I got the chance to attend the Senior Bowl in person this year and I have to say it was a fantastic experience that I would wholly recommend to anyone else who's as football obsessed as me. The city of Mobile is quiet and accommodating and the food was excellent (I didn't even know fried shrimp sandwiches existed and this makes me sad) (EDITOR'S NOTE: Shrimp po'boys are incredible.) The atmosphere of the game itself was completely unique, feeling more like a state fair than a football game. The fans were knowledgable and (mostly) polite; even the 10-year-old seated behind me seemed to know exactly what was happening on the field. Overall, it was a great experience.
As for the actual game, the clear star of the star of the show was OLB/DE Dee Ford. Ford came like a rocket off the edge, showing off acceleration and bend reminiscent of players such as Chris Long or Clay Matthews. Ford ended the game with two sacks and several pressures. Though Ford was not without flaws (committing one offsides penalty and badly overrunning an off tackle run to his gap) he clearly made himself some money. Judging from what I saw, I think Ford could easily play either 3-4 OLB or 4-3 defensive end and while I tend to think Nick Perry's lack of production is more a product of not staying healthy than anything else, the Packers might have to think long and hard if Dee Ford is available to them.
While Ford was stealing the spotlight, there were several other players who impressed me.
Will Sutton, a Defensive Tackle out of Arizona State, showed quick feet and violent hands, collapsing pockets and holding up well against the run. While Sutton only notched one tackle for a loss during the game, he was constantly driving linemen into the backfield and making the North quarterbacks uncomfortable.
Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland also stood out to me for the right reasons. Though Borland is clearly undersized, he has fantastic hip mobility and acceleration, clearly looking comfortable in pass coverage as well as against the run. Borland did appear to blow a coverage assignment on the South's first touchdown, but he later made up for it by reading a short outlet pass and unleashing a devastating hit that jarred the ball loose, resulting in an incomplete pass. If the Packers draft Borland I don't think they'll need to worry about him being dragged three yards after first contact.
Caraun Reid, a defensive tackle out of Princeton, didn't disappoint after his impressive week of practice at the Senior Bowl, showing very good short-area quickness and the ability to get off blockers. Reid had two sacks during the game and likely vaulted himself into the first three rounds of the draft.
Aaron Donald, a DT out of Pittsburgh, cashed in on his strong Senior Bowl practices and showed a very impressive combination of quickness, power, and technique, completely manhandling offensive linemen at times. At one point in the forth quarter, Donald forced in interception by forklifting a guard into the lap of Miami QB Stephen Morris. While Donald is a bit undersized, which will likely prevent him from being selected in the first round, he'll likely make a lot of teams rue their decision not to take him while they could.
While Dee Ford was clearly the best edge rusher on the field, Michael Sam out of Missouri was also very impressive, which was a bit of a surprise as many media outlets reported on his struggles during Senior Bowl practices as an outside linebacker. Sam didn't show the kind of burst Ford did, but had impressive power against the pass and the run, notching a sack during the game.
Kyle Van Noy, DE, BYU, is another edge rusher who flashed a couple of times during the game. While he didn't seem overwhelmingly explosive off the edge, Noy showed good bend and tenacity in going after the quarterback. Van Noy finished with one sack and two tackles.
While he didn't have a huge impact on the stat sheet, Vanderbilt wideout Jordan Matthews grabbed a very high degree of difficulty over the shoulder pass down the sideline in the forth quarter that screamed potential. Matthews only had one other catch on the day, but that's probably attributable to the truly awful quarterback play. His over the shoulder grab was the most impressive offensive play of the day.
Crockett Gillmore, a tight end out of Colorado State also had a very good day as a receiver. Gilmore was able to locate open holes in the zone and get open consistently, hauling in five passes on the day including a touchdown. Though Gilmore isn't particularly impressive as a blocker, a team looking to replace productivity out of the tight end position should give him a look.
The running back who stood out most to me was James White out of Wisconsin. White showed impressive burst and vision, not to mention a nasty stiff arm, picking up the only rushing touchdown of the day.
Chris Davis out of Auburn looked like the best corner back of the bunch. Davis had a very good trail technique and a willingness to make tackles in run support.
Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor, was probably the most impressive looking offensive lineman of the day. Though Richardson had a rough week of Senior Bowl practices going against Aaron Donald and gave up a sack during the game, he held up well against a very good pass rush by the South and created some movement in the run game on a day where the defensive lines generally held court.
While there were several players who made the most out of their opportunities, the Senior Bowl had its fair share of disappointments as well. I came into the game focusing on RaShede Hagman, a defensive tackle out of Minnesota, in particular due to his apparent fit into Green Bay's defense and outstanding week of practice, and I eventually simply gave up watching him because he really didn't show anything. Similarly Daniel McCullers, a defensive tackle out of Tennessee, showed little, constantly playing high and doing little more than marginally holding his ground. The safety play was also a major letdown with none of the safeties standing out. There were some nice plays here and there but nothing that made me think any of the safeties were must-have players. The best of the bunch was probably Deone Bucannon from Washington State, but that isn't really saying much. The quarterback play was simply bad all the way around.