One of the best weeks of the entire year is finally here! 2023 Senior Bowl practice gets underway today at 12:30 am ET. Unfortunately, it sounds like practices will only be available on NFL+, but if you are a draft nut like myself, it is well worth the investment to watch some of the best prospects in the country clash.
This is one of the biggest stages left for prospects to prove themselves on. While the game at the end of the week is always a fun watch (February 4th at 2:30 pm ET on NFL Network), it is the week of practice where players make the largest impact on there draft stocks.
Like every year, Senior Bowl Executive Director Jim Nagy and his staff do an excellent job scouring the country for top talent. This will be a huge opportunity for some small school standouts as well as those looking to rewrite or solidify their scouting report. While, I wanted to break down every position group in attendance (this group of edge rushers looks fantastic!), but I did not have the time to get into the defense. So, here is my breakdown of each offensive position group down in Mobile.
There is no Mac Jones, Kenny Pickett or Justin Herbert in this year’s group, which is to say, don’t expect anyone from this group to go in the first round. That’s not meant to be a knock, it is just the reality of the outlook for this QB class.
Possibly the best prospect here will not even be suiting up. Hendon Hooker will participate in off-the-field activities, but will not play as he continues to rehab his torn ACL. He put up fantastic numbers for the second straight season with the Vols while leading Tennessee back to national prominence. He is definitely older at 25 years old and the injury puts a damper on his draft stock, but I think Hooker could reasonably finish out the pre-draft process as a top-five quarterback in this class.
With Hooker not participating in on-field activities, the American team has an extra QB. We will see TCU’s Max Duggan, Houston’s Clayton Tune and Shepard’s Tyson Bagent under center this week. Each has a few interesting nuggets to turn the heads of NFL scouts.
Duggan was the Heisman runner-up and led the Horned Frogs to an improbable national championship appearance. My pal James Schiano compared him to Brock Purdy last week on my podcast. Duggan’s incredible season has propelled him firmly into the draft conversation. This week will significantly swing where on Day 3 he will land.
Meanwhile, Tune finally put it all together in his final two seasons at Houston. That coincides with Dana Holgerson’s arrival from West Virginia. While Tune owes a lot of his success to Holgerson’s system, he still put up eye-popping numbers in the process. During that two-year stretch, Tune threw for 7,618 yards, 70 touchdowns and only 20 interceptions while averaging roughly 8.3 yards per attempt.
Then there is Bagent. It is rare for Division II players to find their way onto this stage. It is more unheard of for quarterbacks. The Shepard quarterback has many admirers in the media though and will look to prove he belongs. He set all kinds of records, including the NCAA’s mark for touchdown passes in a career regardless of division, in his four years as a starter. He is a bit sporadic, but there are some NFL throws on his tape. I’m very excited to see him face the step up in competition.
On the National team roster, Louisville’s Malik Cunningham, BYU’s Jaren Hall and Fresno State’s Jake Haener offer a ton of experience and production. Hall’s 718 career pass attempts are the fewest of the trio by a wide margin. Cunningham and Haener are each over 1,000.
Cunningham is a dual-threat option with a live arm and a number of questions to answer about his ability to stand out as a passer. He threw for just 1,568 yards and 8 touchdowns this season despite featuring in 10 games, including 9 starts. Those were both the lowest marks since his freshman season when he attempted just 67 passes in very limited playing time. He was dealing with a shoulder injury down the stretch, but that does not fully account for such a massive regression in passing production.
Hall is coming off back-to-back impressive seasons. He waited behind Zach Wilson for the chance to start at BYU and maximized his opportunity. Hall tossed 31 touchdowns and just 6 interceptions while completing 66 percent of his passes this season. Like many of the quarterback prospects in this class, he is on the older side as a fifth-year junior. I think there is a good chance that he will emerge as the best of this year’s roster at the position.
For Haener, he might not have put up the same raw numbers he did a season ago when he had north of 4,000 passing yards and 33 touchdowns. However, he was incredibly efficient this season, completing 72 percent of his passes and only throwing 3 interceptions despite throwing the ball 350 times. The fact that he played at all was somewhat remarkable. Haener suffered what was supposed to be a season-ending injury three weeks into the season. Instead, he sought a second opinion and wound up back on the field five weeks later. He ultimately led Fresno State to a conference championship and a win in the LA Bowl over Washington State. In short, don’t count out Haener, no matter what the odds.
