Image Credit: Travis Bell/Sideline Carolina
Welcome to Zach’s Draft Corner, where it’s always amateur hour.
The Senior Bowl kicks off Saturday, January 26, at 2:30 PM Eastern Time on NFL Network, capping off a very productive week of practices led by the 49ers and the Raiders. For the past few days, some of the best senior prospects in the country have been squaring off in drills in an attempt to prove that they have what it takes to survive and thrive in the NFL. Kyle Shanahan and Jon Gruden have put these prospects through the wringer. Plenty of the prospects have come out stronger on the other side, but some of the others folded under the pressure.
Deebo Samuel, Wide Receiver, University of South Carolina
Deebo Samuel came into the week as potentially the most talented receiver going to Mobile, and he’s coming out of the week leaving no doubt that he was the most talented receiver in Mobile. In almost every route, Samuel ran with precision, quickness, and purpose. Samuel gained separation, caught almost everything thrown his way, and was on a mission to show that he was more dynamic than portrayed in the South Carolina system.
Penny Hart, Wide Receiver, Georgia State University
Hart is the reason why the Senior Bowl exists. All season, you could see Hart running free from Sun Belt cornerbacks who will be going pro in something other than sports. However, it’s sometimes hard to tell whether he was simply faster than them or if he actually had the translatable skills of an NFL wide receiver. This week, Hart proved that he was more than just a track star, rising up boards faster than just about any prospect in Alabama. Hart showed his quickness, ability to run complex routes, and great hands. I’ve been touting Hart as a small school sleeper all season. There aren’t many who are sleeping on him anymore.
Oli Udoh, Offensive Tackle, Elon University
Udoh caught the eyes of scouts from the moment he stepped on stage for weigh-ins. It’s hard to miss a guy who is almost 6’6” and 330 pounds. However, he kept the eyes of the scouts after moving onto the field, where he showed exceptional balance throughout his sets. He was able to handle the majority of what was thrown at him, with the occasional misstep here and there. However, that’s expected in these one-on-one drills, where the pass rusher has the upper hand. Udoh did well against the increased level of competition that he was used to at Elon. He is certainly going to get drafted now. The only question is how high?
Elgton Jenkins, Center, Mississippi State University
Even more than tackles, interior linemen have it tough in these one-on-one drills. Interior offensive linemen are used to working in phone booths, but the drills they are put through during Senior Bowl week force them to block in a much larger space. Even with this handicap, Jenkins performed admirably throughout the week. Between Jeffrey Simmons and Montez Sweat, Mississippi State had two likely first round selections. After this week, Jenkins might make that three.
Montez Sweat, Defensive End, Mississippi State University
Speaking of Montez Sweat, he was another huge winner of the week. Sweat got lost in the shuffle of the top edge rushers in the class. While Josh Allen, Jachai Polite, and Brian Burns climbed their way up the rankings, a slow middle of the season pushed Sweat to the back end of the second tier of pass rushers. After measuring in with the largest wingspan of any edge rusher since at least 1999, Sweat moved to the practice field and gave us the reverse-pancake heard ‘round the world. Sweat consistently used his length and strength to move through opposing linemen. He is, yet again, firmly in the conversation to go in the top ten, and is hoping to have cemented his status as a first round pick.
Terrill Hanks, Linebacker, New Mexico State University
Hanks was someone who left scouts wanting to see more. Not because he wasn’t performing. It was because you could tell he just wanted to unload on some poor ball carriers but the “limited contact” designation of these practices forced him to hold back. Hanks was all over the field, always finding himself in the exact right position to make a play. Even more, he found himself in position to lay an absolutely massive hit on multiple occasions, but instead opted to just pick them up and body slam them. He will be a pleasure to watch in the actual game, where there is no limit on the amount of pain he can inflict.
Daylon Mack, Defensive Tackle, Texas A&M University
There are certain guys you just wouldn’t want to mess with. You know the type. You see them, you see how they act, the swagger they exude, and you just get the feeling like they are someone you would absolutely want to avoid messing with at all cost. Every year, the Senior Bowl has one of those guys, and this year, that guy was Mack. He had the size, strength, and attitude that you want from your defensive tackles. Oh yeah, and he can play football, too.
Tyree Jackson, Quarterback, University of Buffalo
Jackson has a rocket for an arm. Jackson has the athleticism to navigate outside of the pocket and make off-balance throws with a flick of the wrist. We all knew that. What we didn’t know was that Jackson could stay in the pocket and make pinpoint throws through traffic while perfectly reading the defense in an NFL scheme. Jackson had some errant throws throughout the week, but that’s expected when he is throwing to brand new receivers in a scheme way more complex than any he has played in his life. What gives me hope that Jackson can be an NFL quarterback is how much he flashed in those circumstances. He already has the athleticism to make throws few others on this planet can make. If he can prove that he has the consistency to make good decisions with his talent, then he could be the best quarterback in this draft when all is said and done.
