10 Biggest Winners From Senior Bowl Looking Ahead to 2014 NFL Draft

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Senior Bowl: 10 Biggest Winners Looking Ahead to 2014 NFL Draft

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Shifting from obscurity into a household name is seemingly a yearly ritual at the Senior Bowl for some aspiring prospects set to make their mark in the NFL. In preparation for the 2014 NFL Draft, the story has been no different with several names showing out and elevating themselves above the rest of the pack.

Some players enter the yearly college All-Star game with a chip on their shoulders and something to prove to scouts. Whether it be a lack of ideal size, questions about level of competition or just overall doubts about one’s abilities, many guys come to Mobile, Ala. every year and make an impression on all scouts in attendance.

From the tale of the tape to the performances out on the field, guys from big schools and small schools alike fill this list of players who greatly helped their draft stock in the eyes of teams lining up to see them play. There are players who solidified their status as an early selection on this list along with guys who may have been an afterthought if not for the week of practices yet now find their names on the tips of every NFL scout looking for the next big thing this spring.

It takes all kinds of prospects to make up the league we all know and love, and the Senior Bowl is the true genesis of that fact. This is where the small school guys like Steve McNair from once upon a time can stand toe-to-toe with the blue-bloods of college football and prove to be worthy of that company.

There’s a wide variety of positions on this list, so teams should be excited about the potential of having unearthed some hidden gems heading into May’s draft. Here are 10 players who really jumped up some draft boards during Senior Bowl week 2014.

Anthony Blake is a Senior Writer/Copy Editor for Rant Sports. You Can Follow Him on Twitter, on Facebook, or add him to your network on Google.

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10. Jordan Matthews, WR

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It’s not as if a player of Jordan Matthews’ ilk really had much to prove to anyone, but he certainly looked the part of an NFL receiver at the weigh-ins. He may have only been considered a borderline first-rounder coming in, but his chiseled 6-foot-2 (and 5/8-inch), 209-pound frame, long arms (32 5/8 inches) and big hands (10.5 inches) really set him apart from the crowd. Matthews is getting rave reviews following just showing up looking as good as he did, and that can only help his draft stock come May.

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9. Jimmie Ward, S

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A Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist hardly seems like someone who needed to solidify or prove much of anything, but Jimmie Ward was different in that regard. Despite leading Northern Illinois in tackles (77), interceptions (6) and passes defended (14), Ward really wasn’t seem as much more than a fringe prospect coming in. He’s not big (5-foot-10, 193-pounds), but he was consistent throughout and showed an ability to cover the slot that will appeal to GMs across the league. Ward definitely has a future at the next level thanks to a steady performance this week.

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8. Ra'Shede Hageman, DT

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Team are always looking for players to create a physical mismatch on Sundays, and Ra’Shede Hageman of Minnesota certainly offers that ability on the interior of the defensive line. At 6-foot-6, 318-pounds he looked fairly chiseled and carried his massiveness very well at the weigh-ins. His arms (33¾ inches) also were among the longest measured at the Senior Bowl which certainly will intrigue some teams about his potential at the next level. A 3-4 defense could use him as an end with his quickness and a 4-3 alignment would employ him inside as a penetrating run-stuffer. There’s no doubt Hageman will find a home somewhere in the NFL, and whatever team lands him will be getting themselves an absolute monster that opponents will have to game plan around on a weekly basis.

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7. Jimmy Garoppolo, QB

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Pulling double-duty is certainly an impressive feat in terms of collegiate All-Star games, and that’s exactly what Jimmy Garoppolo did after taking part in the East-West Shrine Game already. He showed scouts his ability to translate terminology and adapt to a new environment quickly which certainly bodes well for adjusting to life at the next level. His quick release will help him to potentially find a home starting as a backup on an NFL roster, and from that point anything can happen. Just ask his fellow Eastern Illinois alum Tony Romo.