It’s another deep group of running backs in Mobile, featuring a few that could sneak into Day 2 if they make enough noise. There are four that stand out to me from the rest.
Roschon Johnson shared the backfield with the clear No. 1 back in this class in Bijan Robinson. He was the thunder to Robinson’s lightning. The bruising back is listed at 6’2”, 223 pounds, but comes with limited tread on his tires. Re: fewer than 400 carries in four seasons with the Longhorns. He also has just enough receiving production, 56 catches for 420 yards in his career, to make me believe he has the potential to be a three-down back.
Chase Brown on the other hand had nearly as many touches this season (355) as Johnson did in his career. The former Western Michigan back was a huge factor in Illinois’ impressive 8-5 campaign, rushing for 1,643 yards and adding an additional 240 through the air. He has a compact frame, good open-field speed and excellent change of direction. My gut reaction is that he will be a quality starter in the league for a while.
Perhaps the back I am most interested to see this week is Kenny McIntosh, who arrives in Mobile fresh off another national championship. He posted 1,334 scrimmage yards and 12 touchdowns on just 192 touches this season. Sure, it helps to play with Stetson Bennett, Brock Bowers and a deep stable of running backs, but those are impressive efficiency numbers. His 6.9 yards per touch ranked 16th in the country, just a hair above Bijan Robinson and far better than his backfield mate Dejuan Edwards. I think McIntosh fits the modern mold for an NFL running back and could be even better at the next level than he was in college.
Here I am gushing about McIntosh’s efficiency when he isn’t even the most productive back at this year’s Senior Bowl from that standpoint. Tulane’s Tyjae Spears racked up 1,837 yards from scrimmage and 21 touchdowns on 251 touches this season. His 7.3 yards per touch ranked eighth in the nation while those 21 TDs had him tied with Pittsburgh’s Israel Abanikanda for the most in the country. Spears has great acceleration, solid vision and soft hands out of the backfield. I have a feeling everyone is going to know his name by the end of the weekend. In a year where the race to be RB2 feels wide open, I won’t rule out Spears taking that title.
Northwestern’s Evan Hull, App State’s Camerun Peoples, Kentucky’s Chris Rodriguez and Oklahoma’s Eric Gray round out the group. I have higher expectations for the four I listed above, but you never know what to expect. I made the mistake of overlooking a back out of Louisiana that I was not as familiar with back in 2021. Turns out, Elijah Mitchell is pretty good in the NFL. Each of these guys has something they bring to the table.
Seemingly every year now, the receiver group at the Senior Bowl is one of the deepest. 2023 will be no exception. Much like last year, I don’t know if there will be anyone selected in the first round, but I have my eye on a few players who could make a Christian Watson-type jump up into the top 50.
As always, this group features some big school products, like Michigan’s Ronnie Bell, Nebraska’s Trey Palmer and Ole Miss’ Jonathan Mingo. You have your Group of 5 stars, such as SMU’s Rashee Rice, Houston’s Nathaniel Dell and Cincinnati’s Tre Tucker. Add in BYU’s Puka Nucua, Charlotte’s Grant Dubose and Iowa State’s Xavier Hutchinson and you have yourself a loaded position group.
This will be a huge week for Dell and Rice, who both haven’t played on the national stage, but have the traits and production to be early Day 2 picks. Dell in particular put up incredible statistical production, leading the country in receiving yards and touchdowns this past season while finishing 2nd in receptions. His back-to-back 1,300-yard seasons gives him some of the best production for any receiver in this draft class. His biggest drawback will be his size. Listed at 165 pounds, if Dell can weigh in closer to 175 while still displaying that burst he has on tape, I think that will be enough for teams to hone in on him in the 2nd round.
Then you have Rice, who after three straight solid, but unspectacular years, exploded for 1,355 yards and 10 touchdowns on 96 catches in 2022. He brings the prototypical size for an NFL receiver at 6’2”, 202 pounds. Despite all the production, he played in a vertical passing offense with a limited route tree. He will have a chance to showcase his ability to separate and produce outside of that offensive scheme. If he looks sharp, I think Rice is a lock to go Day 2. He could really solidify it if he runs well at the combine.
