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January 26, 2011

Alabama players turning heads at Senior Bowl

When they were coming out of college, Rivals had Julio Jones and A.J. Green ranked as the best two wide receivers in the nation and among the top 10 prospects overall.

Three years later apparently very little has changed. Even though neither is participating in this week's Senior Bowl in Mobile this week both could potentially end up being top-10 selections in the upcoming NFL Draft.

As for which player will go first, it depends on whom you ask and which team pulls the trigger first. Green is better at spreading the field and making highlight-type catches, while Jones is considered to be a better every-down option and blocker.

"I give an edge to Green, he was more consistent, Julio Jones dropped some balls during his career and there are some durability issues there as well, he had some minor injuries," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said Wednesday morning. "I just think Green was a better player than Jones. It's interesting, when they both came out of high school Jones was a little ahead of Green, now I have Green a little ahead of Jones. Some other people have Julio Jones ahead of Green. I'm going to stick with A.J. with my number-one receiver."

Jones' injuries included a shoulder, wrist and sports hernia his freshman year, a keep knee bruise from a direct helmet hit his sophomore year and he continued to play after sustaining a hand fracture against South Carolina. Jones didn't have a drop during his final four games at the University of Alabama.

Green, meanwhile, gave Georgia a spark after serving a four-game suspension, with the Bulldogs rebounding from a 1-4 start to reach the Liberty Bowl where they lost to Central Florida for a 6-7 record.

Nevertheless, in his latest mock draft Kiper has Green going sixth to Cleveland and Jones 14th to St. Louis, but the rankings always shake up after the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine, February 23-March 1 in Indianapolis.

What they're saying about McElroy

Like many others, Kiper believes that former Crimson Tide quarterback Greg McElroy will land with an NFL team, but isn't sure if he'll be drafted.

"McElroy's the consummate winner," Kiper said. "He has all the intangibles that you would want. Arm strength, mobility, that's the issue. He doesn't have the big-league arm, he's not a real mobile guy. Tremendously intelligent, he's always been a winner wherever he's been, never going to be overwhelmed by anything that's thrown at him. He has good size, 6-2-and-a-half, about 220 pounds, great kid, hard worker. He's a late-round guy. He's one of those late-round, undrafted free agents.

"Remember when Brian Hoyer came out of Michigan State, everyone thought he would be a third- or fourth-round pick a few years ago. He goes undrafted and ends up in New England with (Tom) Brady. McElroy, based on that, is probably undrafted, but I think he can make a team."

McElroy was measured at just under 6-2 in Mobile, where he's been throwing better than many expected.

"Greg'll be more of the pocket guy," South coach Chan Gailey told reporters. "Cerebral guy. He's got a better arm than I probably gave him credit for walking in here; I think he's done a good job there."

Nevertheless, the opinions of those covering the Senior Bowl have been mixed.

Wes Bunting of the National Football Post wrote Tuesday: "I love everything about Alabama QB Greg McElroy inside the numbers. The guy displays impressive ball placement, gets the ball out on time and consistently is able to throw receivers open. However, when asked to drive the football outside the numbers, he just doesn't have the arm strength to make all the throws. He at times is forced to try to put a little more behind the football than he's naturally capable of, which ultimately causes his passes will sail. Don't get me wrong I think there is a spot in the league for the kid as a serviceable back-up who can make a nice living as a number two and even get some time as a spot starter. But he isn't the kind of guy who I think you can win with week in and week out in the NFL."

SI.com draft analyst Tony Pauline, who also writes for DraftInsiders.net: "Similar to (TCU's Andy) Dalton, McElroy does a great job commanding and controlling the offense. He threw some sensational fakes on the defense in practice and hit wide open receivers as a result. Like Dalton he lacks the physical skills for the NFL. On more than one occasion he had receivers wide open down the field yet could not get the ball to them as his deep passes just hung in the air."

Doug Farrar for Yahoo! Sports' Shutdown Corner: "Alabama's Greg McElroy did not have a great start to his day - on his first throw, he brought Tennessee tight end Luke Stocker into an enormous hit in the secondary. You'll hear scouts talk about quarterbacks who 'throw their receivers open', which basically means that certain quarterbacks have the awareness of coverage and routes to understand how to zing the ball to the open space. More than once on Tuesday afternoon, McElroy did the opposite; actually throwing his receivers into situations that gave them tighter areas than there needed to be. Like Dalton, he seems to lack velocity on shorter to intermediate passes."

What they're saying about Carpenter

Although James Carpenter started the week getting a look at left guard, he's taken his most snaps at left tackle and has clearly improved his draft stock. Mike Mayock of NFL.com is one of numerous people giving him a longer look.

Wrote NFL.com's analyst Pat Kirwin: "Carpenter had the same kind of practice (Florida's Marcus) Gilbert had on Tuesday. Expectations coming in were that of a fourth-round-type player, but his execution and athletic ability were better than anticipated. Guys like Carpenter and Gilbert need to put back-to-back days together to keep pushing their stock up. Carpenter has an athletic body and the feet to play on the left side. He also shows effort and results as a run blocker. One GM I was standing with called him "impressive" with a smile on his face, which told me Carpenter's moving up. While he does not appear to be able to pull and trap like Gilbert, Carpenter plays with enough effort to make it in the NFL."

Tide-bits

Kiper on running back Mark Ingram: "You see a lot of Emmitt Smith in him. He's not the gamebreaker that some people want, but I'll tell you what they said the same thing about Emmitt Smith. That's' why he went 17th the year he came out of college and became a Hall of Famer. He wasn't a top ten, he went 17th, Dallas traded up to get him. I think Miami could think about Ingram and then maybe a quarterback down the line."

Kiper doesn't see the unsettled labor situation having too much of an impact on the draft: "I think the philosophy is if you feel there's one player who's worthy and you feel he can be a difference-maker for you and fill a hole at a key position I don't think it will prevent people from doing that. I think the value in moving up is there, you have to find that dance partner because there's always going to be looking at that third-, fourth-, five-round area thinking we'd like to have extra picks there. ... I don't think the free-agency issue is going to affect your philosophy on draft day, especially since you don't know what's going to happen."

With Wednesday the last practice in pads, many NFL evaluators are on their way out of Mobile and won't stick around for Saturday's game. For players the hardest part is over, with a workout in shells Thursday and a walk-though Friday. Former Alabama tight end Preston Dial posted on Wednesday evening: "Great practice today. All the Bama boys have represented all week ... major relief."


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