The Reese's Senior Bowl wrapped up over the weekend, but the analysis continues in draft rooms around the NFL. Scouts and coaches will discuss the performances of each player in meetings, with an all-star game grade issued based on their play in practices and the game. Although this grade doesn't override the assessment from the fall, it does lead scouts to reassess the regular-season tape to alleviate any concerns that might've popped up during the week.
Last week, I chronicled my observations from each practice, but my notebook was so full that I couldn't include all of my thoughts and conversations. Here are some leftover opinions from my time in Mobile:
» There's no denying the most dominant player at the Senior Bowl was Auburn DE/OLB Dee Ford. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound pass rusher was unstoppable off the edge in one-on-one and team drills, displaying explosive first-step quickness and remarkable snap-count anticipation. Ford frequently blew past offensive tackles on straight speed rushes, showing exceptional balance and body control turning the corner on the way to the quarterback. In addition, Ford showed the ability to turn speed into power by using a bull-rush maneuver as a change-up to his speed rush. He complemented those moves with a powerful "butt and jerk" maneuver that showcased his strong hands at the point of attack. Against the run, Ford was surprisingly stout against runs in his direction. He didn't lose significant ground against drive blocks and eventually worked free to get in on the play. On runs to the opposite side, Ford flashed the speed and quickness to run it down from the backside. With Ford's speed, athleticism and instincts creating disruption against the run and pass, there's a growing sense that the Auburn standout could be a difference maker at the next level in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme that features a Leo or Elephant player on the edge.
» There is always a place in the NFL for offensive linemen with athleticism and versatile skills, particularly when they are capable of playing on the edges. Notre Dame OT Zack Martin certainly fits the bill after displaying outstanding balance, body control and technique dominating the competition throughout the week at the Senior Bowl. Now, Martin isn't the prototypical left tackle based on his physical dimensions and length (32 1/4-inch arms), but he didn't have many issues blocking some of the elite defenders in the 2014 class. He masterfully used angles and quickness to cut off rushers on speed rushes, while also displaying the balance and body control to anchor against power. As a run defender, Martin is a sticky blocker adept at cutting defenders off at the point of attack. Although he doesn't consistently generate great push against big-bodied defenders on the edge, Martin's ability to sustain and finish is noteworthy. Factor in his high football IQ and adaptability, and Martin is the kind of swing player that every team needs along the frontline. Given the value teams place on offensive tackles, I believe Martin is destined to start his career on the outside, with a move to offensive guard viewed as a solid back-up plan if he struggles on the perimeter.
» Iowa LB Christian Kirksey has flown under the radar for most of the season, but several NFL scouts expect him to be a solid starter early in his career. Talking to a high-ranking AFC executive about Kirksey's game, he raved about his instincts, consistency and aggressiveness. He called the Iowa standout a "real guy" and said he's surprised he hasn't generated significant buzz at this point. Watching Kirksey work throughout the week, I came away impressed with his feel for the game and his ability to work through traffic to find the ball. He has a knack for being at the right place at the right time, which is easier said than done in a game featuring elite players at every position. With Kirsey also showing solid cover skills and awareness as a pass defender, I would keep an eye on the Iowa standout as a sleeper pick heading into the draft.
» One of the intriguing discussions set to take place in draft rooms around the NFL will certainly involve Florida State LB Telvin Smith. Measuring 6-3, 218 pounds, Smith is built like an NFL safety, yet he lacks the speed, athleticism and cover skills to play in the back end. At his best, Smith is a run-and-chase linebacker with an uncanny knack for finding the ball. He slips through cracks at the point of attack and does a decent job of stopping runners in their tracks in the hole. When I discussed Smith's game and potential with an AFC scout, he told me that he doesn't know if the standout can be a starter in the NFL at his current size. Additionally, he told me that he didn't know if Smith's athleticism was explosive enough to merit overlooking his size concerns as a linebacker in the NFL. Although Smith's posted solid production as a playmaker in the center of the Seminoles' defense, it will be interesting to see where he lands on draft day based on the concerns about his size and growth potential.
» The trend of big-bodied receivers dominating the NFL will lead scouts to spend a lot of time studying Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews, but the SEC's all-time receiving leader will need to display better quickness and short-area burst in workouts to convince evaluators that he can develop into a No. 1 option at the next level. Watching Matthews throughout the week, he struggled separating from tight coverage at the top of routes. Although he would attempt to push, bang and box out defenders with his imposing frame (6-3, 206), Matthews hasn't mastered the art of using his body to create space. Additionally, Matthews needs to develop a better release against press-coverage to become a viable option on the perimeter against aggressive defenders. To his credit, Matthews was one of the most diligent workers in pre- and post-practice sessions, leading me to believe that he will carve out a nice pro career with his relentless work ethic. If he can work on the finer points of route running and separation, Matthews could outplay his draft status at the next level.
» The nose tackle position isn't viewed as a marquee spot in most NFL draft rooms, but Louisiana Tech DT Justin Ellis and Penn State DT DaQuan Jones flashed impressive skills manning the point during Senior Bowl practices. Each defender displayed the strength and power to own the line of scrimmage against single blocks, while also showing the leverage to hold their ground against double teams. Ellis, in particular, was stout at the line of scrimmage in run drills, relying on his physically imposing frame (6-2, 357) to maintain his leverage. While he offers little as an interior pass rusher, teams in need of a run stopper at the 0- or 1-technique could view him as an intriguing option. Jones is a more versatile option on the interior, flashing quick hands and a powerful first step. He is comfortable playing over the pivot, but also shows enough athleticism to play as a 3-technique in an aggressive one-gap scheme.
» The evolution of the safety position in the NFL is forcing teams to drop their traditional standards at the position. Instead of searching for big-bodied hunters adept at stopping the run, teams are searching for athletic playmakers with ball skills and instincts. At the Senior Bowl, Florida State safety Terrence Brooks and Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward flashed the skills to be effective players despite their diminutive statures (Brooks measures 5-11, 200; Ward is listed at 5-11, 192). Watching both players work throughout the practice week, I came away impressed with their athleticism, movement skills and anticipation. Ward, in particular, shined in one-on-one and team drills as an active centerfielder between the hashes. He closed quickly on throws in his area, and showed the range to get over the top on deep throws outside the numbers. Those skills are critical traits for a free safety at the next level. Brooks was just as impressive as a roaming playmaker on the second level. He attacked the run off the edges, while also displaying competent instincts and awareness in coverage. With small safeties like Earl Thomas of the Seattle Seahawks and Eric Weddle of the San Diego Chargers thriving in the NFL despite substandard physical dimensions, the value of Ward and Brooks could rise after their strong performances in Mobile.