We're back in Berea and back to getting our money's worth out of our winter weather gear.
The 2015 Senior Bowl is over and done, but there's still so much to digest from the week we spent in the Mobile, Alabama. Before diving into the bevy of interviews we conducted throughout the week, here are the five things we took away from this annual showcase of college football's best experienced players.
There might not be a Derek Carr or Russell Wilson among this year's QBs
Derek Carr and Russell Wilson were the literal poster children for the 2015 Senior Bowl. Their images were scattered throughout the city in the days leading up to the game, serving as a reminder to fans that legitimate NFL stars or stars-in-the-making will play in this exhibition game. Though a player like Browns rookie Joel Bitonio might be an even better example than Carr at the moment, we all know which position drives the most headlines and attention at a game such as this. The Senior Bowl's problem in 2016 might center on which quarterback from 2015 will be poster-worthy. It was an up-and-down week for all six of the quarterbacks, a group that lost one (Auburn's Nick Marshall) and gained one (Southeastern Louisiana's Bryan Bennett) mid-stream. Baylor's Bryce Petty was the biggest name and drew the biggest spotlight, but most analysts viewed him as inconsistent as he adapted to a pro-style offense. The transition was easier for Alabama's Blake Sims, Colorado State's Garrett Grayson and Oregon State's Sean Mannion, all of whom ran a pro-style offense in college, but none separated himself as "the guy" from this year's group. Most of the six will be drafted, but it's unlikely any will carry the kind of expectations Carr and Wilson generated.
It's a good year to need a fullback
Though it might be the opposite in terms of glamour when compared to quarterback, the fullback position garnered some headlines throughout the week because of how well some of them performed. On Saturday, it was Yale's Tyler Varga, who played running back but projects as a fullback in the NFL. He had two touchdowns and 31 yards on just four carries in a game dominated by his North team. Alabama's Jalston Fowler drew strong reviews during the week of practices. He plays lighter than his 262 pounds indicates and is capable of catching passes out of the backfield, as he hauled in seven touchdowns over the past two seasons while lining up as either a fullback or H-back. The Browns ended the season without a fullback. New offensive coordinator John DeFilippo comes from an offense that sent a fullback (Marcel Reece) to the Pro Bowl. It's not clear when and where the Browns will address the position, but there will be some viable options at the collegiate level.
The next Pierre Desir? A sampling of the candidates
There were a number of candidates to add to the list as the next Pierre Desir when it pertains to small-school players showing they belong on the big stage. You probably don't know their names now, but you'll begin to hear them more often during the 24-7 coverage of the 2015 NFL Draft. Offensive lineman Ali Marpet of Hobart, a Division III school, had a good week and projects as a Day 2 or Day 3 player. Wide receiver Dezmin Lewis of Central Arkansas, who was the tallest receiver at the Senior Bowl, led all players with three receptions for 59 yards in Saturday's game. As mentioned above, Varga certainly turned some heads and David Johnson (Northern Iowa) got some good publicity before a number of underclassman running backs draw attention away from him at the Combine. On defense, defensive lineman/linebacker Lynden Trail (Norfolk State) had a good week and so did kicker Tom Obarski (Concordia-St. Paul).
It's still very, very early
As Browns general manager Ray Farmer indicated to us last week, the Senior Bowl is important, but it's only a small piece to a much larger puzzle. The next few weeks are vital for the hundreds of players who will participate in the NFL Combine. Though the majority of workouts they'll perform at the scouting event don't correlate to whether a player is right for the NFL --how many offensive linemen run 40 yards in a straight line on a given play? -- the times and measurements can be indicative of a player's work ethic. A quality week at the Senior Bowl can be quickly forgotten with a lousy week in Indianapolis, and an eye-popping showing at the Combine can open a lot of doors that the Senior Bowl couldn't.
Buckle up for the Combine
Can you tell how excited we are to get prepared for the Combine? Here's another reason. Even though the Senior Bowl was loaded with talented players, most will not land with teams in the first round. The first nine players in ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s first mock draft of 2015 were not in Mobile last week. Of his top 20, only two (Pittsburgh's T.J. Clemmings and Washington's Danny Shelton) participated in the Senior Bowl. The great thing about the Combine is it brings almost every conceivable draft prospect under one roof. We'll be there with just as much coverage, if not more, than we had for the Senior Bowl.
This article is part of the Road to the Draft series, driven by Liberty Ford.