2017 Senior Bowl Notebook

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Now that I'm finally settled back in Milwaukee after a week in Mobile and two weekends in New Orleans I've found some time to finally do a brain dump of all of my thoughts from Senior Bowl week. Below I’ll run through each of the position groups and share some observations from this week. I apologize that I won't cover every player but feel free to ask me on twitter if you have a question on any specific one.

This shouldn't be viewed as a comprehensive evaluation of a player since we're just starting the 3-month pre-draft cycle, where I hope to watch each player more with a critical eye. With that being said, let’s have some fun with this.

Offense

Quarterbacks

Coming into Senior Bowl week everyone knew the crop of QB’s was going to be an underwhelming bunch and it honestly was. Pittsburgh’s Nathan Peterman was the most consistent but I wouldn’t say he really stood out. I feel like I’m handing him a participation trophy just because he didn’t suck.

To be fair, this isn't the best environment to actually evaluate a QB. You are able to get a gauge of their accuracy, arm strength, footwork and throwing mechanics but it's important to acknowledge that these QB's are throwing to unfamiliar receivers and there aren’t any instances where you get to see how they will thrive in the eye of the storm. Do they have functional mobility in a collapsing pocket to evade pressure while keeping their eyes down the field? How do they handle pressure (they don’t get hit in practice)? Can they read a field and work through progressions? What creativity and playmaking ability do they have, if any, in their game?

Also both the offense and defense during the week are stripped-down to the basics, so it's not like either unit is implementing a game plan to expose each other's flaws.

Anyways, back to the signal-callers in Mobile. Nathan Peterman was the most consistent of the bunch displaying accuracy to all levels of the field and he earned enough praise from a scout to receive a Kirk Cousins comparison.

Tennessee's Josh Dobbs flashed as a dual threat in 11-on-11's but his accuracy, field vision and decision-making waned at times during the week.

California's Davis Webb was named the Senior Bowl MVP for orchestrating three scoring drives during the game but I was expecting him to actually stand out this week.

Iowa's C.J. Beathard, Colorado's Sefo Liufau and Tiffin's Antonio Pipkin  all looked in over their heads and it would surprise me if any of them are on an active roster come Week 1 of the 2017 NFL season.

As far as draft projections, I'm of the belief that we'll see Peterman, Dobbs and Webb all be drafted. Peterman could sneak into Day 2 but all are likely Day 3 selections. Dobbs is the 'project' of the group with Webb and Peterman being the more "NFL ready" talents with the ability to flourish sooner if they're inserted into West Coast offenses. We know the NFL loves tall white QB's so expect either Peterman or Webb to be propped up as a future starter at some point in the coming months.

Running Backs

BYU's Jamaal Williams (6', 211) looks like an every-down back at the next level. A few times this week he showed off his burst to get around the corner in 11-on-11 drills. Williams is a Day 2 talent who could fall a bit due to this incredible RB class but it wouldn't shock me in a year or two from now if he's that late round guy who's putting up top tier numbers like Jay Ajayi and Jordan Howard have. He's impressive.

Wisconsin's Corey Clement (5'10", 221) had a nice week. His game didn't pop out in any one aspect but he proved that he was a complete back. Clement wasn't always able to show his ability as a receiver out of the backfield at Wisconsin because Dare Ogunbowale typically was the go-to receiving back but Clement was a reliable receiver out of the backfield on many occasions this week and did well in pass blocking drills from what I saw. I'll be interested to see how he tests at the Combine because I'm still not sure he's got quite the giddy-up or agility to hold down a starting job at the NFL level. I think he's a Day 3 pick and has a shot to be a back-up in the same vein that like Damien Williams is in Miami.

San Diego State's Donnel Pumphrey (5'8", 169) stock probably took the biggest hit out of any RB at the Senior Bowl and it wasn't due to his play. Pumphrey checked in at 169 lbs. There isn't a running back close to that weight in the NFL. Before you bring up Darren Sproles I'll mention that he has 21 lbs on Pumphrey and is two inches shorter. Pumphrey has the skill to earn a role as a committee back but I wonder if he'll even get the opportunity.

If you thought Toledo's Kareem Hunt (5'10", 208) was the best RB in Mobile heading into the week you likely left with the same point of view. Looking back the one play of Hunt's that stood out to me was him breaking Michigan DB Jourdan Lewis' ankles in the open field during 11-on-11 drill. Hunt is likely a Day 2 RB.

