There’s no denying the importance of the Senior Bowl in the pre-draft process, and there is no denying that there’s always plenty to read into. After a week of practices, the game was finally played Saturday, with the South coming away with a 24-10 victory
What does Saturday’s game mean for the Patriots, who hold four picks in the first three rounds of April’s draft? If recent history suggests anything, it could mean plenty.
In four of the last six years, the Patriots used their top pick on a player who participated in the Senior Bowl (Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Brandon Meriweather, Logan Mankins), so perhaps the next Patriots draftee was on display Saturday in Mobile, Ala.
Here’s what we learned after a week of practices and Saturday’s game:
Cameron Jordan might not be available when the Patriots pick at No. 17
Throughout the week, the Cal defensive end really showed that he could be gone before the Patriots can nab him at No. 17. Jordan has great speed for a guy who figures to stay on the line in a 3-4, and could cause plenty of matchup problems at the next level. At 6-foot-4 1/8 and 287 pounds, the Patriots would probably prefer he put on a little weight by the combine, but when all is said and done, it might take a move up in the draft for him to even be in the picture.
On Saturday, Jordan made his presence felt by deflecting passes and jamming his way into the backfield, forcing quarterbacks to leave the collapsed pocket. Something that should be a huge plus in the eyes of a team like the Patriots is that he has three years of experience as a 3-4 end, meaning he’s no stranger to playing the five-technique.
As a whole, this draft features a fair number of guys capable of stepping in and contributing on the end for 3-4 teams, something that hasn’t been the case in recent years. The question is whether Jordan, who boosted his stock throughout the week, is now out of reach for one of the teams that could use him.
Pass-rushers didn’t disappoint
Even without the impressive crop of pass-rushing underclassmen, Saturday served as further proof that there are plenty of solid options for teams who need help getting after the quarterback. Texas A&M’s Von Miller furthered his case for top 10 consideration by harassing Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick and holding up against the North’s running game. Despite the Butkus Award winner’s solid performance, he’s still tough to see as a Patriot given his tendency to be one-dimensional and lack of size at 6-foot-2 5/8.
Depending on what happens at the combine, it seems like Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan could be an option for the Patriots at No. 17. Kerrigan created problems for the South’s offensive line on Saturday, using his speed to get to the outside to either rush the quarterback or draw holding penalties. He added a sack on TCU’s Andy Dalton in the second quarter that resulted in a loss of six yards. He’ll probably get looks from both 4-3 and 3-4 teams, and though he lacks the experience at outside linebacker, could make the adjustment much like Jermaine Cunningham.
Texas defensive end Sam Acho made his presence felt on Saturday as well, bulldozing his way up the middle in the first quarter and recording a strip sack on Washington’s Jake Locker. Like the others, he would play standing up for the Pats. Unlike the others, he could be had with a second-round pick at this point.
Mid-round backs options for Pats?
If the Patriots want to add a running back in this draft, there is a case – based on the team’s recent draft history – to wait until the middle rounds to assess the position. On Saturday, one mid-round back stood out in Louisville’s Bilal Powell. Though he didn’t have a 400-yard season until his senior campaign, he has made it count. Powell rushed for 1,405 yards and 11 touchdowns in his final year at Lousville and continued his push for the NFL Saturday. He led all running backs with 50 yards on 10 carries and proved to be an asset for the South on first and third downs.
In 2010, his first and only season as a starter, Powell played all but one game for the Cardinals, sitting out on Nov. 6 due to a knee injury. He could end up going anywhere from the third to fifth round of the draft.
Another back who presented a fair amount of intrigue heading into the game was Nebrask’s Roy Helu Jr., though he was barely on display on Saturday. Helu Jr. received just two carries for three yards for the North. A well-rounded back, Helu Jr. could also fall in the third-to-fifth-round range after a senior year in which his workload was decreased.
It’s a good thing the Patriots are set at quarterback
Since Andrew Luck decided to return to Stanford, it has gone without saying that there isn’t really an “elite” quarterback in this draft. Saturday reinforced that line of thinking.
Though some of the draft’s top signal-callers are underclassmen Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton and Ryan Mallett, plenty of people wanted to see what Washington’s Jake Locker could do in Mobile. As was the case throughout his college career, he was mediocre, completing six of 10 passes for 98 yards and fumbling twice.
Kaepernick was another guy who could have proven something with a strong showing, but it seemed it wasn’t his day after his first pass, a ball over the middle to his tight end (and a catchable one at that) was tipped into the hands of Mississippi State linebacker K.J. Wright for the interception. Kaepernick finished the day four of nine for 53 yards.
Florida State’s Christian Ponder had the best performance of the day, completing seven of 13 passes for 132 yards and a pair of touchdowns for the South and earning MVP honors. Still, it would be surprising to see Ponder drafted before the third round.
DJ Bean contributed to this report.