MOBILE, Ala. -- There are plenty of intriguing storylines at this year's Under Armour Senior Bowl, and Monday's practices will offer the first glimpse at some of the top senior prospects for the 2009 NFL draft. Here are some of the players Scouts Inc. will be keeping an eye on over the course of the week.
The Pat White project
How will West Virginia QB Pat White spend his week in Mobile? The answer is surely one of the most anticipated here this week.
White finished his career as the winningest quarterback in school history (34-8); he is the only quarterback in college football history to start and win four bowl games; and he owns the NCAA career rushing record for quarterbacks with 4,480 yards. But college production does not translate to NFL potential for White, at least as a quarterback prospect.
Sure, White is much improved as a passer and he's coming off a sensational 332-yard passing performance in a 31-30 victory over North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. The facts remains, though, that White has a fragile 6-foot-1, 190-pound frame, he does not show good accuracy when attempting NFL-style throws and he will have a steep learning curve transitioning from the Mountaineers' option-based offense to a pro-style system. That's why we have no doubt that White's chances of earning a living in the NFL are much greater as a versatile slot receiver than as a quarterback.
White is a competitor and understandably wants to show NFL scouts and coaches he's capable of playing quarterback in their league. The problem is, the more snaps he takes at quarterback this week the fewer opportunities he will get to showcase his hands and open-field running skills as a receiver and return specialist.
It's our opinion that White would be wise to embrace the change, much like current NFL wide receivers Antwaan Randle El and Brad Smith have done in recent years. But it's not our decision to make, and as of Monday morning White is listed along with John Parker Wilson (Alabama) and Cullen Harper (Clemson) among the South signal-callers. Stay tuned.
Who wants to compete?
Over the past few years we've witnessed dominant Senior Bowl performances from top-ranked prospects like RB LaDainian Tomlinson (Chargers), QB Carson Palmer (Bengals), RB Cadillac Williams (Buccaneers), OT Levi Brown (Cardinals) and DT Sedrick Ellis (Saints) -- each of whom landed a spot in the top-10 picks of his respective draft.
However, none of the top five seniors on our board are participating in this year's Senior Bowl. On one hand, the number of top prospects declining to play is disappointing. On the other hand, it creates an opportunity for those accepting the challenge. For example, Oklahoma State TE Brandon Pettigrew, USC ILB Rey Maualuga and Boston College DT B.J. Raji are talented enough to catapult into the top 10 with standout efforts this week.
Here's a breakdown of the three prospects we believe are making the biggest mistakes by opting not to compete this week:
Baylor OT Jason Smith
There's no denying Smith's upside. He has the athletic ability to hold up in pass protection when left on an island and the size to develop into an effective drive-blocker. But this decision is a momentum killer for Smith, who had been steadily climbing up NFL draft boards all season. Remember, Smith is still a work in progress. He's a former tight end who moved to tackle in the spring of 2006 and missed five games with injuries during the 2007 season. In addition, he lined up primarily in a two-point stance in a shotgun-heavy Baylor offense. Smith should be in pads this week to show coaches and scouts he's capable of picking up new blocking schemes and techniques.
Texas DE/OLB Brian Orakpo
A relentless pass-rusher with above-average athletic ability, Orakpo currently projects as a first-round pick. However, he is far from a complete player. He lacks prototypical size and has problems holding his ground against the run. Scouts wanted to see how Orakpo held up physically this week in one-on-one drills versus bigger tackles and tight ends, including Pettigrew, who got the best of Orakpo when their teams met during the season. By opting not to play Orakpo is forgoing an opportunity to erase such doubts.
Ohio State LB James Laurinaitis
Laurinaitis is one of the true tough guys in the 2009 draft class, which is why his decision not to play in this year's Senior Bowl makes no sense. Wake Forest OLB Aaron Curry doesn't get a totally free pass, but at least he projects as a high first-round pick. Laurinaitis could have used this week to prove he's worthy of a pick in the top half of the first round.
The following is a breakdown of the top three prospects playing for each team, as ranked by Scouts Inc.: