The 2018 Senior Bowl is almost upon us and has blessed us with an opportunity to observe yet another interesting senior class filled with small schoolers, big board risers, and future stars.
In recent years, we have seen massive shifts in draft stock occur during this week, especially at the quarterback position, in the likes of Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, and Jimmy Garoppolo.
The practices and exhibition game will help to separate certain prospects from the rest of the pack, in both directions. In fact, a part of the Breaking Football team will be down in Mobile for the festivities, watching everything go down.
Previous Senior Bowls have been more limited at the quarterback position, but each class is unique and in a potentially generational class, more quarterbacks will be attending than we have seen in recent years. As eight passers head down to Mobile, each of them will have a chance to showcase their skills and show teams what they bring to the table.
What sets this class apart is its variety of its quarterbacks. Some classes have had less than spectacular quarterback prospects, while others have hosted top-five picks.
The 2018 class includes a Heisman winner, a small schooler, and possibly the most controversial quarterback prospect in recent memory.
Obviously, each prospect is here for a reason. What they have to prove, who they have to outshine, and their overall draft stock is all up for debate. How does each Senior Bowl QB stand prior to the festivities?
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
The Heisman winner dominated college football this year, though the Sooners ultimately came up short in pursuit of a national championship. Many analysts throughout the draft community, as far up as NFL front offices, have named Mayfield their QB1 and their preference for the first pick in the draft. Though not confirmation of their thoughts on Mayfield, the Broncos did request to have the kid on their team for the week. The interest is certainly there, and rightfully so. Currently, Baker Mayfield is my fourth-ranked passer, but second if we are only talking about the film. He happens to be the best quarterback heading to Mobile this season.
Mayfield draws comparisons to greats like Drew Brees and Russell Wilson, though my player comparison for him is ironically, the other Sooner Heisman winner, Sam Bradford. Both are passers with all the arm talent in the world, but are much too conservative when it comes to tight windows, can escape the pocket and be a threat on the move, and have concerns that do not directly have to do with their play. Mayfield is one of, if not the most, accurate passers in this class. From sideline to sideline, from behind the line of scrimmage to downfield heaves, Mayfield is almost always on the money and that includes with ample velocity on each throw. This remains true in and out of the pocket, whether he is on the run or stationary. He does have the tendency to struggle with anticipation throws and passes into traffic. At the next level, Mayfield will have to improve upon his progressions, as at times he darts too early or misses an easy first down trying to make the highlight play. My main concern with Mayfield is his simply porous pocket presence. Almost immediately after a rusher is recognized or a blitz is picked up, he is running outside the pocket or hurrying a throw. Unlike the Wilson comparison seen on the daily, Mayfield continuously struggles to make the right read and move the offense forward while under duress. The upside is exceedingly apparent due to his extreme arm talent and knack for making the big play.
The only reason I can think of for Baker joining the rest of this class in Mobile is to solidify his spot as the top dog in this class. Of course, he thinks he is ahead of Rosen, Darnold, and Jackson but I’d bet the house on him wanting to prove it to all of us. His plan is to go down there and dominate against his fellow seniors. Going in as the most preeminent passer in this Senior Bowl class, Mayfield does not have to prove nearly as much as any other passer in the upcoming weeks. If he dominates, his stock will improve, though where it is at right now cannot get much higher. A lackluster performance wouldn’t give hurt him too much either. He’s going up against solid competition, with very little practice, and he’s a home run hitter than flew out to the warning track. Mayfield’s stock most likely will not fluctuate unless something drastic happens. As he enters this contest with the least to prove, he has the least to gain from the exhibition than any other quarterback.
Josh Allen, Wyoming
The Potato Bowl MVP capped off an overall let down year with a high note for scouts to assess, but he looks to help himself some more. Going into the year, Allen drew comparisons to some of the game’s biggest stars and was seemingly predisposed to be “the guy” in the upcoming draft. A severe lack of production, poor play, and relentless defense from some analysts snowballed into a fiasco of hatred that left a high profile prospect with certain shortcomings looking like an undrafted free agent. Due to the paranoia of a first round pick busting and Allen’s well-documented struggles against better teams, a lot of stock will be put into this game.
