Every year there are a handful of players that elevate their draft stock with a strong performance in the practice sessions leading to the Senior Bowl. Here is my take on the seven "Run Up the Board" players in the practice sessions for 2014.
1. Aaron Donald — Defensive Tackle — Pittsburgh
Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman put on a fine performance in Mobile and he looks like a first round pick talent at defensive tackle, but the 6-0 1/4, 290 pound Donald was the eye-catcher during the practice sessions.
Despite not having ideal height and weight Donald used great leverage skills and hand-usage to defeat would-be blockers on a consistent basis and the scouts loved his hustle, desire and quick diagnostic skills.
In 2013 the Lombardi, Bronko Nagurski, Chuck Bednarik and Outland Trophy award winner totaled 28 1/2 tackles for losses, 11 quarterback sacks and he forced four fumbles.
In many ways he looks like a composite of Geno Atkins (Cincinnati Bengals) and former New Orleans Saints/Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle La'Roi Glover.
If there were any question marks about his play and his talent it was put away this week and Donald looks to be an early second round selection.
2. Morgan Moses — Offensive Tackle — Virginia
Left tackles that can pass block well are in high demand by NFL teams. This week in Mobile one player who caught everyone's attention with his size, 6-6, 330, quick feet and his physicality as a run blocker was Morgan Moses from Virginia.
While Moses may need to lose a little weight to keep his unique quickness skills and movement ability as a pass blocker as a high level he certainly displayed all the physical traits scouts are looking for as a left tackle prospect.
His long arms and his work at both right and left tackle are huge plusses for him as a player and what I liked from him was his ability to finish off a block.
Right now Moses is pressing the envelope as a late first round pick or a very early second round choice in May.
3. Chris Borland — Inside Linebacker — Wisconsin
Borland is 5-11 and 245 pounds, but he made quite an impact all week in Mobile. Borland displayed excellent hand-usage in getting away from blockers, quick read skills and the ability to flow quickly to the ballcarrier.
Borland is also pretty good dropping back into his pass coverage area of the field. The Badger thumper in the middle looks like a third round pick.
4. Dee Ford — Outside Linebacker/Defensive End — Auburn
Every NFL team is looking for pass rushers and Ford displayed the edge foot speed and quickness that he had flashed throughout his college career for Auburn.
The 6-2 1/4, 242 pounder has really upgraded his ability to use his quick hands and long arms to get around blockers and he has terrific closing speed to the quarterback.
Pass rushers rarely last long on draft day and I look for Ford to be an early second round selection.
5. Gabe Jackson — Offensive Guard — Mississippi State
Notre Dame's Zack Martin was the top offensive lineman in Mobile, but the 6-3 1/4, 340 pound Jackson put on a real show for the scouts and coaches.
Despite his massive frame he was able to move his body around with great ease on the pitch plays and getting to the second level. He also displayed quick feet, good body balance and improved pass blocking techniques during the practice sessions.
Jackson will press Baylor's Cyril Richardson in being the top pure guard off the board in 2014 and he projects as an early second round choice.
6. Josh Huff — Wide Receiver — Oregon
The speedy Huff was not the name on the marquee for the Ducks’ offense, but he did catch 62 passes for an average of 18.4 yards per catch and scored 12 touchdowns.
Huff was impressive in his route-running tree and his ability to make sharp cuts downfield. He has excellent eye-hand coordination and his (4.43) 40-yard dash speed got him away from defenders in a flash.
He can also help out in the return game and the coaches in Mobile praised his skills as a downfield blocker also.
Huff has moved into being a top-100 pick in 2014.
7. Kyle Van Noy — Outside Linebacker — Brigham Young
Last year in this same space I wrote about how the most impressive player in Mobile was Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher.
That honor this year should have went to Buffalo University outside linebacker Khalil Mack, but his absence left one of the most underrated football players in the country, Kyle Van Noy, an opportunity to seize the moment
The 6-2 1/2, 235 pounder displayed good pass rush skills off the edge and very good closing speed to the quarterback.
But what jumped out was his ability to run the field from sideline to sideline. His lateral movement skills and his athleticism showed up strong all week long.
Van Noy lacks great size and bulk strength and in many ways looks like an outside linebacker version of middle linebacker James Laurinaitis (St. Louis Rams) when he came out of Ohio State. His quick football instincts, toughness in run support and his ability to consistently get around would be blockers will have him going very early in the second round.
Van Noy is someone with 1st rate trackdown skills and also very sure openfield tackler.
While Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo made his
move to try and catch Fresno State’s Derek Carr for the 4th overall quarterback spot Van Noy made his move to try and squeeze into Round One.
One thing to watch for is that Buffalo’s Khalil Mack will push UCLA's Anthony Barr for being the top outside linebacker off the board in May.