The RB that I might be higher on than most is NC State's Matt Dayes (5'8", 207). Dayes roasted LB's in receiving drills and was stout in pass protection. As a runner Dayes has an explosive downhill style with a great low pad level that allows him to break tackles or get more yards after contact than other backs his size. Dayes is likely a Day 3 back but I'm a big fan.

Wide Receivers

The best wide receiver this week was East Carolina's Zay Jones (6'1", 202). Jones had a record setting Senior season and that play carried over into Senior Bowl week where he stood out in practice and followed that up with an impressive performance in the game. Jones won at all levels of the field and is a smooth technician as a route runner. I didn't really find a weakness in Jones' game this week and look forward to watching more of him in the coming months. I think he is a lock as a Day 2 pick right now.

Grambling's Chad Williams (6', 204) was the receiver who caught me by surprise the most. I knew nothing about him coming into the week but coming from a smaller school he definitely proved he belonged. Williams had one of the best weeks among all the wideouts and consistently won down the field on vertical routes as he showed the ability to hit that extra gear to pull away from defenders.

Another small school receiver whose play garnered lots of buzz was Eastern Washington's Cooper Kupp (6'1", 198). Kupp looked like one of, if not the most polished WR in Mobile winning vs press and off coverage with ease. Kupp had some impressive catches in jump ball situations and fooled DB's on double moves. Kupp had a dominant practice on Wednesday. Kupp is another guy where I'm curious to see how he tests at the combine in Indy.

Texas A&M's Josh Reynolds (6'2", 197) looks the part but he needs to add strength if he's going to win off the line of scrimmage in the NFL. There were a few occasions where Reynolds struggled to gain separation against more physical DBs in press coverage but to his credit he never slowed down or stopped his intended route on these reps. Reynolds made a handful of highlight reel catches this week and showed off the most versatile catch radius of all the wide receivers in Mobile. Reynolds size, speed and catch radius combo is enough for teams to fall in love with him. If I had to pick what WR gets drafted 1st from Mobile it would be Reynolds on Day 2. If he tests as well as I think he might at the combine he could become a fringe Top 50 pick.

UNC's Ryan Switzer (5'8", 179) and Louisiana Tech's Trent Taylor (5'7", 177) looked the part of usable slot WR's. As you would expect both are super quick in and out of their breaks and did their best work out of the slot this week. Neither totally impressed with their ability to haul passes away from their small frames. I was hoping I wouldn't be able to pigeonhole them as just a slot WR's but that unfortunately is what they'll end up being.

LSU's Travin Dural (6'1', 206) and Michigan's Amara Darboh (6'1", 215) both stood out in drills at times but for some reason this whole week I thought there was something missing in their game. I think it's that they don't have the ability to stretch the field.

There might not be a better person at the Senior Bowl than Air Force's Jalen Robinette (6'2", 215) but I wasn't impressed with his or Lousiville's Jamari Staples (6'3", 190) game. Both players missed one day of practice during the week. Robinette had an obligation back at school and Staples suffered a concussion.

Tight Ends

Alabama's O.J. Howard (6'5", 249) wasted no time impressing on Tuesday, snagging a couple of one-handed catches in stride on crossing routes during 11-on-11 drills at the beginning of practice. Howard was the best NFL prospect in Mobile and will likely be a 1st Round selection but I was hoping for more from him. On Wednesday and Thursday his play seemed more lackadaisical as he dropped multiple passes.

The tight end that had the best week was Ole Miss' Evan Engram (6'3", 236). Engram was uncoverable in practice, gaining separation with ease against linebackers in the short and intermediate passing game as well as making a few plays vertically down the seam. At the moment, Engram is your "Move-TE", in the mold of Jordan Reed but he should be able to add 10-15 lbs pretty easily. From what I saw during the week Engram held his own in blocking drills. Effort certainly isn't his problem. He should impress during interviews and will be in the Round 2 discussion when it's all said and done.

South Alabama's Gerald Everett (6'2", 227) was receiving all sorts of praise coming into the week but that hype train should have slow down a bit, I hope. Everett was easily the smallest TE in Mobile and his hands measured the same size as Donnel Pumphrey's. As a receiver, Everett displayed the skill-set to be a mismatch in the passing game out of the slot but I didn't see much of him as a blocker. Everett missed Thursday's practice due to injury so scouts in Mobile only had two days to soak up his game.

