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NFL Draft Preview - Senior Bowl Recap

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The Under Armour Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL annually pits the top college seniors in the nation against each other in a North vs. South all-star game. The game provides bragging rights for fans, homework for NFL scouts and a make or break spotlight for the players.

If you happened across the game on January 29, you would’ve noticed the collage of potential first round offensive linemen from major college programs at Wisconsin, Colorado and Indiana. However, buried between all those millions, it was hard to overlook the Slippery Rock helmet at center.

Brandon Fusco, a 6-4, 302-lb center from Seneca Valley High School, has been collecting honors at the Division II college for the last two years, enough so that 60 NFL scouts visited Slippery Rock this year, some returning for second and third looks.

Fusco is just the fourth player from the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference to ever be invited to the Senior Bowl, and the first from Slippery Rock. The obvious concern surrounding a prospect from Division II is how he’ll handle the increased level of competition. He represented well; holding his own against Ian Williams of Notre Dame and Sione Fua of Stanford during the North team week of practices.

Fusco has shown continual progression throughout his career, which is very attractive to scouts. Youngstown State was the only larger school to approach Fusco when he was a 240-pound offensive tackle coming out of high school, but they wanted him to walk on. He didn’t start playing center until 2007, but he soon found the weight room, gained 60 pounds and started earning accolades such as first team Division II All-American and Gene Upshaw Division II Lineman of the Year.

Fusco stumbled a few times on the first day of Senior Bowl practice but continued to play better as the week went along. On gameday, Fusco played well against defensive tackles Jarvis Jenkins of Clemson and Phil Taylor of Baylor, who has been projected by some as the possible first round pick of the Steelers.

Fusco tends to struggle with the bullrush and there are concerns with his speed, but he is projected to go in the fourth or fifth round. If he approaches the NFL Combine like he did the Senior Bowl, he’ll go higher than that.

Down the line from Fusco, Jason Pinkston was representing the University of Pittsburgh at tackle. Pinkston had a solid week of practice that was overshadowed by some of the high profile offensive tackles playing for the North team such as Nate Solder, Gabe Carimi and Anthony Castonzo.

The Baldwin High School graduate played at both tackle and both guard positions during the week of practices, which is highly valuable to NFL teams.

Pinkston’s most visible weakness is his lack of quickness when moving laterally. The problem became evident enough that Paul Alexander, offensive line coach for the Cincinnati Bengals, who coached the North squad, felt it necessary to keep Pinkston after practice to work on his lateral movements.

Pinkston played well in the game with the exception of one forgettable down late in the third quarter in which he was beaten on the edge by Pernell McPhee of Mississippi State, who was able to blindside quarterback Jake Locker and force a fumble. Pinkston had the presence of mind to recover the fumble, but was injured in the ensuing pile up and did not return to action.

Pinkston is expected to go in the second or third round of the draft.

West Virginia sent three players to Mobile, including running back Noel Devine, defensive tackle Chris Neild and receiver Jock Sanders.

Devine weighed in at a meager 160-pounds and continued to disappoint in practice and the game,rushing for just 8 yards on 7 carries. South head coach Chan Gailey told me that returning kicks “is going to be one of his deals at the next level,” however Devine did not see any kick or punt return action in the game. Devine’s draft status will be heavily swayed by his performance at the Combine, but expect him to go in the middle rounds.

Neild, a first team All-Big East selection from Stroudsburg, PA, had an above average week. He registered two tackles in the game, but Neild showed good ability to collapse run lanes and run down plays from behind. Neild could provide valuable depth at nose tackle for a 3-4 team. Watch for him to be drafted around the fifth round.

Sanders is West Virginia’s all-time leading receiver with 206 catches, however his diminutive 5-7, 179-pound frame will be a major turn off to NFL scouts. Sanders held up physically at WVU, but will be at-risk going across the middle as a slot receiver in the NFL. Sanders may get a look as a special teams player and fourth/fifth receiver, but had just one catch for seven yards in the Senior Bowl. He may get drafted late.

OTHERS
Made the Most Money

Cameron Jordan DE, California. Jordan came into the week as a late first or early second round projection, but was so dominant that he boosted himself into the top ten.

Lost the Most Money
Jake Locker QB, Washington. Many believe Locker would’ve been the number one overall pick had he entered the draft last year, and was still a top ten projection going down to Mobile. However, Locker struggled all week and may have fallen all the way into the second round.

Best Value Player for the Steelers
Kendric Burney CB, North Carolina. Burney doesn’t have great speed and he can struggle in deep coverage, but the Senior Bowl showcased his ability as a special-teams player and hisshort-zone ball instincts. Burney could be a great utility player in the fifth round.

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