2014 Senior Bowl preview

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Despite several top seniors dropping out of college football's premier all-star game, there are plenty of players to follow this week.

The Senior Bowl is college football's premiere all-star game for a reason. Held annually at Ladd Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala., it has produced 13 No. 1 picks including Eric Fisher 2013's top pick.

Before a week's worth of practices, Fisher wasn't viewed as a possible No. 1 pick. But he left Mobile as the top choice for the Kansas City Chiefs. Although the Senior Bowl isn't expected to churn out the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the North and South rosters are loaded with talent.

Top players:

Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

Does Derek Carr's NFL Draft position depend on how he plays in Mobile? Yes. Is that fair? No. After a good senior season, Carr faltered in Fresno State's bowl game against Southern California. His momentum ceased. The issue for Carr is his footwork, particularly in the face of pressure. In a practice setting, he should excel and that should be the expectation. If he doesn't look like a star this week, he could plummet.

Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

As a defensive tackle, Hageman is an uncanny athlete. He can explode off the snap and work his way between blockers to disrupt the quarterback. The issue for Hageman is that he doesn't always doe it on a consistent basis. When he's on, Hageman is unquestionably a first-round pick.

Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt

Despite the quarterback play at Vanderbilt, Matthews pulled in 112 receptions for 1,477 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior. He's a savvy route runner who knows how to extend his hands and pull the ball in away from his frame. He closed his final season at Vandy with four consecutive games of more than 125 yards receiving and has the look of a first-round pick.

Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois

In the 2013 Orange Bowl, Ward was one of the few Northern Illinois players who could hang with Florida State. In that game he had 14 tackles, a career high. As a senior, Ward had 77 tackles, 50 of which were solo tackles. He also pulled in six interceptions. Other than some height concerns, he's a complete safety.

Charles Sims, RB, West Virginia

Even if Ohio State's Carlos Hyde's had stayed in the Senior Bowl, Sims could make a strong case for being the best running back in practices this week. He's a superb receiver out of the backfield and runs with good vision and determination.

Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State

An all-star setting may not show off Bucannon's best asset: bone-jarring hits. Bucannon is an enforcer in the middle of the field who can make big plays on the ball. Bucannon led WSU with 114 tackles this season and added six interceptions.

Christian Jones, OLB, Florida State

Jones was all over the place during his college career, lining up in the middle, outside and at defensive end. In 2013, he was at his best at end. To stay there in the pros, he'll need to bulk up. If not he has a future as an outside linebacker where he can take advantage of his play against the run.

Trent Murphy, DE/OLB, Stanford

Like Jones, Murphy is somewhat a man without a position. The Senior Bowl has him listed as a defensive end after he mostly played as an outside linebacker in Stanford's powerful 3-4 defense. Murphy needs to show he ha the athleticism to beat blockers when his power move doesn't work.

Jeremiah Attaochu, OLB, Georgia Tech

Teams looking for a good Leo prospect (looking at you, Jacksonville) will like what Attaochu offers. He can line up wide and has the speed to close on the quarterback in a hurry. That was evidenced in Attaochu's 12.5 sacks in 2013 to go along with 16 tackles for loss.

Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU

Van Noy often gets overlooked when people talk about Attaochu, Jones, Murphy and Buffalo's Khalil Mack. He's a do-everything linebacker who excelled in BYU's 3-4 defense. He's solid in coverage, does well on special teams and can play the run nicely.

Telvin Smith, OLB, Florida State

There are some size concerns with Smith, but teams looking for an athletic weak-side linebacker will one Smith. He can make plays all over the field and can get into the backfield in a hurry.

Measurables that matter:

The most disturbing part of the Senior Bowl is the weigh-in process on Mondays. Players step in front of a group of scouts and media and get measured in little more than their underwear. While creepy, the two most important things to keep in mind from measurements are arm length and hand size. Arm length is particularly important for cornerbacks and offensive and defensive linemen. Hand size is important for offensive skill position players. The bigger the hand size,  the less likely a player is to fumble the ball. Here are a few players where their measurements are important:

Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame

Some teams will view Martin as an offensive tackle. Others will look at him as a guard. His arm length could go a long way in determining his position in the NFL. Many consider Martin a good tackle but a great guard, but he plays well enough outside to stick at tackle.

Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh

Donald is a sensational gap shooter who's interior rush moves often require multiple blockers. As fickle as it may sound, though, if Donald measures in at shorter than 6-foot or has short arms, he could slide down the draft.

Something to prove:

The following players have vast potential, but didn't always realize it during their college careers.

Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech

At one point in his career, Thomas had the look of a top 10 player. It's impossible not to be optimistic about a freshman or sophomore quarterback with Ben Roethlisberger's size and athleticism who also possesses a stronger arm. The catch turned out to be that Thomas peaked early in his career. There wasn't the type of improvement many wanted and expected to see. It should be noted that it's not totally the fault of Thomas, a converted tight end. His receiving group at Tech hasn't produced much NFL talent, and they were prone to dropping passes. Some team is going to take a chance on Thomas and hope he can be molded into the player we all expected him to be.

Seantrel Henderson, OT, Miami

Coming out of high school, Henderson already had an NFL body and looked like a future top 10 pick. But injuries, off-field issues and generally average play kept him off the field.  When Henderson did get on the field in 2013, it was often at right tackle. That's most likely his position in the NFL because of his footwork.

Daniel McCullers, DT, Tennessee

Noticing a trend with these players? Big players with big, untapped potential. At 6-foot-8 and 351 pounds, McCullers is the biggest player at the Senior Bowl this year. The problem is, he doesn't always play like it. If he can dominate opposing offensive linemen in practices this week, his draft stock should rise.

Adrian Hubbard, OLB, Alabama

The expectation for Hubbard was that he'd become a superstar pass rusher for Nick Saban. But Hubbard was nowhere to be found in several games, and had just three sacks on the season.

Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson

OK, Boyd doesn't fit size portion of this segment. Even though Boyd threw for nearly 4,000 yards as a senior, he didn't progress season-to-season as expected. Virtually no one is talking about Boyd. He could change that this week.

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