• Zach Pratt

Zachs Draft Corner: Senior Bowl Recap/Highlights

Image Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Zach’s Draft Corner, where it’s always amateur hour.

The Senior Bowl has come and gone, and the North squad, coached by the Homeless Raiders, defeated the South team and our beloved 49er coaches by a score of 34-24. Practices are great and can give some insight into the psyche and habits of players, as the great Allen Iverson would say, “We talking about practice. Not a game. Not, not … Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it's my last.” The game is where you compete, as a team, to defeat the players staying on the other side. Where you don’t know what the opponent will do and the true skills are put to the test. This is what jumped out to me about the game.

Wes Hills is Slippery with the Rock

Hills was a gamer at Slippery Rock University, running for over 100 yards in 8 of his 12 games in 2018, 3 of which he ran for over 200 yards. After watching him in the Senior Bowl, it’s easy to see why. Hills wasn’t in the game for a long time (he sustained a lower body injury early in the contest), but he had a good time while he was there. He missed out on the touchdown here, but his initial running lane was non-existent. Hills displays great vision to see the cutback, balance to shift his momentum away from the defenders, and speed to outrun the defenders around the corner. For a running back who is close to 6’1” and 209 pounds, that set of skills can be deadly.

Khalen Saunders Has Some Shake

We all knew that Saunders was athletic. His backflip videos have gone viral over the past couple of weeks. We also knew he was strong. But coming from Western Illinois University, it was unknown whether he had the technique to match up against the top talent in college football. This play here shows that he has the ability to generate interior pressure at the next level. Out of his stance, Saunders gives a sharp jab step towards the guard’s outside shoulder. This causes the guard to shift his weight outside. Saunders then swims past the guard on the hole he created on the guard’s inside shoulder, leaving him with a free path to the quarterback. This is the type of advanced technique you want to see out of your interior linemen, especially those with the athleticism of Saunders.

Keelan Doss May Be the Next FCS Success Story at Wide Receiver

A couple of years ago, a 6’2” wide receiver from the Big Sky Conference with multiple 1,000-plus-yard seasons on his resume showed up to the Senior Bowl and dominated the competition by creating separation with his shifty route running and hands of glue. That receiver was Cooper Kupp out of Eastern Washington University. Keelan Doss, who also fits the above description, came from University of California-Davis and did the same exact thing. On this play, Doss was running a slant route. That cornerback you see that is 8 yards away is the player in man coverage responsible for covering Doss. The throw was well off-target, but Doss adjusted, extended out towards the ball, and plucked it out of the air. He may not get the same draft bump as Kupp did, but Doss is going to make some GM look very smart.

Andy Isabella is Dangerous with the Ball in his Hands

Last week, I crushed Isabella for his poor catching technique and his wasted movement in his routes. None of that has changed. However, what you can’t see in practice is how the player is when there are 11 players on defense trying to rip your head off. Isabella showed that it may be difficult for defenders to do that. Isabella’s quickness and balance lets him break tackles with ease, including on this play where he is sandwiched between two defenders and still manages to escape for a touchdown. You may not be able to rely on him when the ball is in the air, but once he secures it, watch out.

Tyree Jackson Has a Cannon

Drew Lock may have the reputation for having a huge arm, and Daniel Jones may have won the MVP award, but the quarterback that I left the Senior Bowl most impressed with was Tyree Jackson out of the University of Buffalo. The play below is one that maybe only Lock can make out of the quarterbacks in this draft. He rolls out, keeping his eyes downfield. He sees his intended target, but there is a defender ready to drive on him. He gives a subtle shake that causes the defender to hesitate, leaving just enough room for him to step into the throw (not crow hop, but a single, simple step). It looks effortless, and the cameraman is fooled by the distance of the throw, but he drops in a rainbow over the top of two defenders and into the arms of the receiver 58 yards downfield.

A strong arm does more than just let you throw deep. On Jackson’s touchdown pass, Gary Jennings runs a slant. However, the backside coverage is close, and there is a safety playing the route on the inside that breaks on the pass once it is thrown. Jackson fits the ball exactly in the right spot, pushing the receiver deeper and creating space for a complete pass that Jennings takes the remaining step into the endzone. The accuracy showed by Jackson on this throw shows his very attainable ceiling.

Charles Omenihu Plays the Long Game

Omenihu impressed during the week using his length after he measured in with 36.5” arms and an 84.75” wingspan. While he was still able to generate pressure during the game itself, his hustle on this play is what stood out. He’s initially blocked out of the play, but gets free as the quarterback rolls towards the line of scrimmage on the right side. He never gives up on the play, crashing back towards the line and swiping at the ball while going in for the hit. This generates a strip, which the North team recovered for one of the game’s only turnovers. Omenihu will likely continue his ascension because of his physical traits, but it’s worth noting that he plays from snap to whistle.

Defense is Hard

There are a lot of rules that work against the defense in this game. There is no blitzing (four man rush only), the deep middle safety has to be aligned between the hashmarks pre-snap, and zone coverage is limited to two-deep or three-deep zones only. This makes it tough to disguise defenses and generate pressure, which most modern defenses rely on for success. Defenders can still make individual plays (see: Charles Omenihu and Nassir Adderley), but the game structure definitely favors the offense.

Lonnie Johnson has Swagger

In an interview after the game, Lonnie Johnson said "I feel like I'm the best [cornerback] in the draft. That's what it is. I can tackle, I can cover, and some guys at my position don't even want to tackle. I stood out. I'm 6-3, I'm 210 pounds, and I'm going to run 4.4 at the combine, so y'all can take it from there." That’s the swagger you want to see from a cornerback. Whether he can back it up is another thing, but you have to love the attitude.

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