Offensive Line

Out of all the positions groups this is the one I focused on the least. Really the only time they were the center of my attention was during 1-on-1 drills vs the defensive lineman and occasionally during 11-on-11's.

Coming into this week there was some Round 1 talk for Troy's Tony Garcia (6'6", 293). He had a rough start to the week on Tuesday but played pretty well in the grand scheme of things. I'd still be surprised if he went Round 1 but I don't think he really hurt his stock at all this week.

Western Kentucky's OT Forrest Lamp (6'3", 305) injured his ankle on the 1st day of practice and had to sit out the rest of the week. Although he played LT at WKU, and was a damn good one, it's likely he'll be moved inside in the NFL. Lamp's situation is similar to former Kansas St OT Cody Whitehair, who was drafted by the Bears last year and moved inside to Center as a rookie. Lamp should be able to hold his own at OG or C and I wouldn't be shocked if the Packers grabbed Lamp in the 2nd round in hopes of him becoming TJ Lang's replacement.

Western Michigan OT Taylor Moton (6'5", 330) looked the part of a future starting right tackle.

USC's Zach Banner (6'8", 361) wasn't very good but is sure to be overdrafted. He can stand to lose 30-40 pounds.

Defense

Defensive Line

Michigan's Chris Wormley (6'5", 297) was the best defensive lineman in Mobile this week. Wormley moves well for a guy his size and has the ability to be a versatile chess piece and play all over the defensive line. I think Wormley solidified himself as a Top 50 pick.

If you were to ask me what defensive player came out of nowhere and surprised me the most this week it would be Tulane's Tanzel Smart (6', 296). Offensive lineman could not hang with Smart in 1-on-1 drills, as his agility and overall athletic ability allowed him to live in the backfield. Smart is undersized and can get moved in the run game but as pass rusher his quickness stood out among the pack of defensive tackles. If his ability as an interior pass rusher on tape is anywhere near to how he performed at the Senior Bowl I don't see how he makes it out of Day 2.

Alabama DT Dalvin Tomlinson (6'3", 312) is pretty much cut from the same cloth as his former teammates, Jarran Reed and A'Shawn Robinson, who were both second round picks in a loaded DT class last year. Tomlinson did pretty well as a pass rusher in 1-on-1 drills but his real impact is as a run defender. He doesn't have the same name recognition as Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams and others from the vaunted Bama defense but he could very well be a Day 2 pick come April.

A few weeks ago I watched a handful of Iowa games with a focus on Jaleel Johnson (6'2", 309) and came away impressed. Johnson showed the ability to rush the passer and hold his ground in the run game so I was hoping to see him put on a show this past week. Johnson didn't really do that. He wasn't bad by any means but I thought I would see more from him especially in 1-on-1 drills.

Auburn's Montravius Adams (6'3", 308) and Villanova's Tanoh Kpassagnon (6'7", 280) received plenty of hype from the media this week but I thought they were inconsistent. With Kpassagnon, I think we're going down the track of wanting him to be better than he is because he is built like a Greek God, like Shawn Oakman, and has the measurable that can't be taught. Don't get me wrong, Kpassagnon made some plays this week and thus made a name for himself but I think we're on the verge of getting a little carried away. Adams has 1st Round ability but his motor comes and goes and even when he's shooting a gap and creating penetration he doesn't really know what's going on around him.

Texas A&M's Daeshon Hall (6'5", 265) and UCLA's Eddie Vanderdoes (6'3", 320) both had flashes of brilliance this week. Hall was a monster on the first day of practice and Vanderdoes made plays here and there throughout the week. Both guys have the tools to become valuable pass rushers at their respective positions but there is still plenty of room for polish to their game. Both players should be off the board around Round 3 if they continue to impress in the pre-draft process.

Linebackers

Illinois Dawuane Smoot (6'2", 255) was rated by many as the top edge pass rusher at the Senior Bowl and I barely noticed he was there. His teammate Carroll Phillips (6'3", 237) stood out more in practice than him.

Alabama's Ryan Anderson (6'2", 258), who was a star in the National Championship game, looked like a Day 3 player in Mobile. Anderson injured his thumb and sat out the final day of practice but when he did participate he was roasted in coverage drills and was stonewalled in pass rushing drills. Not a good week for him.