As a passer, Allen is equipped with tools that will wow you, and flaws that make you question his hype. Starting with the positives, Allen has a Patrick Mahomes-esque arm. Velocity is ever apparent and shown throw in and throw out, and he also has the cannon to heave the ball downfield. This is part of his hype, but also a reason many want to discredit him. In a clean pocket, Josh Allen is lethal and can pick apart a defense with the best of them. Furthermore, his passing ability is complimented well with his impressive athleticism. Allen is tough and won’t be falling to the ground willingly like a Manning brother. He can break some sacks and tackles with a play strength that could help him elsewhere if his ceiling is never reached. The Wyoming product is not as fleet of foot as some would hope, but he can escape the pocket and move the chains with his legs. On the contrary, when he does have to use his legs, things go downhill all too quickly. Outside of the pocket and on the run, Allen is brutal outside of a few shot plays. Even when set, his accuracy is shaky at best to all parts of the field. When pressured, his decision making becomes harmful to his own team. Inconsistent mechanics and an obvious downfall in the poise department lead to mishaps that teams will question before selecting him. If surrounded by an adequate supporting cast, including ample coaches, Allen may flourish, but without it, tight end may be a more realistic option.
Down in Mobile, Josh Allen needs to perform well enough to make scouts forget his awful year. If he is the best passer in this class, then the case for him being taken first overall, by whoever has the pick come draft day, will certainly be made in the war room. Even an average performance can hurt his stock and cement him as the consensus QB5. Around the league, Allen’s draft stock has remained high, as a plethora of old-timers and “QB gurus” have claimed they can fix whatever flaws they have seen in the Wyoming product. If Allen can eliminate the doubts we have all had thus far this draft season, he could become a top-ten lock in this year’s draft, even if he is undeserving. With millions of dollars on the line and an entire league’s confidence relying on one week, the second-best Senior Bowl passer in this class will need to impress during his time in Alabama.
Luke Falk, Washington State
Going into the year, Luke Falk circled around the talks of QB1 and was constantly thrown into the first round conversation. Albeit early, at this point in time many of those takes seem questionable and stale. Under the undisputed most entertaining head coach in college football, Luke Falk had a horrendous year. Another victim of stupendous expectations, the Cougar quarterback came short time and time again, lacking production, wins, and even playing time, as he was benched more than once during the season. His stock has plummeted; some are not willing to touch him until day three and round one seems awfully outdated. With the overvaluing of quarterbacks from the everlasting search for the face of the franchise and the makeshift hype we find ourselves giving, it is a real possibility that Falk ends up as a first rounder. In order for this to happen, his Senior Bowl performance will have to wow NFL front offices.
Many concerns of Falk come from pretty basic, yet true, observations of his game. Chalk it up to the scheme if you want, but everything is short passes and screens. Falk was not able to show off any arm he had considering each play was over three yards from where it started. We all want to see his arm liven up and make some NFL-worthy throws. Moreover, one reason prospects struggle is the speed of the game at the next level. It takes time to adjust and catch up with the world-class athletes pulling off complicated maneuvers some never thought possible. As a quarterback, the pressure will be harder to diagnose, harder to avoid, and harder to sense as the play is going on. This kills Falk, who takes way too many sacks. Possibly the worst internal body clock of any passer in this class, he will need to improve upon this or he will be eaten alive by ferocious NFL defenses. As an athlete, he can move but is not the weapon we see making highlight plays each week. He can be a game manager moving forward, and NFL teams know that, but most are not willing to spend an early selection on a player at a premium position who will not be a game changer.
At the Senior Bowl, Luke Falk’s job will be to revive his hype and stuck, to return the first round buzz. If he can generate the pre-draft buzz that Davis Webb found, he will be in a great position come draft day. The week down south will have a massive effect on his stock, and by no means is it necessarily positive. A poor week could send him spiraling into day three as a forgotten quarterback that was once revered and loved throughout the draft community (see: Brad Kaaya). The Washington State passer has a somewhat liquid stock right now, and how much capital will be put into him will be decided by his play. Preferably, Falk’s stock either rises or falls to a point where he is selected by a team with a veteran under center. Here, he can develop his talents and he would not be thrown to the dogs where he would be eaten for lunch. Hopefully, things like his hesitancy, lack of an internal body clock, and clumsiness under pressure can be refined in practice for a year or two. The importance of this can be seen with DeShone Kizer this year in Cleveland; as a chaotic coaching staff, unrivaled poor circumstances, and no true veteran presence in the quarterback room made for an awful rookie season. As it currently stands, I see him as a long-term backup option with low-end starter ability, if nurtured for an adequate amount of time. Though my opinion on him has a fairly low ceiling, it will be the NFL decision makers that Falk needs to impress during the Senior Bowl festivities. A superlative week can convince the men upstairs that Falk is potentially “the guy” for their franchise. On the other hand, a sub-standard seven days could permanently dent his draft stock.
