The Senior Bowl is one of the most important weeks of an NFL prospects career. A place for the top seniors to go up against each other to prove their worth. Each year a few players rise to the top. Often this results in a formerly unheralded player breaking the first round or a well thought after player breaking the top 10.
Last year, Carson Wentz was that player. The I-AA player became the 2nd overall pick after showcasing his raw ability against division I talent.
Who Were The Breakout Stars this year?
Surprisingly, wide receiver was the position that really rose to prominence at this year’s Senior Bowl.
Western Washington’s Cooper Kupp was a highlight all week. People knew that the I-AA player could stretch the field but his highly developed route running really stole the show. His double move on the first day to leave Desmond King helpless may have been the play of the week. Kupp also answered any questions about his hands. Both by having a large hand measurement and showing great control in contested situations. There is little doubt he has played himself into the late first round.
However Kupp isn’t the biggest riser at wide receiver. That honour goes to East Carolina’s Zay Jones. Unusually, he measured in as bigger than expected at the beginning of camp. No longer undersized, Jones went on to further dismiss the idea he lacked deep speed. He torched multiple corners in one-on-one drills and made several toe-tapping catches. He was another who also showed developed route running ability. Jones’ draft stock has rocketed and he is likely to be a Day 2 pick.
Tight Ends Wow
It’s difficult to describe OJ Howard (Alabama) as a breakout star. His game killing performance in the 2015 championship game did that. However his overall game shone far brighter than it ever did with the Crimson Tide. His awareness of the first down line was there for all to see on several occasions. As was his obvious mismatch capabilities against linebackers and safeties when asked to go deep. However the most impressive element was his blocking. Howard panicked two defensive ends, and was arguably on of the most reliable lineman out there. As a showcase of his talents, he confirmed himself worthy of a first round pick.
Yet Howard was pushed all three days by the other South tight ends.
Ole Miss’s Evan Engram may have even proved himself to be a better deep threat. His suddenness off the line of scrimmage was a joy to behold. He then has the pure speed to outrun linebackers and even some safeties. The Jordan Reed comparison is very reasonable. Another bonus not displayed in his game tape was his natural inclination to find space in zone reads. This opened up some nice throwing lanes for his quarterback. This is a must have ability for teams with scrambling quarterbacks. He’ll be a high value pick at the start of Day 2.
Overshadowed by his two compatriots, Gerald Everett (South Alabama) was also quietly impressive. A slighter player, he showed great heart in battling while blocking. He also displayed good hands and fluid routes. He will be an upgrade on many tight ends currently plying their trade in the NFL and could be another tight end to go in the second round.
Other Standouts on Offence
Several other wide receivers showed the potential to contribute at the NFL level.
Texas A&M’s Josh Reynolds will have many teams scrambling for tape. His size and ability to high point the ball makes him a serious red zone weapon. Even better, he showed enough toughness over the middle to suggest he can be a productive number two receiver.
Two Taylor’s also made a splash. Western Kentucky’s Taywan Taylor had a nice first step all week and is flexible enough to play both inside and out. He will make a nice 3rd receiver for someone. On the other hand, Trent Taylor (Louisiana Tech) is a slot receiver all the way. His impressive conversion rate on 3rd down drill suggests he may be one of the better ones available. It’ll be interesting to see how that is valued come draft time.
Ryan Switzer (North Carolina), Artavius Scott (Clemson) and Chad Williams (Grambling) also sparked at different times. Wide receiver could be a position that is a lot deeper than many believed.
The only running back to make a lasting impression was North Carolina State’s Matt Dayes. A better than average pass protector, he was the only runner to find consistent running room. Even better in pass protection was Michigan’s De’Veon Smith. He was the star of the East-West Shrine practices last week and has continued that in Mobile. However, he will need to prove it on the field after his flop in the East-West Shrine game.
Any O-line Hope?
It’s difficult to say.
Three of the most promising inside players — Forrest Lamp (Western Kentucky), Nico Siragusa (San Diego State and Issac Asiata (Utah) —all went down injured on the first day. Their replacements were rather manhandled by the defensive line from that point on.
These injuries were to the huge benefit of Indiana’s Dan Feeney. He was hurt early in the year but came into the season as a highly thought of prospect. He took the chance to be in the spotlight and outperformed the majority of his contemporaries with ease. A fine anchor against the pass rush, Feeney really excels moving forward in the run game. A couple of pancake blocks in one-on-ones were particularly pleasing to see. He also showed comfort in either zone or man blocking schemes. This makes him an option for almost any team looking to improve inside. He definitely made himself some money.
A couple of other names that showed promise.
Offensive tackle Adam Bisnowaty (Pitt) has the length and foot movement to play tackle. He is susceptible to an inside move which may prevent him playing on the left but his natural traits will have people interested. Expect Bisnowaty to be plug and play right tackle with the hope of further development.