Temple's Haason Reddick (6'1", 237) was the standout of the linebacking corps this week, which is impressive because he's never played inside linebacker in his life. Reddick's story is unlike any I've ever heard. He went from a walk-on cornerback to all-conference defensive lineman and now moving to middle linebacker. I see Reddick as more of a do-it-all OLB. He received a positive coverage grade from PFF during the week and has the ability to bend the edge as a pass rusher, highlighted by his 22.5 TFL this past season. I don't see how Reddick gets outside of Round 2.

Defensive Backs

San Diego State's Damontae Kazee (5'10", 183) plays with a moxie and physicality that was refreshing to see out of a DB in this type of event. Yes, Kazee was a bit too handsy at times and I'm interested to see how he tests but he was a fun watch every day at practice.

Iowa's Desmond King (5'10", 206) and Miami's Corn Elder (5'10", 179) both had rough weeks in coverage. There was plenty of talk of King moving to safety at the next level but if he can't hang with DB's does he have the range to cover a deep half? King is a guy who I'll need some more time to figure out because he had a heck of a college career but didn't fair well this week. If nothing else he might be able to find a home at corner in a zone heavy defense.

Tennessee's Cameron Sutton (5'11", 182) spent time between safety and cornerback this week and did an overall good job at both. A play that stood out was Sutton hanging with OJ Howard in coverage and breaking up the intended pass. Sutton could stand to add a bit of strength but it was good to see him show off his versatility in the secondary after missing most of the season with an ankle injury.

UCONN's Obi Melifonwu (6'4, 219) was probably the biggest "riser" among defensive backs at the Senior Bowl. Much like Sutton, Obi spent time at both safety and cornerback. Melifonwu's athletic ability stood out as he held his own in 1-on-1 drills. Melifonwu is such a smooth mover and his loose hips allow him to change direction with ease. I have not watched any of Melifonwu before this week but I wouldn't be surprised if he sneaks into Round 1 by April, much like Byron Jones did in 2015 after he blew up the combine, which Obi will surely do.

Rumors & Ramblings:

The biggest news I heard down in Mobile pertains to the Green Bay Packers front office. Although I don't want to go into too much detail, I'll just say that I wouldn't be surprised if Ted Thompson handed over the reigns after this draft much like Ron Wolf did in 2001. If you're wondering who will replace Ted Thompson, the obvious candidate is Ron Wolf's son, Eliot, who is currently the Packers Director of Football Operations and who has already interviewed for the 49ers and Colts GM openings this offseason. Wolf doesn't turn 35 until March but he's been a hot name around the league the past few off-seasons.

It's early in the draft process but I heard the Steelers have their eyes set on Virginia Tech WR Isaiah Ford as early as the second round. It took Ford just three seasons to re-write the record books at Virginia Tech. He leaves as the schools all-time leader in receptions (210), receiving yards (2,967) and TD’s (24). With Antonio Brown’s antics reportedly “wearing thin”, Martavis Bryant’s suspension history, Markus Wheaton hitting the free agent market and Sammie Coates and Darius Heyward-Bey being as enigmatic as they are this doesn’t seem outlandish. Ford is a playmaker worthy of a Day 2 selection and seeing as the Steelers hold the #62 pick in the second round that seems right in line with a realistic landing spot for Ford.

Last month the video of Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon assaulting a fellow female student back in July 2014 was released. Backlashed ensued towards Mixon and the University and many wondered if now the NFL might finally handle something appropriately in regards to domestic violence and Mixon would go undrafted. That doesn’t appear to be the case. I spoke to a few people in Mobile who said they were expecting Mixon to be a second round pick. This goes right in line with where we’ve seen other players with off field concerns in past years such as Dorial Green-Beckham (40th Overall, 2015) and Jeremy Hill (55th, 2014) drafted.

Last week NFL Network’s Mike Mayock mentioned on air that scouts told him that UNC QB Mitch Trubisky would measure in at a little over 6’1” at the combine. This caused a stir in the media because Trubisky is listed at 6’3”, and most people have ridiculous imaginary thresholds that QB’s need to meet in order to succeed in the NFL. Over the last 15 years, Rex Grossman and Johnny Manziel are the only two QB’s to be drafted in the first round that measured in at 6’1” or shorter. As for the QB height talk, if a QB fails in the NFL it’s probably due to everything but his height. He was probably below average at the more important aspects of the QB position such as: accuracy, pocket presence, arm strength, decision-making etc. Whether Trubisky is 6’1” or 6’3” will not change anything in my evaluation of him.