Kurt Benkert, Virginia
The next quarterback on this list is Kurt Benkert, the Virginia passer who has been gaining a ton of hype as of late. To be completely transparent, Benkert frequently confused me, stunned me, and left me questioning my instincts at multiple points during the scouting process. By no means is he on the same level as the top two Senior Bowl slingers, but Benkert has plenty of talent. Hailing from a smaller D1 school in Virginia, the attention was never a mainstay around Benkert. I think Benkert has the potential to be an average starter in the NFL, but it will be harder for him to attain this in comparison to Rosen, Darnold, or Mayfield. As a late riser, Benkert will be watched somewhat excessively in the coming weeks, making his trip to Mobile all that more important.
To go back to his enigma-like film, Benkert has contradicting traits that at times are infuriating to evaluate. Benkert is incredibly accurate, but this is in contrast to his severely underdeveloped mechanics. Constantly, his footwork is off-kilter and should be resulting in absolutely atrocious throws. Additionally, he has a Wentz-like delivery that scares me but doesn’t kill his placement or velocity. Personally, I love the fact that his accuracy remains on point whether he is on the run or in the pocket. His downfalls are apparent when in the face of pressure. He doesn’t climb the pocket often, usually drifting outside the pocket before making an ill-advised pass. His frankly awful mechanics only get worse with a guy in his face, and struggles against the blitz are the main reason for any missed throws. Benkert is can escape the pocket and gain yards with his legs as he is more athletic than your standard pocket passer. He is willing to take hits and won’t go down without a fight, especially in short-yardage situations. This does have its downsides though. Benkert has some fumbling problems and it is only emphasized when he’s on the move. As the play develops, Benkert can get lost and make a faulty decision with the football. He’ll definitely have to work on limiting turnovers as he transitions to the next level, including poor-read interceptions that stunt a drive. His best fit would be behind a veteran quarterback for a year, where he can learn and develop without the consequences that come with struggling as a rookie.
For Benkert, both the practices and the game will hold a significant amount of value in determining his draft stock. If he impresses, the chances of a team taking a chance on him during the second day of the draft skyrockets. Many teams put a lot of stock into the senior bowl, so his stock can falter as well. We didn’t really think of Benkert as a draftable passer before the season started, and if he looks like the worst quarterback in Mobile, the consensus may return back to its pre-2017 ways. He is most likely an early day three selection, and though I expect him to be one of the better performers this week, though he is mediocre compared to the rest of the class. A great week could do a ton for Kurt Benkert and the improvement of his supporting cast may work wonders in assisting him.
Mike White, Western Kentucky
To continue, Mike White is my fifth-ranked passer headed down to the Senior Bowl and holds the best day three grade I currently have for any prospect under center. A lesser-known prospect, he seems stuck in the middle of the road across his game. I would be surprised to see him get selected over the course of the first two days, or three rounds, of this year’s NFL draft. Out of all the quarterbacks headed down to the Senior Bowl, White may be the most scheme dependent/limited. An ample coach could turn him into a low-end starter, but he is certainly good enough to be a decent backup in the league. Obviously, a good week will help him, but his landing spots are limited to teams that can maximize his strengths.
To add on to the conversation about his strengths, they revolve around the short passing game and his ability to move around. On those intermediate throws, he consistently places the ball well but has the tendency to leave some off on certain passes that need to have some zip to them. White is a tough kid who will deliver the ball when he knows he is going to get hit and will even break some sacks once in a while. He is reliable on throws less than ten yards out, and that stays true even if he is outside the pocket. I thoroughly enjoy his ability to create plays on the move and be creative with the football. White has the athleticism to move inside and outside the pocket and has an almost Bortles-like ability to gain yards on the ground. A knock on the Western Kentucky quarterback is that when he is on the move, his footwork becomes shaky and he struggles to square his shoulders. This hurts him on his deep ball more than anything else. Speaking of his deep ball, accuracy wise it is fine, though White possesses more of a general accuracy to his deeper passes than pinpoint accuracy. Due to his struggles with throw power, some tosses will get lofty, letting the defensive back catch up to the ball. Additionally, he has a minor fumbling problem, but this occurs mainly when he is over-aggressive in extending a play. While facing the blitz, White’s accuracy drops off a ton, as does his already troublesome ability to go through progressions. His reads, when not locked on to the first one, are inconsistent and questionable at best. He hesitates in the pocket and when he feels the pressure, will force one into tight coverage. He’ll need to be picked up by a team that only airs it out when they need to and is built around quick reads. A backup role with the Texans is what I would like to see, just with fewer bombs to their talented receiving corp.
