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Prospects shine at Senior Bowl

Michigan guard Steve Hutchinson (photo courtesy of Michigan), Miami wide receiver Reggie Wayne (photo courtesy of Miami) and Georgia linebacker Kendrell Bell (photo courtesy of Georgia).
Michigan guard Steve Hutchinson (photo courtesy of Michigan), Miami wide receiver Reggie Wayne (photo courtesy of Miami) and Georgia linebacker Kendrell Bell (photo courtesy of Georgia).

Every January the premier college senior football players journey to Mobile, Ala., for what is perhaps the most important all-star game of the postseason.

This year, a class of more than 100 players auditioned for the 600-some-odd NFL scouts and general managers in preparation for the classic Senior Bowl. Each team was coached by an NFL staff — Bill Cowher of the Steelers and Mike Sherman of the Packers had this year's honor of working with the best college talent in the nation for a week of intense practices.

The practices and game have become a must for every NFL front office with the great majority of the players drafted each April present in one place. Last year's Senior Bowl class had 102 players selected over the seven rounds of the NFL Draft with 14 first-round selections.

More than half of the top 100 players in the 2000 NFL Draft performed at the Senior Bowl last winter, and this year's class will challenge those numbers in April. In fact, this year's Senior Bowl class will most likely pass the 14 first-round selections made last spring with at least 15 Senior Bowl performers hearing their name called in the top 31 selections. The following is a list of players who definitely helped their draft status during the week long workouts.

Rising Players

OFFENSE

Mike McMahon — QB, 6-2, 215 lbs. — Rutgers

Unheralded senior passer displayed a fine arm and touch over the week in Mobile and impressed scouts with his command of the offense. He has moved up substantially after two nice efforts at all-star games.

David Rivers — QB, 6-2, 215 lbs. — Western Carolina

Small college passer had a solid performance over the week, displaying a good arm with the accuracy to hit receivers in stride. He has come out of nowhere in two all-star games to warrant a middle- to late-round grade in April.

LaDainian Tomlinson — RB, 5-10, 220 lbs. — Texas Christian

The nation's only 2000-yard rusher this past season answered all the questions about his ability to run inside and catch the ball out of the backfield. He completed a fine effort over the week with a huge game that should guarantee him a first round grade.

Kevan Barlow — RB, 6-1, 235 lbs. — Pittsburgh

Big, physical tailback ran with power and quickness over the week and left many NFL scouts thinking he may be the best runner in this year's class. He has natural running skills and the big powerful frame to be a fine NFL feature back.

Lamont Jordan — RB, 5-10, 225 lbs. -— Maryland

Strong tailback had an impressive week after a subpar senior season. He displayed quickness to the hole with the natural running skills to make defenders miss and the power to run through tacklers.

Reggie Wayne — WR, 6-0, 195 lbs. — Miami

Sure-handed wideout played a secondary role to Santana Moss over the past few seasons in Miami but grabbed the spotlight in Mobile and helped his cause immensely. He ran precise routes and caught everything thrown to him. That has him rising in a very deep wide receiver class.

Chad Johnson — WR, 6-1, 190 lbs. — Oregon St.

Athletic sprinter continues to rise as fast as any player in the nation. Johnson had a strong week, displaying the extra gear to separate in the deep game, soft hands and the toughness to go over the middle.

Pork Chop Womack — OT, 6-4, 350 lbs. — Mississippi St.

Massive left tackle displayed power and agility over the week at practices against the best pass rushers in the nation. He delivers a strong hand punch and the leg drive to move a defender off the line consistently.

Steve Hutchinson — OG, 6-4, 300 lbs. — Michigan

Physical guard completed his college career with another well-rounded performance. He is a complete prospect with the level of development to play as a rookie in any scheme. He combines power, mobility and technique with the tenacity NFL scouts seek in a trenchman.

DEFENSE

Derrick Burgess — DE, 6-2, 255 lbs. — Mississippi

Quick pass rusher was one of the best defensive players at the practices. He has the burst off the edge to get after the passer and improved his stock in the draft significantly over the week.

Cedric Scott — DE, 6-5, 270 lbs. — Southern Mississippi

Big, athletic defensive end had a solid performance against the best offensive linemen in the nation. He showed good strength at the point of attack and the burst to the quarterback to be a playmaker as a pass rusher.

Kendrell Bell — LB, 6-1, 235 lbs. — Georgia

Powerful linebacker displayed top athletic talent over the week including the speed to go sideline to sideline and the big league hitting power necessary to play at the next level.

Fred Smoot — CB, 5-11, 170 lbs. — Mississippi St.

Fast corner had an excellent week in pass coverage in addition to his endless trash talking between plays. Fred showed fine recovery speed with the burst to the ball to defend passes that will earn him an early selection in April.

Andre Dyson — CB, 5-10, 175 lbs. — Utah

Quick cover man had a fine performance over the week, showing well developed cover skills. His quick feet and reactions allow him to break on the ball in flight and separate the receiver from the pass. He improved his stock over the week with a strong overall performance.

Ligarius Jennings — CB, 5-9, 200 lbs. — Tennessee St.

Strong, small-college corner proved he belonged at the event with a solid effort against the Division 1 athletes. He displayed the quick footwork necessary to play man coverage and the speed to match receivers stride for stride in the deep game.

Frank Coyle is the publisher of Draft Insiders Digest and the draft expert for CBS SportsLine, as well as an annual contributor to Patriots Football Weekly.

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