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6. Chris Borland, LB

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Everyone likes an underdog story, and Chris Borland certainly offers that at just 5-foot-11. Though he isn’t small – weighing in at a solid 245-pounds – Borland is a bit of an anomaly as far as today’s NFL standards are concerned. He has one of the highest football IQ’s in the entire draft class, and there’s no doubt he will find himself a home on an NFL roster. Borland is a high effort player with quick movement and great closing speed after sniffing out a play. He has been compared to former NFL linebacker Zach Thomas his entire career, and it seems like those comparisons might not be that far off after watching the Wisconsin product on the field for just a short time.

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5. Keith McGill, CB

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You can’t coach 6-foot-3, 214-pounds at cornerback, and that’s exactly what Utah’s Keith McGill brings to the table. In today’s era of big, overpowering receivers it’s only natural that members of the secondary continue to get larger as well. With the Seattle Seahawks seeing so much success due to their larger than usual personnel in the back third, McGill could be a hot commodity in the upcoming draft. He has great fluid movement for a man his size, and that will translate well at the next level in keeping up with athletic pass catchers out on the edge.

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4. Kyle Van Noy, LB

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Another BYU prospect had outstanding workouts last year in the pre-draft process in Ezekiel Ansah to vault himself into the top 5. That might not happen for Kyle Van Noy this year, but he has still done his fair share of impressing. Versatility is the key word for this young man as he excels in coverage but is nearly just as prosperous when it comes to rushing the passer off the edge. Technique is another plus for this young man as CBS draft analyst Rob Rang pointed out saying:

"Van Noy shows excellent play recognition. (He) takes on blockers with the correct shoulder (allowing him to slide off would-be blockers and into ball-carriers easily) and is equally effective slipping into coverage or sliding past offensive linemen on his way towards a tackle behind the line of scrimmage."

There’s always a place for a savvy player on an NFL roster, and Van Noy may continue putting himself in the first-round conversation as the pre-draft run-up moves along.

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3. Morgan Moses, OT

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The “can’t miss” prospect label is often overused when discussing the NFL Draft, but that may very well be the case with Virginia tackle Morgan Moses. This 6-foot-6, 325-pound behemoth plays with tremendous balance and has great feet while looking light on his feet despite his massive size. As one would expect, Moses has tremendous power to really put oncoming defenders on their backside if they don’t take him on with proper leverage. He played both right and left tackle with the Cavaliers so his versatility will be yet another intriguing element at the next level. Teams are always looking for that next great offensive lineman, and it seems like Moses has made his case as a first-round talent during the Senior Bowl.

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2. Zack Martin, OT

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Speaking of terrific offensive line talent, perhaps no offensive lineman had a better Senior Bowl than Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin. Most had him rated as a first-round talent coming into the week, and Martin totally solidified that status if not improved it by pushing himself into the top 10 prospects available discussion. At 6-foot-4, 305-pounds it doesn’t seem like size would be a problem for Martin at the next level, but these days teams are looking for players who are both imposing physically and impressive in terms of technique. Analyst Mike Mayock offered some serious praise saying:

It seems clear that Martin’s draft stock is skyrocketing at this point and could land him in the top 10 if he maintains the current trajectory.

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1. Aaron Donald, DT

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Perhaps the only kid with a better Senior Bowl showing than the Martin was Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald who was an absolute animal from start to finish. He’s only 6-foot, 288-pounds, but leverage can be a very decisive advantage when employed properly. Donald outworked offensive linemen who were much larger than him all week and used great technique to get off of blocks en route to the backfield. If you want a pro comparison for this young man, I’ll leave that to Mike Mayock who said:

"When you're thinking Aaron Donald, I'd like you to think a little bit about Geno Atkins. Explosive, one-gap penetrator best at what they call the three-technique which is the defensive tackle lined up on the outside shoulder of the offensive guard."

Dominance can come in many different shapes and sizes, and it just so happens that Donald’s dominance is somewhat more diminutive than many have gotten accustomed to when it comes to defensive players. Look for this kid to end up as a first-round pick to a team that employs the Tampa-2 style of defense with defensive tackles looking to penetrate up the field.

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