WEST PALM BEACH, Florida, January 27, 2013 — The NFL draft season officially opened yesterday with the College all-star game, The Senior Bowl. While the South defeated the North 21-16 in the match-up, the real story was the individual play and the NFL scouts watching.
Football fans discount the professional all-star game, the Pro Bowl, which takes place today in Hawaii, but the Senior Bowl is extremely important for both players and scouts. NFL coaches spend the preparatory week working with players, rating skills, coachability, and whether the player will fit with the individual NFL team.
Those who make it to the Senior Bowl and succeed often find themselves on an NFL roster. Twenty-four of the players slated to participate in the Super Bowl next week played in the Senior Bowl. Both Colin Kaepernick and Joe Flacco played in the game, as did Patrick Willis, Jonathan Goodwin, Michael Oher, Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele, among others.
While traditionally offensive players, especially quarterbacks, get the most pre-draft notice, defensemen caught the most attention yesterday.
Brigham Young University defensive lineman Ezekial “Ziggy” Ansah dominated the defense for the South, winning the Most Outstanding Player award for the squad. The former track star from Ghana reportedly had a lackluster week of training but exploded in the game, delivering six individual tackles, 3½ tackles for a loss, 1½ sacks and a forced fumble.
Ansah’s attitude also caught the attention of coaches. After winning top honors in the game, Ansah said, “Now, it’s time to stay focused — today will be gone, and tomorrow, I’ve just got to start training again. In life, no matter what you do, there’s going to be something that will take your focus away. But I will stay focused. I came here to work hard with a bunch of great players — everyone here is an MVP; that’s why we all came together to play here. I came here to learn and to be better.”
The 6-foot 6-inch, 270-pound Ansah is exceptionally athletic and works hard, which will likely place him solidly in the first round at draft time.
The Most Outstanding Player form the North was Purdue defensive lineman Kawann Short. Shorts stats in the game included two solo tackles and one assist, but he generally disrupted play and was spectacular in the week of practice. The All-American Short, known for his quickness and power, is also likely to win high draft honors.
Linebacker Sio Moore from Connecticut delivered five solo tackles, one assist and one sack, showing his exceptional speed. Utah State cornerback Will Davis had an interception and a 25-yard run back, and showed scouts he can hit despite his 5-foot 11-inch, 182-pound frame. North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams also had an outstanding week of practice. Georgia safety Baccari Rambo also had a strong game.
That’s not to say there were no offensive highlights or that none of the six quarterbacks played well. They did not, however, generate the type of enthusiasm demonstrated in the 2012 class, which placed seven rookie quarterbacks in starting NFL slots this year.
Florida State’s E.J. Manuel was by far the best performing quarterback in the match up and won Most Valuable Player honors for his efforts. He marshaled all three of the South’s scores and showed composure on the field.
Manuel also has the dual-threat capability of NFL quarterbacks like Kaepernick, turning into a running back when there are no receiver options. The 6-foot 4-inch, 237-pound Manuel ran for one of his three touchdowns.
The other quarterbacks in the game — Ryan Nassib from Syracuse, North Carolina State’s Mike Glennon, Zac Dysert from Miami, Landry Jones from Oklahoma and Tyler Wilson from Arkansas — were far less impressive. They appeared tentative and overwhelmed, not to mention inconsistent through most of the action. Wilson won Most Outstanding Performer for his work during practice, but his game-day performance was lackluster at best.
Of course, top quarterback prospect Geno Smith from West Virginia elected not to play in the Senior Bowl. Some had warned Smith that skipping the game was a lost opportunity, but his stock may have actually risen, thanks to the mediocre play of five of the six quarterbacks yesterday.
The bottom line from the Senior Bowl week and game is that this is not the year of the quarterback. Defense will dominate.