January 29, 2007

Senior Bowl Hot 11

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The withdrawals of Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn and Wisconsin offensive tackle Joe Thomas – two of the probable top five picks in the upcoming NFL Draft – left the Senior Bowl without its usual star power.

A notable lack of first-round talent in the offensive backfield of both rosters allowed players at other positions to grab the spotlight.

The defensive linemen on the North roster took full advantage.

Even in an all-star game that doesn't allow blitzing, the North team found a way to collect eight sacks Saturday in a 27-0 victory over the South at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

No wonder our list of the Hot 11 players from Senior Bowl week includes three defensive linemen from that North squad. At least two of those players may have cemented their status as first-round draft picks.

Here's an alphabetical list of the 11 players who helped themselves the most last week. We actually decided to make the Hot 11 a dandy dozen by including two special-teams players in one entry.

Senior Bowl Hot 11
Aundrae Allison, WR, East Carolina
The 6-foot Allison was one of the smaller receivers at the Senior Bowl, but he played just as well as many of the bigger guys from bigger programs. Allison made the most spectacular catch of the week with a one-handed grab in Wednesday's practice, and followed that up with a 7-yard touchdown reception in Saturday's game. His performance should help Allison get taken somewhere in the first three rounds.
Dwayne Bowe, WR, Louisiana State
Bowe won't get drafted before early entry receivers Calvin Johnson of Georgia Tech or Dwayne Jarrett of Southern California, but the former LSU standout showed this week that he just might be the best senior wideout available. Bowe's combination of size and skills made him a nightmare for even the nation's toughest defensive backs to cover all week long. If he performs equally well at the NFL Scouting Combine, Bowe should get drafted in the first round.
Levi Brown, OT, Penn State
Brown had to lead an inexperienced offensive line that struggled for much of his senior season, but the woes of the Penn State offense shouldn't cast aspersions on this two-time All-America selection. Brown proved in Mobile, Ala., why he probably will he figures to start at left tackle for several years in the NFL. He performed well all week in one-on-one drills with some of the top pass rushers in the nation. That should be enough to solidify,his status as a potential first-round pick.
Adam Carriker, DE, Nebraska
The absence of Clemson's Gaines Adams – one of the top defensive players on most draft boards – gave other standout defensive ends a chance to prove themselves in Mobile. Carriker made the most of the opportunity. The former Nebraska star stood out all week because of versatility that should make him an ideal fit for any NFL defense's scheme. He was one of the top individuals in practice all week and recovered a fumble in the game. Carriker's performance should assure his status as a top-20 pick.
Mason Crosby, K, Colorado and Daniel Sepulveda, P, Baylor
How high do you draft a kicker and punter? Just about every team in the NFL is asking this question after seeing the way these two Big 12 standouts booted the ball all week long. Crosby booted a 52-yard field goal in practice Wednesday and connected from 21 yards and 38 yards out in the game. Sepulveda had quite a workout Saturday and made the most of it by averaging 44.4 yards on each of his seven punts. Crosby should get taken on the first day of the draft, while Sepulveda also can look forward to a long NFL career.
Tony Hunt, RB, Penn State
The Senior Bowl didn't exactly feature a star-studded group of running backs, but Hunt might have the best chance of eventually emerging as a starting every-down back somewhere. Hunt showed good hands while catching passes out of the backfield in practice and earned Senior Bowl MVP honors Saturday after rushing eight times for 39 yards and a touchdown.
Ryan Kalil, C, Southern California
Kalil already was atop most rankings of draft-eligible centers long before he arrived in Mobile. His performance at Senior Bowl workouts did nothing to change that perception. Kalil was arguably the best offensive lineman on the practice fields and may have performed well enough to sneak into the first round. He almost certainly will go no later than the second round.
Brian Leonard, RB, Rutgers
Is he a pure fullback, a featured back or a third-down back? Who knows? We just know he's a legitimate NFL player. Leonard showed great hands all weeklong while catching passes out of the backfield. Leonard ran for a fourth-down conversion on the North team's first drive Saturday, then caught a fourth-down pass to continue the North's next series. His ability to do a little bit of everything should help Leonard find a home in the NFL for several seasons.
Jay Moore, DE, Nebraska
Nebraska teammate Adam Carriker made more of an impact last season and earned more attention during Senior Bowl practices, but Moore stood out in the game itself by compiling three sacks and forcing two fumbles. Although he wasn't quite as dominant as those statistics suggest – he wasn't blocked on two of his sacks – Moore still made quite an impression.
Amobi Okoye, DT, Louisville
Weight replaced age as the main concern surrounding Okoye this week. He checked into Mobile at 287 pounds – less than the ideal size for an NFL defensive tackle. But the 19-year-old proved all week long that he's certainly mature enough to play professionally. He capped a big week of practice by beating Auburn guard Tim Duckworth and recording a sack in Saturday's game. Okoye expects to get back to 295-300 pounds by the time he arrives for the NFL Scouting Combine. If that happens, Okoye could be selected among the top 15 overall draft picks.
Patrick Willis, LB, Ole Miss
The Butkus Award winner showed no indication his reputation as a tackling machine will stop in the NFL. Willis started the week by drawing raves from North coach Mike Nolan and ended it by collecting 11 tackles in the Senior Bowl. No other player on either roster had more than five tackles. Don't be surprised if he collects 100 tackles annually in the pros.

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