Another potential development project is Western Michigan’s Taylor Moton. Seen by many scouts as someone who would have to move to guard, Moton impressed as a tackle. He showed a good kick step against speed and enough power to cope with the bull rush. His hands will need a lot of work though. Moton is not NFL ready. However there is a real danger of someone falling in love with his tape so he is likely to be a top 100 player.
What About On Defence?
By far the most talked about defensive player was Temple’s Hassan Reddick. A hand down edge rusher in college, Reddick is projected as a linebacker in the pro game. He had a huge amount to prove at the Senior Bowl. He did far more than anyone could have expected.
From the outset, Reddick showed great sideline to sideline athleticism. At his size, this is a fascinating trait as he is clearly strong enough to bring down any running back. This became more evident when he displayed great closing speed in padded drills. He was also outstanding in pass rush drills, both in one on ones and in team play. Far more surprising was Reddick’s innate understanding of pass defence. Something he was never asked to do in college. Considering how new this must have been to him, Reddick’s film can be compared to any other linebacker at the Senior Bowl without concern. It was a flawless week from him.
With the right coaching, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that Reddick has shown the potential to be a top linebacker in the NFL. The question will be where he fits to get the best out of his abilities.
Who Else Impressed?
Tre’Davious White (LSU) caught the eye early. A long corner, he showed an infinity for jamming at the line of scrimmage and comfort in back-peddling. Neither of these skills had been shown in college. This completely rewrites what he can be expected to do in the NFL. He is now a legitimate candidate to be a year one second corner with the prospect of being a lockdown guy. He will now get round 1 buzz.
Another player who was consistently impressive throughout the week was linebacker Alex Anzalone (Florida). A big, physical player, Anzalone bullied opponents. Furthermore, he was able to get off blocks to make tackles and took good angles in doing so. He still needs work as a pass defender but will make an immediate impact as both a run defender and a blitzer from day one.
In a week full of defensive lineman performing at a strong level, Ryan Glasgow (Michigan) had the strongest performance. His control of the line of scrimmage was impeccable. More importantly, he was able to use this smartly. In the run game, he held his run lane and was able to two gap when asked. In passing situations, he closed the pocket and even displayed a little lateral speed to slip free on occasion. He will be good value in the mid-rounds.
The Other Defensive Lineman
Physical domination at the line of scrimmage is always important. No one was more dominant at the Senior Bowl than Auburn’s Montravius Adams. His power threw offensive lineman into the backfield and even two on ones failed to trouble him. However he did display a lack of understanding of where the ball was. More than once he created a hole by misreading the situation. However the potential to be a serious inside game buster will see him off the board fairly early.
On the opposite end of the scale was Jaleel Johnson (Iowa). HIs natural play interpretation meant that he always seemed to be around the ball in 11 on 11 drills. However he appeared to struggle a little in one on ones. He lacks the electric first step of many of the others defensive tackles. He has time to develop though. It would not surprise if Johnson comes in looking quicker and stronger at the combine which would drive up his value.
Three other tackles cemented themselves as immediate contributors in this deep draft. Eddie Vanderdoes (UCLA) was stout at the point of attack. More importantly, he showed the athleticism that many feared he may have lost after his serious injury. He could be another riser. Both Larry Ogunjobi (Charlotte) and Tanzel Smart (Tulane) have the potential of being pass rusher extraordinaires’. Both have natural hands and can burst through double teams. A lack of run discipline will make them lower picks. Yet the Senior Bowl showed each man to have a value that isn’t so evident on tape.
Defensive End Challenges
The Senior Bowl had plenty of defensive ends who flashed potential. Th problem was that no one really elevated themselves into the higher echelons of the draft.
Tarell Basham of Ohio did the most for his value. A small school prospect, he elevated his game to match the level of competition with aplomb. He consistently got the edge and has a spin move to get inside. He also displayed better hand fighting to get off blocks than scouts expected. This is really important considering that he is a little undersized. Someone will grab him in the mid-rounds and stash him. He may look like really good value in a few years.
Tanoh Kpassagnon (Villanova) looked like the classes biggest stud in weigh-ins. His 6’7, 325lbs frame didn’t seem to have any fat on it. How this translates to the field is interesting. He is so big that he doesn’t have a quick first step. However he has great power to drive players off the line and can get some movement in his rip. Someone in a 34 defence will see him as an ideal 3rd or 4th rounder.
Perhaps the most watched player was Michigan’s Chris Wormley. A dominant defensive end for the Wolverines, many have wondered if he is better off inside. The Senior Bowl did little to answer this question.
He is certainly a natural in the run game. He diagnoses plays and rips threw to make tackles in the backfield with ease. His pass rushing is another question. From the centre, he struggled to get off double teams. From wider, he lacks the closing speed of a natural 43 end. He’ll probably be best as a 43 base defensive end who moves inside on definite passing downs.
Linebacker Monotony (But In A Good Way)
Almost every linebacker who impressed at the Senior Bowl appeared to be undersized but ball carrier aware. This left many concerned how these players would deal with the athletic freaks that play in the NFL. If Senior Bowl practice is anything to go by, most will be fine.
