So the Senior Bowl game took place Saturday, which you may or may not have noticed. If you didn't, the South squad won 20-10 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
But the game itself wasn't nearly as important as the practices, which were held earlier this week. For about three days, the entire National Football League essentially gathered to meet, greet and conduct business while evaluating most of the top seniors in the country.
For the players in attendance, this meant the practices were perhaps more important than the actual game, which made the awards handed out at the annual Player's Banquet a few days ago ― which are voted on by a panel of NFL scouts and executives and based entirely on practice performances ― a fairly big deal.
Want proof? Well, look no further than Chiefs offensive tackle Eric Fisher for proof. Fisher won the most outstanding overall player award last year, and went on to be taken first overall in the 2013 draft. That likely won't happen to this year's recipient of the award, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, because he lacks ideal size at 6 feet and weighed 288 pounds.
But after watching Donald dominate a vast array of offensive linemen over the course of three days, there's little doubt he deserved this year’s award.
“Donald is a very explosive defensive tackle," said Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith, who coached Donald's North team this week. "He's short in stature by NFL standards and doesn't maybe have all the measurables, but … he's done a very nice job both in the running and the pass game.”
Here's my take on Donald and the other award winners, and whether any of them would be a fit with the Chiefs.
THE POSITION WINNERS
Most Outstanding Overall Player: Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
He'd be an undersized 3-4 defensive end with the Chiefs, but the guy is disruptive so they could find a place for him on passing downs, where defensive coordinator Bob Sutton allows his linemen to attack gaps and get upfield. That plays to Donald’s strengths, even though he profiles best as a 4-3 three-technique defensive tackle.
“The guy doesn't look the part of an ideal defensive tackle, but he wins with leverage and his first step is outstanding,” said draft analyst Mark Dulgerian of OptimumScouting.com. “On top of that, he showed power, too.”
Still, Donald seems like a cinch to go in the first round and it's hard to imagine the Chiefs investing a high pick in a player who isn't an ideal fit, size-wise, for what they do.
Most Outstanding Defensive Lineman: Dee Ford, Auburn
He's small at 6 feet 2 and 243 pounds, but he comes off the edge with a vengeance and uses a devastating combination of speed and savvy pass-rush moves to get to the quarterback. He showed this in Saturday's Senior Bowl game, as he finished with two sacks and a pass deflection on the way to being named the game's Most Valuable Player.
“He was clearly the most athletic of the edge rushers,” Dulgerian said. “His bend was outstanding, from the drills to the one-on-ones to the team sessions. He was one of the most explosive athletes out there.”
Ford is a fit in the Chiefs' 3-4 scheme as an outside linebacker, and he’s someone they would have to consider if he somehow fell to them at No. 23 in the first round. For all their secondary issues, pass rushers remain in high demand. Also, Tamba Hali turns 31 this year while Justin Houston is set for a massive payday next offseason.
Most Outstanding Defensive Back: Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois
The Chiefs are expected to search for a single-high safety with better range this offseason, and while 2013 fifth-rounder Sanders Commings might get a shot, it might be hard to pass on a guy like Ward if they think he is an rover with supreme ball skills (he had seven interceptions as a senior). The Chiefs' secondary got shredded the second half of the season and needs help.
Most Outstanding Running Back: Charles Sims, West Virginia
Sims is a player who, on the surface, looks like a back who can fit in the West Coast Offense. He rushed for over 1,000 yards this season and has caught at least 37 passes in each of his four collegiate seasons, which displays his versatility. He could potentially provide excellent insurance for Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis.
Most Outstanding Receiver: C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
Chiefs coach Andy Reid loves his tight ends, and the 6-foot-7, 265-pound Fiedorowicz is a massive player with a reputation as a strong blocker. Heading into the week, I wasn't sure if he'd be the type of downfield threat Reid is looking for, and to be honest, I’m still not. But if Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage ― who tweeted that Fiedorowicz had been impressive “with his size, hands and short-area quickness” ― is correct about that assessment, I could see Fiedorowicz being an option, depending on where they can get him.
Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman: Zack Martin, Notre Dame
Several draft analysts I talked this week agreed that the Notre Dame left tackle was the best offensive lineman in attendance. He showed versatility and power, and earned respect for being one of the few players who could block Aaron Donald in Mobile.
“I thought he was the real deal,” said Shane Hallam of draftTV.com. “He showed he could play guard and tackle and is similar to (former Syracuse) tackle Justin Pugh, who went in the first round to the Giants last season.”
Most Outstanding Linebacker: Chris Borland, Wisconsin
Borland is short at 5 feet 11, but he weighs in at 246 pounds and seems like a natural playmaker.
“He was just so instinctive,” Dulgerian said. “There were size concerns … but he understands his size and length limitations.
“Every single day I saw him in team sessions, he ended up with the football in his hands.”
Borland said he learned the 3-4 defense this season as Wisconsin adjusted to a new coach, so that's a plus for the Chiefs. If he's still there on the third day of the draft, they might be willing to take him and hedge their bets on the Nico Johnson pick from last year.
Most Outstanding Specialist: Cody Parkey, Auburn
Parker shows plenty of leg ― he made field goals of 39 and 50 yards on Saturday ― but it's hard to say if he'd be an option for the Chiefs, who currently have Ryan Succop under contract. Succop is fairly reliable, and while they stand to gain about $1 million from cutting him, the net savings would only be about half of that because they would then have to go and find a replacement.
To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.