The Senior Bowl and Senior Bowl Week is now in the books for 2014. One of my favorite weeks of the year. Let's take a look at some of the standouts from Senior Bowl week before we did a little deeper on television cut-ups and some guys that might be ideal fits for the Washington Redskins.
It's easy to list a bunch of guys that played well, but I think it's important to try and forecast a fit with the Redskins from a schematic standpoint. It's a little more clear on defense what the Redskins will do, as opposed to offense - but Jay Gruden and Sean McVay aren't about to re-invent the wheel.
On defense, we know that Jim Haslett will still be running a 3-4 front, but the big question is - how many of the pieces of the puzzle will have to be filled by the draft depending on what free agency brings. The Redskins will have nearly two months from the start of the free agent period to answer all of those questions, but it's fun to kick some ideas around.
Let's take a look at five defensive players that jumped out to me while closely watching the Senior Bowl coverage on NFL Network throughout the week.
1. Dee Ford - OLB/DE - Auburn: The Senior Bowl MVP is an easy one. He was mostly dominant all week. He capped off an outstanding week of practice with two sacks and a vicious pass knock-down plus countless pass rushes off either edge in Saturday's game. Ford is viewed as an ideal 3-4 outside linebacker, but it was good to see what he could do with his hand down and the results were largely impressive. I say that because he showed both parts of his skill set in the game.
On his first sack, he lined up in space standing up and blew through right tackle Jack Mewhort from Ohio State. He darted inside of Mewhort with ease and brought down Logan Thomas.
On his second sack, Ford lined up on the right side of the defense while shading the left tackle and while he may have jumped a hair early, his athleticism and speed was clearly on display as he chased down the North team's quarterback. Based on my memory, Ford was standing up on this rush as well.
Ford also had a terrific leaping knockdown of a quick out to Stephen Morris' right side. Ford had his hand down, was largely unblocked and engulfed the throwing lane knocking down the pass.
Questions on Ford will be numerous. Can he hold up against the run? Can he drop regularly into pass coverage or will he even be asked to do that early in his career? He also was a medical red-shirt in 2011, so you hope that will not be something that he has to deal with again.
Perhaps the bigger question, will he even be around for the Redskins to select in the early part of the 2nd round? As my buddy, Steve Shoup from Fanspeak.com and others have noted, it is looking a lot less likely after his terrific week in Mobile.
2. Stanley Jean-Baptiste - CB- Nebraska: This tall, physical man press corner from Nebraska is everything that the new NFL is all about. In some ways, his path is similar to that of Richard Sherman. He has only been a cornerback for a couple of years. Jean-Baptiste is 6'2" plus and 215 pounds and while he might be a safety in some scouts eyes - he's a corner in most others eyes.
Jean-Baptiste was occasionally a little stiff in practice sessions I saw during the week, but during the Senior Bowl he flashed that big time athleticism that I wanted to see. On a 3rd-and-9, he was playing off-man coverage and recognized a short pass that he read, jumped up on and made the stop well short of the first down marker.
On another play, Jean-Baptiste was playing off-man coverage again, and while reading the route concept and the play - jumped up and broke a pass up. According to the NFL Network coverage, he had 22 pass breakup's at Nebraska.
The good news for the Redskins? He's far from the only tall, physical man press corner that played in this game and that is available to be selected.
Walt Aikens (great coverage down field on one route) from Liberty, Keith McGill (interception in off-man coverage) from Utah and Pierre Desir (interception in the end zone on a flea-flicker) from tiny Lindenwood college all had impressive moments in Mobile, and all are six foot plus defensive backs with skills. Dontae' Johnson of North Carolina State did not stand out in a positive way in my eyes, but he is also 6'2" and played against a much higher level of competition in addition to having chemistry and David Amerson.
DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson, and E.J. Biggers are among the Redskins free agents at the cornerback position.
3. Jimmie Ward - Safety - Northern Illinois - He did not flash as much as I was hoping for either in practices or during the game, based on the available NFL Network coverage but he is widely regarded as the most natural and fluid safety of the senior class and perhaps overall. Certainly, plenty of film needs to be watched and many questions have to be answered but the as we know - the safety position has been a major area of concern for Washington. Both Brandon Meriweather and Reed Doughty are unrestricted free-agents.
The 5'10" product from Mobile, Alabama was repeatedly referred to as the most fluid and athletic safety and perhaps defensive back of the Senior Bowl group by several draft analysts from different outlets.
4. Aaron Donald - DL- PITT/Ra'Shede Hagemen - DL - Minnesota (Tie): Donald was by far the most dominant defensive lineman all week during practice sessions. He tore pretty much any offensive lineman he went against, and while he did not have a huge impact in the actual game - he did not have a nice pass rush that led to an interception.
Donald is quick and twitchy but a little on the small side. He would need to bulk up and convert for the Redskins to utilize him, as he measured at just over six foot and less than 290 pounds on Monday. Here's what I know. He may not be a great fit currently, but the Redskins lack speed and explosion and Donald has a lot of both.
Hagemen has a lot of physical upside at 6'6" and 318 pounds or so with long arms. He seems like the ideal 3-4 defensive end with athleticism. He might be a little inconsistent, but he stood out to me in practices especially earlier in the week.
The Redskins need help on all three levels of their defense, but somebody that can crash the pocket and force hurried throws from the line of scrimmage would be a priority.
5. Christian Jones - LB - Florida State : Jones got abused on a nasty stiff arm from James White of Wisconsin in the red zone during Saturday's Senior Bowl, but other than that, he had an excellent week.
He blew up a play with a really nice, explosive tackle a bit later in the game. Jones had a really nice week based on what I saw. He has a vicious spin move that was on display in 1 on 1 situations during practice and also came up with an interception at the goal line during team drills in a practice session. I was impressed by Jones' eyes and recognition on the play, as much as his hands.
He can play inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, and you don't have the type of success he had and Florida State had if you can not run. He can move.
Honorable Mention: Kyle Van Noy - LB - BYU, Telvin Smith - S/LB - FSU, Chris Borland - LB - Wisconsin, Caraun Reid - DL - Princeton and NT - Daniel McCullers from Tennessee.
Chris Russell - SFTheRooster@Yahoo.com - www.twitter.com/russellmania980