Dax Raymond, Tight End, Utah State
This tight end class is already one of the best classes of recent history with all of the top-end underclassmen that can’t participate in these all-star games. Coming from Utah State, Raymond wanted to prove that he belonged squarely in the conversation with his younger counterparts. With the consistency and shiftiness he displayed despite his 6’5”, 250-pound frame, Raymond certainly is getting there. He may not be T.J. Hockenson or Noah Fant, but he’s still got talent.
Chris Lindstrom, Center, Boston College
Lindstrom was the North-team version of Elgton Jenkins, overcoming the difficulties of playing the interior offensive line in drills favoring the defense. What stood out about Lindstrom is that even his poor reps ended up not so bad. In the below clip, Lindstrom was initially caught with a heavy punch from Khalen Saunders, but managed to recover in time to win the rep. Lindstrom did not give up on this, or any, rep throughout the week, and his resilience will be noted by the teams in attendance.
Jalen Jelks, Defensive End, University of Oregon
Scouts were worried about Jelks’s strength. He showed his quickness and top-end speed throughout the season, but he never had a power move in his repertoire. This week, he showed that he at least has the capability to incorporate a speed-to-power conversion into his play. That could be a big separator between him and the others competing to get into the day two picture.
L.J. Collier, Defensive End, Texas Christian University
TCU was underwhelming this year, but their defense is always one of the best in the Big 12. When they aren’t winning, they get lost in the shuffle of powerhouse offenses that dominate the wild west. Collier used this week to remind everyone just how strong that TCU defense can be. He was well-rounded in his attack and won in a variety of ways throughout the week. He may not test well at the Combine, but his game speaks volumes.
Khalen Saunders, Defensive Tackle, Western Illinois University
The week started with some big news, as Saunders’s fiancée went into labor with the couple’s child. The two had agreed that the Senior Bowl was necessary for Saunders to attend, and he made the most of his opportunity. When a player like Saunders comes from an FCS school, you worry about whether his traits were amplified by the level of competition or whether he actually has the stuff of a professional. Saunders combined some impressive athleticism with brute strength at Western Illinois, and both of those traits were still there against his FBS competition. Saunders made a name for himself in Mobile, and this week won’t be the last time you hear it.
Rock Ya-Sin, Cornerback, Temple University
Ya-Sin made noise during the weigh-ins, but not in the way you’d like. Listed at 6’2” on Temple’s roster, Ya-Sin was only 5’11” when he weighed in. Schools tend to exaggerate measurements slightly, but three inches is a lot. Luckily for Ya-Sin, his play the rest of the week made people look past his lesser stature. Deebo Samuel was making cornerbacks look silly all weekend, but Ya-Sin was the only one that actually gave some Ls back to Samuel. He still has good length, great physicality, and exceptional mirroring ability. Ya-Sin was the best corner in Mobile, and it wasn’t particularly close.
Jarrett Stidham, Quarterback, Auburn University
Before the season, Stidham was in competition to be one of the best quarterbacks of a bad class. His poor play during the season led many to toss him aside, but Stidham is officially back. Auburn’s offensive line was porous, at best, for most of the season, and Stidham’s play certainly reflected that. When given the opportunity to play behind a line that actually gave him time to throw, some of the 2017 Stidham came back. Stidham was reading the defense, making good decisions, and throwing accurately to all levels of the field. If he is able to bring this momentum into the game Saturday and through the spring workouts, he could put his name back into the running for early consideration.
Lonnie Johnson, Cornerback, University of Kentucky
Lonnie Johnson was certainly a step below Rock Ya-Sin during this week’s practices, he still made some good plays. Johnson’s first good play was showing up to the measurements with a 77-inch wingspan. What made Johnson more than just a long set of arms was his ability to read and react with speed. Many larger corners lack closing speed, but Johnson’s was on display throughout the week. He may need some refinement in some of the more technical areas of coverage, but his toolbox is larger than any other corner in Mobile.
Dillard came into this process with questions about his fit after playing in Mike Leach’s air raid offense, but he put those questions to bed. With his size, athleticism, and footwork, Dillard could be the next tackle off the board after Jonah Williams.
Nasir Adderley, Safety, University of Delaware
Everyone’s favorite safety in Mobile lived up to the hype. Adderley struggled in man coverage during one-on-ones, but excelled in seven-on-sevens when he was able to play his natural single-high position. He has speed, instincts, and the ability to finish the play with an interception. There was chatter of some scouts thinking he was a first round pick coming into Mobile, and he didn’t do anything to quiet them down this week.
