ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Much of the Broncos' scouting department wasn't able to take much time to celebrate the team's AFC championship; they spent part of the week preparing for May's NFL Draft by watching practices leading up to Saturday's Senior Bowl.
The South team won the all-star game, 20-10, but as usual, the game was secondary to the work in practices. Most scouts had left by Thursday, as is usual, because the practices of Monday through Wednesday are by far the most physical and illuminating of the process.
Clouding the event was the flood of early-entry candidates -- a record 98, not counting four who had eligibility but have already graduated. Some, like South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, were in Mobile watching practices, which allowed them to get ahead of other prospects in meeting with teams.
Still the focus remained on the field.
As is usually the case, there were no "sure things" at quarterback in Mobile. Most of the top quarterbacks in this year's draft class were early-entry candidates who weren't eligible for the Senior Bowl. That left Fresno State's Derek Carr at the head of this year's Senior Bowl quarterback class; he overcame a poor showing in the Las Vegas Bowl last month, in which his Bulldogs were throttled 45-20 by Southern California, and finished the week on a high note with a touchdown.
Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo opened some eyes in practice, although his game-day performance didn't match his practice work. Garropolo fared surprisingly well Tuesday, when winds kicked up during the South team practice.
The most polarizing quarterback in Mobile was Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas, to no one's surprise. His size (6-foot-5.6, 250 pounds) and arm strength have long drawn attention, to the point where some pundits had him pegged as a top-five pick in previous years. But his accuracy, pocket presence and internal clock have drawn scrutiny.
That will continue after a week in which Thomas was exactly who both his supporters and detractors thought he was -- cannon-armed, capable of making all the throws, but unable to do so consistently. He was sacked five times in just 10 pass plays in Saturday's game, including twice on successive plays by Princeton defensive tackle Caraun Reid.
Among the stars of the week were Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who flourished despite the limitations for playing his position at 6 feet, 0.7 inches and 288 pounds, both of which were slightly above where he was listed before the week. But Donald could find a home with a team that likes positional flexibility based on down, distance and personnel grouping. He appeared to possess the quickest first step and most explosive burst off the snap of any defensive tackle in the practices and showed that again Saturday.
Another standout was Auburn defensive end Dee Ford, who was a consistent pass-rush threat in practice and capped his week with two sacks Saturday. But at 6-foot-2.1 and 243 pounds, he doesn't appear to possess the size to be an every-down player, especially in a 4-3 defense. With his skills resting in the premium class along blind-side pass protector and quarterback, his pass-rushing prowess might be enough to push him into the first round, even though he projects as a situational player.
Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste also bears watching because of his stature: 6-foot-2.3 and 215 pounds. At times this week, he used his size and reach effectively, and the league-wide craving for big, physical comebacks should ensure that he doesn't linger beyond the second day in the draft.