I think I am most excited to watch Xavier Hutchinson. He came just shy of 3,000 receiving yards in three years at Iowa State after transferring from junior college. He was the top target for Brock Purdy just last year and put up even better numbers this season with Hunter Dekkers at quarterback. He does not get talked about enough nationally, especially for a 1st-team All-American. This week, he should remind scouts that he catches the ball well away from his body and has good acceleration in the open field. There is some stiffness to his route running, but his game is more predicated on size and speed than it is agility. I think he will turn some heads in the 50-50 drills.
One other name to keep an eye on this week is Andrei Iosivas from Princeton. The 6’3”, 200-pound receiver had a great season, finishing eight in the FCS in yards per game. He uses his size well to high point the ball on contested catches and shows a second gear in the open field. I like what I have seen from him so far on tape and I think he is in for a big week.
This is one of the deepest tight end classes in recent memory and the Senior Bowl will showcase some of its fantastic depth. Oregon State’s Luke Musgrave has to be considered the top-ranked prospect of the group at this point. Despite very limited production, 47 catches for 633 yards and 2 touchdowns in four years, Musgrave turned heads with his size and physicality in his limited playing time in 2022. He fits the profile of a modern day receiving tight end, with Oregon State flexing him out into the slot and using him as a mismatch for defensive backs and linebackers. He featured in just two games in 2022 before a knee injury cost him the rest of the season. This will be a big chance for him to prove that knee is fully healthy and remind everyone why he was on the Mackey Award watch list to open the season.
One guy I am super high on is Davis Allen from Clemson. I really like what I saw from him this year. While the league has shifted towards preferring this big slot type of tight ends, I am still a sucker for the guy who can contribute as a blocker and a receiver. He had solid production, 443 yards and five TDs, in 2022. Plus he has great size, listed at 6’6”, 250 pounds. I don’t expect him to wow anyone with his athleticism, but has a very well-rounded game that I think will get him on the field sooner rather than later in the NFL.
There seems to be a trend of drafting traits over production at the tight end position in the NFL right now. Daniel Bellinger going in the third round last year is a perfect example of that. If you are still a fan of production from college tight ends though, Purdue’s Payne Durham is your guy. He ranked sixth in receptions and eight in receiving yards among D-I tight ends this season. His eight receiving touchdowns were tied for second most at the position, trailing only Michael Mayer. Durham, like Allen, brings a huge frame at 6’5”, 255 pounds. He feels like a finished product that is ready to contribute at the next level.
Miami’s Will Mallory, Cincinnati’s Josh Whyle and Oklahoma’s Brayden Willis round out the group. Mallory is a savvy veteran at this point and has the benefit of playing in multiple offensive schemes during his time in college. Whyle had very consistent production over the past three seasons, amassing 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns. Willis had a bit of a breakout year, topping 500 yards receiving, but has the ability to be an H-back or fullback, depending on the offense. That type of versatility will definitely raise his value.
This is usually my favorite position group to watch all week because man those one-on-ones are awesome. This year’s tackle group is not as star-studded as past years, but there is a good amount of depth, especially if you are a fan of right tackles.
The right tackle hype starts with former teammates, Oklahoma’s Wanya Morris and Tennessee’s Darnell Wright. The pair began their college careers together in Knoxville. They were both five-star recruits coming out of high school.
It seemed like Morris was destined for success at Tennessee. He started 12 games at left tackle his freshman year, but injuries and inconsistent play cost him his starting job in 2020. Morris then left for Oklahoma when Jeremy Pruitt was fired for recruiting violations. He barely featured in his first season in Norman, playing six games, starting none. He missed the first two games of this season as well due to an off-field issue. Injuries limited him to just eight starts at right tackle this season, but he seems to have found a home at that spot.
Meanwhile, Wright stuck with the Vols and developed into a fantastic right tackle in his own right. He has 41 career starts, 26 at right tackle, two at right guard and 13 at left tackle. He has fantastic play strength, showcasing his power well as he anchors in pass protection. I think he is going wow a lot of folks in these one-on-one drills. I’m also eager to see how much he has developed as a run blocker, where he was a bit inconsistent during his time at Tennessee.
