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2016 Senior Bowl: Top prospects to watch

The practices are complete, and Senior Bowl week wraps up with the All-Star game between the North and South teams.  Time to see who can ex

The practices are complete, and Senior Bowl week wraps up with the All-Star game between the North and South teams.  Time to see who can execute what they’ve learned over the past few days.  We’ve previously highlighted some of the players who stood out during the midweek practices.  This time it’s a look at a few of the players who have something to prove or plenty to gain with a good performance in the game itself and so are worth keeping a look out for.  Enjoy the game!  You can watch on NFL Network at 2.30 PM ET (7.30 PM UK time).                                                                                                                                      

Tyler Ervin, RB, San Jose State (North Team)

I have a bit of a feeling that Ervin has a chance to be the offensive MVP of this game and become a more well-known name.  He’s a smaller back at 5ft 10 and just 177 lbs, but has flashed his exciting, dynamic skill set during drills.  His versatility as a runner, receiver and returner on special teams hopefully will all be on show during the Senior Bowl game.  Check downs to running backs can be a frequent occurrence in these all-star games, and that might give Ervin a chance to demonstrate how dangerous he can be in space to create extra yards.  He’s a fantastic athlete with speed, acceleration and sharp change of direction skills, with the explosion to breakaway for long runs on any given touch.  He’s a more physical runner than he’s given credit for at his size.  His film is packed full of tough runs to the interior, not just bouncing outside laterally all the time, and though from a less heralded school and conference has performed well against better opposition that he has faced.  Check out his game versus Auburn as a perfect example of that this year.  Ervin earned his spot at the Senior Bowl after an outstanding senior season in which he totalled over 2,500 all-purpose yards, as well as 13 rush TDs, 2 receiving TDs and a punt return score as well (the 4th return touchdown of his career).  I can’t wait to see how he gets used in today’s game.  

Jeff Driskel, QB, Louisiana Tech (North Team)

While Carson Wentz has been the story of the week among the Senior Bowl quarterbacks, there’s a really interesting group of passers beyond him.  Perhaps the most intriguing to watch in Saturday’s game is the former Florida QB.  Driskel has looked good at times during practices over the week with his next-level measurables, standing at an impressive 6ft 4, 234 lbs and showing off a strong arm.  However, his accuracy with that arm has been far from consistent, so there is a lot to prove still.  Driskel’s career at the Gators really deteriorated rapidly, as his confidence plummeted and coping badly with pressure led to the interceptions piling up.  Eventually he lost his starting job and transferred to LA Tech.  At this point it didn’t look like there was much of an NFL future for Driskel, but he found a great fit with the Bulldogs, and put in a highly productive final year that has revitalised his draft stock with over 4,000 passing yards and 27 touchdowns.  He has a chance to earn himself a late round selection in the draft now, but could really use a good performance in the Senior Bowl game after some up and down moments over the practices.  While he had a great senior year, the Bulldogs offense was passer-friendly and lacking in much pro-style concepts, so his decision making and execution of what he has learned this week will be key, as well as proving he can be accurate.  As a borderline draft prospect, Driskel is one of the players with a lot to potentially gain on the field in this game.  

Dadi Nicolas, EDGE, Virginia Tech (South Team)

There’s so much for Nicolas to gain if he can produce some pressure in the backfield here.  Some of the pre-season talk last summer mentioned the Hokie pass rusher as an early round pick potentially, but it has been a bit of a disastrous senior season.  Nicolas is an explosive athlete with a high motor that saw him get into position to make plays as a junior, but too often left plays on the field, failing to finish.  That was well reflected in his 18 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks in 2014 but 26 additional quarterback pressures.  It was an entirely different story in 2015 though with just 7 TFLs, 2.5 sacks and 5 QB pressures, a huge drop in his numbers all round.  Nicolas was invisible for entire games, too easy to control head on, and too simply directed wide and behind the play when trying to win the edge with his speed.  He may bring a lot of energy but is light at just 223 lbs and clearly lacking in his core strength.  He had his moments at times during the one-on-one drills between the offensive and defensive lines but often the same issues were evident again, with so many of these drills designed in ways that often expose such flaws.  Few can match him though in terms of quick reactions off the snap and initial burst to accelerate.  Reminding scouts of that during the game would be a good way to start rebuilding his lost stock.  

