With the Super Bowl just a few days away, the football world has likely stopped paying any attention to the collegiate game. Of course, this makes sense, seeing as how Alabama knocked off Clemson in early January for the national championship. However, college football was back on center stage this past weekend with the NFL on a bye week before the Panthers and the Broncos square off for the Lombardi Trophy.
On Saturday, in Mobile, Alabama, the game’s top seniors took to the field to demonstrate their talent to scouts from all 32 NFL clubs in the annual Senior Bowl. As the final opportunity to provide the NFL with real game film before May’s draft, this was a huge stage for several players who were trying to improve their draft stock.
Some of the great players in the NFL today — including Von Miller, Russell Wilson, and Clay Matthews — participated in the Senior Bowl, proving the magnitude of the game. While the final outcome of the Senior Bowl doesn’t really matter, some of the performances we saw by individual players on the field certainly do. So, here’s who we think had the most significant performances in the game, which could pay off come May.
1. Dak Prescott, quarterback
The Mississippi State QB really broke onto the scene during his junior season with the Bulldogs, passing for 3,449 yards and 27 touchdowns and running for 986 yards and 14 scores. Prescott had the Bulldogs firmly in the national picture for much of that season, which garnered him plenty of Heisman attention.
This season, the Bulldogs were’t as successful as a team, but Prescott was still spectacular, as he improved his passing numbers and still excelled as a runner. Despite his impressive collegiate career, Prescott is viewed as a third-round pick at best. His performance in the Senior Bowl might have raised his stock. Prescott was excellent in the game, completing seven out of 10 passes and throwing for a touchdown.
He also showcased his running ability against some of the top prospects in the country en route to earning the game’s Most Outstanding Player honors. Even though it was a small sample size, Prescott showed that he can do it all and proved the impact he can have on a game. The NFL Combine will be huge for Prescott, but he has an opportunity to make a jump up team’s draft boards before the draft.
2. Shawn Oakman, defensive end
Oakman has the build to be a dynamic pass rusher at the NFL level. Measuring 6-foot-9 and weighing 275 pounds, Oakman piled up 4.5 sacks in his senior season for the Baylor Bears, which was a bit of a disappointment following his 11-sack junior campaign. With that decline in production, it was vital for Oakman to have a noteworthy performance in the Senior Bowl if he wanted to boost his projection as a third-round draft pick. The pass rusher did just that on Saturday.
By collecting two sacks and a forced fumble in the game, Oakman showed that he can play against the top prospects in the game and be dominant when he’s on the field. Teams are always on the hunt for great pass rushers, so if Oakman performs well throughout the rest of the pre-draft process, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him jump into the second or even first round come May. The Senior Bowl was certainly a step in that direction.
3. Tyler Ervin, running back
San Jose State obviously isn’t a football powerhouse, so if you haven’t heard of Ervin, let us fill you in. Ervin really had a breakout season during his senior year in 2015, rushing for 1,601 yards and 13 touchdowns. Those 1,601 yards on the ground actually ranked 11th in the nation, so Ervin truly was one of the better runners in all of college football. With that, he has garnered plenty of attention from the NFL, although he is projected only as a fifth- or sixth-round pick. After a pretty solid performance in the Senior Bowl, Ervin could be in position to move up.
Not only was Ervin the leading rusher for the North team in the game, he was also their leading receiver. He gained 39 yards on seven carries for a 5.6 yard-per-rush average and caught four passes for 42 yards, proving his ability in both areas. That ability to catch and run the ball has to make Ervin an attractive option for several NFL teams in need of offensive weapons. The Combine will tell us a lot more about the San Jose State product, but at the very least, he’s on the map.
4. Noah Spence, linebacker
The case of Noah Spence is an interesting one. His talent on the field is unquestioned, which is why the Ohio State Buckeyes recruited him back in 2012. After a great sophomore campaign in Columbus, Spence ran into trouble off the field, failing several drug tests which led to him being banned from the Big 10 in September of 2014. Spence took a year away from the game and found a new home at Eastern Kentucky for the 2015 season, where he returned to his dominant form. He recorded 11.5 sacks during the regular season and earned Ohio Valley Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors.
That success has many thinking that a team will take Spence in the first round. Spence’s play in the Senior Bowl should only elevate his image among NFL scouts, as he recorded a sack in the game. At this point, it isn’t about the talent of Spence; it’s about his past. He seems to have rectified the mistakes he made, and it feels like he regained focus as well. If he keeps performing through the Combine and continues to impress, there’s no telling how high Spence can rise in the draft. It would be shocking to see him fall out of the first round.
5. Paul McRoberts, wide receiver
As another player from a smaller school, it’s likely that you may not know the name Paul McRoberts. However, this is a name you should get familiar with. In his senior season, McRoberts went for nearly 1,000 receiving yards and caught nine touchdowns for the Ohio Valley Conference’s Southeast Missouri Redhawks. Playing for a little-known team hid McRoberts’ talent, but he displayed it on the biggest stage in the Senior Bowl.
McRoberts was really the go-to man for the South in the game, as he caught four passes for 46 yards and a touchdown, a five-yard strike from Prescott. He showed his big-play ability with a 22-yard reception as well. In a deep wide receiver class, McRoberts sits as a projected third-round pick. However, even if he stays there, he could prove to be a steal for the team that selects him.