NFL Draft 2013: Senior Bowl Prospects Part 3

Steve Dykes

The scouting season officially kicks off at 3pm EST this Saturday January 26th with the Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL. CSR College Scouting Enthusiast Derek Leaser is running three part series highlighting the players to watch from a Panther point of view. This is part 3. Let's take a quick look at some of the remaining 2013 Senior Bowl standout prospects that have not only caught my eye along the way, but also the attention of NFL scouts, coaches, and general managers.

Be sure to tune in Saturday, January 26 at 4pm(EST) on the NFL Network as well as join the CSR Open Thread.

SS/FS Phillip Thomas 6' 1/2" 210 lbs Fresno State

-Excellent strength and toughness

-Above-average speed

-Outstanding acceleration out of breaks

-Versatile

-Great leader on and off the field

-Superb instincts

-Hard worker

-Big-time ball hawk

-Displays the ability to fool the QB by disguising coverages

-Nice ability to turn and locate the ball while it's in the air

-Developed the habit of making plays in the backfield

-Lays the wood regularly

-Poor tackler at times

Panther Senior Bowl Prospects - Part 2

There is so much to like about Thomas, not the least of which is his play-making ability. He is formidable in both run support and pass coverage. Thomas has a nose for the ball that is reminiscent of Ed Reed, and the ubiquitous quality that has made Troy Polamalu an All-Pro. In other words, I believe this guy has immense upside. One of the more interesting details of Thomas' development is the fact that his best season, which happened to be his last, coincided with Fresno State's hiring of Tim McDonald(DB coach), who is a former six-time NFL pro bowl defensive back, and also the father of USC safety standout T.J. McDonald. Thomas is yet another player who might be in the mix when we are on the clock in the second round.

Season Solo Assists Total TFL Sacks PBU QB Hurries FF INT Touchdowns
2009 21 8 29 1.5 0 1 0 0 2 1
2010 39 25 64 3.5 0 9 0 2 3 0
2011 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
2012 66 18 84 12 4 5 1 4 8 3

SS Jonathan Cyprien 6' 0" 209 lbs Florida International

-2012 All-Sun Belt

-Very physical player

-Excellent work ethic

-Not afraid to lay the wood

-Great run defender

-Exhibits the ability to stay with tight ends and running backs

-Nice range

-Overly aggressive at times

Cyprien is one of those guys that flew under the radar a bit simply because of the university he attended. Florida International doesn't typically stir up a great deal of interest from fans or the media. But scouts have been noticing his on-field accomplishments for some time now, and the list of teams clamoring for his services has only grown after standing out all week long. In case you were wondering, the Panthers were one of those teams who took the time to interview him, and I don't believe it had anything to do with subterfuge. Look for Cyprien to be an option in the 4th round, and possibly the 3rd round should we be fortunate enough to acquire one.

Season Solo Assists Total TFL Sacks PBU QB Hurries FF INT Touchdowns
2009 48 30 78 1.5 0 3 0 2 1 0
2010 63 50 113 3 0 6 0 3 1 0
2011 48 33 81 5.5 1 8 0 0 1 1
2012 54 39 93 3.5 0 5 0 1 4 0


CB Leon McFadden 5'10" 193 lbs San Diego State

-2012 1st Team All-Mountain West

-Excels in man coverage, but can get overwhelmed when pressing physically imposing receivers

-Above-average zone defender

-Slight frame

-Quick feet and fluid hips

-Superb closing speed

-Lacks strength

-Intelligent and Instinctive

-Follows quarterback's eyes

-Jumps underneath routes with ease

-Wins the 50/50 balls exceptionally well

It isn't surprising that the Chargers showed heavy interest in McFadden during practice this week at the Senior Bowl. He practically played his college ball in their backyard at San Diego State. But they surely weren't the only team who took notice of his cover skills.

If you are clamoring for a tall cornerback, this isn't your guy. But his lack of size doesn't seem to keep him from making plays against larger receivers on film, and that continued this week in Mobile. Unfortunately for him, he tweaked his groin muscle during practice on Wednesday, and may be unable to carry his off-season momentum into the game on Saturday. However, the injury seems to be minor, which means he should be ready to perform at the NFL Combine in February. It will be interesting to see how high he ultimately gets drafted because I do believe he has the potential to start immediately as a #2 cornerback, and the upside to become a #1 cornerback in a couple of years.

Season Solo Assists Total TFL Sacks PBU QB Hurries FF INT Touchdowns
2009 17 9 26 1 1 0 0 0 1 0
2010 38 17 55 7 1 12 0 0 2 0
2011 35 11 46 3 0 13 0 0 2 0
2012 46 15 61 2 0 12 0 1 3 2

CB Robert Alford 5' 10" 186 lbs Southeastern Louisiana

-2012 1st Team All-Southland

-Slightly built, yet very physical

-Serious man skills

-Elite quickness and recovery speed

-High work ethic

-Effective in zone coverage

-Versatile three-way player: defense, special teams, and offense

-Above-average in run defender and tackler

There are several reasons you should pay attention to Alford over the next couple of months. For one, he has many of the assets that teams are looking for in a cornerback, not the least of which is his ability to thrive on an island in press man coverage. It's one thing to manhandle receivers in the lowly FCS, but repeating that feat against genuine first day picks is another animal altogether.

