With both the Senior Bowl and Shrine Game now complete, NFL prospects are preparing for the next phase of the scouting process, the Combine, which begins in just over three weeks. So what’s the word around the league as teams and players depart Mobile, Alabama? Here’s the latest draft buzz circulating among insiders.
1. Showered with praise after three very good days of practice and a solid showing in the Senior Bowl game, quarterback Carson Wentz was even more impressive in closed-door meetings with coaches and general managers. I’m told he knocked it out of the park during interviews as personnel people around the league who interviewed Wentz were awed by his knowledge of X’s and O’s. The belief is the North Dakota State product, who was a 4.0 student in college, should have no problem running a multiple formation offense on Sundays and coaches love his upside.
2. Though he didn’t attend the Senior Bowl, Christian Hackenberg is another signal-caller whose upside potential excites NFL decision-makers. Some eyebrows were raised when Hackenberg left for the NFL Draft after two dismal seasons, but the situation at Penn State was untenable for him. He offers the physical skills to start on Sunday and teams truly believe with proper coaching he’ll reach his potential in the NFL, something Hackenberg would’ve never achieved on the college level. No one I’ve spoken with in the past two months believes Hackenberg will drop out of the draft’s top 75 picks.
4. Contrary to Wentz and Goff there’s little excitement for Connor Cook. I took flak from Michigan State fans last week after posting teammates were “less than effusive in their praise” of the quarterback, but scouts and insiders I spoke with in Mobile said the situation surrounding Cook’s personality poses a problem for them. The fact he chose not to attend the Senior Bowl further complicates the situation and it’s something Cook will be grilled about during the Combine.
5. The Big Ten acquitted itself well at the Senior Bowl and Ohio State tight end Nick Vannett was one of the week’s big winners. Already graded as the top senior at the position, there’s a belief Vannett could end up as the first tight end selected in the draft. Hunter Henry of Arkansas will battle for the top spot, but his blocking pales in comparison to Vannett in that regard. Teams feel Vannett is the most complete player at the position and will be off the board before the second round is completed.
6. Safety Darian Thompson is another prospect who leaves Senior Bowl week as a winner. Thompson met with 15 general managers in Mobile and had a one-on-one sit-down with a head coach. One team that is not in the market for a safety graded Thompson as a late first-round pick. The one criticism the safety heard during the week centered on the occasional missed tackle last season. One person familiar with the Boise State program said it was more a symptom of Thompson trying to do too much to make up for the lack of playmakers on the Broncos' defense.
Tony Pauline has been a draft analyst for more than 25 years, and is president and editor of DraftInsider.net, a site dedicated year round coverage of the NFL Draft. You can follow on Twitter @TonyPauline