In Mobile, in front of Breaking Football’s finest and actual NFL decision makers, White will look to cement himself among the second tier of passers. Day 1 hype if basically out of reach at this point, but if he plays to the tune of the third or fourth best passer in Alabama, he could sneak into the second day. The game will be more important than the series of practices for a few reasons. His weaknesses are revealed and magnified while in game situations, like facing a blitz, making tough reads, and delivering tough passes with a defender about to sack you. In the game, White will be competing against some of the best seniors in the nation, something he did not get to do very much at WKU. A lot of stock will be put into his play against elevated competition. Mike White definitely has some tools, whether teams feel he is talented enough is still yet to be seen.
Brandon Silvers, Troy
Originally, the sixth spot on this list belonged to Mason Rudolph, the Oklahoma State quarterback. However, he is bowing out with a lingering foot injury that has kept him from being 100%. The injury was playable, but more factors go into Rudolph’s absence. The Broncos are the only QB needy team coaching the Senior Bowl, considering they face off against the Texans’ coaching staff. They will get a closer look at Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen, two guys they could take at five. Rudolph, not a part of this group, deemed his stock could only fall from here, so he will not be participating in any practice or game.
Anyway, onto Brandon Silvers. In contrast to what the great Jonathan Valencia had to say about the Troy QB, I am not very high on him and I feel most of his upside strays away from his arm talent. Similar to Ryan Tannehill, Silvers seems more comfortable, and frankly better, outside the pocket than in it. His throws on the run are easily the most impressive. For someone that struggles to go through progressions, I was impressed by his ability to remain relatively unfazed by blitzes. He was calm in the pocket, even when he was about to get hit. When he did take on those hits, he managed himself relatively well as fumbles were not an issue. While scrambling, he was able to take a hit and hold onto the football as well. Silvers can move the chains with his legs and is shifty enough to be used as a weapon when needed. Unfortunately, Silvers does come with some concerning negatives. His footwork can be messy and he throws off his back foot too often. His arm motion varies, but usually takes a while and NFL edge rushers will have a field day racking up fumbles before his arm moves forward. His reads are not pretty and he can be deceived by well-disguised zone packages and fake blitzes. While on the move, he is fairly conservative and unlike in the pocket, usually is not willing to take a hit. Silvers’s accuracy can be spotty and it gets worse as the passes travel farther. Another big concern is his hesitancy with throwing into tight windows. Against NFL defenders, certain windows won’t be open for very long, and Silvers needs to hit them before they disappear. His velocity is good for the most part, but many deep balls are left overthrown or just not catchable by the receiver. Silvers is far from the perfect passer.
During the 69th annual Senior Bowl, Silvers will have to showcase his strengths if he wants teams to take a serious look at him. If he remains competitive with Falk and White, his stock could rise to that of the fourth or fifth round. Struggles have the potential to ruin his draft weekend if things turn that bad. Again, facing elite competition does not occur very often with these small school products, so if the defense has a field day when he is under center, even more concerns will be examined. We don’t know how much he’ll be playing, but it could do a lot for his stock, in both the positive and negative directions.
Kyle Lauletta, Richmond
A small school riser has found his way into the conversations of many this draft season. Lauletta has received a lot of praise (i.e. Zach Hicks on the most recent BTD episode) but I’ll be honest I don’t quite see it. Hailing from a small school like Richmond, it is impressive in itself that he ended up at the Senior Bowl. Though I feel he is one of the lesser prospects here, it is undeniable that he fully deserves his shot down in Mobile. No matter how he plays, he still got to this point, and his stock has risen exponentially because of that.
He missed way too many throws less than twenty yards downfield; throws NFL quarterbacks do not frequently miss. Moreover, his velocity was average but the inaccuracy continued on his downfield attempts. He seemed to give up early on plays where he was falling victim to a sack, and he did not try to gain the maximum amount of yards on numerous run plays. While he did an adequate job of avoiding sacks, but his poor reads got even worse while under distress. At times he will run outside the pocket, only for his upside-limiting accuracy to hold him back. Defensive schemes at the next level will be one of the biggest things he will have to get used to during his transition to the NFL. No way he starts year one, and honestly, I think he’ll have trouble holding down a depth gig with the talent the league currently has at its most important position. One thing Lauletta has going for him is his strength. His core strength is up to par and he can take hits before and after the Line of Scrimmage. The Richmond product does move around a lot, but he is not the most fleet of foot. He can get around, but in comparison to some of the more athletic quarterbacks, he lags behind. The most intriguing part of Lauletta’s game to me was his mechanics. His arm motion is quick, smooth, and fun to watch, but his footwork needs a ton of improvement. While still pretty fast, he almost seems cluttered and tripping over himself in the face of pressure, and even in a clean pocket, his ugly footwork will lead to bad misses on easy throws. Lauletta needs a lot of work, which is a problem considering the daunting task in front of him.
