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10 Players Already On The Radar At Senior Bowl

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 21, 2013 – 4:52 pm

After 6 months of paying exclusive attention to NFL players during training camp, the preseason, the regular season and the playoffs, it’s now time for the Vikings and Vikings fans to turn the lion’s share of their attention to college players. Teams are pedal to the metal in draft preparation mode, and it’s time for the rest of us to join in on the action.

We’ll be down in Mobile, Alabama this week covering the Senior Bowl and filling you in on what’s going on and who looks good. As I did last year when I made my maiden voyage to the Senior Bowl, I’m sure players will emerge and standout that I had not previously known. It will take a few days for that to happen, but it will happen.

In the meantime, here are 10 players who are already on my radar and who you will hear about as the week goes on…

HB Kenjon Barner (Oregon) – Some say the biggest difference between the college game and the NFL game is speed. I’m not sure if that is indeed the biggest difference – some might argue that point. But I do know there’s a huge difference in the speed of the game between the amateurs and the pros. However, if there’s been a program of late that has closed that gap even a little, it’s been the University of Oregon. They’ve run an up-tempo offense under head coach Chip Kelly (he’s now the Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach), rarely huddling between plays and averaging 49.6 points per game the past season. Yes, 49.6. Points. Per game. The success that LaMichael James, a former Oregon Duck, has had with the Super Bowl-bound San Francisco 49ers has me intrigued about the Barner’s chances. He didn’t average below 6.0 yards per carry in any of his 4 seasons at Oregon, and his last season was his best. Barner had 1,767 rushing yards and 21 TDs on 278 attempts to go along with 20 receptions for 256 yards with 2 more TDs.

LB Michael Buchanon (Illinois) – Call me silly if you want, but the reason I put him on this list is that he plays LB and he played at the University of Illinois. The Vikings Director of College Scouting is Scott Studwell, a great player for a long time for the Vikings, and he also played linebacker at the University of Illinois. I know that doesn’t have a practical correlation, but it’s an interesting nugget and it provides a reason to put a kid many of you haven’t heard of on this list.

WR Aaron Dobson (Marshall) – To be honest, this might be the player I’m looking forward to seeing the most this week. He measures in at 6-3, 200 pounds and has the frame you see in prototypical NFL WRs. Dobson made perhaps the catch of the year (look it up as “Aaron Dobson – The Catch”) and he might be the type of receiver this Vikings offense has been missing. Dobson is a solid character guy who has been the face of Marshall’s program of late. Last year (2011) he had 668 yards receiving and 12 TDs on 49 receptions, while his senior season featured fewer TDs (3) but more receptions (57) and receiving yards (679).

DT Jonathan Jenkins (Georgia) – On the ESPN Scout’s Inc. Top 32 board, Jenkins is ranked 16th and Mel Kiper has him going 25th to Seattle in his first mock draft. Georgia’s defense was pretty good this season. The Vikings are a team that could be looking to add depth along their defensive line (you can never have too many good defensive linemen). It all adds up, so we’ll keep an eye on Jenkins this week. For what it’s worth, Kiper describes Jenkins as “an interior defender who can occupy blockers, occasionally penetrate and even wreck the pocket from the inside is a need.” Kiper also says that “Jenkins was a little uneven at times in 2012, but has the upside of an impact interior lineman.”

LB Nico Johnson (Alabama) – He played linebacker for Nick Saban at Alabama. Enough said?

WR Denard Robinson (Michigan) – Robinson played QB for the vast majority of his career at Michigan and was one of the most exciting and electric players in all of college football. At the Senior Bowl, though, he’ll practice and play as a wide receiver. It will be interesting to watch him make that transition. I’m also hopeful the North coaching staff will have him return kickoffs and punts.

TE Michael Williams (Alabama) – I noticed Williams during the Crimson Tide’s title game victory over Notre Dame. He scored a TD early in the game and looked like an NFL athlete in doing so. I’m anxious to see him in person – it’s a whole other ballgame seeing a guy move in person, especially at a position like TE where a player can be asked to do a variety of things.

DT Sylvester Williams (North Carolina) – He makes the list because ESPN’s Todd McShay pegged him as the Vikings selection in his first mock draft of the season, saying Williams “has good speed and range, power at the point of attack, quick hands and solid instincts.” Should the Vikings actually fulfill McShay’s projection, it may provide the defense with another “Williams Wall.”

WR Terrance Williams (Baylor) – For the same reason Sylvester Williams makes this list, we put Terrance Williams on the list – an ESPN draft expert (Kiper) projected he’d be the Vikings pick at #23. Here’s what Kiper says about this Williams: “Last year, we saw both Josh Gordon and Kendall Wright taken out of Baylor, and Williams has the skill set to join them as a player drafted with the potential to make an early impact. Williams is first a player who can use his size and speed to stretch the field and take the top off a defense, but he also can make big plays on the sidelines, where he’ll tiptoe and make the catches as well as any pass-catching target in the draft. Williams also will beat you with the ball in his hands as a nifty runner with good size. Minnesota needs a dependable pass-catcher next to Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph.”

