With the NFL on hiatus this week (with the exception of that god-awful monstrosity known as the Pro Bowl), the eyes of football fans and, especially, the league’s coaches and personnel executives will be focused on the Senior Bowl on Saturday afternoon.
The PAC-12 conference has fifteen players listed on both the North and South team rosters. Here’s a look at five of the most intriguing.
Cameron Smith – LB – USC
Production. That’s the word that runs through the mind when you think of Smith’s career at ‘SC. The Trojans’ middle backer was a veritable tackling machine, leading the team in that category for three straight seasons, the first USC player to do so in 40 years.
Smith finished his career in L.A. with 354 tackles, including 26 1/2 for loss to go along with 3 1/2 sacks, 3 fumble recoveries, and 4 interceptions.
An incredibly aggressive, intense player, Smith has no doubt shown those traits to the NFL personnel assembled in Mobile this week.
The uber-productive Trojan LB should more than hold his own in the one-on-one drills that the coaches and scouts love to see in the practice sessions leading up to game day. I don’t expect Smith to blow anyone away in those drills but, come game time, it wouldn’t shock me at all to see him making play after play in the time he spends on the field.
One negative that will be scrutinized by GMs, coaches, and scouts is a history of (mostly) minor injuries. Smith missed playing time in three of his four years at USC due to injuries.
Renell Wren – DT – Arizona State
Seemingly every year there are a handful of players whose “measurables” are off the charts. Wren’s read like this: 6′ 6, 297 pounds, 4.65 40 yard dash, and a 545-pound deadlift.
Some of these same players also have scouts salivating during Senior Bowl one-on-one drills. Wren has reportedly been doing just that this week. Words like “wow” and “freakish” have been thrown around by various personnel types.
But just as players like Cameron Smith have been amazingly productive during their college careers, players like Wren (the “freakish”-type players) often have very little actual on-field production to show for their athletic ability. Wren’s stats look like this: 81 total tackles (14 1/2 for loss) to go along with 3 sacks. That does not strike anyone as the type of career production that lends itself to greatness at the next level.
Andre Dillard – OT – Washington State
What Renell Wren seemed to lack in terms of production in his college career, Dillard had in spades.
The O-lineman started the final 39 games of his career at left tackle for the Cougars. An extremely strong pass blocker, Dillard was rated the best tackle in that category in the country. He allowed just one sack on 677 passing attempts. That’s pretty productive.
In terms of run-blocking, Dillard is not considered a mauling, road-grading, top-end tackle. But he is noted for being able to sustain blocks once he’s engaged.
Once again, production seems to rule the day for the best players in this game.
Jalen Jelks – DE – Oregon
Tall, lean, and fast, Jelks is at his best when he’s used on the edge. For some reason, the Ducks used him quite a bit as a defensive tackle, which hurt his production.
Despite being misused much of his career, he collected 29 1/2 tackles for loss and 15 sacks during his time in Eugene.
When used as a DE, Jelks is able to use his speed to blow past tackles and has the ability to “shrink” himself by bending and lowering his pad level against bigger OT’s.
He also is an excellent pursuit player in the run game, making plays from sideline to sideline.
As long as he stays low against both the run and pass and once he puts on weight for the NFL game, Jelks could prove to be one of the sleeper picks in the draft this year.
Iman Marshall – CB – USC
Big (6-1, 205), especially for a cornerback, and very physical, Marshall is another Senior Bowl participant who has that “P” word attached to him moving forward.
How’s this for production? 170 tackles. 36 pass deflections (second all-time in the PAC-12). 6 interceptions.
Marshall seems like the prototypical corner for the NFL game. His size and physical style of play, not to mention a fearless demeanor on the field, could move him up the draft boards of a lot of teams.
If any of the players in this group are destined to have a breakout Senior Bowl, I would expect it to be Marshall. It is that fearless mentality that I can see leading him to have a monster game on Saturday.
As with his former teammate Smith, Marshall has had his share of injuries in the past 2 years at ‘SC. Assuming his health checks out ok, I think the former Trojan and his relentless, ball-hawking style are destined for a lengthy career in the pro game.