The good news for Alford is that he didn't look out of place against the big boys this week. In fact, he shined, and this is why the Senior Bowl is so valuable to a small school standout like Alford. I see a great deal of similarities between Alford and the aforementioned McFadden. They both share the same size and the ability to effectively mirror the movements of receivers, regardless of their size or speed. I believe Alford also projects initially to be a #2 cornerback, with the possibility of earning #1 status down the road. The Panthers have already taken their interest in him to the point of an interview, which leads me to believe he will be in strong consideration should he still be available in the 4th round.

Season Solo Assists Total TFL Sacks PBU QB Hurries FF INT Touchdowns
2012 35 4 39 5 0 8 0 0 4 0

CB Desmond Trufant 6' 0" 190 lbs Washington

-2012 1st Team All Pac-12

-Elite recovery speed

-Solid physicality at the point of attack

-Above-average side

-Fluid hips when turning to accelerate

-Pedigree

-Displays excellent ability to attack the ball in the air

-Outstanding route recognition

-Tackling could use some work

-Very good instincts

Going into the week, Trufant was already high on draft boards across the NFL, but he's managed to climb even higher after consistently flashing #1 cornerback characteristics in each and every practice. He was one of the only cornerbacks who regularly displayed the ability to stay with the speedy Markus Wheaton(see below).

It would be easy to get caught up in extrapolating future success for Desmond based on the fact that his older brother, Marcus, has experienced a great deal prosperity during his nine season stay in the with the Seahawks. Although that assumption can be dangerous, the comparisons seem to be warranted.

I predict that Trufant will be gone by the time we pick in the second round, but if I am wrong, the Panthers will strongly consider drafting him because he has the skill-set to be an effective starter from day one.

Season Solo Assists Total TFL Sacks PBU QB Hurries FF INT Touchdowns
2009 44 3 47 2 0 6 1 0 2 0
2010 34 14 48 1.5 0.5 4 0 0 1 0
2011 46 18 64 0.5 0.5 14 0 2 2 0
2012 27 9 36 4.5 1 8 0 1 1 0


WR Markus Wheaton 5' 11" 183 lbs Oregon State

-Elite straight-line speed, agility, and burst

-Displays an extra gear when tracking the ball in the aif

-Gets to full speed extremely quickly

-Slight build, lacks strength

-Natural hands catcher

-Displays the ability to find the soft spot in zone coverages

-Very strong work ethic

-Voted team captain

-Willing blocker, but below average at this point

-Above-average route runner, but there is room for improvement to be made

Wheaton has looked very good this week at the Senior Bowl. In fact, he and Patton are the receivers that have stood out the most, and that isn't surprising because his status has been trending upward for a very long time now. Perhaps his progression can most be attributed to his willingness to work overtime on his craft. According to some of Wheaton's teammates, he was one of the hardest workers on Oregon State's team.

When I look at Wheaton on film, I see an explosion in his first step that reminds me of our very own Steve Smith. In addition to his phenomenal burst, he exhibits a second gear that most defensive backs just can't match. Frankly, I can't help but get excited just thinking about the possibility of having another dynamic play-maker lining up opposite of Smitty, and Wheaton might just be that guy.

If I were you, I'd keep a close eye on this prospect at the combine and the draft. To get him in the 4th round, would be a steal, but I don't think that will be possible. Don't be surprised if a team takes Wheaton, ahead of projection, in the second round, and I can only imagine that team being the Panthers.

Season Receptions Yards Average Touchdowns
2010 54 660 12.22 4
2011 73 986 13.51 1
2012 91 1244 13.67 11

NT Brandon Williams 6' 2" 341 lbs Missouri Southern

-3 time American Football Coaches Association All-American honoree

-Above-average motor

-Excellent at disengaging from blockers

-Outstanding power and strength

-Big-time run defender

-Very nimble on his feet for a man his size

-Great work ethic

-High Character

-Consistently made plays in the backfield

-Inferior competition in Division II

Since I didn't include Brandon Williams in part two of my Senior Bowl defensive tackle prospect preview, I thought this would be the perfect time to include him with the 'Best of the Rest'.

Indeed, Brandon has been among the shining stars this week, and if the Panthers choose to pass on Jesse Williams or Jonathan Hankins in the first, then this could be the second year in a row that they draft a Division II standout in the second round, and for good reason.

It would be easy for you and I to discredit Williams' stats simply because he lined up against inferior competition, but that would be short-sighted. In reality, the lower divisions of college football have been producing talented NFL players for decades, and Williams certainly did more than enough in Mobile to dispel any ambiguity concerning his ability to compete against some of the better FBS prospects.

Season Solo Assists Total TFL Sacks PBU QB Hurries FF INT Blocked Kicks
2010 23 27 50 17 9 3 6 1 0 0
2011 19 16 35 16 8 5 3 0 0 0
2012 31 37 68 16.5 8.5 2 8 5 0 0

OT Eric Fisher 6' 7" 305 lbs Central Michigan

-AP All-American

-Plays with a nasty streak

-Long arms(34 inch)

-Nimble feet to stay in front of rushers

-Average upper and lower body strength

-Superb understanding of angles and positioning

-Excellent ability in space and gets to the next level very quickly

-Has trouble staying low and gets moved around as a result

-Elite pass blocker

-Slightly above-average run blocker

-Outstanding hand usage

The fact that Fisher was mostly dominant this week wasn't a surprise in NFL scouting circles. He was the best offensive lineman to take the field, and some experts felt like he had as good a week as anyone in attendance. Fisher very well could be gone by the time we find ourselves on the clock, but this could ultimately work out in our favor, especially if it bumps a more highly coveted prospect down into our laps. However, if he is on the board when we make our selection at 14, I expect a long, hard look from the Panthers.


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