Senior Bowl practice

10 Things I Learned At Senior Bowl Practices

  • 2021 NFL Draft
  • 2021 Senior Bowl
  • Aaron Robinson
  • Amari Rodgers
  • Ambry Thomas
  • Austin Watkins Jr.
  • Benjamin St. Juste
  • brian flores
  • Cade Johnson
  • Carlos Basham
  • Chazz Surratt
  • D'Wayne Eskridge
  • Daelin Hayes
  • Damar Hamlin
  • David Moore
  • Derrick Barnes
  • Dillon Radunz
  • Draft
  • Elerson Smith
  • Feleipe Franks
  • Frank Darby
  • Hunter Long
  • Ian Book
  • Ifeatu Melifonwu
  • Jabril Cox
  • Jamie Newman
  • Josh Palmer
  • Justin Hilliard
  • Kellen Mond
  • Kenny Yeboah
  • KJ Britt
  • Levi Onwuzurike
  • Mac Jones
  • Marvin Wilson
  • Matt Rhule
  • NFL
  • Nico Collins
  • Noah Gray
  • Osa Odighizuwa
  • Paddy Fisher
  • Quinn Meinerz
  • Richie Granrt
  • Richie Grant
  • Sage Surratt
  • Sam Ehlinger
  • Senior Bowl
  • Shawn Davis
  • Shi Smith
  • Spencer Brown
  • Tarron Johnson
  • Thomas Graham Jr.
  • Tre' McKitty
  • Tuf Borland
  • Wyatt Hubert
By Mitchell Wolfe January 30, 2021 0 Comment
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On Friday afternoon, practices concluded at Hancock Whitney Stadium. With the week of practices at the Senior Bowl over, players were awarded honors by their teammates as they prepared for the game on Saturday afternoon.

Over the course of the week, my colleagues at the Brawl Network turned over multiple ideas of how to recap the days’ events, and eventually the week at large. We ended up mostly doing our daily winners (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday). But we thought this would be a fun way to wrap up everything we saw.

1. Mac Jones is a first-round quarterback.

Mac Jones was the best QB in Mobile by a wide margin. Jones began the week with a few struggles, missing receivers on odd looking throws. Upon further investigation, however, it may have been the receivers’ fault, as Jones and the coaches could be seen discussing it with them further. But Jones got significantly better each day. He led multiple touchdown drives in scrimmages and made multiple gorgeous throws to hit receivers in stride.

Jones displayed great leadership throughout the week, but I’ll only give my favorite example. On sprinted across the field to try to rip the ball away from the defender. Except Jones was not the quarterback who threw the pick; he wasn’t playing at the time. So, he ran down an interception he had nothing to do with, tried to rip the ball out, then gave the defender a congratulatory slap on the head. If you don’t want a guy like that on your team, I don’t know what to tell you.

2. Every other QB there should not be taken before Day 3.

Conversely, the other quarterbacks did not impress. Kyle Trask dropped out of the event after an ankle injury. On the American team, Kellen Mond was relatively inconsistent throughout the week; he didn’t make any catastrophically bad plays but did not really wow anyone beyond his running ability and athleticism. Jamie Newman had the most volatile week; he flashed incredible arm talent throwing the ball deep, but his decision-making was terrible, and his accuracy was lackluster.

The National team’s quarterbacks were noticeably more consistent. Consistently bad, that is. Sam Ehlinger was probably the highest ranked of the three quarterbacks on his team and could have really improved his stock with a great Senior Bowl. But he failed to capitalize on this opportunity. He struggled to read the field, make good decisions, and deliver an accurate ball. Ehlinger’s arm also looked noticeably weaker than it did on tape. I heard that he was trying a new delivery and I believe he was limping at one point. So maybe those were the reasons behind his weak-looking arm. Ehlinger also struggled handling snaps, such that he had to stay after practice to work on exchanges with Creed Humphery. Personally, I think Humphery may have been trying to sabotage the career of his former rival with bad snaps, but I digress.

Ian Book also struggled to deliver an accurate ball and his arm looked even weaker than Ehlinger’s. Book showed his trademark ability to instinctively escape the pocket and pick up some yards. But when you’re wearing a red jersey in practice, I don’t really care how well you’re able to run. Finally, I think Feleipe Franks is going to be a very, very, very good tight end in the NFL. He’s got arm strength and athleticism, but basically nothing else.

Based on their practices at the Senior Bowl, Mond is the only one that even has a chance to go on the second day of the draft (rounds 2-3), and it would be as a third-round compensatory pick. Someone will take Newman far too early because of his flashes, but he needs a lot of work. If Easton Stick can get drafted, so can Sam Ehlinger, but it won’t be before the fifth round. I wouldn’t bother spending a pick on Ian Book or Feleipe Franks unless I really needed a third quarterback.