Renell Wren, Defensive Tackle, Arizona State University
It can be tough to bull rush guards. One thing that can help is length to keep the guard from getting into the body of the defensive tackle. Wren and his 33-inch arms can do that, and they were on display all week.
Dexter Williams, Running Back, University of Notre Dame
Williams was the best running back in Mobile. He showed a vision that nobody else was able to show this week, and had the speed and agility to take advantage of it.
Chuma Edoga, Tackle, University of Southern California
Edoga was another tackle that took advantage of his time in Mobile. What I like seeing here is that he has the foundation to keep progressing as a prospect. Footwork is the toughest part of playing tackle. Footwork provides balance, and the tackle must be able to move around quickly but with balance. Edoga consistently showed that footwork throughout the week. While he still has some things to work on, Edoga has a lot to like.
Andy Isabella, Wide Receiver, University of Massachusetts
You may have heard a lot about Isabella’s footwork throughout the week. While that is certainly impressive, there is also a lot of wasted motion in his routes that will not be conducive to success in actual offensive systems. Further, he was letting most throws get into his body, which can lead to drops. When he tried catching the ball away from his body, this happened…
Trace McSorley, Quarterback, Penn State University
McSorley was always the underdog coming into this week. He didn’t show the accuracy necessary to succeed in the NFL, and his week of practice did nothing to quell those concerns. McSorley struggled, plain and simple. When throwing one-on-ones, the receiver has every advantage, and McSorley took those advantages away with errant throw after errant throw.
Daniel Jones, Quarterback, Duke University
Accuracy wasn’t an issue with Jones, but decision-making and arm strength was. Jones excelled in the one-on-one drills, but struggled to complete passes in team drills. Plain and simple, Jones looked lost when he had to process more than a single route, and he didn’t have the arm strength to fit the ball into tight windows. There are some legitimate worries here, and he’ll have to try to prove his worth somehow.
Ross Pierschbacher, Guard, University of Alabama
Pierschbacher didn’t do anything wrong, per se. But when stacked up against the rest of the class, his lack of athleticism and strength was prevalent. He’s intelligent and technically sound, but he may not have the physical ability to hold up at the next level.
Oshane Ximines, Defensive End, Old Dominion University
Some scouts were worried that Ximines was going to be too light and weak to hold up to the advanced level of competition he would face at the Senior Bowl and in the NFL. Showing up at 241 pounds did not help, and Ximines had no counter when he engaged with linemen. He still can get around tackles, but is taken out of the play entirely when engaged. Some were hoping Ximines would have a similar trajectory as Marcus Davenport, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Sheldrick Redwine, Defensive Back, University of Miami
Everyone was confused when Redwine was listed as a cornerback coming into this week. He played safety at Miami the past few years, and didn’t show the ability to play much man coverage. He seemed to translate to safety, but teams must have wanted to see what he could do at corner. It’s safe to say that teams likely saw enough of the cornerback experiment.
Donald Parham, Tight End, Stetson University
This might come as a surprise for someone who measured in at 6’8 3/8”, but Parham is going to have some serious physical issues at the next level. While he’s tall, he’s also only 243 pounds, and he carries all of that weight in his upper body. Parham may have skipped leg day for the past five years. Even worse, he suffered a lower body injury this week, limiting what he could show on the field. Parham just might not be durable enough to last.
Hunter Renfrow, Wide Receiver, Clemson University
Renfrow didn’t do anything wrong, per se. But there are certain physical measurements where, if you don’t meet them, it is very hard to succeed in the NFL. Hands size is one of those measurements, and it is rare for a player who has hands smaller than 8.5 inches to succeed at a position where they need the ball in their hands. Unfortunately for Renfrow, his hands were only 7.75 inches. It’s an uphill battle for him, but it’s not impossible.
Jalen Hurd, Wide Receiver, Baylor University
Hurd had so much promise for a big week. He was the biggest receiver there at 6'4 3/4" with
10 1/8” inch hands. He was primed for a breakout week, but sustained an injury in the first day of practice.
Jonathan Abram, Safety, Mississippi State University
Abram failed his initial physical with a shoulder injury. He was really looking to show off his skills this week, and a shoulder injury is certainly worrying for a high-impact defensive player.
The quarterbacks looked stacked on the North roster, but it’s the South roster showing all of the promise at that all-so-important position. With the additional edge along the defensive line and secondary, the South seems primed for a victory. These games are usually low-scoring in nature, so I’ll predict that the South wins by a score of 17-13.
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