Possibly the most important game for any quarterback this week is Kyle Lauletta’s Senior Bowl. A poor performance can render him a forgotten man during the draft process in which you need to stand out to even have a chance. A solid week, on the other hand, will continue to seismic rise in stock that he has experienced and his chances of getting drafted skyrocket, along with the round in which he would be selected in. He shows flashes of greatness and it is very possible that a team will fall in love with him. Unequivocally, no General Manager in their right mind will put their job on the line for a prospect like Lauletta, but I’m sure the interest will garner as we progress towards the 2018 NFL draft.
Tanner Lee, Nebraska
In the wake of Mason Rudolph’s evasive maneuver, and in the pure robbery of Riley Ferguson’s Senior Bowl bid, we have Tanner Lee. The Cornhusker quarterback has a ton on his plate as a late addition to the roster. Playing in the Big-10, Lee has faced his fair share of quality opponents, so the level of competition is not a concern in that right, though Lee was relatively unproductive vs the same tier of players he will be facing off against in Mobile. Due to his late arrival to the Senior Bowl roster, he is almost an afterthought both in play and importance in this game, as not many will be taking a hard look at someone they know won’t be throwing passes for them in the future.
Additionally, there is plenty of reason for Lee’s low ranking. In regards to pure film that I have observed thus far, over 100 NFL prospects, Lee’s film ranks dead last. He struggled in almost every aspect of his game, from his arm talent to his intangibles. Lee struggled to go through any complicated progressions and constantly made reads that would get him benched immediately at the next level. He was a turnover machine at Nebraska and with his traits, that will continue at the next level. Against the blitz Lee always seems confused and overwhelmed, rushing a ton of throws and losing any accuracy that was previously there. Not that his arm talent was really there anyway. He constantly misses the open guy and can’t hit the tight windows. In the pocket, he can’t break many sacks and doesn’t extend plays through defenders. Tanner Lee’s arm angle can vary and is inconsistent. His footwork is slow, but steady, except when he is under pressure, where it seems like all hell breaks loose. He is a leader of men that can rally his teammates, but he doesn’t have the talent to back it up. Lee definitely has a lot of work to do this week.
For Tanner Lee, as long as he does not absolutely bomb the Senior Bowl in itself, his stock should remain stagnant. At a late day three, undrafted free agent grade, his stock won’t rise much, even if he outperforms some of his counterparts. The practices shouldn’t mean too much overall considering the low expectations for him and the actual situations he will face in game. Lee has the least to gain among his fellow Senior Bowl participants and unless he absolutely stuns us in Mobile, his stock won’t fluctuate very much. His play in the game will most likely be limited in comparison to the other names listed prior and he definitely won’t be under the microscope as much as Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, or Kurt Benkert. Lee has more potential to adjust his stock at the combine or pro day rather than down in Mobile for the Senior Bowl this week.
In summation, I couldn’t be more excited to cover the Senior Bowl for Breaking Football. We have one of the best Senior classes in recent memory, especially at the quarterback position. There will be plenty of storylines to follow, such as the Broncos’ interest in the passers they hosted. Many prospects have a ton to gain and a ton to lose over the next week. It is surprising in itself to see so many big name prospects in attendance, and even though some are bowing out of the competition, we are already spoiled with what we received. Both the practices and the game will carry a ton of weight going forward. With the two top quarterbacks playing for the same team, Denver’s, this week, their decision may not be fully made up by the end of the week, but some options could be all but written off. This class also showcases a multitude of small school prospects for us to learn more about. Mike White has been reported to be one of Dorsey’s top quarterbacks, leading us on a different path than what we once thought. The prospects with the least exposure arguably have the most to prove on the biggest stage of their hopefully young careers. However this Senior Bowl plays out, we will most certainly receive an intriguing week’s worth of observations, information, and storylines to follow for the rest of this draft season.