MOBILE, Al. –** Fresh off the East-West Shrine Game, scouts, coaches and NFL decision-makers move one state west for the annual Senior Bowl. In many ways, Senior Bowl practices, which begin Tuesday, are the most important scouting event prior to the draft. Unlike the underwear Olympics that is the NFL Scouting Combine, players in attendance put their football skills on display in full contact drills. The roster is just about set so let's take a look at 20 of the most intriguing players in attendance and the questions they must answer.
Bryce Petty/QB/Baylor – Petty put up the passing yards in college faster than AJ Foyt raced around the Indianapolis Speedway back in the day. But is Petty a product of the Baylor system and does he possess the necessary arm strength to play on Sundays? His ability to drive deep throws in one-on-one drills and play within an NFL system during full scrimmage is critical.
Garrett Grayson/QB/Colorado State – Grayson possesses the required physical skills for the next level but his ability to learn and retain are big question marks. Can he handle the complexities of an NFL offense? How will he handle adversity and multi-task once the ball is snapped? It's possible Grayson's draft stock could experience a three-round swing depending how these questions are answered starting Tuesday.
David Cobb/RB/Minnesota – Presently, Cobb is a favorite of the draft world and why not? He entered the year with grades usually handed to a street free agent then carried the Gophers offense on his shoulders in 2014. Putting the love aside for a second, does Cobb possess the speed and quickness necessary to turn the perimeter? Or is he a one-dimensional downhill ball carrier? The third round awaits if Cobb beats defenders around the corner this week.
Clive Walford/TE/Miami-Fl – Walford is another flying up draft boards around the internet but scouts are not as convinced. Is Walford truly a downfield pass catching threat? Can he outrun linebackers during Senior Bowl drills? Or is he nothing more than a No. 2 tight end for the next level?
Nick Boyle/TE/Delaware – The Senior Bowl offers a big stage for the small school Boyle. He is a complete tight end who dominates as a blocker and efficiently catches the ball in underneath coverage. But is Boyle anything other than a 4.8s tight end only effective eight yards off the line of scrimmage? Proving otherwise could push him into the middle rounds.
Devin Smith/WR/Ohio State – Smith has built a lot of momentum for himself lately and even Buckeye head coach Urban Meyer pronounced his senior wide out is flying up draft boards. He displayed himself to be a terrific vertical receiver for the national champs but is Smith a complete wide out or the beneficiary of terrific quarterback play? Is he capable of running good routes and making the underneath receptions? Scouts want to know how NFL ready the Buckeye pass catcher really is.
Justin Hardy/WR/East Carolina – Hardy has been ultra-productive since his freshman campaign, but unlike Smith, he shows no elements of being a downfield threat. Can Hardy separate against the top defensive backs from the senior class? Is he fast enough to be anything other than a fourth receiver at the next level? His film and production are top notch but Hardy needs to show he physically matches up against top competition.
Sammie Coates/WR/Auburn – Coates is taking advantage of the Senior Bowl loophole which allows invitations for draft eligible juniors on pace to graduate in four years. He's smooth, big-bodied and capable of physically defeating opponents but must prove his route-running skills. Can he do more than just beat down defenders? Does he have the speed and quickness to separate on the NFL level?
T.J. Clemmings/OL/Pittsburgh – The Panthers' right tackle draws a large variety of opinion throughout the scouting community. Is he strong enough to stay at right tackle? Is he big enough to play left tackle? Is he best off at guard? The results this week could determine whether Clemmings ends up in the middle of round one or the top of round two.
Jamil Douglas/OL/Arizona State – Douglas was woefully out of position at left tackle last season and his draft stock has fallen. Scouts question if he has the athleticism to be anything other than a backup at the next level. Can he be used in a variety of schemes or is Douglas just a small-area blocker? Senior Bowl week will determine whether Douglas fits into the middle rounds or falls into the very late frames.
Ali Marpet/OL/Hobart – The small-school tackle is a terrific athlete with good size and athleticism. Listed at 6-3, Marpet will have to answer whether he can stick at tackle or be slid to guard. And how will this Division III player match up against the nation's top seniors?
Carl Davis/DT/Iowa – The Senior Bowl has a way of rewarding defensive linemen who dominate practice. Just ask Aaron Donald or Sylvester Williams or Kevin Williams. Carl Davis offers the skills to dominate throughout the week but will he do it at every practice? Can he be a one-man show in drills then make plays on the ball during scrimmage? Answers in the affirmative could push Davis into the first round.
Marcus Hardison/DL/Arizona State – The junior college transfer has slowly developed into a complete player. He possesses the measurables to line-up in a variety of defensive systems but is he NFL ready? Is he someone who can see action as a rookie on Sundays? And if not, will Hardison be stamped as a career back-up?
Deion Barnes/DE/Penn State – Barnes is another junior eligible on course to graduate. He's also a prospect who made a mistake entering the draft according to scouts. Barnes flashes skill but all too often is neutralized by blocks. Is Barnes the next Aaron Maybin and a prospect who won't be able to stand up to the rigors of the NFL? How will Barnes stack up against the run in practice? Will tight ends such as Nick Boyle manhandle him in drills? There's a lot on the line for the Penn State junior.
Nate Orchard/DE-OLB/Utah – Orchard is a natural pass rusher who makes a lot of plays behind the line of scrimmage from his defensive end spot. He's athletic but built like a linebacker and gets swallowed up out of a three point stance. Can Orchard make plays in reverse during practice? Does he show a good feel for what's happening on the field playing in space? In a nutshell is he Marcus Smith? Or Michael Sam?
Zack Hodges/DE-OLB/Harvard – Hodges flashed dominance in the Ivy League but all too often disappeared for stretches during his senior season. He'll face many of the challenges Nate Orchard must answer playing in space while scouts also question his toughness. Is Hodges an every-down player? Will he compete to make plays this week? Or will he crumble like stale bread battling blockers?
Lynden Trail/OLB/Norfolk State – Listed at 6-6, 250, Trail looks every bit the part of a dominant defender. But a disappointing 5 sacks last season after a pedestrian 8.5 during his junior campaign has scouts concerned. Why hasn't Trail improved his game the past three seasons? Is he willing to work hard to improve? For the small-school defender, interviews after practice will be as important as what takes place on the field.
Eric Rowe/DB/Utah – Rowe has been listed on boards at both cornerback and safety yet scouts are concerned he lacks the necessary change-of-direction skills to line up in centerfield. Listed at 6-1, 200, Rowe's value is greatest at cornerback but does he possess the physical skills to stay at the position? Can he quickly flip his hips and transition downfield with receivers? And most importantly, can Rowe make plays with his back to the ball?
Quinten Rollins/CB/Miami-Oh – Rollins is all the rage at the cornerback position as the former basketball player made the seamless transition to the football field in just one season. He's an athlete with great upside yet a prospect who understandably needs polish. The receivers he'll cover during Senior Bowl practices are a step up in competition compared to those he faced in the Mid-American Conference. How will Rollins hold up? Does he come with next-level instincts? When will Rollins be NFL ready? Several scouts believe a good performance this week could push Rollins into the second round.
Kurtis Drummond/S/Michigan State – Entering the season, scouts graded Drummond as the top safety from the senior class. But his play in 2014 was inconsistent and some branded Drummond as disappointing. He was effective playing over the slot receiver last season but is he a true centerfielder? Does he have the lateral speed to quickly get to the flanks? Some scouts presently grade Drummond as a late-round pick. The Senior Bowl affords him the chance to get his mojo back.