So much hype is given to the NFL Combine nowadays. Why? Height-weight measurements, 40 times and bench reps are all easy to digest for lots of folks, especially the casual football fan.
Not to say the Combine doesn't matter: it does. But most teams seem to agree that the most important parts of the Combine are the ones fans don't see: the medical evals and the interviews. From a football perspective, the Senior Bowl is more important. Last year, for instance, is where Robert Alford put himself on the Falcons map and then wound up as a second-round pick.
And fortunately this year, Mike Smith and his staff got an up-close and personal look at the North squad in Mobile this week.
A few things that stood out to me:
1. The North Squad Didn't Look Great
A lot of you were complaining that Smitty's group didn't play all that well in the Senior Bowl. And while that may be true, it also does not matter much.
The final result is meaningless; it's just another opportunity for scouts to see these guys against fellow top college talents. Secondly, Smith & Co. only got about one week of practice with these guys. It's not like there was a whole lot of time invested here. And, of course, the North quarterbacks (Stephen Morris, Tajh Boyd) did not play well. There's no sidestepping that, and it dictated how much of the game went.
Bottom line: don't worry about the score. These games are always sloppy.
2. Defensive Linemen Abound
With players like Jadeveon Clowney and Anthony Barr not being able to participate, the defensive line spotlight was left up for grabs. A few in particular stepped up and made their case for the first round.
One of the biggest risers in Mobile might have been Auburn's Dee Ford, who recorded a pair of sacks and a pass breakup in the game after impressing all week as a speedy edge rusher. The good new for the Falcons: this success came lining up as a 4-3 defensive end, on both the strong and weak sides. It's worth noting that his college production was nothing to scoff at, either (10.5 sacks and 14.0 TFLs in 2013). He'll be an interesting guy to watch.
Then there's Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald, who was named most outstanding practice player by Smitty. Here's what he had to say:
"Donald is a very explosive defensive tackle," Smith said, via AL.com. "I’ve been very impressed with him. He’s short in stature by NFL standards and doesn’t maybe have all the measurables, but he’s one of the more explosive guys we have on the North squad. He’s done a very nice job both in the running and the pass game."
Donald is listed at 6-foot, 288 pounds. But that hasn't deterred the Falcons from sticking with guys like Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters, neither of whom are 330-pound giants by any stretch of the imagination. And like Ford, Donald's college production was pretty impressive, especially for an interior lineman (11.0 sacks, 28.5 TFLs). He projects as a second or possibly late first-round pick.
Lastly, we have Minnesota's RaShede Hageman, a monster listed at 6-foot-6 and about 320 pounds. He was one of the most impressive guys I saw, and scouts have been raving about him all week. It's pretty safe to say he's looking like a sure-fire first-rounder at this point.
3. Tackle And Tight End
Two more guys that stood out that could interest the Falcons were Notre Dame OT Zack Martin and TE Crockett Gilmore out of Colorado State.
Gilmore is a name few have heard all that much about, but he finished the day with 5 catches for 61 yards and a touchdown. He's more your traditional tight end, listed at 6-foot-6 and 255, but he showed he can be a weapon in the passing game just as much as he can be a big body on the line this week. Most have him pegged as a late-round guy, but he could start creeping up after this.
Then there's Martin, who drew rave reviews all week during practice and was able to work closely with Falcons O-line coach Mike Tice. He's got some versatility (lined up at LT and LG) and appeared to be taking Tice's technical pointers quite well.
For months, it's been made clear that the Falcons want to make both lines better. Perhaps one of these guys will become part of that rebuilding process.