Senior Bowl

Senior Bowl Preview: Five Small-School Players to Watch


The Senior Bowl is the first meaningful chance for small-school draft prospects to prove their wares against a higher level of competition. Senior players from all over the country will convene in Mobile, Ala., this week for a handful of practices under the direction of NFL coaching staffs. They will then face off in a North vs. South all-star game on Jan. 30 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

This is a huge opportunity for all prospects involved, but especially those who had their college production dismissed because of concerns about the “level of competition.” With that in mind, we’re profiling five small-school prospects who will look to use this opportunity to prove they can hang with the best players in the nation.

OT Joe Haeg – North Dakota State

We know the Chargers are keeping tabs on North Dakota State; it was just last year the team spent a fifth-round pick on Bison pass rusher Kyle Emanuel. It is possible GM Tom Telesco goes back to the NDSU well again this year, especially given the team’s dire need for help on the offensive line.

Haeg (6’5”, 300 lbs.) is an athletic blocker with good quickness and awareness. He needs to continue adding weight and building his core strength, but he has a chance to emerge as a starting NFL tackle sooner than later. Because he is still a developmental project, he should be available on the third day of the draft.

S DeAndre Houston-Carson, William & Mary

The Chargers have a glaring need at safety. Eric Weddle is an unrestricted free agent who will not return, and last year’s offseason pickup (Jimmy Wilson) was released midway through his first season with the team. That will force the Chargers to take a close look at every safety prospect during Senior Bowl week, especially the physical Houston-Carson.

A big hitter with good awareness and closing burst, Houston-Carson looks the part of an NFL defensive back (6’1”, 198 lbs.). He has the aggression of a safety and the cover skills of a cornerback, which is the position he played his first three years at Williams & Mary. He switched to safety as a senior, where he racked up four of his 10 career interceptions. He also finished his time with the Tribe with an incredible nine blocked kicks.

WR Paul McRoberts – Southeast Missouri State

The Chargers will be in the market for receiving help. Malcom Floyd is retiring after 12 years of service and Stevie Johnson is a potential (likely?) cap casualty. In their search for a replacement, the Chargers will find plenty to like in McRoberts.

The Redhawks standout finished his senior season with 76 catches for 940 yards and nine touchdowns. He has long strides and deep-ball skills similar to Floyd and a basketball background similar to Antonio Gates. McRoberts (6’3”, 197 lbs.) has also been praised for his mental and physical toughness; based on those traits alone, it’s easy to see him forming a quick bond with QB Philip Rivers.

OG Willie Beavers – Western Michigan

San Diego’s interior offensive line is a mess. Starting guards Orlando Franklin and D.J. Fluker struggled to stay healthy in 2015 while 2014 third-round pick Chris Watt has been a massive disappointment. Telesco will seek to improve depth in the draft’s middle rounds, making Beavers an intriguing candidate.

Beavers (6’5”, 309 lbs.) played left tackle for the Broncos, but most scouts believe he is better suited to move inside to guard in the NFL. He has good size and quickness but must continue getting stronger and learn to finish better. Nonetheless, his productivity and versatility should be enough to entice Chargers scouts.

OLB Noah Spence – Eastern Kentucky

The Chargers have typically shied away from character risks under Telesco’s leadership; that stance would have to soften for Spence to wind up in lightning bolts. Spence has a history of Ecstasy addition, which got him kicked off the team at Ohio State and banned from the Big Ten permanently. All signs point to that addiction being a thing of the past — he has passed numerous drug tests at Eastern Kentucky — but the red flag still waves.

There is no questioning Spence’s on-field ability. He finished his lone season at Eastern Kentucky with 11.5 sacks, 22.5 tackles for loss and 15 QB hurries. He has shown similar production at higher levels of competition, posting eight sacks with the Buckeyes in 2013. The talent is clearly there, and the Chargers could use another pass rusher given that Melvin Ingram and Jeremiah Attaochu are not exactly iron men. The real question is how far Spence’s off-field issues will cause him to fall, and when Telesco believes the risk is worth the reward.

Michael Lombardo has covered the San Diego Chargers since 2003. He spent 12 years covering the team for and has also been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports, and MySpace Sports. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter @NFLinsider_Mike.

About Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo has covered the San Diego Chargers since 2003. He spent 12 years covering the team for and has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports, Football Insiders and MySpace Sports.

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