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January 27, 2016

Senior Bowl practice notes: Day 1

Eagles NFL
012716SheldonRankins Brynn Anderson/AP

Louisville DT Sheldon Rankins could be an intriguing fit in Jim Washburn's 4-3 front.

MOBILE, Ala. – The first day of Senior Bowl practices is in the books, and the very good prospects have already begun to separate from the pack. Here's what we saw on Day 1.

• There were three players who were invited to compete at the Senior Bowl, but declined to play. They were Oregon DE DeForest Buckner, Michigan State QB Connor Cook, and Alabama C Ryan Kelly. Buckner is going to be a top-10 pick. He can really only hurt his value, so it makes sense for him to skip. Connor Cook, on the other hand, is making a terrible decision. Most evaluators have him well behind other quarterbacks like Cal's Jared Goff, Memphis' Paxton Lynch, and North Dakota State's Carson Wentz. Not competing here is going to be a bright red flag for many teams.

• The biggest oddity (in a good way) from the weigh-in Tuesday morning was Northern Iowa CB Deiondre Hall, who is 6'2, 192 pounds, and has ridiculous 34 3/4" arms.

• It's already clear who the best quarterback here is after one day. It's Carson Wentz. He showed off his arm, making several impressive sideline throws that were on the money. One of the concerns Wentz will have to overcome is that he played against lesser competition at North Dakota State. I don't share those concerns, and Wentz absolutely looked the part of a high pick. I don't think he's going to be there when the Eagles pick 13th overall.

In case you missed it, we published a detailed breakdown of Wentz's game early in December.

#ArsonForCarson. (Copyright Tommy Lawlor).

• Another quarterback I was curious to get a closer look at was Mississippi State's Dak Prescott. He struggled putting the ball on target, often throwing McNabb-esque worm burners, but he got better as the day wore on.

• The best running back here is also already quite clear. It's Louisiana Tech's Kenneth Dixon. He is already a very polished route runner out of the backfield, and has good hands. Over the last two years, Dixon has 64 receptions for 852 yards and 13 TDs. He's not the biggest guy, and he doesn't have breakaway speed, but he runs hard, breaks tackles, catches the ball, and has a knack for the end zone.

Here are his touchdown totals throughout his career as a runner:

 YearRushes Yards YPC TD 
 2012200 1194 6.0 27 
 2013151 917 6.1 4 
 2014253 1299 5.1 22 
 2015197 1070 5.4 19 
 TOTAL801 4480 5.6 72 

If Dixon somehow lasts until the third round (unlikely), the Eagles should be all over him.

• One receiver who has looked good early on is Georgia's Malcolm Mitchell. He got open deep a few times, but the quarterback didn't see him, and he made an impressive one-handed sideline grab on a wobbly throw, while keeping his feet in bounds. Mitchell is one of nine Senior Bowl participants with a jacked up pinky finger.

• An offensive tackle prospect I liked was Le'Raven Clark, whose projection to the NFL will be difficult for many teams, as he played in Texas Tech's spread offense. On Tuesday, he showed impressive athleticism getting out in front of his running back on a toss play. At the weigh-in, Clark had the longest arms of anyone competing here, at over 36 inches. It sure feels like the Eagles will be targeting several offensive linemen in the draft this year.

• I overheard a few scouts talking about Baylor DE Shawn Oakman, who is 6'7, 269, and is ripped. One said "Tarzan Jane," which in scouting vernacular means, "Looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane."

• Two defensive linemen who impressed me were Sheldon Rankins of Louisville and Jarran Reed of Alabama. Reed abused Arkansas OG Sebastian Tretola in a run drill. He reminded me a little of Fletcher Cox in the way he was able to shed blocks. Pure man strength. Rankins, meanwhile, displayed impressive quickness. His highlight came on a very impressive inside spin move that left his blocker in the dust.

• The Jacksonville Jaguars are kind of a joke down here. They are coaching one of the Senior Bowl teams for the third straight year. Why is that bad? Well, the teams with the worst records get dibs on coaching one of the two teams. After the Jags decided to retain head coach Gus Bradley this year, they were roundly praised by national media for keeping "continuity." Bradley is 12-36 with the Jags. That's fine if you're OK with their approach, but let's not praise the Jags for anything.

Their practice was ugly. During one stretch, the South team players had four fumbled snaps in a span of about 15 minutes.

The North team is coached by the Cowboys. They went from coaching the Pro Bowl to coaching the Senior Bowl in one season. Here's a chart showing wins gained/lost from 2014 to 2015:

 TeamWins: 2014 Wins: 2015 Wins gained/lost 
 Panthers7.5 15 +7.5 
 Jets10 +6 
 Vikings11 +4 
 Chiefs11 +2 
 Cardinals11 13 +2 
 Bengals10.5 12 +1.5 
 Patriots12 12 
 Broncos12 12 
 Steelers11 10 -1 
 Packers12 10 -2 
 Seahawks12 10 -2 
 Colts11 -3 
 Eagles10 -3 
 Lions11 -4 
 Ravens10 -5 
 Cowboys12 -8 

Is -8 bad?

Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JimmyKempski

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