The most emotional backstory of the entire week clearly belongs to Georgia’s Warren McClendon. The two-time national champion was involved in the single car crash that killed his teammate Devin Willock and UGA recruiting staffer Chandler LeCroy. He emerged with minor injuries. To honor Willock, Senior Bowl Executive Director Jim Nagy announced on social media last week that McClendon will be wearing Willock’s No. 77 jersey in Mobile. He has had some minor knee issues this season, but played in the CFP title game earlier this month, so he should be good to go this week.
Dawand Jones is yet another right tackle who will draw a lot of attention from scouts. He is hard to miss, literally. Ohio State listed him at 6’8”, 359 pounds this year. That is a large man with impressive athleticism for his size. He is unquestionably a project at this point. His hand usage and footwork are all over the place, but with those intangibles, it is a pretty enticing project for NFL offensive line coaches. Not to mention, he has a basketball background and graded out very well in pass protection according to Pro Football Focus.
Finally, a left tackle prospect! Syracuse’s Matthew Bergeron is one of my favorites among this year’s crop. He has 39 career starts under his belt, with the majority coming at left tackle. He is a fluid mover with good play strength. There is definitely some polish needed for him to hold his own at the next level, but I believe he could be a starter sooner rather than later.
Another left tackle to keep an eye on is Jaelyn Duncan from Maryland. He lacks the ideal polish of a top prospect, but he is a really good athlete with tons of upside. With 38 career starts at left tackle, he has a ton of experience. There is a lot of technical stuff that needs to be cleaned up in his game ranging from hand usage to footwork. Long term though, he has a chance to be an above average starter. At this point, I think he is a Day 2 pick with a chance to rise into the top 50, especially in an offensive tackle class without a ton of depth.
Rounding out this incredibly experienced group of tackles is BYU’s Blake Freeland. The redshirt junior has 41 career starts with the Cougars. At 6’8”, 305 pounds, he is going to get some looks based on his frame alone. He is a fluid mover with decent power and good hand usage. He has his fair share of fans in the draft community.
Interior Offensive Line
It wouldn’t be the Senior Bowl without America falling in love with a D-III or FCS interior offensive lineman. In recent years, we’ve seen Cole Strange, Quinn Meinerz and Ben Bartch all make headlines with great play from Chattanooga, Wisconsin-Whitewater and St. John’s (MN) respectively. This year’s model is named Cody Mauch from FCS powerhouse North Dakota State. He has a ton of experience over the past three seasons, mostly playing at left tackle. At 6’6”, 303 pounds, he has a chance to play tackle and will get some work there, but most draft analysts believe his NFL future is at guard. He has the athleticism to be a difference maker at the position. I imagine he will take a bit to get used to playing the position, but I expect him to be another fan favorite in Mobile.
Steve Avila is coming off a strong season with TCU. He was one of the lone bright spots against Georgia in the national championship game. He has a ton of experience all over the offensive line, making starts at every spot except left tackle. At 6’4”, 330 pounds, he is difficult to move off his spot.
Emil Ekiyor Jr. is another guard with tons of experience. He was a three-year starter for Alabama and should be in the mix as one of the better interior lineman in Mobile. I’m excited to see how he does outside of the Tide system.
As far as centers go, there are a few big names to monitor. O’Cyrus Torrence has a good chance to be a first-round pick and could be the first interior lineman off the board. He started 11 games in his lone season at Florida after transferring from Louisiana. 46 starts into his career, he is a pretty polished final product. He is a massive prospect, listed at 6’5”, 347 pounds. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him dominate this week.
Other top center prospects include John Michael Schmitz from Minnesota and Jarrett Patterson from Notre Dame. Both are veterans with a ton of experience in college. Schmitz is a sixth-year player with 31 starts in his career. Patterson is a fifth-year with 46 starts under his belt. The latter will be especially interesting because he transitioned to left guard this season after spending his whole career up to that point at center. That versatility will go a long way. Expect this to be one of the most position groups of the whole week.
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