Jan 24, 2013; Running back Kenjon Barner of Oregon during Senior Bowl practice at Fairhope Municipal Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
The Senior Bowl is the premier college post-season all-star game that signals the first of two peaks in the pre-draft offseason schedule. Besides the Draft Combine, the Senior Bowl is probably the most important and most attended event of pre-draft season, and for good reason. Most key NFL prospects who fall just below the “can’t miss” category make their way to Mobile, Alabama to compete in the game, and in turn, most of the first round selections NFL general managers make are players they evaluated at the Senior Bowl.
So who should the Buccaneers be watching in the 2013 Senior Bowl? Keep in mind that some top prospects will not be in attendance for one reason or another, but here is a list of five players that may find their way onto the Buccaneers big board heading into the draft:
Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
By now, most Buccaneers fans know about Dee Milliner and Johnthan Banks, as most mock drafts have Tampa Bay selecting one or the other with the 13th pick. However, neither will be at the Senior Bowl, leaving Trufant with an open door to present himself as a top corner in this draft. Trufant has NFL pedigree, as he’s the third Trufant brother who will play NFL football, and with that pedigree comes an NFL sized body. Desmond is also a very smart football player, and is able to read and diagnose offensive plays and players. However, he’s not the best tackler, and that’s certainly something the Buccaneers will covet in a cornerback.
What to watch for: Trufant will have to prove he’s able to mix it up with the best of the best, and he’ll have his first chance to do so against 3 good quarterbacks. Watch to see if Trufant is able to predict and undercut routes, or put himself into advantageous positions against receivers. Also keep an eye on his tackling, as the Buccaneers will want to see a willingness to tackle properly to trust him as a cornerback.
Draft Stock: Trufant is currently a borderline first round prospect. He might be available for the Buccaneers at the beginning of round 2.
Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
If you watched college football this season, you know Barner’s name. The playmaker from the Oregon Ducks had his name mentioned in the Heisman discussion for a few weeks, and proved to be a consistent member of the Quack Attack offense. He’s incredibly quick and shifty, and would be able to hit home run plays even at the NFL level. He’s also very capable of catching the football, and returning punts and kicks, meaning he can be used in a plethora of ways. Barner is not someone that opponents want to see in the open field. However, once the other team gets their hands on him, he’s fairly easy to take down. The element of strength is lacking from Barner’s game, and he lacks in tackle-breaking and pass-blocking ability.
What to watch for: Barner has struggled at times with ball security. Watch to see if Barner has any issues holding onto the football. Also, if Barner manages to break any tackles and show that he’s working on building his pass blocking abilities, he will shoot up draft boards.
Draft Stock: Barner is likely going to be available in the middle of the draft, anywhere from the 3rd to 6th round.
Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers
For the next couple of years, the NFL Draft will likely be an opportunity for Coach Schiano to scout and possibly select players he’s already familiar with. Greene and teammate Steve Beauharnais are both likely targets for the Buccaneers in the 2013 NFL Draft, and since I’ve already given a bit of information on Beauharnais, let’s take a look at Greene. The Rutgers linebacker is uber-athletic, and gets tackles in bunches. He’s the kind of player who can chase down the action of a play from anywhere on the field. However, he is a bit small for a linebacker, and would probably be a bit redundant with Lavonte David already in Tampa Bay. But if Greene falls down the draft board a bit, don’t be surprised if Schiano is able to put in a good word and bring Greene to Tampa Bay.
What to watch for: Greene will need to show that he can handle fighting through and around bigger, stronger players. He’s got the speed, but he needs to show he can use some strength to make it in the NFL as a linebacker.
Draft Stock: Greene is currently a second round prospect, but if his stock falls at all, the Buccaneers may stop his fall.
Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports
Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford
Thomas is a linebacker who has a bit more size and strength, and could fill the Buccaneers need for a strongside linebacker if Quincy Black fails to return to health. Thomas is almost 250 pounds, but still has some agility and uses good technique to hold his own against blockers. He’s disruptive, and makes solid tackles while going for the ball as well. However, he’s not an incredible athlete, and isn’t going to chase down many runners, or make amazing open field tackles. That won’t be a problem with the Buccaneers, as Lavonte David and Mason Foster should be able to cover those duties, allowing Thomas to control the strong side of the field and occasionally join in the pass rush.
What to watch for: See if Thomas’ lack of athleticism hurts him against the stiff competition at the Senior Bowl. Thomas also played in a 3-4, so if the Senior Bowl has him in a 4-3, it will be interesting to see how he reacts.
Draft Stock: Thomas will likely be available for the Buccaneers 3rd round selection, and would make for good value if he is on the board any later than that.
Xavier Nixon, OT, Florida
A local college player who has seen his stock slide might be another player the Buccaneers take a second glance at, and Nixon fits the bill. Nixon has the size to be an NFL player, but might not have all the skills. The Senior Bowl will be a chance to see if he’s able to stand up against some of the better defenders in college football.
What to watch for: Nixon has all the size he needs. Watch to see if he’s called for holding, or getting run around by quicker defenders. He’s got an opportunity to make a statement if he shows good footwork in the Senior Bowl
Draft Stock: Nixon is likely going to be available in the later rounds of the NFL Draft, and will likely only require a 5th or 6th round selection.
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