MOBILE, Ala. -- The 2015 Senior Bowl practices are in the books, and it’s time to review all of my notes on who shined and who struggled throughout the week.
Here are seven awards after watching a full week of practices:
Best overall player: Washington DT Danny Shelton
Coming into the week, I marked Shelton as a player I closely wanted to monitor because I figured he would be a strong target for the Dolphins at No. 14 overall. Miami's run defense was 24th in the NFL and struggled mightily in the final six weeks of the season. However, after the strong week Shelton had at the Senior Bowl, I’m not confident Shelton makes it to No. 14. Shelton is a legit stud at defensive tackle. He’s a little short (6-foot-2) but carries his 342 pounds well. Shelton also said he wants to drop a few more pounds before the combine, most likely to do the drills in Indianapolis. But his motor is strong, and he has surprisingly nimble feet. I have a hard time seeing 13 teams passing Shelton over. But the Dolphins shouldn’t pass if Shelton is there at No. 14.
Breakout player: University of Miami WR Phillip Dorsett
Scouts were fully aware of Dorsett’s speed. He averaged 24.2 yards per reception last season but only caught 36 passes. What Dorsett had to prove is he was more than a one-trick pony. He did a stellar job this week by showing off multiple routes and making tough catches against top competition at the Senior Bowl. Dorsett definitely helped his stock and was recognized by the Senior Bowl committee as one of the top practice players throughout the week. He's also interested in playing for the hometown Dolphins.
The biggest surprises came from small schools. It was hard to separate Varga and Boyle since both consistently stood out. So I rated this category a tie. Varga showed some quickness and very good hands out of the backfield. He’s a combo fullback/part-time tailback who can also get yards on the ground. Fullbacks are dying breeds in the NFL, but Varga could bring some value as a late-round selection. Boyle entered the week as a relative unknown, but he was the second-best tight end in practices behind University of Miami’s Clive Walford. Boyle is a big body who blocked well and caught the ball well. He told me he molds his game after Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller.
Most improved: Utah OLB Nate Orchard
The Utes had a good defense last season, and Orchard was one of their top stars. But it took a little while for Orchard to warm up at the Senior Bowl. The college defensive end was asked to do a lot of new things as an outside linebacker, such as stand up and drop in coverage. But things began to click for Orchard in the second and third practice. Orchard made more plays and turned out to be one of the North’s better defensive players by the end of the week. Orchard projects to be an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, but he still needs time to learn the position.
Biggest disappointment: Quarterbacks
If you’re a team looking for a quarterback and don’t have a shot at drafting Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota, good luck. The Senior Bowl proved there are slim pickings at quarterback this year. Alabama's Blake Sims, East Carolina’s Shane Carden, Oregon State’s Sean Mannion, Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson and Baylor’s Bryce Petty all had shaky moments. I saw a lot of fumbled snaps, errant passes and interceptions on both teams this week. None of the quarterbacks was able to separate from the pack in what was a golden opportunity. Teams are looking for quarterbacks all the time, and one of these players could have drastically improved their stock behind the "big two." But questions remain with this group.
Second biggest disappointment: Notre Dame TE Ben Koyack
The Fighting Irish have a strong tradition for producing NFL tight ends, and Koyack is the latest to come down the pike. So I expected to see more from Koyack, but he mostly struggled in Senior Bowl practices. Koyack wasn’t dynamic enough in the passing game or physical enough as a blocker. Boyle was the best tight end on the South team during the week. Maybe Koyack simply had a shaky week in practice and will perform better in the game.
Safest pick: Kansas State receiver Tyler Lockett
Predicting the NFL future of college prospects can be a crapshoot. We also excluded Shelton since we made it clear that he was the best player at Senior Bowl practices. With that said, there’s something about Lockett that screams “NFL ready.” He’s smart, a good route runner, has dependable hands and great speed. These are all qualities you look for in a rookie. Therefore, Lockett is a safe pick to help some team as a slot receiver and in the return game immediately. He’s projected to go in the second or third round. The only concern is whether his 5-foot-11, 175-pound frame can handle the physical pounding of the NFL. Lockett most likely will need to add at least 10 pounds of muscle.