The NFL draft is officially underway! Events in Mobile, Alabama have officially concluded, capped by another exciting Senior Bowl game on Saturday. Without the combine and limited attendance at pro days, all eyes were truly on the Senior Bowl.
One of my favorite things about this whole week is the opportunity to see players outside of their usual system. From Mac Jones to Nico Collins, there were several players who got a chance to step outside their college roles and showcase their ability to learn and adapt.
If all of that wasn’t enough, we had some great moments of coaching captured by ESPN during their broadcast of the practices during the week. Both the Panthers’ and the Dolphins’ coaching staffs were mic’d up to provide some excellent sound bites. The best by far came from Matt Rhule explaining what it meant to be coachable to all of the prospects.
I did my best to take notes throughout the week watching practice and the game from home. Some of the following is just a running stream of consciousness. To make it a little easier to follow though, I am going position by position. Consider this my notebook recapping the week of action down in Mobile.
Lackluster quarterback group
While the quarterback position was not loaded with talent as it has been in recent years. That should not diminish the display Mac Jones put on throughout the week. He was head and shoulders above the rest of the quarterbacks in attendance. Jones looked sharp, accurate and poised. His accuracy continues to wow scouts and he easily had the best touch on deep passes of any of the six quarterbacks in attendance. Jones has locked himself in as a top-five quarterback. There is a chance he comes off the board before Trey Lance.
Nowhere near the level that Jones played at, Ian Book still had a solid week. He was the second-best quarterback in Mobile, showing his mobility and an increased willingness to hit receivers in tight windows. He is probably nothing more than a mid-round project at this point, but I think he has pushed himself above the likes of Jamie Newman, who had an uneven week, and Sam Ehlinger, who struggled with consistency and ball placement.
Kellen Mond will draw some intrigue as a late-round flier. His upside is clear and there were moments of brilliance mixed into his play. He was by far the best quarterback in the game on Saturday. Felipe Franks unfortunately looked close to undraftable. He struggled with everything from waiting too long in the pocket to taking snaps under center.
Running backs get left out
Neither team had much success running the ball. The two squads combined for just 121 yards on the ground. Some of it can be chalked up to poor run blocking. Some of it points to an underwhelming running back group and an inability for the teams to establish the run.
Despite the disappointing showing, UNC’s Michael Carter still found a way to stand out. He looked great catching passes out of the backfield and showed more power than I would have expected for a player his size. I don’t know if I would call him a franchise back, but he is closer to that designation than I originally thought.
Virginia Tech’s Khalil Herbert had a couple of moments of brilliance, but they were few and far between. Larry Roundtree looked powerful coming out of Missouri, but had some mental lapses. Rhamondre Stevenson left a bit to be desired after finishing his Oklahoma career on a hot streak. At this point, Carter is the only back from this group I could see going before Day 3.
Another loaded receiver class
This time last year is when the draft community started to gush about K.J. Hill, Collin Johnson, Devin Duvernay, Van Jefferson, Chase Claypool and Brandon Aiyuk. We will have a whole new list of draft favorites after this week.
Michigan’s Nico Collins and Florida’s Kadarius Toney stole the show. Collins showed a real comfort making contested catches and finding pockets of space in the red zone. Toney flashed an incredible ability to generate separation and clear speed to make opponents pay in the open field. Both have room for improvement. Collins’ technique is still a bit raw while Toney struggled with some uncharacteristic drops.
They were not alone in grabbing attention though. Western Michigan’s D’Wayne Eskridge widely drew praise for his route running and agility. A few corners called him the toughest player to cover all week. Amari Rodgers from Clemson dominated the game, highlighted by a touchdown catch. He is really tough and showcased great speed and agility. Arizona State’s Frank Darby also stood out. He got open a lot and showed good awareness for where he was on the field. Both should climb up draft boards following the weeks they turned in.
South Carolina’s Shi Smith turned in a strong week as well. He and Louisville’s Dez Fitzpatrick were two of the most productive receivers in space. Fitzpatrick made one of the best plays of the game with an incredible catch over the head of North Carolina Central’s Bryan Mills.
