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Senior Bowl really helped two of Cardinals’ top-three picks

North squad inside linebacker Haason Reddick of Temple (57) practices for Saturday's Senior Bowl college football game in Mobile, Ala., Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
LISTEN: Phil Savage, Executive Director of the Senior Bowl

Not long after choosing Haason Reddick with the 13th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Arizona Cardinals GM Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians talked about how his performance at the Senior Bowl really stuck in their minds.

“He went to the Senior Bowl as I talked about in the pre-draft press conference,” Keim said. “I’ve never seen a guy who could take his hand off the ground and play stack linebacker with that kind of vision, instincts and play speed, and coverability, like he did with very little experience.”

“You put a high motor with a 4.46 guy at that size, just inside rush, outside rush, he destroyed those guys at the Senior Bowl in the one-on-one pass rushes,” Arians offered. “What impressed me more was he’d never done it, but he went and covered the backs one-on-one and nobody caught a pass on him and he’d never done it. That’s when you knew you had something real special.”

Reddick, who was already a top prospect even after playing at Temple, did nothing to hurt his stock in Mobile, AL.

“At the Senior Bowl, he stepped in with all the top talent and played different positions and dominated,” Keim added.

Reddick himself understands how much his Senior Bowl performance helped his stock, but interestingly, it almost never happened. Sort of.

Phil Savage, the executive director of the Senior Bowl, told Burns and Gambo on 98.7 FM, Arizona’s Sports Station that back in October he had a conversation with Reddick’s coach at the time, Matt Rhule, and asked if the coach felt his player could switch to linebacker from the defensive end position he played at Temple.

It may have been a tough ask, especially since last season Reddick notched 65 tackles with 10.5 sacks and an FBS-leading 22.5 tackles for loss. He also forced three fumbles and recovered one fumble while recording an interception.

Rhule thought he could make the move, noting he felt linebacker would be Reddick’s position in the NFL, so Savage and the Senior Bowl invited the player to participate in the event, but as a linebacker.

“About two weeks before he was supposed to get here, his agent called and said, ‘Hey, he’s having some reservations about playing linebacker in Mobile,'” Savage said. “I said, ‘Let me talk to him when he gets here.'”

So, on the Sunday before practices started in late January, Savage encouraged Reddick to give linebacker a shot, ensuring him he would show the kind of versatility that would help him.

“By the end of the week he was probably moved from being a third-rounder, in terms of a conservative guess across the league to the back end of the first round,” Savage said. “Once he followed up our week with the Combine, the measurables, the interview, the personality, and he just kept skyrocketing up the draft board through the spring.”

Indeed, Reddick also helped himself at the Combine with a 4.52 second 40-yard dash time as well as a 36.5-inch vertical jump and 133-inch broad jump.

But as Savage noted, no one helped themselves more at the Senior Bowl than Reddick, who used the week to show the kind of athleticism and versatility that attracted the Cardinals.

When it comes to evaluating players, teams look for as much information as possible. Savage said the Senior Bowl allows coaches and scouts to get an early look at prospects from all over the country and therefore have an idea of what the upcoming draft holds.

“So that they can make those comparisons, because that’s really what you’re doing in scouting, you’re comparison shopping from small-school guys all the way up to the big-school All-Americans and trying to make some choices based on that information,” he said.

Reddick, however, was likely going to be a pretty high pick even without his outstanding Senior Bowl week. Another player the Cardinals chose, receiver Chad Williams, probably could not say the same.

The Cardinals plucked Williams out of Grambling State in the third round, 98th overall, and like Reddick, mentioned what he did in Mobile.

“This is a bigger, more physical, explosive, fast receiver and when he went to the NFLPA (Collegiate Bowl) he did extremely well, got invited to the Senior Bowl, was not out of place; if anything, he dominated all of the one-on-ones,” Arians said.

As a senior, Williams caught 90 passes for 1,337 yards and 11 touchdowns, and in his career totaled 210 receptions, 3,062 yards and 28 scores.

Yet, while Williams was incredibly productive in college, he made it to the Senior Bowl because, as Savage said, he received a tip on the wideout.

“I had one of my contacts go to Itawamba, Mississippi, to see Grambling play Mississippi Valley State,” Savage said. “And so our scout, he calls me in the middle of the night on a Saturday night during the season, says, ‘Hey, this receiver at Grambling’s legit, he’s got size and I think he’s going to run well enough.’

“That was the knock on Chad Williams during the fall is maybe he didn’t run fast enough because it’s hard to gauge sometimes when you’re looking at a small-college prospect.”

Savage says they ultimately decided to extend an invitation to Williams, and from the very first practice showed he was competitive and tough.

“He was stronger and more physical and faster than maybe people anticipated, and I was honestly shocked when he wasn’t invited to the Combine,” Savage said. “I thought it was a no-brainer.”

Savage went on to say once Williams excelled at his pro day, in which he was timed at 4.37 seconds in the 40, being drafted was definitely in his future.

“I thought he would probably be a fourth or fifth-round choice, but the Cardinals jumped in there in the third round and took Chad,” he said. “He’s a very competitive, physical-type of player.

“He got in a couple of fisticuffs down here because he wanted people to notice him, I think, with the defensive backs. I like Chad a lot and I’m very hopeful that, if given time, he can really develop now with some bonafide pro coaching and being in the pro weight room and being around other professional receivers. He’s got a chance to really develop.”

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