The conclusion of Senior Bowl practices and game is pretty exciting for those starving for draft coverage. The game may catch one’s eyes, but for many scouts, coaches and media, the practices are much more important. Many teams have boards largely built at this point and won’t do much moving as a result of these practices, but for small-school kids or otherwise unknown quantities, this can be a big weekend. Some teams are looking for confirmation that their initial assessments are correct, and might also be using any excuse to drop a player from a lofty position on their board.
With that in mind, we may be able to project some winners and losers based on their performance in practices and the game.
The most anticipated group for Vikings fans might have been the offensive line, and there were some interesting names to look at. Small-schoolers like Antonio Garcia from Troy and Julien Davenport from Bucknell had a lot to prove, but I’m not sure they accomplished that goal in practices; Davenport looked better than I anticipated, while Garcia looked worse—but I don’t think that will impact their stock too much, as Davenport was successful with poor technique and Garcia improved over the course of the week. Not only that, he had an excellent game.
And while I thought Garcia struggled quite a bit in his time at the Senior Bowl, it’s important to point out that I was in the minority in that assessment, as many solid talent evaluators in the media thought much more of his play.
Was better in team than 1v1 all week. Showing out now https://t.co/uXICIEpj2U
— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) January 28, 2017
Instead, I think Taylor Moton may have helped himself the most among the offensive tackles. He wasn’t able to showcase his high-level on-field awareness, but I’m sure coaches who interacted with him got a good gauge of his football intelligence. Instead, his fantastic upper-body strength and overall technical capability shined in practices and he was able to prove that he can anticipate and handle speed rushers on the right side of the line.
It stings that Moton was less consistent in the actual game and had more than one bad snap, but the quality of tackle play was so low that this doesn’t really change the calculus.
At the other end of the spectrum, I’d argue that Adam Bisnowaty may have hurt himself the most as he struggled with multiple kinds of pass-rushers and didn’t earn positive marks from many people.
At guard, it’s difficult to find a winner and easy to find some losers. Perhaps the best performance was from Vanderbilt guard Will Holden on the final day of practices, but it would have been nice to see him sooner because he was an injury replacement. The fact that he followed up that day of practice with an excellent performance in the Senior Bowl helps.
For players there for more than one day, I’d argue the best guard was likely Dan Feeney, especially on the final day and in the game. Feeney demonstrated awareness, strength and athleticism in the game and in practices didn’t give up any ground. That’s not saying much, as he definitely had his struggles, but he was less up-and-down than Dion Dawkins was, and Feeney exhibited more upside. Otherwise, players like Kyle Kalis and Danny Isidora struggled.
Worse than the two of them, however, were Jordan Morgan and Jessamen Dunker. Pro Football Focus is down on Morgan the most, but I think Dunker will have the largest translation problems, as he consistently played with the worst technique—keeping his hands outside of rushers, taking false steps in pass protection and run blocking, and generally not finding ways to move defensive tackles. At the very least, Morgan flashed.
Among the centers, it was Ethan Pocic at the top, followed by everyone else. Jon Toth was fine on the first day of practice but couldn’t follow through in his other practices, while Tyler Orlosky was terrible in the first two practices and excellent in the final session. Kyle Fuller was never as bad as those two on their worst days, but likely had the worst three-day stretch.
The defensive linemen were the stars of the show (as it were) in practices this week, and just as it was difficult to identify talented offensive linemen, it was difficult to establish a clear winner among the many top dogs on the defensive line. The interior line was talented, with names like Alabama’s Dalvin Tomlinson and Clemson’s Carlos Watkins showing big.
But it’s hard not to pick Jaleel Johnson from Iowa. He didn’t just show the dominance that Tomlinson did or the technical skill that Watkins displayed, but consistent production and physical traits that are more explosive and versatile than either of those two very talented defensive players.
It helps that Johnson was impactful in the game, but what really stood out was the gap in performance between him and other top defensive tackles in practices.
