Under-the-radar prospects rising
MOBILE, Ala. -- Senior Bowl week presents an opportunity for players from smaller programs and conferences to step up and show they belong with the big boys, and three 2012 prospects have taken full advantage of that chance at this year's game.
Marshall DE Vinny Curry (6-foot-3, 265 pounds)
Curry is well-known in scouting circles and was considered a potential Day 2 (Rounds 2-3) pick even last season, but I doubt many fans across the nation realize Curry was third in the FBS with 22 tackles for loss in 2011, and tied for sixth with 11 sacks.
He doesn't have elite burst, top-end speed or athleticism, but Curry's initial quickness has been very good during Senior Bowl week and he is showing the ability to transition that quickness into power moves. Once he forces offensive tackles to stand up and respect his power, Curry does a nice job using rip or swim moves to beat them inside or outside.
What stands out above all, though, is his relentless motor, toughness and passion for the game, and one game from 2011 illustrates those qualities perfectly. Curry's mother, Linda Jackson, fought cancer for more than a year -- something he dealt with while still remaining committed to his teammates -- and she passed away early in the week leading up to Marshall's game against Rice. Curry did not practice at all during the week while mourning his mother, not even returning to campus until an hour before kickoff.
However, he decided to play and dedicate his performance to his mother. All Curry did against the Owls was record nine total tackles, 3.5 sacks, a fumble recovery, and force a fourth-quarter fumble that led to the game-winning touchdown for Marshall. He's the kind of player it's easy to pull for, and Curry had done everything he can this week to solidify a Day 2 grade. In fact, it won't surprise me if he ends up working his way into the second round before all is said and done.
Louisiana-Lafayette CB Dwight Bentley (5-9⅞, 176)
Bentley played high school football with fellow South team CB Janoris Jenkins
(North Alabama), and they have clearly been the top two defensive backs on the South roster. Bentley is undersized, but with his quickness, fluidity and body control he can flat-out cover.
He had only seven career interceptions -- due in part to teams preferring not to challenge him -- and while his ball skills are not elite he has shown in Mobile the ability to find, adjust to and fight for the ball in the air.
Two other things have stood out about Bentley, including his confidence. He has the ability to put negative plays behind him and bounce back on the next snap, something that is very important for a cornerback. Bentley has also taken coaching well this week, picking up what the coaches are telling him and making the necessary adjustments on the next play.
He was considered a Day 3 possibility coming into the season, but his improvement as a senior and his showing this week against future NFL receivers has improved his stock. Bentley has risen as much as any other prospect in attendance, and could very well come off the board on Day 2.
Utah State LB Bobby Wagner (6-0¼, 241)
Wagner has a solid frame, and he's showing some scheme versatility lining up on the strong side after spending a lot of time inside in college. He was highly productive for the Aggies, ranking eighth nationally in tackles per game in 2011, and is very strong at the point of attack.
Wagner takes good angles to get into sound position, and his pop and power at the point are very good. And while he lacks elite range in coverage, Wagner has been great pressing tight ends at the line of scrimmage and has shown good instincts and awareness against the pass. He gets good leverage -- not just depth, but also width -- to cover as much ground as possible, and he is far from a liability in that area.
Wagner now ranks as the No. 4 inside linebacker on the board -- behind the likes of Luke Kuechly
, Vontaze Burfict
and Dont'a Hightower
-- and he's gotten himself to the fringe of Day 2.