The Reese’s Senior Bowl will be played this afternoon in Mobile, Alabama, featuring many of the top senior prospects of the 2016 NFL Draft. Earlier this week, the Atlanta Falcons sent coaches, front office personnel and other representatives to observe the week of practices between the North and South all-star teams. During that time, various reports from around the web indicated that they talked with several players.
The Falcons have typically used the Senior Bowl as a proving ground for acquiring talent, drafting a participant in every draft dating back to 2008 with the exception of 2011. Last year’s draft class featured two Senior Bowl participants in wide receiver Justin Hardy and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. The Falcons also signed defensive tackle Joey Mbu and cornerback Kevin White as undrafted free agents.
This year the Falcons were seen or reported to have talked to Ohio State wide receiver Braxton Miller, who indicated to ESPN that he would relish an opportunity to play alongside Julio Jones in Atlanta.
The Falcons were also seen talking to linebackers Deion Jones (LSU) and Josh Perry (Ohio State) and defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis (Temple) according to Walter Football. That site also reports that the Falcons meet with Texas Tech running back DeAndre Washington.
The AJC reports that the Falcons also met with Middle Tennessee State safety Kevin Byard. San Jose State running back Tyler Ervin’s representatives reported that the Falcons were among multiple teams that he met with during the week as well.
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn was also quoted discussing players such as Georgia wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell and defensive end Jordan Jenkins. Quinn also weighed in on Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland during the week.
Miller is formerly the quarterback at Ohio State, finishing fifth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy after his first year as a full-time starter as a sophomore back in 2012. That year, he finished with 2,039 yards passing and 1,271 yards on the ground with 28 combined touchdowns (15 passing, 13 rushing). He improved on those totals as a junior, throwing for 2,094 yards and rushing for another 1,068 with 36 total touchdowns (24 passing, 12 rushing). But he was forced to sit out his senior year in 2014 with a shoulder injury. During his absence, his backups J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones helped lead Ohio State to a National Championship, prompting Miller to put aside his ego and move to wide receiver this past year. He finished fourth on the team with 25 catches for 340 yards and three touchdowns.As a quarterback, Miller compiled a 26-8 record as a starter over the course of three seasons, including going 22-2 in his final two seasons. He impressed throughout the week of Senior Bowl practices, showing that he was a quick study at wide receiver and able to take advantage of his superior athleticism in one-on-one matchups against defending cornerbacks in practice.
Jones was a Butkus Award finalist this past year, given to the nation’s top linebacker. He proved he was deserving on the field, leading LSU’s defense with 100 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, five sacks and two interceptions. His emergence came after spending three years as a reserve, collecting 65 tackles, 7.5 for loss and two fumble recoveries in 39 combined games. Jones turned heads when he weighed only 219 pounds at the Senior Bowl weigh-in, considerably smaller than his listed weight of 227 and lighter than most NFL linebackers. However like Miller, Jones was considered one of the players that helped his stock the most during Senior Bowl week despite any concerns over his weight.
Perry is Miller’s former teammate, who was a three-year starter at Ohio State both at strong-side and weak-side linebacker. He spent the past two years on the weak side, earning All-Conference honors in both seasons. Perry also collected 229 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and six pass breakups in that span. He was named a finalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy this past year, awarded to college football’s player who displays exemplary character alongside performance.
Ioannidis (pronounced eye-an-NYE-dis) was a three-year starter mostly at defensive tackle at Temple, tallying 10 sacks over that span. He was an all-conference honoree during his final two seasons, putting up a combined 86 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks, two fumble recoveries and seven pass breakups. His disruptive abilities were on display early in Senior Bowl practice week.
Washington became Texas Tech’s first back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher this past year since former Falcons running back Byron Hanspard achieved the feat in 1996. Washington saved his best season for last, rushing for 1,492 yards on 233 carries (6.4 avg) with 14 touchdowns. He also added 41 receptions for 385 yards and two more scores. As a junior, he rushed for 1,103 yards on 188 carries (5.9 avg) with two rushing touchdowns, 30 receptions, 328 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns. Washington was a three-time Academic All-Big 12 honoree and two-time All-Big 12 honoree.
Byard was a four-time All-Conference honoree, earning honors both in the Sun Belt (2012) and Conference-USA (2013-2015). Over his career, he started 46 games, collecting 19 interceptions and returning four for scores.Byard also returned one lone punt as a junior, taking it 76 yards for another score. He also broke up 21 more passes over his career, five forced fumbles and tallied 318 tackles over his career. Byard is a native of Lithonia, Georgia, located just outside Atlanta.
Ervin was a highly explosive and versatile weapon at college, setting San Jose State career marks in ll-purpose yards (6,146), kick return yards (2,374) and special teams touchdowns (5). His 2,637 all-purpose yards as a senior finished second behind only Heisman Trophy finalist Christian McCaffrey. Ervin set career highs with 294 carries for 1,601 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns along with 45 receptions for 334 yards. He scored a trio of touchdowns on kickoff returns during his first two years at San Jose State, and also returned one punt for a score in each of the past tow years. Ervin played running back, slot receiver, cornerback and special teams during his time at San Jose State, and also missed most of the 2013 season with an ankle injury. His receiving ability was on display throughout the week of Senior Bowl practices.
Mitchell was Georgia’s top playmaker at wide receiver this past year, leading the team with 58 catches for 865 yards (14.9 avg) and five touchdowns, in his first full season as a starter. Mitchell had been plagued by injuries throughout his early years at Georgia, missing time due to hamstring and ankle injuries during his first two seasons before suffering a torn ACL in the first game of the 2013 season. He came back in 2014, catching 31 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns in nine games. During his first two years, Mitchell combined for 85 catches for 1,237 yards and eight touchdowns while starting 18 of 24 games. Mitchell impressed observers early in the week during the Senior Bowl, showcasing his natural skills as a receiver.
His teammate in Jenkins was a three-year starter at “JACK” outside linebacker in Georgia’s 3-4 scheme, lining up both at linebacker and occasionally putting his hand in the dirt as a defensive end. That versatility was noted in practices this past week. He started a total of 42 games over the course of his Bulldog career, tallying 205 tackles, 40 tackles for loss, 19 sacks and 82 quarterback hurries in that span.
Ragland earned several accolades this past year at Alabama as the national champion’s top defensive leader, qualities he showed during Senior Bowl week. Ragland was a unanimous first team All-American, the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year as well as a finalist for the Butkus, Bednarik and Nagurski Awards given to the top linebacker and defensive player in the nation. This past year, he started 15 games at middle linebacker, recording 102 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and seven pass breakups. His first year as a starter came as a junior, playing the weak side where he started 13 games and had 95 tackles, 10.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks, one interception and three pass breakups. Ragland is also a player that many mock drafts around the internet project to be the Falcons’ top selection in 2016.