The recent trip to Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl was one to remember. As far as networking, scouting, learning, brotherhood, and fun times go, Mobile is the perfect place and environment. Throughout the first five practices I feverishly took notes, trying to not miss anything but remember everything. I finally put the pencil down a little bit for the sixth and final practice, and took in the scene to reflect on how lucky I was to be there. With that said, let’s look at what I observed throughout the week.
Senior Bowl Observations:
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield only had a few possessions at the helm, but something that stood out to me was that his passion and fire were on full display, despite it being an all-star game. Even when Mayfield was carrying out zone reads he ran with his patented energy without the ball. While this is a minuscule trait for the next level, it’s easy to see why his attitude is infectious and his teammates rally around him. After a strong showing this week in practice, Mayfield’s draft stock held steady and he’s a legitimate threat to go top 10 in the draft.
Local kid Jeremy Reaves from South Alabama had a big day. He broke up a Baker Mayfield-to-Mike Gesicki pass on a third down to force a field goal. Reaves tackled Kalen Ballage short of the sticks on a fourth-and-short to force the turnover. He had a tackle on special teams before forcing a pass break up, again on Gesicki, on a two-point play. To cap off his big day, he picked off Tanner Lee in the second half and had a nice return. Reaves’ stock will definitely receive a bump after his big day in front of his home crowd.
Another player who had a big day was LSU’s DJ Chark. Chark had two deep over-the-shoulder catches where he had beaten the cornerback, one down to the 4 yard line and one for a touchdown. Chark also made a tackle on the kickoff team, showing off his versatility. On film and during Senior Bowl practices, Chark struggled a little bit letting the ball come into his body and dropping passes as a result, and that trend continued on one rep during the game. Despite this, his athleticism and downfield play-making ability are huge positives for him moving forward.
Kyle Lauletta, the game’s Most Valuable Player and Richmond product, had a big day throwing the ball and solidified himself as a mid-round QB prospect. Lauletta threw with touch, dropping passes in the bucket along the sideline, hitting Tre’Quan Smith for a big gain and DJ Chark for a touchdown. Lauletta threw with power, ripping a seed to Deon Yelder for a touchdown. Additionally, Lauletta flashed his ability in the pocket, reading the coverage while getting off his first read, resetting his feet and hitting DJ Chark in a void for a first down. His impressive day even included showing some escapability from the pocket, showcasing his potential play-making ability when his initial reads aren’t available.
Josh Allen, the polarizing Wyoming quarterback, made some of the splash plays that have convinced some NFL scouts of his future greatness. Allen displayed the ability to drop dimes downfield, including both of his touchdowns to tight ends Tyler Conklin and Durham Smythe. Allen also threw a dart over the middle that was caught in stride by Michael Gallup, who was able to pick up extra yardage because of the ball placement. On top of his arm talent, Allen used his mobility to scramble for multiple first downs. His overall ability will most likely get him drafted in the top 10, and despite some glaring weaknesses, when Allen is on, it’s easy to see why.
Miami wide receiver Braxton Berrios struggled reading coverages, and getting open vs. zone as a result. This trait will be paramount to Berrios’ success at the next level as an inside slot receiver, because of the amount of option routes run in today’s NFL. When he was open, his lack of length caused an incompletion, a trend that was evident during practices. Berrios did make a nice return on a punt, which is a trait that should help him carve out a role at the next level.
Ivy Leaguer Justin Watson made some impressive catches throughout the Senior Bowl practices, and followed that up in the game with a nice grab along the sideline. He created separation then tracked the slightly under-thrown pass into is hands. Watson missed a prime special teams opportunity to block a punt, but was in position in plenty of time. A special team play of this caliber would have been a big bump to his stock as far as sticking to a roster in the NFL.
Despite only getting one catch in the game, Penn State’s DaeSean Hamilton was consistently getting open, including a dig route where he re-stemmed then created a ton of separation over the middle. He also had a few steps along the sideline (after a nasty release move) on a deep ball that Josh Allen sailed out of bounds. Kansas State product Byron Pringle suffered a similar fate during the game, creating separation a few times (including being wide open on an in-route on a third-and-long) and didn’t get targeted often. Their strong weeks didn’t culminate in a big games, but their overall performances in Mobile improved their draft stocks, respectively.
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) January 23, 2018
Oklahoma State wideout Marcell Ateman had some struggles on the first two days of practice. Ateman pulled himself together and won on a number of contested catches on day 3, including some in red zone 1-on-1s. That translated over to the game, as he won inside on cornerback Michael Joseph and extended his hands for the ball for a touchdown. This was Ateman’s only catch of the day, but his potential in the red zone could see him drafted on Day 2 of the draft.
Marcell Ateman was used as a red zone weapon today in the Senior Bowl.
