MOBILE, Ala. -- The South team's third practice of the Under Armour Senior Bowl featured an ACC running back running wild, an undersized SEC linebacker making a big impression and receivers struggling to make an impact.
North Carolina State RB Andre Brown has admittedly had durability and academic issues, but he's healthy now and shining in this environment. In fact, of all the South backs we saw Wednesday, he made the best impression. Brown is a decisive downhill runner who has good size, shows good burst to the hole and runs with enough forward body lean to pick up yards after contact. Although he's not the most elusive back, he catches the ball well and can contribute as a receiver out of the backfield. We now think he has a chance to come off the board early on Day 2 of the draft, and that's noteworthy because he didn't put up great numbers in college.
Liberty RB Rashad Jennings didn't fare quite as well as Brown, but he didn't finish far behind, either, and it makes sense considering they share a couple of traits. Like Brown, Jennings is a big back with above-average burst for his size. As far as the differences, Brown is more explosive and 6-foot-1, 234-pound Jennings is bit stronger between the tackles. It's like comparing Atlanta Falcons RB Michael Turner with Cleveland RB Jamal Lewis, though it's important to point out that both prospects have a long way to go before they can be compared to these established NFL backs.
On the flip side, Clemson RB James Davis had a tough day. USC MLB Rey Maualuga manhandled him in pass protection drills, and Davis didn't fare much better against the rest of the linebackers. Making matters worse, Davis is letting too many balls get into his pads and doesn't look fluid running routes. He just doesn't look as comfortable in that facet of the game as some of the other backs here.
Southern Miss TE Shawn Nelson continued to shine with two exceptions. He dropped what would have been an acrobatic catch after running a deep seam route, and he failed to get under a ball thrown at his shoe tops. We are obviously nitpicking, but now that the buzz around him is building, every move he makes is going to be put under a stronger microscope.
The gulf in natural ability between Nelson and the other two tight ends on the South roster is vast. Still, NC State TE Anthony Hill has some developmental qualities and projects as a middle-round pick. The 6-5 254-pounder is the premier blocking tight end in the 2009 draft class, and every time we've seen him in one-on-one blocking drills this week he has won the battle. In addition, Hill is a big target who isn't afraid to throw weight around and has strong hands. As long as he is facing the quarterback, he can make the tough catch in traffic. On the other hand, he looks like a fish out of water trying to catch the ball on the run and/or over his shoulder. At one point, the tight ends were running seam routes against air; Hill didn't get his head turned in time to locate the ball, and it bounced off his helmet.