Among the edge rushers, it’s important to parse between who helped their stock the most (like Tanoh Kpassagnon or Isaac Rochell) and who simply had the best practices (for example, Haason Reddick). Between the two, it might be best to say Derek Rivers as the winner—he had one of the best practices of the group and had the most to gain from them as an FCS prospect. He demonstrated bend, power, fluidity and technical precision, as well as the awareness to understand offensive concepts so he wouldn’t get tricked by offensive deception while staying disciplined to the play.
Not only that, Rivers consistently beat his man in the game itself, and showcased excellent explosiveness, run awareness and pressure creation.
There weren’t many disappointing defensive tackles or edge rushers, but it seemed clear that Montravious Adams from Auburn had clear issues generating penetration against a weak guard group. Stevie Tua’Kolovatu had problems, but he didn’t have as much to lose from a bad week as Adams did. At the very least, Adams played well in the game.
This was an incredible tight end group, and I doubt we’ll see as talented of a group in a long time. People may presume that because O.J. Howard was known as a blue-chip prospect going in, that he didn’t have much to gain from an excellent showing, but that’s not quite true. Outside of some memorable playoff games, he didn’t feature for Alabama’s offense; with only 0.2 touchdowns and 3.0 receptions a game, he has the second-lowest reception production among all Senior Bowl tight ends and lowest touchdown production.
Not only did he have more to gain than one might think at first glance with his performances, he was far and away the best tight end in a class of talented TEs. His blocking was better than a number of left tackles in the league, and his technique was incredibly on-point. His receiving was up there as well, with a high win rate in coverage and only one dropped pass.
As for losers among tight ends, it’s likely Jeremy Sprinkle. It’s not just his drop in the Senior Bowl, but his inability to really flash. With how excellent this tight end group was, that’s enough to drop someone. Sprinkle struggled as a blocker and in one-on-one passing drills (he only had two receptions in one-on-one drills through two days), without excellent team play to make up for his individual drills.
I didn’t watch much of the linebackers on Day One, so I could be missing some important context, but from my analysis of the final two days and the game itself, it’s hard to find a bigger winner than Alex Anzalone from Florida. Having ten total starts in college because of injury, he has to convince teams that his talent is worth the injury risk—and that injuries haven’t robbed him of confidence.
In the game and in practices, it seems like he’s on the path to having done that. He has fantastic trigger and gets to the ball sooner than the other linebackers, and his physical traits stand out among a group of otherwise disappointing off-ball linebackers. He showed up in the game, too, with excellent recognition to blow up a screen and nice physical capability.
If you wanted to include the half-edge/half off-ball guys, then Haason Reddick has my vote. He demonstrated incredible coverage skills and run-recognition in practices. Reddick did have diagnosis problems in the game, but that comes from experience and NFL teams will likely excuse him for that. It’s worth noting that Vince Biegel played much better than I expected and was the most assignment-sound outside linebacker there.
Jordan Willis deserves a mention here because he had a stellar game. But if we include practices, not as much.
The biggest loser that I could identify in practice among the linebackers had to be Clemson’s Ben Boulware. Boulware was instinctive in run support but consistently lost his way in coverage—his ability to cover running backs and tight ends was subpar. In the game, he was late to the play multiple times and though he may have logged official tackles, produced much more from the perspective of jumping on piles than actually stopping plays.
It would be simply contrarian to pick someone other than Zay Jones. He had a great week of practice and a phenomenal game. Multiple touchdowns (one incorrectly called back) and seven receptions speaks well to him, but how he got them is important, too. As an underneath receiver playing a Jarvis Landry role at East Carolina, Jones’ big body should have been helpful for a more diverse function.
In Senior Bowl practices and the game itself, he demonstrated those additional qualities. Phenomenal hands, good speed, great route-running and the best hands throughout the practices meant that Jones was the clear winner.
It was a good-not-great group of receivers and while Cooper Kupp deserves credit for a good week, he was not the obvious best receiver in practices. There were a few receivers who played well all week and were hard to separate. Jones, Kupp, Ryan Switzer, Chad Williams and Joshua Reynolds all had arguments for being the best-performing receiver in practices (my vote was for Williams), but Jones separated himself in the game with a spectacular performance.
