Monday Countdown: Who stood out at the Senior Bowl and how does that impact the Detroit Lions?

Posted Jan 28, 2013

What players that stood out at the Senior Bowl have the potential to be in a Detroit Lions uniform next season?

Rosters, check. Notebook, check.

Computer cord long enough to reach the outlet. Barely makes it.

Those are some of the essential tools required for me to lend my valuable expertise to scouting Saturday's Senior Bowl in Mobile. Who's that calling it Scouting for Dummies?
So is checking three times – add once more, make it four – to make sure that the game that was televised live on NFL Network was recorded correctly. It was, amazingly, thus allowing me to scout the Senior Bowl from a choice seat six feet from a TV that was taken hostage Sunday afternoon for this assignment.

This week's Monday Countdown focuses on the Senior Bowl, an important all-star game for players hoping to be taken in the April NFL draft. Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz coached the South team in a 21-16 victory over the North.

It should be stressed that the Senior Bowl is limited to seniors only, with a couple of exceptions for four-year juniors who entered the draft. Many of the top players at each position are underclassmen who were not eligible to play in the game. Others declined to participate for other reasons.

The focus on this week's Countdown is players who stood out – for positive and negative reasons – and play positions that could interest the Lions. There's also a hard look at Michigan star Denard Robinson, along with reflections on the commentary and the game's outcome.

The Lions have the fifth pick overall for the first round on April 25.

I pledge that these are my unbiased opinions on the game. Scout's honor.

We start with a Michigan player whose stock soared:
Eric Fisher1. OT Eric Fisher, Central Michigan: He was the star of the week for how he performed in practice. Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M, who did not play in the game, is still the No. 1 tackle.

Fisher is likely to move up draft boards. He was rated around No. 20 going into the week and has risen to the fringe of the top 10.

"Eric Fisher, to me by far, is the most impressive player here," said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock.

Mayock showed one replay of the only play in practice where Fisher got knocked off balance, but he recovered to keep contact with the man he was blocking.

On pass protection early in the game, Fisher effortlessly blocked a pass-rushing end to the outside.

Mayock referred to Fisher as "Joe Staley with better feet." Staley, also from CMU, is the 49ers' starting left tackle in Super Bowl XLVII and a multiple Pro Bowl selection.

As Mayock pointed out, Fisher made money at the Senior Bowl by improving his draft position – as much as $4 million if he goes from the 20th pick to No. 10.

Impact on Lions: Stoekel is certain to be off the board before the Lions draft at No. 5, and there's no way Fisher will be available on the second round.
2. Other offensive linemen: GM Martin Mayhew's postseason comments about "interior pressure" affecting Matthew Stafford's delivery at times continues to reverberate for the possible impact on the draft.

If the Lions are going to rebuild the interior, they'll look at center and guard. Forget about Alabama's Chance Warmack, the prototype guard. He'll be long gone before the second round, when the Lions might cast their first glance at prospects to rebuild the interior.

Larry Warford, a 333-pound mauler from Kentucky, could be a low second- to high third-round prospect – and the Lions draft high in the third round.

Center Brian Schwenke of Cal is slightly undersized at 307 pounds, according to Mayock, but Dominic Raiola has survived 12 seasons with the Lions at less than 300 pounds.

Schwenke and Warford held up well at the Senior Bowl.

Impact on the Lions: Mayhew didn't make the comment "interior pressure" to hear the sound of his voice. In free agency and the draft, the Lions will look at the offensive line.

Barrett Jones of Alabama has started all three line positions and is rated the No. 1 center, but he's coming off a foot injury. Early ratings have Warford higher than Schwenke, who going into the Senior Bowl was in the low third round to high fourth category.
3. Denard: One of the most startling moments in any game this football season was seeing Denard Robinson on the sideline with about 10 minutes left in the first half, and he still hadn't been in the game.
That's a lot of raw talent being used by a spectator.

More to come. Promise.
4. Quarterback: The quality to like most about E.J. Manuel of Florida State is that he led the South to its first two TDs. He ran for the first and passed for the second. And he led the South to the clinching TD late in the fourth quarter. There's something about scoring that should elevate a quarterback.

There are no star quarterbacks in this year's draft, but that doesn't mean one or two – or more – won't be drafted on the first round because of need. Tyler Wilson of Arkansas and Mike Glennon of NC State were the highest rated passers in the Senior Bowl.

My opinion: Manuel was the best prospect in Mobile. Geno Smith and Matt Barkley, the top two prospects, were not in the Senior Bowl.