Malcolm Mitchell, WR, Georgia (South Team)

A frustrating series of injuries over his time in college, including missing all of 2013 with a torn ACL, have gotten in the way of what could have been a record setting Bulldog career.  Mitchell really needed a big senior year, and an injury-free one, in order to off-set the durability questions that will be a red flag on him and probably ensure that he’s at best a day 3 draft pick.  He delivered on that with 58 receptions, 865 yards and 5 touchdowns, despite playing on an offense with a struggling quarterback limiting the pass game considerably this year.  Mitchell is one of the best in the 2016 receiver class in terms of field awareness, timing and just the general savvy to find space and get himself open.  He backs that up with superb hands, rarely dropping anything within his catch radius.  Unsurprisingly, Mitchell was able to excel in drills versus the defensive backs, using those abilities to win one on one.  While Ohio State’s Braxton miller was the big talking point from the wide receivers on show this week during the practices, Mitchell has a good shot at being the star receiver of the game itself.  

Deiondre’ Hall, CB, Northern Iowa (North Team)

Hall and Harlan Miller both came to the Senior Bowl as highly thought of small school corner prospects.  While Miller has stepped up to the challenge and looked the part, Hall has looked noticeably raw and has really struggled in going up against the higher class of receiver in attendance.  Those receivers found it easy to gain separation from Hall with some basic route breaks and double moves that caught Hall off guard, and even when in decent position he failed to get his head around to make plays on the ball.  It was a rough learning curve the UNI corner.  In fairness, he is returning to corner after playing as a safety for his senior year, and could be considered to stay at that spot as well.  One thing that Hall certainly has in abundance is natural athleticism that was put to great use in a free role to roam the field where his range to cover the sidelines and to quickly close downfield proved highly effective.  That athletic ability, combined with his tall frame at 6ft 2, 190 lbs and the versatility (including as a gunner and returner on special teams) are still going to see him drafted, potentially in the middle rounds.  Hall can be a bit of a playmaker, including 6 interceptions in 2015.  He’s worth watching closely in today’s game to see if he can demonstrate that.  

Nick Vannett, TE, Ohio State (North Team)

Vannett is definitely one to keep an eye on in the game.  Criminally underused by the Buckeyes (as all tight ends in Urban Myer’s system tend to be), Vannett has a great opportunity to prove his abilities as a receiving tight end.  The lack of opportunities resulted in just 19 receptions in each of the last two seasons, being mostly used as an inline blocker, where he has been none-the-less very effective.  He’s looked excellent in receiving drills during practices with soft hands, and moves surprisingly well at 6ft 6, 260 lbs.  This is a weak tight end class this draft, but Vannett is arguably the top senior prospect in the group with an all-round game and next-level size.  This is a good chance to show what he can do out with the limitations of the system he played in.  Vannett is almost certain to end up being a more productive pro player than in college.  Oh, and one wild card at TE.  Gronk’s little brother Glenn is attempting to make an impact at the position, having been a full back during his career at Kansas State.  I’ve not heard his name mentioned much during practices but will be interested to see what he can do beyond his full back role.  

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Rebecca Rennie

Hello all, I'm Rebecca, also going by Bex, and I am the RealSport College Football Editor, as well as writer and NFL Draft analyst.  I also edit other sports including the CFL, cycling and golf, while occasionally contributing to the NFL section as well.  I'm a fan of most sports and enjoy discussing with fellow fans, so do please comment on articles and interact.  A big fan of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and of the Central Florida Knights in college.

2016 Senior Bowl: Top prospects to watch

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