As for the loser, there was one clear “worst receiver” in Mobile, and he didn’t get a single reception in the game. Amba Etta-Tawo is an analytics superstar and as a result was someone I was excited to see, but had perhaps the worst route-running of the participating receivers and mediocre hands without much physical ability to make up for it.
The player I was perhaps the most curious about going in was Damontae Kazee from San Jose State, and to his credit, he was the fastest cornerback there (both to my eyes and the Catapult Sports data collected through chips in players’ pads). He played well, but I don’t think any corner played better than Rasul Douglas from West Virginia.
Pro Football Focus had Douglas as having two targets on 25 coverage snaps, both of them catches by Joshua Reynolds for 34 yards. A target every 12.5 snaps is fantastic, and 1.36 yards given up per coverage snap isn’t bad.
The former Mountaineer got his hands on a lot of passes in practices this week and he clearly played with the fluidity he needed to overcome his frame and speed issues. PFF noted that through the first two days of practice, no one had a higher win rate among cornerbacks in one-on-one drills.
Worth noting is that Tre’Davious White and Marquez White were both excellent as well, with Tre’Davious playing with unreal fluidity matched by no one else on either roster.
I didn’t catch much from the game of Brendan Langley, but it should be said that though it would be easy to credit him for a good interception, he was struggling throughout the game before then. Langley had some big missteps in practices, but he did flash some tools worth investing in.
There weren’t many obviously struggling cornerbacks, but Ezra Robinson was one of them—if not the only one. He had serious agility issues, couldn’t make up for it with solid ball skills and didn’t have straight-line speed. He lost a lot of snaps in one-on-ones and looked like a lower class of player among his peers there.
It’s difficult not to pick Lorenzo Jerome based on his play in the game, but if we accept the premise that practices were more significant to evaluation than the game itself (which it generally is), we probably cannot say he was the biggest winner, though he should consider himself as having a successful conclusion to his week.
Instead, it’s a contest between Obi Melifonwu, Justin Evans and John Johnson for the top safety in practices. I would argue that Johnson likely had the better set of three practice days, but it was close enough to give Melifonwu credit for what he accomplished in the game. He’s my winner for the week, including the game itself.
There aren’t many losers among the safeties, but it might be Nate Gerry. He wasn’t bad, and Rudy Ford was arguably worse, but Gerry was given more opportunities to recover with good play and didn’t quite deliver. I’m still a fan of his game—he’s extremely athletic and had good instincts in college—and I’m curious about his NFL projections, but he had issues with man coverage in practices and didn’t flash in the game.
I have no quarterback takes other than the argument that any quarterback who is said to have “won” Mobile wasn’t good because all of them were bad.
I saw slightly more of the running backs than I did the quarterbacks, and I thought Matt Dayes played well. Jamaal Williams had a better performance than I anticipated, especially in the passing game. Same for Corey Clement and De’veon Smith. But the best running back to me was my favorite going in: Kareem Hunt from Toledo.
The best running back of the group may have had the worst practices, even if he had a fun game. Donell Pumphrey may have set records in college and gained 5.8 yards a carry in the game itself, but in practices was slow to find lanes and dropped passes in team drills. He had issues getting open in one-on-ones as well.
The fullbacks were fullbacks and both could have blocked better, though each of them had highlight blocks. Sam Rogers thudded harder, but Freddie Stevenson won his blocks more consistently. Rogers was the better multi-threat weapon as a receiver and runner, but Stevenson wasn’t a slouch in that area. Given that Rogers’ mistakes were high-profile, I’ll give the win to Stevenson and the loss to Rogers, for what it’s worth.
Hopefully this gives Vikings fans some context for their favorite players or positions of need. The Senior Bowl is only one aspect of evaluation, and it can only provide one piece to the puzzle.
We’ll break down quite a few more players here at Cold Omaha as the draft season ramps up, as well as up-to-date free agency coverage.