Impact on Lions: None.

Telling comment from Mayock: When one quarterback threw a wounded duck, Mayock said the worst thing for a quarterback is "defensive pressure right up the gut."

That's why quarterbacks throw sidearm sometimes.

5. Receivers: Terrance Williams of Baylor was the best at Mobile, and he had one catch in the game. However, most reports indicated he had a good week of practice.

No receiver already ranked as a first-rounder was in Mobile. Obviously, that can change.

Impact on the Lions: Marquise Goodwin, Markus Wheaton and others will be around later in the draft if the Lions use the draft to add depth at receiver. It's more likely that will come in free agency.
6. Denard: Yes, he could be a worthwhile pick as a receiver – but what round? More to come.
7. Running backs: Mayhew said his biggest mistake last season was expecting that Jahvid Best would be available, based on the information the Lions had, and the fact that Best was asymptomatic from concussions sustained in 2011.

Best missed the 2012 season, and it's likely that he will never be cleared to play under the NFL's concussion protocol.

Johnathan Franklin had a 20-yard run around end for a TD. Stepfan Taylor and Mike Gillislee both broke a couple of good runs. The best running back prospects were absent.

Impact on the Lions: It's a good year not to want to draft a back high because the decision is made for you. The pickings are slim at the top. No back at the Senior Bowl looked like a candidate to fill Best's role.
8. Front seven - DL/LB: Ezikiel "Ziggy" Ansah of Brigham Young enhanced his stock with a monster game. He had 1.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a pass breakup. He was already a first-round pick and moved up, like Eric Fisher did at offensive tackle. Datone Jones of UCLA was another end who got noticed.

Tackles Kawann Short of Purdue and Jordan Hill of Penn State showed up.

Linebacker Zaviar Gooden, a mid-round outside linebacker, showed good movement. He shut down an attempted screen pass, and two plays later intercepted a pass.

Manti Te'o of Notre Dame wasn't in Mobile. Or was he?

Check the tape.

Impact on Lions: Defensive ends Bjoern Werner and Damontre Moore and outside linebacker Jarvis Jones are the top three candidates to be drafted by the Lions if they take a player for the front seven with the fifth pick.

The Lions have depth at tackle, but they could get stripped out at defensive end in free-agency, with Cliff Avril and Lawrence Jackson both eligible to test the market.

If the Lions have faith that Ansah can be a big-time quarterback hunter, they can trade down in the first round to get extra picks. Or they can stay put and get a certified blue-chipper.
9. Secondary: Cornerback Robert Alford had an 88-yard kickoff return and a pass breakup. Those were two positives. Getting caught from behind in the kickoff return was a negative. And so was being measured at under 5-10. The Lions have to get bigger and more durable at cornerback.

Safety T.J. McDonald was beaten for a TD catch by Michael Williams.

Mayock, a former NFL safety, pointed out that McDonald was burned by a "270-pound safety," adding "that's an easy route (to cover)."

Duke Williams is another safety who was up and down.

Impact on Lions: Dee Milliner of Alabama has size (6-1, 198) and is the top-rated cornerback. Some have projected him to be the Lions' top pick. Desmond Trufant and Jordan Poyer were the top-rated corners in the Senior Bowl. Poyer looked like a playmaker, but a mid-round pick.

The Lions drafted three cornerbacks last year. They need a sure starter, not depth and development. Bacarri Rambo could be a depth pick at safety.
10. Denard Robinson: His stats in the game weren't much – two catches for 21 yards, one yard for a loss of three yards. Ansah caught him on an end around. There was no room to run on that play.

People are pulling for Denard for a lot of reasons. Tops on the list – he's a football player. He's making the conversion from run-oriented quarterback at Michigan to wide receiver in the NFL.

It's less than a month since Michigan's season ended with another bowl loss, which makes it unreasonable to think that Denard is close to being the finished product at receiver.

"I think he's going to run 4.35 (seconds) and make you miss," Mayock said. "What we need to see, does he have natural hands? We know he's tough."

Denard showed up at Mobile still feeling the effects of an elbow injury sustained during Michigan's season. He was held out of contact drills early in the week.

Mayock gave him high marks for his willingness to compete at less than full strength.

"A lot of people wouldn't come down here and compete, fearing that they'd be exposed at a new position," Mayock said. "I think that's a good check mark from NFL people this week for those things."

Impact on Lions: Let's be honest. I have no idea, and I don't think the NFL scouts or Denard know right now where he fits on a team – except he's a player worth taking if you've established your price range.

For me, that's the fifth round or below.