MOBILE, Ala. -- The Under Armour Senior Bowl is my first opportunity each year to dive into the draft class. Traditionally the game and the week of practice leading up to it is the best opportunity to see the most talent in one place in a football environment. Typically the Senior Bowl will produce close to 50 percent of the first-round selections and about 70 percent of the second and third rounds combined.
I have talked with a number of NFL team general managers and personnel directors who feel the 2008 Senior Bowl should be about the same. Maybe a little light on the first-round picks (closer to 40 percent, they figure), but when the first three rounds are over in April and 96 names have been called, 60-65 of them will have worked down in Mobile this week.
The first group I'll cover is quarterback, the most important position in the game. One personnel director with a team in need of a QB said the ones participating this week in Mobile aren't first-round selections, "but I might rather take the best of these six players in the second round than incur the financial risk of the guys with supposed first-round grades."
Here are a few observations on the the six quarterbacks participating this week in Senior Bowl practices and the game on Saturday. Keep in mind, there is still a lot of work to be done before April. I had a chance to watch the final college game all these guys played before coming to Mobile, and I also talked with four of the six after practice.
1. JOE FLACCO, 6-6, 235, Delaware
Flacco jumped right out at me with his arm strength and ability to make all the throws. I spoke with him on the field after the first practice on Monday and asked him about the problems he was having with the center exchange. He pointed out he had spent most of his time in shotgun formations after transferring from Pittsburgh to Delaware. By the second day, the exchange problems were gone. Former New York Giants QB Scott Brunner, who is working with the Delaware quarterback, was bubbling over Flacco's football intelligence and underrated mobility. During the second practice, when all the receivers were covered, Flacco took off on a 30-yard run. This guy is an interesting prospect who should climb the draft boards this spring.
2. CHAD HENNE, 6-2, 225, Michigan
Watching him practice and talking with him, Henne appears to have carried over the confidence he had at the end of the season. He has a toughness about him and a decent deep ball that will carry him into the NFL. "Henne will be a solid NFL backup early and could grow into a starter," one personnel guy said. He is a competitive player and it was obvious when we spoke that he's thinking much higher than being a backup in the NFL.
3. JOHN DAVID BOOTY, 6-3, 210, USC
Booty is cool, calm and under control. He doesn't have a great arm, but as one scout said, "It is a heck of a lot better than I thought it was before the Senior Bowl." Booty was impressive on bootlegs as well as crossing routes. He did tell me that the speed of the receivers he is working with took a little time to adjust to, but by the second day they were on the same page. He was right, and his smooth, calm approach was attractive to at least one team scout, who said, "We would rather take Booty in the third round than the first-round guys who decided not to play in this game." A strong finish to this week and Booty could work his way into the second round.
4. COLT BRENNAN, 6-2, 185, Hawaii
Brennan comes from the throwing machine known as the Hawaii offense. He can snap a ball off and he has good QB-movement skills. His weight is a concern to a number of coaches who wonder if he can withstand the pounding NFL quarterbacks take. But as one QB coach said, "Ty Detmer lasted a long time and so can this kid if he gets the ball out of his hand quickly." Another personnel man compared Brennan to Jeff Garcia, saying Brennan has the "it" factor. A defensive-minded NFL head coach felt there was too much risk with Brennan's slight body type. As for a pure passer, he gets the ball out quickly but the arm strength needs work. There are significant differences of opinion on this kid, but it only takes one team to fall in love with his 38 touchdown passes in his senior year. I think he'll hold down a late second-round grade by the end of the week.
5. ERIC AINGE, 6-6, 225, Tennessee
Ainge was a late addition to the Senior Bowl roster after Brian Brohm decided not to participate. After watching game tape of his performance against Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl, I was glad he was added. Ainge can snap off a ball, although he struggled on Tuesday with his accuracy. He doesn't have great foot speed, but he is a guy who was only sacked once for every 124 passes in college. He was 10-for-13 for 175 yards in his third-down passing against Wisconsin, and his over-the-top release at his height could make him effective in the NFL. He needs a big game on Saturday to start creating some momentum for his cause. I talked with him after practice and I was impressed with his approach to this week and his enthusiasm about the opportunity to play in Mobile. I hope the offensive line for the South team gives him the protection he is going to need to do well. Right now it looks like he is trying to move up from a mid-round pick to the third round, and he still has a ways to go.
6. ANDRE WOODSON, 6-4, 220, Kentucky
Woodson threw 77 touchdown passes in his college career and had some great games. Right now he looks like he is just holding his own with the South quarterbacks and is probably down near the bottom of the group of the six in Mobile. One QB coach felt like Woodson's throwing motion needed work and he tends to float too many balls. There's a chance he had two ordinary days and he lights it up later in the week. But for now he sits somewhere in the middle of the draft class of quarterbacks. "He isn't doing much to impress me here in Mobile," said one GM, "but there are some other game tapes that are tremendous." Woodson might not move up during this week but his games during the season will keep him as a first-day pick on some draft boards.
Coming Wednesday: Linebackers, probably the strongest position group in Mobile, where there's a chance four first-round linebackers are in uniform this week.