While NFL scouts were looking for the next great quarterback or defensive end this past week, I found my own can’t-miss prospect – a guy who goes by MadDog49er on the 49ersWebZone message boards. MadDog, a.k.a. Jeff Matracia, 41, of Columbus, Ohio, is what I would call a draft-aholic. He watches a ton of college football, follows events like the Senior Bowl with fanatical zeal and has been compiling a draft Big Board over the last several years that compares favorably to that of the Kipers and McShays of the world. He also happens to be a Sacramento native, which is always good for a couple of brownie points …
MadDog still retains his amateur status – his day job is as a high-school history teacher – but I’ve noticed recently that he’s been as spot-on with his evaluations as the so-called experts. I asked MadDog to give me his impressions of some of the Senior Bowl players who caught my eye (both good and bad) this week. Hopefully, we’ll get more of his opinions during the long, three-month countdown to the draft.
Players who helped themselves:
1. WR Lavelle Hawkins, Cal. He’s just a little guy, but he showed Steve Smith-like body control during Senior Bowl week. He consistently wound up with the ball in his hands on deep throws, even when those throws weren’t exactly accurate.
MadDog says: Showed that he is an explosive player who can get behind defensive backs. Also ran very crisp routes, creating separation from defenders. Was able to catch the ball all over the field. Possibly the WR who helped himself the most.
2. Trevor Laws, DT, Notre Dame. He’s a strong, squat, former wrestler who was handful for offensive linemen all week. If he was four inches taller, he’d be a picture-perfect fit as a 3-4 defensive end.
MadDog says: Built like a fire hydrant, and gives 100% on each play. He simply makes play after play while other players get the publicity. A quick, disruptive 4-3 DT.
3. Joe Flacco, QB, Delaware. The small-school quarterback played better than most of the big boys. Flacco’s 6-6, is light on his feet and has a strong and accurate arm. Ben Roethlisberger but smarter.
MadDog says: Flacco is not the most NFL ready QB in this draft, but might have the biggest upside. His height and overall size, and solid arm strength could push him into the second round. The raw potential is there.
4. Peyton Hillis, RB, Arkansas. Hillis was overshadowed at Arkansas by Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. He’s a big-bodied back who ran over opponents all week.
MadDog says: Surprisingly fast and smooth for a FB. Although the traditional role of a FB is slowly disappearing, someone like Hillis, who has tremendous hands, will find a starting role in the NFL. I think he's a top 100 pick.
5. Dre Moore, DT, Maryland. He was unblockable in one-on-one drills but tended to disappear in team situations. He definitely caught a lot of eyes but consistency is still a question mark.
MadDog says: Looked flabby at the weigh-in, but constantly collapsed the pocket, and went around the guards and centers with ease. His size and speed combo makes him a strong candidate at the 4-3 DT, or 3-4 DE.
Players who held steady:
1. Sedrick Ellis, DT, USC. The best defensive lineman at the Senior Bowl and the best overall player. If the Raiders lose out on Glenn Dorsey and Chris Long, Ellis wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize at all
MadDog says: Dominated all week in practice. Will be the first Senior Bowler taken in the draft. Explosive off the line, and stout against the run. Needs to work on conditioning.
2. Chad Henne, QB, Mich. Henne was smooth and accurate all week. He’s not flashy but had more polish than any other Senior Bowl passer.
MadDog says: Probably the top QB this week. He showed off his strong arm, and was sharp in accuracy. Probably a second-round pick. Great size and intelligence.
3. Roy Schuening, G, Oregon State. It’s a weak year for interior linemen, but Schuening looked good all week. On Saturday, he was constantly making blocks deep on the second level.
MadDog says: In a year with a weak guard class, Schuening will be considered as possibly the first to come off the board. He was a stud performer at Oregon State, and should be ready to start as a RG in 2008.
4. Keith Rivers, LB, USC. Big and fast, he was the top all-around LB in Mobile. He probably could play every position in the 49ers’ scheme but would be best as an OLB.
MadDog says: Showed strength and quickness, and an attitude, which coaches love. He is excellent moving forward, but will need to work on dropping back in coverage. Eclipsed by Dan Connor (Penn State) this week.
5. Limas Sweed, WR, Texas. I thought he was handful for DBs when he was able to play. His wrist injury acted up and he left Mobile. It was hard to tell whether Mike Nolan interpreted that as a wimpy move.
MadDog says: Was able to return to the field, and caught the ball fairly well with his surgically repaired hand. However, he seems slow off the line, and will need to improve not only his 40 time, but 10 yard split, if he wants to be a first rounder. Otherwise, he might be lumped into the same category as Dwayne Jarrett.
Players who hurt themselves:
1. Colt Brennan, QB, Hawaii. He simply does not have the arm strength to make the necessary throws on the NFL level.
MadDog says: Took a step back this week in not being able to erase some doubts about his ability at the next level. First, weighing in a 185 is a problem. Second, was not able to adjust well under the center. Finally, was not sharp in drills. Possibly performed the worst of the six QB's this week.
2. Adarius Bowman, WR, Oklahoma State. Bowman had a spectacularly bad Tuesday practice, dropping almost every pass that came his way. He’s got great size and strength, but the guy must learn how to catch with his hands.
MadDog says: Had the opportunity to make a bold statement as a top tier WR, and a possible mid-first rounder. Instead, dropped a lot of balls, and was a tad slow off the line of scrimmage. On the positive side, he's very strong, does an excellent job of shielding CB's, and is an excellent blocker. Two of the three North QB's interviewed late in the week said he was the best player on the North squad. In other words, I believe there has been an overexaggeration.
3. Shawn Crable, LB, Mich. A poor man’s Manny Lawson. He’s got the build of a strong-side linebacker but is not as athletic as Lawson.
MadDog says: In a very, very weak DE class, Crable simply did not excel. He had the opportunity to make a statement, but instead was dominated at the line of scrimmage. Has long arms, but was not strong. Very disappointing.
4. Early Doucet, WR, LSU. He’s quite fluid for a 211 pounder but only lasted two practices before tweaking his hamstring. (Rashaun Woods?) A strong combine will re-boost his stock.
MadDog says: I think Doucet helped himself until injured. From some reports, he was the top WR on Tuesday, until he went down. Doucet ran strong routes, and was able to shield the ball from defenders. However, he keeps breaking down, and that is an issue he has to eliminate.
5. Ben Moffitt, LB, South Florida. Moffitt showed up an inch shorter and ten pounds lighter than advertised.
MadDog says: His physique is average, play was average in practice. Everything average. Nothing stands out. Looking at a late round grade. This MLB class is pathetic.
Maiocco’s got some competition in Phoenix. My boss, Bill Bradley, grew up in the desert and is blogging like a mad man all week. You want celebrities? The guy already ran into Jared of Subway fame. Take that, Maiocco! (I’m a Togo’s guy myself, but to each his own.) To see what Bill’s up to in the soggy desert, click here.
-- Matt Barrows