— Lee Benson (@LeeBensonNews9) January 27, 2018
Missouri wide receiver J’Mon Moore struggled with drops throughout the week in Mobile, and that continued into his game on Saturday with a drop on a pretty catchable ball. Moore showed a nice blend of size and athleticism during practices, and had excellent ability as a ball carrier on film. However, his ball skills and hands are a glaring weakness and improving those will be the first step to him becoming a more refined, all-around receiver.
After a nice week of practice, Oklahoma State wide receiver James Washington was held without a catch on gameday. Washington lost a bad rep to South Carolina cornerback Jamarcus King, who had one of the roughest weeks of practice out of any player. Washington misjudged the ball and allowed King to beat him to the catch point, deflecting the ball up so it could be intercepted by Louisiana Tech DB Secdrick Cooper. Washington followed that up with a drop on a third down play where he was clamped up by the defensive back. Washington is a great downfield play-maker, and he won on post routes on film and throughout the week of practice. However, when put into a position where he needs to win in the intermediate or come down with a contested grab, Washington has some glaring weaknesses to his game.
Colorado State receiver Michael Gallup’s effort was in question throughout the entire week in Mobile, and as a result he turned in an up-and-down performance. Gallup projects as a technician at the next level, and he needs to work on staying clean throughout his stems and route breaks. Staying true to his inconsistent week, he failed to bring in a catch over his shoulder that would’ve have been a big gain. However, later on he climbed the latter and made an impressive leaping catch and held on despite taking a shot. If Gallup is going to be the technically-sound receiver many think he is capable of becoming, consistency will be the key to his success.
Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki continued to impress with his pass catching ability on game day. Throughout the week, his athleticism and downfield play making ability flashed, and he followed that up on game day by getting open seemingly at will. He had a few passes knocked away, but otherwise created constant separation using the flexibility in his hips and burst out of his breaks. Gesicki is an intriguing pass catching prospect at TE, and he could be in store for a big day at the NFL combine and get into the first round conversation.
Sticking with the tight ends, Indiana’s Ian Thomas only had one catch, but it was prototypical Ian Thomas. Following a release move that made a defender stumble, Thomas found open grass up the seam and picked up yards after the catch for a 28 yard gain. Thomas is a raw prospect, with only one year as a starting tight end at the Division 1 level, but his potential as a field-stretcher was on display this week and could see him drafted on Day 2.
San Diego State product Rashaad Penny came into Mobile as the most heralded running back. Penny failed to move the needle during practices, and occasionally struggled while catching the ball. On game day, Penny found an opening when quarterback Kurt Benkert (who displayed great shiftiness and escapability) scrambled and Penny took the pass to pay-dirt. Later on, Penny dropped an easy catch, showing how up-and-down he is in that regard. With his inconsistent performance throughout the week, Penny seemingly didn’t improve or hurt his draft stock, and he seems locked in as a Day 2 selection.
Hometown hero Ito Smith, a Southern Miss product, found running room consistently throughout the week and during the game. Smith flashed as a nightmare to cover as well, showing off his elusiveness and balance. Overheard at the game was, “This week, Ito Smith has been everything we thought Akrum Wadley was.” If Smith can run more under control at times, with his frame being over 200 pounds, he could become a starter at the next level.
South Carolina State linebacker Darius Leonard made some splash plays throughout practices, and slowly improved as the week went on. He culminated all of that into a game where he was everywhere, flying to the ball and getting involved on a number of tackles. Leonard has some potential with his sideline-to-sideline speed, and with the strong showing he had on game day, will definitely be in the mix early on Day 3 of the draft.
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) January 24, 2018
Oklahoma EDGE rusher Ogbonnia Okonronkwo had an impressive week in Mobile, and finished it off with his highlight reel sacks in the game. On one play, his speed around the edge beat Humboldt State Left Tackle Alex Kappa, and it was an easy dip-and-rip for the sack. Kappa had a nice week, and solidified his own draft stock, but Okonrokwo’s at times dominating performance might push him into the conversation at the end of the first round.
UTSA edge rusher Marcus Davenport has become a polarizing prospect in this year’s draft because of his combination of size and speed, but he had some struggles during Senior Bowl practices. On game day, however, Davenport had flashes of taking the game over, registering ½ a sack and scooping a fumble for a touchdown. His ceiling is high enough to get him drafted in the top 15, but he will be a raw prospect entering the draft.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Oregon long snapper Tanner Carew, who I admit I had to look at the roster for his name. Carew made an excellent tackle in punt coverage, coming to balance while still gaining ground and wrapping up, and pinning the opposing team inside the 20. Additionally, his punt coverage skills downed two kicks inside of the 10 yard line, an impressive feat for a long snapper to have that type of speed and motor releasing downfield. Look for Carew to be a priority undrafted free agent for a long snapper-needy team.