Four Downs: Senior Bowl Storylines to Watch

The top prospects from across the country have gathered in Mobile, Ala., to showcase their talent for NFL scouts.

Three writers for 49ers.com offer different opinions on the key storylines to track during the 2016 Reese's Senior Bowl practices and game from Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala.

Let's get to the four downs for the annual college All-Star showcase, which takes place Saturday, Jan. 30 at 11:30 a.m. PT on NFL Network.

1st Down: Who is the most intriguing player in this year's game?

@Joe_Fann: Oklahoma WR Sterling Shepard

Shepard isn't big, listed at 5-foot-10, but do you know who else isn't big? Tyler Lockett. The Seattle Seahawks standout rookie receiver, who is listed at the same height, tore up the Senior Bowl last year and left Mobile as one of the top risers of the week. Shepard had a gaudy year statistically for the Oklahoma Sooners in 2015 and finished the season with 86 receptions for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns. He could very well leave this year's Senior Bowl as the most impressive skill player of the week.

@TylerEmerick: Penn State DE Carl Nassib

A former walk-on, Nassib only started one season in college. And boy what a monstrous season it was. Nassib forced five fumbles and led the country with a school-record 15.5 sacks. For his efforts, Nassib won both the Lombardi Award (best lineman or linebacker) and the Ted Hendricks Award (best defensive end), and was named the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year. His former coach, current Texans head coach Bill O'Brien, once doubted Nassib's pro potential but recently said the player "proved me wrong." Is Nassib a one-year wonder or is he for real? He'll be hoping to prove the latter at the Senior Bowl and over the coming months.

@TaylorPrice: North Dakota State QB Carson Wentz

If you're like me, you didn't catch many Bison games this year. Good thing we have YouTube. Wentz, however, is the talk of Mobile going into the All-Star game. Some analysts like NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah are reporting that scouts have him ranked as the top-rated passer in this year's draft. For many, the Senior Bowl is all about the signal-callers. So with that in mind, Wentz's ability to compete against Division I talent will be fascinaitng to watch. Wentz will be the QB wearing No. 11 for the North team.

2nd Down: Which player has the most to prove?

@Joe_Fann: Eastern Kentucky LB Noah Spence

As Bleacher Report's Matt Miller noted on Monday, Spence will have to prove that his game tape at Eastern Kentucky is a testament to his talent, not an indictment of the level of competition. The linebacker was a star at Ohio State in 2013 before being dismissed from the team for off-field reasons. Spence will also need to convince teams that those issues are behind him and that he's worth a first-round price tag. That starts with an impressive week at the Senior Bowl.

@TylerEmerick: Baylor DE Shawn Oakman

Perhaps no prospect is more physically imposing than Oakman. If you've seen the memes, then you know what I'm talking about. If not, just Google the name of the 6-foot-9, 275-pound heavyweight. After a junior campaign in which he totaled 11 sacks, many experts predicted that Oakman would be a top-5 pick. But as a senior, Oakman's production dipped to 4.5 sacks and his stock followed suit. He's obviously still a prized player, but his performance against elite competition in the Senior Bowl and elsewhere will go a long way in determining if and where he goes in the first round. 

@TaylorPrice: Ohio State WR Braxton Miller

Miller starred for three seasons at quarterback for the Buckeyes. He then left fans and scouts impressed with his one season as a wideout in 2015 (26 catches, 341 yards, three touchdowns, 42 carries, 281 rushing yards and one rushing score). Miller also has nifty open-field moves (spin moves, to be exact). He now has an opportunity to run a full NFL route tree for the North team coached by the Dallas Cowboys. Miller will be paired with Wentz, and he'll get a shot at proving he can beat the top senior cornerbacks in 1-on-1 drills in practice and against the South's best during Saturday's game.

3rd Down: Who seems like a fit for 49ers coach Chip Kelly?

@Joe_Fann: Ohio State WR Braxton Miller

The former Ohio State quarterback has made serious progress as a wide receiver in just one year since changing positions. Kelly has been known to make the most of versatile athletes like Miller, who can catch passes, run with the ball and throw it. Think De'Anthony Thomas at Oregon or Darren Sproles with the Philadelphia Eagles. Miller could very well be a fit for what the 49ers new head coach is looking for.

@TylerEmerick: Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott

Here's a stat that Kelly might find interesting: Prescott is one of only four players in college football history to throw for 60 touchdowns and rush for 40 more. He's also a two-time All-American and two-time All-SEC quarterback. Because of his size, running style and leadership, Prescott has been compared to Tim Tebow. But Prescott is a much more accomplished passer, as he led the SEC in pass completions and completion percentage. When it comes to quarterbacks, Kelly puts accuracy above running ability. This guy appears to have both. He's expected to be a mid-round pick but could improve his stock in Mobile while competing against Wentz.

@TaylorPrice: Alabama LB Reggie Ragland

If you watched the College Football Playoff Championship game against Clemson, there's a good chance you saw Alabama's No. 19 all over the field making five tackles (four solo) in a remarkable victory for the Crimson Tide. When you watch him play, the 6-foot-2, 252-pound linebacker has the size and agressiveness to thrive in any defense. He can line up on the outside and can stuff the run as an inside 'backer. Players with position versatility appear to be favorable by Kelly and most coaches in today's NFL. This first-team All-American could be one of the best pros when we look back at who played in this year's Senior Bowl.

4th Down: What is your bold prediction for the week?
@Joe_Fann: Alabama LB Reggie Ragland will be top defensive player

Kelly recently told 49ers.com that "position versatility" is huge in the NFL. Alabama's star linebacker is already considered a first-round talent and is widely regarded as the top inside 'backer in the draft class. On Monday, Ragland told media he plans to get in work as an outside linebacker to show his versatility in coverage and rushing the passer. A successful showing in those regards would make him a fit in any defensive scheme and give him value to all 32 NFL clubs.

@TylerEmerick: SE Missouri State WR Paul McRoberts will become a name you know

Intially scheduled to play in the East-West Shrine Game last week, McRoberts instead accepted a late invite to the Senior Bowl. He's the first player in his school's history to participate in Mobile. At 6-foot-3, 194 pounds, McRoberts has good size and a catch radius that reminded a Sports Illustrated writer of Broncos All-Pro wideout Demaryius Thomas. McRoberts caught 76 passes for 940 yards and nine touchdowns in 2015. Look for him to continue to rise on draft boards.

@TaylorPrice: Stanford QB Kevin Hogan could move up draft boards

This is where my West Coast bias shows up. Many of us in the Bay Area have watched a lot of Cardinal football. This means we know about the solid play of Hogan, a 6-foot-4, 218-pound signal-caller who led his team to a convincing Rose Bowl victory. Sure his backfield teammate earned the Heisman Trophy hype, but Hogan has a chance to distinguish himself this week in Mobile by showcasing accurate throws and sound decision-making. The quarterbacks at the top of the group (Wentz, Dak Prescott, Jake Coker) will garner most of the attention, but history has shown us that second-tiered passers can seize momentum with strong performances in Mobile.

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