Certainly Clemson’s Ben Boulware proved his competitiveness trumps his physical disadvantages. The emotional leader of the National Champions fought through blocks and was always around the ball carrier. His determination certainly surprised a few opponents. At least one offensive lineman had his hands on Boulware, only to find himself in the dirt as the former Tiger fought free.
It would not be unfair to cut and paste Boulware’s performance and substitute LSU’s Duke Riley. He was equally as hungry to get to the ball. If anything, he may have shown a better inclination of how the game was developing behind the line of scrimmage. Both will be targets for teams at the start of day 3 if someone doesn’t pull the trigger a little earlier.
The one exception to the undersized player motif was Derek Rivers. The Youngstown State player is a huge guy with clear pass rushing ability. Perhaps limited to a 34 outside linebacker position, he was so clinical that teams will bring him in to do that one job. However his development over the week suggest he could turn into a more well-rounded player.
The Secondary Is Very Deep
It’s really not possible to fairly mention every defensive back who excelled at the Senior Bowl. Whats remarkable is few if any of these players will break the top 5 best players in their position.
One player who improved each day was San Diego State’s Damontae Kazee. His ball skills were evident from the beginning but he looked overmatched on some deep balls. As he relaxed his speed improved so by weeks end, he was rarely beaten deep. He’d be a certain day 2 pick in any other draft.
Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis showed himself to be more than a slot corner. He displayed able use of the sideline to block the receivers path and the pace to keep good trailing coverage. He also reasserted his credentials as a ball hawk. One pick where he high pointed the ball against a much bigger receiver will have made him money for certain.
Two safeties also made names for themselves. Texas A&M’s Justin Evans showed both the range to be a free safety and hard hitting of a strong safety. This comfort will make him a valuable chess piece. He was also given the chance to show his dynamism as a returner. If he can get his tackling up to standard, he may well sneak into Day 2. Obi Melifonwu (Connecticut) also did himself good by reestablishing his status as the next Kam Chancellor. His length and power round the line of scrimmage makes him a Tight Ends nightmare. He also has enough speed to play in a two deep look. Another player who will be in 3rd round conversations.
It has probably become apparent that there has not been a single quarterbacks name brought up. This is down to it is becoming increasingly safe to say that the 2017 quarterback class is poor.
Outside the three high profile names (Trubisky, Watson and Kizer) there isn’t a player who can be projected to be an NFL starter.
There was some hope that Pittsburgh’s Nate Peterman would step up to be the next guy. Sadly for him, his Senior Bowl week has not gone to plan. The Jacksonville native showed his arm talent but inconsistent accuracy and a tendency to stare down receivers has undercut his promise. Some may hold on to his better throws though. These were certainly of NFL calibre. Yet its hard to look past his technical errors and say with any confidence he will make it at the next level.
The two spread quarterbacks — Joshua Dobbs (Tennessee) and Davis Webb (Cal) —both displayed promise. Interestingly, Dobbs showed far better accuracy than was expected while Webb caught the eye with some touch throws down the sidelines. However, neither man’s comfort with taking the ball from centre is a serious concern. Frankly, both struggled with a basic 5 step drop. This directly effected their accuracy. In fact, the drop off was so significant that it really brought attention to how under-developed their feet work is. Both men have done enough to reinforce their status as being Day 3 upside candidates but neither have been able to force themselves into serious consideration as a top prospect.
The three other Senior Bowl quarterbacks were relatively neat and tidy. Antonio Pipkin from Division II Tiffin was the wildcard. His lack of experience against top opponents was evident on day 1. He made some bad throws and struggled with the pace of both receivers and defenders. He improved through the week but is unlikely to be more than a free agent. Iowa’s CJ Beathard showed nice mobility and made good decisions. However he doesn’t trust his arm. Even in drills not focused on him, he under threw and over threw targets. However he wasn’t as ineffective as Sefo Liffau (Colorado). Considering his size, he simply didn’t make an impact on the week. Good throws were followed by bad. There was no way to get excited as he constantly undercut himself.
Who Else Disappointed?
Ryan Anderson of Alabama was one of the highest profile names coming into the Senior Bowl. His overall lack of impact was surprising. His biggest concern will be how ineffective he was in the pass rush drills. Anderson was slow off the line of scrimmage and was all too easily smothered by tackles once they got their hands on him. It was also telling how little bull rush he had against these big men. Expect him to dropout of first round contendership.
Another projected first rounder to struggle was Iowa’s Desmond King. There was some concern during the year that he lacked top end speed. The Senior Bowl practices proved this worry to be a flat out issue. Multiple wide receivers burnt him deep and only his natural ball awareness stopped him from being embarrassed. King’s issue is two fold. One, will he need to move into safety to be productive. Two, there are so many really good corners. He may well fall unnaturally fast as there is so much depth behind him.
Senior Bowl week reinforced two main thoughts. This draft is incredibly deep on defence. The star talent are all underclassman. The vast majority of the players highlighted here will make team rosters in 2017 and will improve many as the season develops. However the players who are going to be talked about will be those who came out early.