The process leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft is in its early phases, but it is definitely in full swing. The New York Giants need to replenish their roster and were watching all of the proceedings at the Senior Bowl keenly.
Now that we've had a full week of practice and the Senior Bowl itself, we have a clearer idea of who helped their draft stock the most.
Noah Spence (EDGE, EKU)
Spence has to be included in any list of "winners" coming out of the Senior Bowl. After being banned from the Big 10 following multiple drug offenses, Spence enrolled at Eastern Kentucky to rehabilitate his reputation. However, he needed a big week at the Senior Bowl to prove that he can still win against a high level of competition. But Spence didn't just win, he dominated. To paraphrase former scout and NFL Network draft analyst, Daniel Jeremiah during the broadcast of the Senior Bowl, "When it comes to edge rushers, it's Noah Spence and then there's everybody else."
Advanced scouting knowledge isn't necessary to know that Spence is a special talent -- Ed has been raving to me about Spence's ability off the edge, to which I replied: "I've been sayin'!" -- and the true test for Spence came away from prying television cameras in his meetings with NFL teams. But his performance in practice and in the game reminded everyone that at the very least he is one of the elite talents in this draft, and teams need to be doing their homework on him.
Braxton Miller (WR, Ohio State)
If Spence had all the scouts talking on the defensive side of the ball, it was quarterback-turned-wideout Braxton Miller who had them buzzing in the offensive drills. Miller's electric athleticism and playmaking ability are no secrets, but after a shoulder injury and an unlikely future at quarterback convinced him to make an early move to receiver. Scouts were interested in seeing how he looked at the position outside of Ohio State. They weren't disappointed as Miller was basically impossible for any of the defensive backs on either squad to cover, and generally showed solid hands. He was voted the best practice player by the scouts in attendance, and may have worked his way into the first round.
Jason Spriggs (OT, Indiana)
Coming into the Senior Bowl, Spriggs wasn't especially highly regarded by NFL scouts. He lacks the intimidating size and athleticism that gets scouts excited, and his tape was somewhat inconsistent. It didn't help that Indiana wasn't very good this year.
But in Mobile, Spriggs showed himself to be a hard-nosed technician who had strong showings against just about every edge rusher he went against. Spriggs was one of the players who is forcing scouts back to the film room to see what, if anything, they missed.
Sheldon Rankins (DT, Louisville)
How good was Rankins' week of practice? He made it into the "Winners" column despite missing the game with a sprained knee. Rankins' tape at Louisville was impressive and certainly showcased his explosive burst, hand usage, and foot speed. His performance in practices, however, showed the power in his hands, his athleticism, and not just how well he is able to beat blockers, but how many ways he is able to beat blockers.
Barring something surprising, Rankins is already being talked about as a first-round prospect.
Vernon Butler (DT, Louisiana Tech)
Butler's name was pretty well known to scouts. The productive tackle from LA Tech was one of those guys who was the "best kept secret" that seemingly everyone was talking about. Butler started impressing right from the weigh-ins when he showed prototypical size to go with long arms. On the field, he had more than one analyst remarking that people his size simply should not be able to move like he does, and when he went against a blocker and not a blocking dummy, he often put them on roller skates.
He carried that through to the game where he was an active and disruptive despite the North team largely being dominated by the South.
Jihad Ward (DE, Illinois)
As far as most were concerned, the most remarkable thing about Jihad Ward coming into the Senior Bowl was his name. That, however, quickly changed once he got on to the field. By the end of the first day of practice, Ward had just about every scout in attendance asking themselves "How did we miss this guy!?".
Though Ward weighed in at just under 6-6 and better than 290 pounds, he didn't look bulky at all and moved like a much smaller player. His size and power, however, were evident when he extended his long arms to hit blocking bags, the inevitable result was a resounding "THUD" and the bag slamming to the ground. With the Senior Bowl in the books, scouts will be working overtime to reconcile what they saw in Mobile with what they didn't see at Illinois.
Honorable Mention: Nick Vannett (TE, Ohio State)
Vannett was impressive all week and in the game, proving himself to be criminally under-used at Ohio State. While Hunter Henry is generally considered the top tight end in the draft class, Vannett might have positioned himself to take that crown. He just didn't quite make enough of a splash to compete with the players above, however.