The Senior Bowl will take place on today at 2 p.m. MT at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. and features two former Utes trying to make a name for themselves at the next level, defensive end/outside linebacker Nate Orchard and cornerback/safety Eric Rowe. The game provides the best college players who have exhausted their college eligibility a chance to showcase themselves to NFL scouts for an entire week of practices before culminating in the Senior Bowl game this afternoon.
This year, three Utah players were invited to participate, Orchard, Rowe and wide receiver Dres Anderson. Unfortunately for Anderson, he was not able to recover from his knee injury in time to participate. Orchard and Rowe have been practicing all week in Mobile, and the word is they have been quite impressive.
Winners from #SeniorBowl Day Three North Practice: Winners- Ali Marpet, Nate Orchard, Hayes Pullard, Jeff Luc, Eric Rowe & Ibraheim Campbell— Eric Galko (@OptimumScouting) January 22, 2015
Heading into the draft process, there has been some discussion about where Orchard would fit in an NFL defense. Orchard played defensive end at Utah, lining up on the line of scrimmage with his hand on the ground nearly every play. During the official weigh-in at the beginning of this week, Orchard came in at 6'3" 251 lbs. Scouts questioned how he would fare giving up 100 lbs. to offensive lineman he will oppose in the NFL. Many scouts were anxious to see how Orchard would do playing in space at the outside linebacker position.
During the week Orchard was given a shot to play both defensive end and outside linebacker and his performance at both positions have turned the heads of NFL scouts.
"I love Nate Orchard and what he did this week," NFL Media Analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. "The question of his size wasn't an issue at all. You saw his ability to get off blocks and get off the ball."
Lined up at his normal end position, Orchard was able to display a variety of pass rush moves, using a swim move, bull rush and changing his burst off the line of scrimmage. Word around practices was scouts were most impressed by his burst at the line. Worries about Orchard being overpowered by bigger offensive lineman seemed to be put to rest as Orchard supplied regular and heavy pressure against the quarterbacks, even snagging a Bryce Petty screen pass for an interception.
At the outside linebacker position, Orchard was able to flash some attributes scouts were looking for in an outside linebacker. Orchard showed the speed to to cover space and the ability to blitz off the edge standing up. He looked a bit uncomfortable in coverage at times, but having played defensive end his entire career, that was to be expected.
What position Orchard will play in the NFL largely comes down to which team drafts him. The Carolina Panthers, who play a 4-3 defense, showed interest in speaking with Orchard, while the Titans worked Orchard out as a linebacker in their 3-4 scheme.
"I’d prefer to play with my hand in the ground. I’ve done it for 10 years," Orchard said. "But if I had to play outside linebacker, the transition would be smooth."
Wherever he ends up, this Senior Bowl week helped Orchard's draft stock, pushing him from what many considered a late round pick into perhaps a first or second day pick.
Rowe has had a good showing, as well, so far at the Senior Bowl. Measuring in at 6-1, 204 pounds, with arms measuring 32.5 inches, his physical attributes impressed the scouts. Though not generating as much buzz as Orchard, Rowe has been able to show his versatility playing both cornerback and safety in practices. Much like Orchard, Rowe is considered a bit of a tweener as many organizations think Rowe might be too big to play cornerback and would fit better as a safety. Other organizations like to utilize big bodies at the cornerback position and think he would fit just fine.
Both the Ravens and Eagles talked with Rowe and he worked out at both positions for them. Rowe showed good coverage skills and was able to pick off an old Pac-12 foe in Sean Mannion on Wednesday.
Eric Rowe CB Utah w an interception., people are falling in one w his prototypical size at 6'1" he's long and big— Luke Inman (@Luke_Spinman) January 21, 2015
Rowe caught up with Mannion after practice and tweeted the following compliment to the Ute faithful.
Just talked to Sean Mannion, QB from Oregon State, and he told me that Rice - Eccles stadium was the loudest, best atmosphere he played in!— Eric Rowe (@EricRowe18) January 21, 2015
Rowe's ball skills and ability to cover deep routes, combined with his size and ability to jam receiver at the line, have people arguing he should potentially be a first round pick, with Brian Krosky of Buffalo Bills Draft saying he was the second best corner behind Washington's Marcus Peters.
Eric Rowe is my #2 CB behind Marcus Peters. Should undoubtedly be a first round pick.— Brian Krosky (@bkrosky26) January 19, 2015
NFL teams are liking what they're seeing so far from the Utes duo, and they will get a chance to see more today at the Senior Bowl. The pre-draft process is just beginning, but already the future looks bright for these former Utes. You can catch the Senior Bowl live on NFL Network at 2 p.m. MT.