Eye on the Prize: Senior Bowl

(editor’s note: This series is our first by the staff writer only known as “vixticator” to outsiders, a dedicated film scout who lives in isolation in the Appalachian Mountains. His ways and methods are mysterious– some are not entirely certain he exists– but his insights on NFL prospects have proven consistently accurate. Zone Reads was lucky enough to draw his attention to our blog, and we managed to strike up a deal with him whereby he would allow us to transcribe his thoughts on various draft prospects and post them here. This is his first column for the blog.)

Eye on the Prize: Senior Bowl Edition, Part 1

This series will take a look at some of the more “under the radar” prospects– prospects not currently listed as “first round” grades whom I believe can and will rise to that status later– to keep an eye on throughout the next few months, focusing on invitees to the upcoming Senior Bowl. We’re not talking too under the radar, as each of these first three were named All-Americans by the Associated Press, but players who haven’t been seriously considered as strong prospects yet whom I believe will rise over the course of the draft process. Today, we’re going to look at three defensive guys up front: Jeremiah Attaochu, Aaron Donald, and Michael Sam. Nothing super in depth here, just a quick look.

Jeremiah Attaochu (OLB, Georgia Tech)

Above is Attaochu’s game against Clemson if you’d like to watch it yourself. A number of things instantly stood out to me on this tape. Attaochu can play standing up as a 3-4 rusher, or with his hand down in a traditional role, and he can play on both sides of the line, as he does throughout this game. Go directly to the 38-second mark to get a glimpse at his first few steps. Spoilers: he’s fast. To compare him to the 2013 draft class, his burst is as impressive as Dion Jordan’s.

At 1:03, you can see his football IQ, where he immediately snuffs out a screen / swing pass in his direction. The very next play, he records a sack on a quick stunt– again displaying borderline elite NFL level speed. Almost immediately after that, Attaochu has another sack on a speed rush with a dip move. Why isn’t this guy getting more love? Well, I don’t know! I think he could legitimately crack the top half of the first round.

Aaron Donald (DT, Pittsburgh)

CBS currently lists Donald as the 5th-ranked DT in this class, below Florida State standout Timmy Jernigan. Aaron Donald was a top-flight player who picked up a huge haul of postseason awards, and it’s easy to see why on tape. If you want to see Donald double-teamed every play, check out the Miami tape; if you want to know why, check out his game against your BCS champion Florida State Seminoles (above) and it becomes apparent.

Go ahead to the 45-second mark and pause at :47: you can see how much quicker off the ball he is than his teammates, already engaging his man. At 2:11, you get a feel for his lateral agility, although I can’t say where he’s going there. Want to see an NFL burst? Go directly to 3:37. Sacks? I got sacks for you! Go to 4:51 and watch him blow by his man and bring down Jameis Winston.

Among the tackles I’ve taken a look at (which admittedly isn’t many this early in the process), Donald is the most impressive and a much better pass rusher than Jernigan, who’s currently considered a better prospect by most publications. Don’t be surprised if Donald shoots up draft boards at the Senior Bowl, potentially landing in the first half of round 1.

Michael Sam (DE, Missouri)

If you want motor, Michael Sam has it in spades. Check out the South Carolina game if you don’t believe me. He is undersized for a DE– he’s listed as 6’2”, 255 – but hey, if Bruce Irvin can be a first-round pick, why not Sam? Immediately on the tape, you see his incredible speed. Pick any play: You can see it every single snap. No, really.

I don’t think his game is as complete as Attaochu’s and Donald’s, and you can only take an undersized, pure-speed rusher so high, but in today’s game, pressuring the quarterback is the most coveted ability for a defense, and Michael Sam brings it. His size will be a concern, but he’s another one to keep an eye on at the Senior Bowl. He might go as high as the late first or early second.

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