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Scout's Eye: Pass Rushers Shine Brightest At Senior Bowl

IRVING, Texas – Before we move on to further draft preparation, I wanted to take a last look at the Senior Bowl – specifically Saturday's game, now that I've had a chance to watch the tape.

  • During the week of practice leading up to the game, Mike Nolan and the Falcons defensive staff played Missouri defensive end Michael Sam as an outside linebacker. In the game, Nolan used Sam in his natural position at defensive end. 

There is no way I play Sam as an outside linebacker, even though I could see some

3-4 club doing it to try and find a spot for him. He just doesn't have the mobility to be able to pull this off in coverage. He is way too stiff when dropping and changing direction.

Where Sam will have his best shot is with his hand on the ground as a pass rusher. There were several snaps in the game where he was able to get around the corner and show the burst that we had seen on his college tape. Sam is an explosive player, and once he is able to free himself, he can find the ball and work himself in that direction.

During one of his rushes, he was so quick up the field that he drew a holding call from Nevada's, Joel Bitonio. Where he got in trouble during the game was when he didn't get that corner quick enough and he was left having to fight the tackle more down the middle than on the edge.

Sam is not going to make a living fighting blockers this way because he needs to be on the outside to be able to use his advantages -- which is his quickness more than strength and power.

  • There have been times where I was wrong about players in what they were and what they potentially would become. I was very interested to study Baylor guard Cyril Richardson and how he played before traveling to Mobile.

At season's end, Richardson was one of the most decorated offensive linemen to ever play the game. He surely looked the part at 6-5, 335 pounds but for me, this is where I struggled: I was expecting a dominant player down after down and he wasn't that.

There were too many plays where his man was part of the play, and that was a big concern. I wanted to see him finish more defenders off. There were plays where he showed nice initial pop but instead of engaging the defender, he would allow him to work down the line and chase the ball.

Richardson had his share of problems with Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, but so did the rest of the North offensive linemen during practice. What was disappointing in the actual game was Richardson also had trouble with Will Sutton and Caraun Reid.

I am not saying Sutton and Reid are not decent players, but Richardson should have handled them both with ease and he didn't. There were second level blocks against linebackers Jordan Tripp, Lamin Barrow and Telvin Smith where he was a step late in getting a hat on them. There were just too many plays where he looked very ordinary, which matched what I had seen from him before this game. 

  • What is going to be the trick for the Cowboys scouting staff when they are putting this board together is how they separate how these "Tweener" defensive ends and linebackers.

In this Senior Bowl, there were several. I mentioned Michael Sam earlier, but there was also Dee Ford, Chris Smith, Marcus Smith, Trent Murphy and Kareem Martin. We all saw what Ford was able to do in the game with his consistent pressure.

Chris Smith was much better in practice than he was in the game, while Marcus Smith was just the opposite. Trent Murphy started off the week poorly, while struggling against Zack Martin and Seantrel Henderson. In the game, he was able to generate some pressure against Matt Patchen and Morgan Moses, which was good.

Where Murphy looked poor is when he missed a coverage against tight end Crockett Gillmore, who got behind him because he didn't adjust well enough with his drop. On his game tape at Stanford, you could see Murphy playing as a standup linebacker and dropping into coverage quite a bit. [embedded_ad]

Like what I said about Sam, this is where I think it's a mistake for him to play linebacker. Murphy's ticket in the NFL will be as a pass rusher and not as a drop linebacker. What bothers me about his game is that he is not that explosive player off the edge that can beat you with his first step. 

He has some initial quickness and pass rush moves, but I would not call any of his skills rare. Murphy plays with really nice effort but I would worry about overrating him too highly because of that lack of explosive, edge quickness and bulk. From my experience in that War Room, these types of players are the hardest to separate because you can very easily select the wrong player and that would set you back big time.       

  • When you study these All-Star games, there are always one or two players that jump out at you that you had no clue who they were or had no idea of their background. Very late in the week, Phil Savage and his staff added a kid from Louisiana Tech named IK Enemkpali as a defensive end. Enemkpali is listed at 6-1, 250 and the first thing you notice about him is his ability to really come off the edge.

When that ball was snapped, he was on the move. Where these North tackles had a problem with him was there was not much hitting surface to deal with as he was coming up the field. He was one of those rushers that is on you right now and you will see him use a straight rush, slapping the blockers hands down along the way, you will also see him explode up the field then work back inside off the spin move.

He played with surprising strength and nice hand use. Just a hunch, but his movement skills appear to be good enough that someone will try and see if he could play as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 and use him as a rusher on nickel downs. Keep an eye on him as one of those Day 3 players where teams are looking for some special traits to take advantage of.

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