive line made him. I think those ideas are hopeful and speculative rather than founded in fact. I think Murray was a dynamite runner when he was able to stay healthy in pretty much every season he has been with the Cowboys. Any player with almost 1,000 carries who has almost 5 yards per carry during that stretch is not to be marginalized at all.
That said, we have a finite amount of cash here, so we cannot throw caution to the wind and keep him at any price. I think we have to look at the 3 principle questions of this offseason and pick the smartest 2. 1) Can I keep Dez Bryant? 2) Can I improve my defense (or at least not regress with massive personnel losses? 3) Can I keep DeMarco Murray?
Dez Bryant is a true #1 Wide Receiver who is quickly becoming a guy you wouldn't trade for any receiver in the sport. His ability to win 1-on-1 matchups all season and put them in the end zone routinely speaks to his singular ability. That fateful moment over Sam Shields is a catch very few players make. The record books may not record that catch, but our eyes did. And he did it 10 times this year in slightly different variations. I must keep him. Like a true ace in baseball, those are rare finds.
There are a lot of concerns with the defense. Rolando McClain is a free agent. Justin Durant is, too. Bruce Carter, is too. Henry Melton is gone. Anthony Spencer is a UFA. Brandon Carr is a question mark. Yes, Sean Lee is returning, but I want to improve this defense and to do so, we can't invest all cap room in Bryant and Murray.
That leads us back to the following - is there any way to keep DeMarco without going crazy? My hope would be to franchise tag him and lock up Bryant in a deal that pays him well, but doesn't hit the Cowboys with a massive cap charge in 2015. Use that 1-year window to continue to use Murray heavily and spread out Bryant's hit to not really be a factor until beyond Murray's 1-year window. I think that can happen. Now, instead of $15m on Bryant and $10 on Murray, you would hope to get both for $15m in 2015. Complex, but not impossible. You would need some extra years on the end of Dez to spread his bonus down.
I hear all of the other ideas - Adrian Peterson, Mark Ingram, etc, but if I am paying a player who is already in the league, I want it to be a player who I know can do it all and was one of my true warriors this year. That is DeMarco.
He may be gone, but I would want every stone turned over, first.
Next time, we will look at Kentucky Edge Rusher Bud Dupree.