Quick shout out is needed too for Tennessee’s Josh Palmer. He has the size and speed to stretch the field. He still has a bit of a ways to go with his route running and catching though.
Lots to like from the offensive line
No one is going to make an Eric Fisher-type jump, but there were plenty of linemen that improved their stock after the week. It was the interior linemen that drew the most attention. Oklahoma’s Creed Humphrey came into the week as one of the top players suiting up. He did nothing to jeopardize that status with a solid week.
Let’s talk about the player getting the most hype from this group. Quinn Meinerz stole the show and set Twitter ablaze with crop top jersey and farm boy workout videos. He also played pretty well. This is going to send a lot of people back to his 2019 film at Wisconsin-Whitewater, but he got on everyone’s radar after his performance.
He was far from the only small-school player to turn heads. UNI’s Spencer Brown was much more on the radar than Meinerz, but watching him tower over fellow top linemen really put his size into perspective. He measured in at 6’8″ with 34-inch arms. There is still a bit of refining to do technique wise, but some scouting department is going to fall in love with his intangibles and take him early with the hopes of developing him into a franchise tackle.
Elsewhere, Cincinnati’s James Hudson flashed an enticing blend of size and speed. He is a former defensive lineman. He reminds me a bit of Josh Jones. The athleticism is clear but the technique is a bit raw still. Hudson should be solidly in the Day 2 conversation now. I was also impressed by the play of Robert Hainsey from Notre Dame. He has a good motor and a solid base that translates well to impressive play strength. He is still a late-round prospect, but I liked what I saw on game day.
There were a few players that could have had better weeks. While it was out of his control, Jack Anderson definitely dropped on many draft boards after measuring in with 31 5/8-inch arms. He had a solid week of play, but that number alone will scare teams away. Alex Leatherwood also struggled a bit more than most in one-on-one drills. The long-time Alabama starter failed to cement his status as a first-round pick and likely dropped out of the Day 1 conversation.
Deonte Brown scares me as well. After weighing in at 364 pounds, he got beat a few times in pass protection. I worry that he is not quick enough at his size to contend with the speed of NFL defenders.
Top defensive linemen fall flat, tons of depth emerges
I was really excited to see how Florida State’s Marvin Wilson, Pittsburgh’s Patrick Jones II, Miami’s Quincy Roche and Wake Forest’s Carlos Basham Jr. would fair with all eyes on them. Roche and Basham excelled, but Wilson and Jones left a lot to be desired. Wilson needed a big week to erase the concerns about his lackluster senior season. He showed flashes of his 2019 form, but did not dominate as he should have in Mobile. Same can be said for Jones. He had a great moment when he registered a sack in the actual game, but he had an uninspiring week of practice.
Roche was nearly unstoppable. He showed impeccable speed off the edge and an explosive first step. Few opposing linemen were able to stop him during the week’s one-on-one drills or during Saturday’s game. He will definitely be in the mix to go late on Day 1 or early on Day 2. Basham should be in the same boat following a strong week. He looked comfortable with his hand in the ground playing along the defensive line. He showcased versatility and pass rushing prowess.
Game day turned out to be a field day for the defensive linemen. Osa Odighizuwa of UCLA blew past Deonte Brown and nearly forced a strip sack of Kellen Mond. That capped off a pretty solid week from him. Jonathan Cooper of Ohio State had a great practice week and showed up on Saturday as well with a couple of disruptive plays. Pittsburgh’s Rashad Weaver dominated along the interior of the line. I viewed him as more of a standup edge rusher heading into the week given his size, but he stuffed the run consistently and made life hell for some interior offensive linemen.
Don’t be surprised if Cameron Sample and Janarious Robinson hear their names called before the end of Day 2. They both had stellar weeks and will definitely be sending scouts back to the tape. Notre Dame’s duo of Daelin Hayes and Ade Ogundeji both impressed as well. The top of this draft might lack an elite prospect, but there seems to be some solid depth.
