2015 NFL DRAFT

FSU's Manuel wins MVP, defenders win respect at Senior Bowl

By Rob Rang | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com
Manuel's mobility and touch helped lead the South to all three scoring drives, earning him MVP. (US Presswire)

The one-on-one opportunities prospects are put through during the week of practice at the Senior Bowl is more valued by scouts than the actual game, which is why most talent evaluators leave Mobile, Ala., long before kickoff.

However, there is something to be said for prospects who save their best performances for the game itself.

Florida State's E.J. Manuel was the most impressive of the quarterbacks, leading the South to touchdowns on his first two drives and all three scores overall, earning him Most Valuable Player in the South's 21-16 victory.

The 6-foot-4, 237-pound Manuel demonstrated the dual-threat capabilities so popular right now in scouting circles, scampering up the middle for one score and showing beautiful touch on a 20-yard strike to Alabama tight end Michael Williams moments later for another.

Manuel was replaced by Tyler Wilson and Landry Jones, who were less effective. Manuel returned in the second half, leading the South on a 13-play drive for its only other score of the game. Although the South relied on its running game on this drive, Manuel's one completion was an impressive throw. While it only went for six yards, Manuel was forced to reset and showed a much quicker release than he normally uses, demonstrating the ability to adjust as necessary and hitting Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor for a first down on third-and-4.

The most impressive players in this game, however, were largely on the defensive side of the ball.

Purdue's Kawann Short, North Carolina's Sylvester Williams and BYU's Ezekiel Ansah were particularly disruptive in this game.

Short and Williams had been spectacular throughout the week of practice. Short, in particular, consistently beat opponents with his quick first step and sudden, powerful hands.

Ansah, on the other hand, had been largely underwhelming throughout the practice week but was a terror in this game, recording a sack and forced fumble of Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib among several other big plays. Ansah, 6-5, 274 pounds, used his incredible closing speed to track down ball-carriers from behind on defense and to successfully cover on special teams.

He was far from the only defender to play well in the game after a relatively disappointing week of practice.

Georgia safety Baccari Rambo was in perfect position to collect an interception -- the 17th of his collegiate career -- by undercutting Syracuse wide receiver Alec Lemon and picking off a poorly-thrown pass by his former Orange quarterback, Nassib. Utah State's Will Davis took advantage of one of Manuel's few poor decisions on the day, collecting an interception off of a pass tipped by Oregon State's Jordan Poyer in the third quarter. While each earned first team all-conference honors in 2012, the trio had given up more plays than they'd made during the Senior Bowl practices.

Finally, while the evaluation of most prospects was done by scouts throughout the practices, with players encouraged not to actually tackle ball-carriers during the week, linebackers were in the unique position of having to show off their most vital skill during the game. Several took full advantage, including Florida State's Vince Williams and Connecticut's Sio Moore.

Williams, 6-1, 247, was particularly impressive, delivering several emphatic hits. Moore showed off the closing speed that helped him rack up an eye-popping 44 tackles for loss over his career. The 6-1, 240-pound Moore also showed better-than-expected power as a rusher, driving through Arkansas Pine-Bluff left tackle Terron Armstead as well as Wake Forest fullback Tommy Bohanon for a fourth-quarter sack of Oklahoma's Jones.

 
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