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).
Tags: 2013 NFL Draft, 2013 Senior Bowl
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