Linebackers came to play
This year’s group of linebackers stood out in a big way, making tons of plays throughout the practice week and into the weekend. Jabril Cox, a grad transfer from North Dakota State who played for LSU in 2020, was everywhere. He looked comfortable lining up in the slot, covering running backs out of the backfield and making sure tackles against the run. He has three-down linebacker potential and received nothing but glowing remarks from his teammates.
He was not alone. K.J. Britt was one of the most surprising players of the week for me. I was not very familiar with him coming into the week, but he dominated practice and made a big impact during the game. The former Auburn linebacker looks instinctive and confident in the middle of the field. He has the makings of a true middle linebacker. Additionally, South Alabama’s Riley Cole showed out in his home stadium. He flew to the football and dropped the hammer in a couple of situations.
It was not an incredibly deep group, but the top guys made a difference. Ohio State’s Baron Browning and Justin Hilliard did nothing to hurt their stock either. Both are athletic backers with a nose for the football.
Defensive backs ensure rough day for quarterbacks
This was not the most star-studded group of defensive backs to ever attend the Senior Bowl, but they sure showed up on game day. Minnesota’s Benjamin St. Juste stood head and shoulders above the rest. His length was put to good use as he consistently disrupted passes downfield. He has some versatility to play at safety as well, but I think he could be a starting corner in the right system.
Not to be outdone, Richie Grant and Aaron Robinson improved their draft stocks. Both former UCF defensive backs fared very well in one-on-ones. Grant, who typically lines up at safety, showed his versatility by playing on the boundary. He made a number of plays throughout the week and could genuinely be the first safety to come off the board in a class that lacks a clear cut No. 1 option. Robinson won the week with physicality. He does not have all the measurables you would like to see from a starting corner, but there were a lot of receivers who struggled to get off the line of scrimmage when facing him.
I came into the week excited to see Elijah Molden take the field. He did nothing to hurt his stock, but it was his former Washington teammate that caught my eye more. Keith Taylor Jr. showed flashes of being a shutdown corner. He was incredibly sticky in man coverage and made more than his fair share of pass breakups.
Another corner that I think made himself some money is Tre Brown from Oklahoma. He is a bit undersized at 5’9″, but he flew around the field and had multiple interceptions in practice. His upside might be limited by his size, but his effort and ball skills still make him a valuable mid-round commodity.
On the flip side, I don’t know that any player’s stock dropped more than Thomas Graham Jr.’s. The former Oregon corner struggled more than most in one-on-one drills. He got absolutely torched by Demetric Felton biting on a double move. He is not physical enough at the point of attack and he has poor discipline with his eyes. He has the traits to develop into a good corner, but he looks like a project rather than a pro-ready option.
It was a similar week for Mark Webb from Georgia. He could not keep up with some of the speedy receivers on the field. I would not be surprised if he ends up being an undrafted free agent.
A couple of intriguing position changes
One of the great things about the Senior Bowl is that coaches will ask players to spend some time in positions they maybe didn’t play in college, but could in the pros. Dillon Radunz got kicked inside to guard despite measuring in well. He had mixed success with the switch. I think he can still be an NFL tackle, but I suppose this would increase his value by giving teams some more versatility.
Another notable offensive line position switch was Jimmy Morrissey moving to guard. He started 47 games for Pittsburgh at center. Much like Radunz, playing another position isn’t a bad thing for his versatility, but I think he fits best at center and it worries me he could not beat out Drake Jackson for the starting reps.
The buzziest position change of all was definitely Demetric Felton shifting to wide receiver after spending his career at UCLA as a running back. He played a bit of both positions in practice and the game. He is simply an offensive weapon at this point. He reminds of a player like Curtis Samuel. He will carve out a role on an NFL offense.
And that will do it. It feels very weird to have the calendar turn to February and not be getting excited for the combine. In the meantime, it will be back to film study trying to learn whatever I can before the draft rolls around in April. Be on the lookout for a new mock draft coming Monday after the Super Bowl when the draft order will officially be set.