The 2018 Senior Bowl was something straight out of Charles Dickens. It was the epitome of ‘a tale of two cities’. Or, in this case, halves. The first half of the Senior Bowl was somewhat subdued. Both teams were feeling each other out and getting accustomed to what the other side was bringing to the table. All week in practices, each team was only going up against the opposing side from their own team, so the first half was a process. Much like the first couple rounds of a heavyweight fight. You have to feel each other out before you can really start to push the pedal to the floor and try to demoralize your opponent.
The North team hung around for the first half of this game, with no one really standing out from the crowd. There were some nice looking plays from both sides, including a nice toss from one of the games standout performers, Mike White, to Tre’Quan Smith to get the scoring party started. The North had a few good plays of their own, and if you ascribed to the conventional wisdom coming into the week, it was only a matter of time before the fearsome duo of Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen began to pour it on, leading the North to victory.
Only that’s not how it shook out. Not even close. In the second “city”, if you will, the South absolutely dominated. They took the North to the woodshed. It was a bloodbath. Led by the aforementioned Mike White and former Richmond QB Kyle Lauletta, the South squad blew the doors off the North. What was a relatively even game at the half, 18-3 became a trouncing in the latter stages of the game. That halftime score was deceptive, as it felt like both teams were pretty evenly matched aside from a couple big plays. Early in the third quarter, that feeling was confirmed, as the North came roaring back and pushed the deficit to only two on the arm of Josh Allen.
Allen had taken some lumps coming into the Senior Bowl week, primarily from Twitter circles — myself included — who think the hype on Allen has been overblown. After seeing his performances in the week of practice and the first half of the Senior Bowl, my feelings were confirmed. Then the high-upside Josh Allen showed up. He started showing off that stellar arm strength he’s known for and, with a beautiful pass to former Notre Dame tight end Durham Smythe in the corner of the end zone, you could feel the tide turning.
.@JoshAllenQB leads a quick scoring drive that ends with another TD toss!
This time to Durham Smythe.
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) January 27, 2018
That touchdown was the last time the North squad would put points on the board. From then on, the tandem of Mike White and Kyle Lauletta were simply unstoppable. Both men were on fire in the passing game, and Kyle Lauletta in particular made some impressive plays not only with his arm, but with his legs too. On one play in particular, the North defense had Lauletta dead to rights for a sure sack. Except Lauletta ducked under and shrugged off the first sack attempt, rolling out of the pocket. Escaping only to be met by another would-be sacker. Yet again, Lauletta showed off his mobility and toughness, escaping from another sack attempt. Lauletta would eventually be brought down for a two-yard loss on the play, but it’s that kind of tenacity that pro scouts love to see. Especially in an exhibition game like the Senior Bowl.
Both White and Lauletta earned themselves some money in Mobile. Lauletta, with his strong performance and the lackluster (in my opinion) practices of Josh Allen, may have even vaulted himself into the discussion of the top 5 at the position. It was a great game, and week, for the small-school standouts. Speaking of stand-out, let’s finish our 2018 Senior Bowl recap by taking a look at some of the top performers of the day, and a couple of guys who disappointed.
Kyle Lauletta – Lauletta completed 75% of his passes today for nearly 200 yards and 3 touchdowns on his way to winning the game’s Most Outstanding Player Award. Lauletta is a guy who flew under most people’s radar (shout-out to Nick Martin and Will Stevenson for alerting me to Lauletta), but after a showing like this, he’s in for a meteoric rise.
D.J. Chark – D.J. Chark made most of the flash plays that we saw in today’s game. Chark only had five receptions on the day, but he made the most of those receptions. Chark finished the day with 160 yards receiving, including a 75-yard touchdown reception that really woke the crowd up and got things going. Chark’s score came a mere 11 seconds after the North had brought the game within 2, and proved to be the beginning of the end.
Marcus Davenport – Marcus Davenport had a lot to show the scouts coming into Senior Bowl week. Davenport had a lot of hype in Internet circles, but the feeling was that the professionals wanted to see what Davenport could do against top-flight competition. They wanted to get a real feel for Davenport and find out if he was really worth the hype. The practices left a lot to be desired for Davenport, but I feel like his performance in today’s game put a lot of those fears to rest. While Davenport only had two tackles and one quarterback hit, he also notched a fumble recovery that he returned for a touchdown. More than the box score stats, it was clear today that Davenport has what it takes to make it at the next level. Davenport was nearly unblockable today. He’s the real deal.
Byron Pringle – I barely knew who Byron Pringle was when I arrived in Mobile this week. I had heard the name coming from Big 12 country and being an Iowa State Cyclones fan, but he had never done anything that stood out and made me really take note of the name. That is, until this week. While the majority of my focus this week was on the tight end group, it was hard not to take notice of the impressive practices Pringle had. I was really excited to watch him in the game and see what he could do with that momentum.
The answer? Nothing at all. Pringle barely saw the field on Saturday, not getting into the game until late. He didn’t have an impact with his minimal playing time, either, only bringing in one reception for nine yards. Pringle was quickly moving up draft boards during the week, but may have fallen right back down after today’s game.
JaMarcus King – If anyone struggled this week, it was South Carolina cornerback JaMarcus King. King looked completely overwhelmed in 1-on-1 and 7-on-7 drills throughout the week. King had a few wins, but was wildly inconsistent in each practice, losing more reps than he won. That inconsistency followed him into the game today. King had some wins, but he had more losses. And those loses often ended up in big plays. If Lauletta is the guy who earned himself the most money in Mobile, King may be the guy who lost the most.
As I leave Mobile, AL after Senior Bowl week, two things stand out to me above all else. First how much of a shame it is that we didn’t get to see guys like Dallas Goedert, Adam Breneman, and Nathan Shepherd participate in today’s game. Goedert is arguably the top tight end in this year’s class and didn’t have a lot to gain from playing in today’s game or participating in the week’s practices, but I wanted to get an up-close and personal look at the Jackrabbits tight end.
On the other hand, Breneman and Shepherd could have gained a lot from this week. After guys like Goedert, Gesicki, Fumagalli, and Andrews, there’s some debate about who should head that next tier of tight ends. With a strong showing this week, Breneman could have shown that he belongs in that discussion. Possibly at the top of it. Shepherd, hailing from Fort Hays State, had a chance to put the doubters to rest about his ability to hold up against top-flight competition. Unfortunately, a broken hand robbed him of that opportunity. Regardless, Shepherd put people on notice this week, but he could have done so much more.
The second thing that stands out to me is the people I met this week. People like Jon, Mike, Other Mike, Brad, Riley, Zach, Richie, and Nick from the Breaking Football crew. Mark Schofield and the rest of the Inside the Pylon crew. Matt Miller, Connor Rogers, and the people from Bleacher Report. Kyle Crabbs and Joe Marino from NDT Scouting. Bill Riccette, Arif Hasan, and so many more that I’m forgetting, it’s been an incredible week. The cherry on top of an amazing week is the incredible folks from Mobile. Whether it was the numerous Uber drivers I interacted with, random folks in bars or hotels, or the people I just saw walking down the street, everyone was so inviting and really put a nice little bow on the trip. I can’t wait to make the trek again a year from now.