Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Reese's Senior Bowl is annually a perfect medium for the nation's top college seniors to showcase their abilities in game action for NFL scouts prior to the scouting combine.
Saturday's game in Mobile, Ala., featured those seniors (minus one A.J. McCarron, who could've benefited from a showcase against a host of all-stars) who are trying to improve their stock and move up teams' draft boards.
Many of the top-rated players in this year's pool are underclassmen. In fact, few seniors will find their names gracing the Top 15 in several online mock drafts. With the NFL scouting combine the last real test of skill before May's draft, the Senior Bowl proved it was vitally important for a handful of players, and not so good to a handful of others.
With that in mind, here are the winners and losers from the 2014 Senior Bowl:
Dee Ford, DL, Auburn
Ford had a Ziggy Ansah-like Senior Bowl, proving he can be one of the most capable outside defensive line players in the draft. His explosiveness Saturday led directly to two sacks and a pass breakup, which earned him the game's MVP honor.
Ford's season with Auburn was stellar. But prior to Saturday, Ford was very much in the shadow of premiere pass rushers like Jadeveon Clowney and Kony Ealy. He may have even vaulted himself into the first round with his performance. The game itself capped what was a solid all-around week of practice for Ford.
The defensive end position in the NFL is becoming something of a revolutionized one, where the ends not only need size and brute strength, but also speed to keep up with running backs and mobile quarterbacks, who are becoming more prevalent as well. Ford showed how easily he can get around the edge on the rush and catch up with the scramblers.
Caraun Reid, DT, Princeton
If you followed the FCS this past season, you've heard of Caraun Reid. The senior defensive tackle was a member of the Buck Buchanan Award Watch List (FCS' best defensive player) for the entirety of the season, and frequently saw double- or even triple-team blockers just to prevent him from getting up the middle. Well, he did that in the Senior Bowl.
On back-to-back plays, Reid shoved his way into the pocket and sacked the North team's quarterback. He was a solid presence in the middle of the defensive line all game, and provided pressure that led to an interception. Reid was thought of as a third- to fourth-round pick prior to the Senior Bowl, but it looks like he may have solidified a third-round flier after Saturday.
The only knock on Reid is his size. At 6-foot-2, scouts generally like to see taller defensive tackles. But he has good reach for his height and power that will capture coaches' interests.
Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Sure, Carr's stock was already pretty high entering the game. In fact, he was the only senior quarterback whose name was mentioned anywhere remotely close to a potential Day 1 pick (Tajh Boyd's stock had dropped considerably).
Carr didn't have a phenomenal game statistically, completing 7-of-12 pass attempts for 45 yards and a touchdown, but his managerial skills seemed to be on point. He connected with Colorado State tight end Crockett Gilmore early on a 17-yard first-quarter touchdown.
Many people just want to make sure Carr won't turn into his brother, David, whose hype was way greater than his talent or skill. Derek has a good arm strength and vision on the field. He won't go before Johnny Manziel or Bridgewater or Blake Bortles, but a team like Arizona or Minnesota could, and probably will, take Carr in the first round. The Ben Roethlisberger trade rumors, which could shake things up around the NFL and on draft day, certainly make for an interesting debate.
Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
Borland was the definition of "under the radar" prior to the Senior Bowl, although for the initiated college football fans, Borland's success wasn't much of a shocker. The linebacker from Wisconsin's size (5-foot-11, 247 pounds) drew concerns from scouts, and rightfully so. But what he lacks in size, he makes up for in his field tenacity.
Borland led all defenders in the game with eight tackles, including a tackle for loss and a forced fumble. His size may not be much, but his ability to find and bring down the ball carrier stood out the most Saturday.
Stephen Morris, QB, Miami
No quarterback in the Senior Bowl attempted more passes than Morris' 18. No signal caller completed more passes, either (Morris had 10 completions), but that's beside the point. Morris was erratic throwing the football, and, for the most part, was the same way at Miami in his senior season.
Morris quite possibly has the best arm strength in this draft, but that can't translate to anything at the next level if the accuracy isn't there. He tossed two interceptions in the Senior Bowl Saturday - one in which his wide receiver fell down, but the pass was still so far off the mark, and another in which Auburn cornerback Chris Davis was able to make an easy slant read to step in front of Morris' receiver.
Morris went from a highly touted prospect to a possible undrafted free agent over the course of the last year, and the spotty performance Saturday was the icing on the cake.
Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
Thomas draws physical comparisons to Cam Newton because of his 6-6, 240- pound frame and his dual-threat potential as a runner. But when his pocket collapsed numerous times Saturday, he looked lost. As a player keen on using his feet to escape pressure, he even looked lost trying to avoid a single rusher.
He did complete 4-of-5 pass attempts, but for just 17 yards in the game. Meanwhile, Thomas took five sacks Saturday, which was a mixture of poor offensive line play and his inability to get the ball out of his hands on time. The most disappointing thing about Thomas is that all week he wasn't able to take advantage of many opportunities to show off his arm strength.
Thomas probably won't fall too far on the draft board because teams see him as a player with a high ceiling and tons of room to grow. The fact that he's among the "losers" here is more due to the wasted opportunities to show his upside.
Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
OK, there's not much love here for the Senior Bowl North roster quarterbacks. It's too bad because the three quarterbacks here in the "losers" section had the most to prove in the game.
Boyd's stock has dropped from a potential first-rounder to a late-round flier (fourth of fifth round) in the past few months. Boyd connected on 7-of-16 pass attempts for 31 yards with an interception in the Senior Bowl. His senior season at Clemson wasn't what scouts had hoped for, either. It appears more and more likely that some of his success this season was aided by Sammy Watkins' ability to turn a short-yardage dump pass into a big gain.
Boyd's accuracy is lacking, so he'll have to wow scouts at the combine and in individual pro days to earn a better pick than the fourth or fifth round. The positive is that his work ethic is unmatched, but whether he can turn that into usable on-field skill is the real question.