MOBILE, Ala. --- One thing we know for sure is that the Eagles will be looking for wide receivers in April’s NFL draft, regardless of what they might be able to add in free agency.
Because so many of the top prospects are underclassmen – 103 declared this year – it’s unlikely that a wideout the Eagles would take with their first pick, 21st overall, is on the field this week at Senior Bowl practice. But there will be more than one round in the draft, and the Eagles expect to have 10 selections, so the group assembled in Mobile probably isn’t irrelevant to Eagles fans.
The most-lauded practice performer has been Baylor’s Denzel Mims, who projects to go somewhere around the third round in a wide-receiver-rich draft. Mims, who clocked in at 6-2 ½ and 206 pounds here, is a powerful, athletic receiver who can go up for contested catches but also can separate. He explodes coming off the line, hand-fights defenders to the very limits of legality, and tracks the ball smoothly.
“I feel like I needed to show that I can run routes and make all the catches, no matter where it’s at,” Mims said after Thursday’s North team practice at the University of South Alabama’s open-sided, bad-weather facility, which resembles an enormous, green-carpeted carport.
Mims started at Baylor just as a sexual-assault scandal was about to claim the job of head coach Art Briles. Briles’ successor, former Temple coach Matt Rhule – who is watching Mims this week as the new head coach of the Carolina Panthers – “taught me how to be a pro,” Mims said.
“Him and [wide receivers coach] Frisman Jackson believed in me a lot. They believed in me more than I believed in myself, at one point,” Mims said.
Mims’ stats declined slightly from his sophomore to his junior season, but he bounced back as a senior, catching 66 passes for 1,020 yards and a dozen touchdowns.
Other wideouts who have looked good preparing for Saturday’s game include SMU’s nifty James Proche, USC’s Michael Pittman, and Ohio State’s K.J. Hill.
Temple center Matt Hennessy (6-4, 302) has looked good this week, and seems headed for a second-day (second or third round) draft selection. Hennessy’s older brother, Thomas, is the Jets’ long-snapper.
Hennessy said his goal this week is “to prove I’m the best center in the draft class.”
He left Temple with a year of eligibility remaining, but Hennessy had asked for a draft grade from the NFL College Advisory Committee, which tells prospects whether they look like first- or second-rounders or should return to school.
“Ultimately, got a return-to-school grade, but when we asked for the verbal breakdown of it, nine teams total, one was second round, the other eight were two-to-five,” Hennessy said. “I felt that with that feedback, and throughout the predraft process, I could hone myself and get on the high end of that.”
One of the unique things about Senior Bowl practices is that after a workout is done, reporters, agents, and NFL scouts mingle on the field with prospects. Often a reporter will wait for a scout to work through a list of questions before starting an interview.
Some of the questions are personality related: Who would you go to for advice? When did you last throw a punch? Others are about family relationships: What do your parents do? Do you have kids? Some seem a bit intrusive: Any daily medications you take? What’s the most you’ve ever weighed? What’s the hardest thing you’ve been through?
Some questions concern position preference, what the prospect wants teams to know about him. Some information, you would think the scout could find out for himself without having to ask: Have you ever been arrested? Ever been put in handcuffs? But when a reporter wondered aloud about that one, to a prospect who had just been asked the question, the prospect said: “Oh, I think they do know. That’s why they ask.” In other words, they want to know whether the player will tell the truth.
Every now and then, a scout will ask a question that seems designed to see how quick on his feet a prospect might be. A few years back, a reporter was waiting to talk to a prospect when he heard a scout ask, “How many weeks in a year?”
“Ummm … about, like, 54 1/2?” the player replied.
There has been very little scuttlebutt in Mobile this week about what the Eagles might do at offensive coordinator, but there has been talk that former Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke will succeed Phillip Daniels as defensive line coach. Burke, who will turn 44 in March, served as a defensive special assistant to Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz this season.
The Eagles also have openings at wide receivers coach and defensive backfield coach. Their DBs coach for the last five seasons, Cory Undlin, is on the field in Mobile, as the Lions’ defensive coordinator, with Detroit in charge of the North team. The Bengals coaches are in charge of the South.
Undlin told reporters who cover the Lions that he and head coach Matt Patricia haven’t decided whether Undlin will call defensive signals. Patricia and Undlin started their NFL careers together on the Patriots’ staff in 2004.