All the Quarterbacks – We all like to evaluate QBs, so we’ll put all of them on this list but count them as just one player. We’ll be sure to keep an eye on this crop. The 6 QBs on this year’s Senior Bowl rosters are: Zac Dysert (Miami-Ohio); Mike Glennon (NC State); Landry Jones (Oklahoma); EJ Manuel (Florida State); Ryan Nassib (Syracuse); Tyler Wilson (Arkansas).


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As Draft-Eligible Underclassmen Numbers Increase, So Does Importance Of Senior Bowl

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 21, 2013 – 11:16 am

As has been the case each year since 2009, the number of underclassmen who’ve declared for the NFL draft has increased. The NFL announced last week that 73 players have been granted “special eligibility” for this year’s draft, a figure that is up from 65 in 2012 and 56 from 2011.

On top of the raw number of underclassmen who’ve declared for this year’s NFL draft, it’s also interesting to note the quality of underclassmen who’ve declared. Widely-projected Top 10 picks such as Texas A&M LT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M DE Damontre Moore, LSU DE Barkevious Mingo, Georgia LB Jarvis Jones, Florida State DE Bjoern Werner and Alabama CB Dee Milliner are all underclassmen.

With the number of underclassmen declaring for the draft continuing to increase and with the number of quality underclassmen declaring increasing as well, event such as the Senior Bowl become that much more important. The Senior Bowl is now the most important moment for the nation’s top seniors because it’s their opportunity to showcase themselves to the NFL at a time when the NFL is not otherwise concerned with underclassmen.

Even more important than the actual game, though, is the week of preparation leading up to the game. NFL coaches and scouts will watch each team practice for several days leading up to Saturday’s game, and they’ll cram in as many interviews as possible off the field with these seniors this week because when NFL teams descend upon Indianapolis in late February for the Combine, much of their focus when it comes to the all-important interview process will be on underclassmen.

Yes, the fact that so many underclassmen are declaring for the draft does take some attention away from the nation’s best senior players at times such as the Combine, pro days and even draft day. But that just makes this week’s event – the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama – even more important.

We’ll be covering the Senior Bowl all week here on vikings.com and the vikings.com Blog, so stay tuned for updates.


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Heading To The Senior Bowl

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 21, 2013 – 7:37 am

Much of the talk today in NFL circles will be about the Super Bowl. But my attention, and the attention of 30 of the 32 NFL teams, will be on another “bowl” game – the Senior Bowl.

NFL teams and some of the nation’s top senior football players have descended upon Mobile, Alabama for the 2013 Senior Bowl. The game itself is not until Saturday, but the practices leading up to the actual game is what interests NFL coaches and scouts, and it’s what interests us here at the Vikings Entertainment Network (VEN).

I have an afternoon flight, with a connection in Atlanta, and will be on the ground in Mobile, Alabama for the week-long festivities. While I’m there, I’ll bring you constant coverage and updates from the Senior Bowl practices.

Be sure to stay tuned to vikings.com and the vikings.com Blog for complete coverage of Senior Bowl week, including practice reports and press conferences. Players will be available to speak after practices, and both head coaches (Detroit’s Jim Schwartz of the North team and Oakland’s Dennis Allen of the South team) will also speak after practices as well as hold a press conference each afternoon.

You can also receive updates on Senior Bowl week by following me on Twitter (@wobby).


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Former Vikings Set To Meet In Super Bowl 47

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 21, 2013 – 7:29 am

After a pair of dramatic Championship Games, the matchup is set for Super Bowl 47 – it’ll be the San Francisco 49ers against the Baltimore Ravens at the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans, LA.

This game is not short on storylines. First, and the storyline that will capture the most attention, you have the Harbaugh brothers – Jim (49ers) and John (Ravens) going against one another. It’s an improbable and remarkable feat accomplished by the two brothers. I thought it was incredible that a pair of brothers – Eli and Peyton Manning – were starting QBs and MVPs in back-to-back Super Bowls. But a pair of brothers coaching against one another as head coaches is even more remarkable. Other storylines include: Ray Lewis playing in the Super Bowl in the last game of his career; Joe Flacco coming of age before our eyes; and Colin Kaepernick budding into a star.

From a Vikings perspective, we should be paying more attention to the Senior Bowl this week (more on that in a bit) than the Super Bowl next week. But of course we won’t completely ignore the pinnacle of the sport.

With that being said, it’s interesting to note that three former Vikings will meet in the Super Bowl on February 2, and all three played major roles on past Vikings teams.

– Randy Moss is a member of the 49ers and is looking to win a ring in his 14th (and final?) season. Moss was a 1st-round pick of the Viking in 1998 and burst onto the scene with one of the greatest rookie seasons in League history. He played for the Vikings from 1998-2004 and then again for part of the 2010 season.

– Matt Birk and Bryant McKinnie occupy the same starting positions for the Ravens that they did for the Vikings. Birk was a 6th-round pick of the Vikings in 1998, earning 6 Pro Bowls and 2 All-Pro selections at center while with Minnesota. He also played in 2 NFC title games while with the Vikings – following the 1998 and 2000 seasons. McKinnie was a 1st-round pick of the Vikings in 2002 and held down a starting job at LT through the 2010 season, starting 80 consecutive games at one point blocking for high-octane offenses.


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