As our coverage of the 2013 Senior Bowl winds down and we get ready for the actual game, let’s take one last look at some of the key matchups we can expect during Saturday’s game which airs on NFL Network at 4 PM EST. This year’s game features a slew of very talented prospects on both sides of the ball. After watching each team practice throughout the week, there are a few one-on-one battles that will be interesting to watch.
South OT Lane Johnson (Oklahoma) vs. North DE Datone Jones (UCLA)
Both of these players were two of the biggest standouts throughout the week of practice. Jones in particular proved to be one of the more dominant defensive linemen in Mobile. A relentless player with a quick first step and the ability to shift from speed to power on the edge, Jones performed very well all week, and was the only lineman on the North squad to give tackle Eric Fisher (Central Michigan) problems in drills. He'll face an equally tough test in Johnson, who proved that despite only playing the position for two years he is worthy of a high draft selection. Johnson displayed excellent athleticism and great footwork throughout the week, and may have cemented himself among the top 20 selections in the upcoming NFL Draft.
South CB Leon McFadden (San Diego State) vs. North WR Marquis Goodwin (Texas)
McFadden impressed from the get-go for the South side, showing the athleticism and tenacity teams look for from the cornerback position. Goodwin was also an early standout, and he improved each day throughout the week. A former track star, Goodwin would have likely been an elite track and field performer had he gone down that road. He showed the ability to separate down the field on a consistent basis all week long. He displayed surprisingly soft hands at the catch point as well, and was able to reel in several tough receptions during practice. McFadden will see other talented wideouts on the North Squad, including Markus Wheaton (Oregon State), Aaron Dobson (Marshall) and Chris Harper (Kansas State), but it's Goodwin who I think could possibly give him the most trouble on Saturday.
South WR Quinton Patton (Louisiana Tech) vs. North CB Desmond Trufant (Washington)
Entering the week, many viewed Patton as one of the top wide receivers in the senior class after a 2012 campaign where he posted 104 catches for 1,392 yards and 13 touchdowns. A very smooth route runner who came in a bit shorter than expected at weigh-ins on Monday, Patton displayed strong hands throughout the week of practice and stood out on the South team along with Baylor's Terrance Williams. On the other side, Trufant had a whale of a week in the defensive secondary. One of the most competitive players on the field, Trufant battled all week with Oregon State's Markus Wheaton in drills, and looked to win his matchup every time he stepped onto the field. A physical player who can turn and run with receivers in man and has the instincts to be a very good zone corner, Trufant's versatility and football IQ make him one of the best cornerback prospects in the country.
South TE Vance McDonald (Rice) vs. North S Jonathan Cyprien (Florida International)
With Cincinnati's Travis Kelce (yes, Jason's brother) pulling out of the game late in the process, it opened the door for McDonald to really establish himself as one of the top seniors at the position. Both McDonald and Kelce are fluid athletes at the tight end spot and are tenacious blockers at the point of attack, but only McDonald will get to display those skills on Saturday after a strong week of practice. When he gets out in the open field, look for Cyprien to seek him out in the secondary. Cyprien is as tough as they come from the safety spot in this class, with the range to play from sideline to sideline. The FIU standout was constantly around the ball and made his presence known with his vocal chords as well each day in Mobile.
South DE Ezekiel Ansah (BYU) vs. North OT Eric Fisher (Central Michigan)
Ansah was one of the prospects everyone was eager to see down in Mobile, and while he didn't necessarily have a bad week of practice, the “flash” plays that many had come to expect from him just were not there throughout the week. However, he'll have every chance (much like South Carolina's Devin Taylor did in the Shrine Game last week) to steal the show on Saturday. “Ziggy” has incredible natural ability and length, and is a great player in pursuit. He'll face stiff competition in Fisher, who proved this week that he can hang with the big boys at the highest level. Fisher had a dominant week of practice, showing good athleticism, quality anchor strength and a nasty demeanor. By all accounts, Fisher may be the best prospect in the game on Saturday.
1. After a week where none of the quarterbacks really established themselves as “the” leader at the position in practice, it will be interesting to see who stands out on gameday. Want a dark horse? Keep an eye on Zac Dysert (Miami Ohio), an experienced four-year starter who is at his best on the move. That being said, Ryan Nassib (Syracuse), Mike Glennon (North Carolina State) and Tyler Wilson (Arkansas) are the names expected to be called earlier in the draft.
2. As is the case in these all-star games, it's tough to get a good read on which running back will really stand out without live tackling in full pads. Luckily, we'll get that chance on Saturday. Stepfan Taylor (Stanford) will get a chance to build on a strong week of practice, as will Mike Gillislee (Florida) who burst on the scene in 2012 after a lackluster start to his career for the Gators.
3. We mentioned Goodwin and Patton in our matchups to watch, but this is a deep receiving corps on both sides of this game. Arkansas' Cobi Hamilton had a strong week of practice, as did Tavarres King (Georgia). Terrance Williams (Baylor) has maybe the highest ceiling of any one receiver in Mobile, with a size/speed combo that is tough to match. Obviously a lot of eyes will be on former Michigan quarterback Dennard Robinson, who flashed the quickness that made him one of college's brightest stars the past four years but struggled in the finer facets of being a receiver, including route running and, well, catching the ball consistently. A big game Saturday will go a long way for the former Wolverine.
4. Everyone knows about Fisher and Johnson, but this offensive line group was also a strong one overall in Mobile. Larry Warford (Kentucky) was a tough assignment for any defensive lineman all week. A true mauler inside, he could have a field day opening up holes for South running backs on Saturday. Syracuse's Justin Pugh and Virginia's Oday Aboushi saw reps at both tackle and guard throughout the week, and what they put on tape at both spots in the game will have an impact on their status moving forward. Be sure to keep an eye on Louisiana Tech's Jordan Mills, a late addition who was an absolute head hunter on the line from the right tackle and guard spots.
5. Defensively. Margus Hunt (SMU) and Michael Buchanan (Illinois) have the measurables and talent to be forces on the line of scrimmage, but had underwhelming weeks of practice. Both players struggled to get off blocks at times during the week in Mobile. It would do a great deal for their draft “stock” to put on a good showing in Saturday's game.
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