3. The defensive line position group was the best.

This could be considered somewhat of a hot take. But I really don’t think a single defensive lineman had a bad week. Daelin Hayes and Elerson Smith were dominant throughout the week. Levi Onwuzurike and Marvin Wilson were excellent in different ways before suffering injuries. Wyatt Hubert’s measurements were very concerning, but all he did was make plays. Osa Odighizuwa and Carlos Basham Jr. performed very well rushing from the interior.

I would give the caveat that the one-on-one drills probably favor the defensive linemen. But most of the linemen, be they interior defensive linemen or edge rushers/linebackers, they were also frequently collapsing the pocket and getting pressure on the quarterback in scrimmages and team work. I only named seven players that stood out the most to me, but I could tell you positive things about every defensive lineman at the Senior Bowl.

Senior Bowl Practice Winners: Thursday

4. But wide receivers were not far behind.

Perhaps the only reason I say the receivers were not as good as the defensive lineman is that the drills do not favor them as much. Furthermore, as previously mentioned, most of the quarterbacks struggled, which could have contributed to some receivers struggling. Regardless, while there were a few wideouts that struggled, the vast majority of them were excellent.

D’Wayne Eskridge went from a Day 3 pick to possibly a first-round selection, according to Todd McShay. Nico Collins, Frank Darby, Cade Johnson, and Sage Surratt, all performed very well for the National squad. Josh Palmer, Amari Rodgers, Shi Smith, and Austin Watkins Jr. shined for the American team. Last year’s wide receiver class was considered among the best ever. While this year’s class might not have six taken in the first round, it may produce just as many quality players.

5. Tight ends and defensive backs filled out the middle of their class very well.

I would say all of the tight ends played quite well throughout the week. Many considered last year’s tight end class to be one of the worst in a long time. This year’s class contains one elite player (Kyle Pitts) and another one that should be in contention for a first-round pick as well (Pat Freiermuth). Brevin Jordan follows that duo for most people, but his hold on TE3 in this class is tenuous.

With a very solid all-around week, Hunter Long could be threatening for that spot. Further down the board, Tre’ McKitty played extremely well all week and John Bates surprised a bit as a late addition. Noah Gray and Kenny Yeboah had a few bad plays, but surely put out more good reps than bad ones.

At defensive back, a few players really struggled, but others solidified their stock with good play. On the National team, Damar Hamlin was surely the best safety on his team and maybe the best one at the Senior Bowl overall. Ambry Thomas and Thomas Graham Jr. performed very well, especially as nickel corners, while Benjamin St. Juste may have improved his stock more than any other player.

From the American squad, Richie Grant and Shawn Davis formed a deadly pair of safeties, both picking off the quarterbacks multiple times. Aaron Robinson and Ifeatu Melifonwu excelled in the drills, earning praise from many draft analysts. Robinson probably has the best shot to go in the first round. But most of the rest of the defensive backs should be value picks in the later rounds that can help fill out teams’ rosters.

6. The linebackers could not cover running backs in Man.*

This observation comes with a disclaimer. Based on how these drills were structured, the linebackers were frequently put at a disadvantage, especially in the one-on-ones. Next, this claim does not apply to KJ Britt, Justin Hilliard, and Chazz Surratt. Jabril Cox played well for the most part, but the backs still managed to catch the ball against him.

Every other linebacker at the Senior Bowl struggled immensely covering running backs, allowing significant amounts of separation. Tuf Borland, Derrick Barnes, and Paddy Fisher were all frequently victimized by a running back group that, frankly, did not overwhelmingly impress themselves. The rest of the linebackers were more inconsistent in coverage, but the number of negative reps certainly exceeded the number of positive ones.

Senior Bowl Practice Winners: Wednesday

7. The small school prospects belonged (for the most part).

Every year, the Senior Bowl invites several small school standouts to Mobile. Let’s get the few who didn’t out of the way. Christian Uphoff intrigued me going into the Senior Bowl because he had good size and the small school defensive backs last year were very impressive (Jeremy Chinn, Kyle Dugger). Unfortunately, Uphoff could not live up to that example; he did not look like an NFL-caliber player. Surprisingly, he was elected as the Practice Player of the Week for the National team safeties. I did not get enough looks at Bryan Mills to make a determination on him (see Thing #10) and Robert Rochell struggled before getting hurt.

Moving on, any discussion of small school prospects begins with Quinn Meinerz. From DIII Wisconsin-Whitewater, Meinerz began the week working at center. He struggled a bit early on, but once he got his bearings snapping he began mauling defenders for the rest of the week. He routinely stonewalled Power Five defensive linemen in pass protection put them in the dirt on run plays. The two Northern Iowa players acquitted themselves well too; Spencer Brown steadily improved throughout the week, while Elerson Smith was among the most dominant defensive linemen there.

Dillon Radunz from North Dakota State solidified his status as a fringe first-rounder. South Dakota State wide receiver Cade Johnson performed very well as a receiver and punt returner. Finally, David Moore from Grambling State assuaged concerns about his movement skills despite his size and frequently put his power and strength on display. There were many other players from similar schools that played very well, but Jim Nagy and his scouting staff at the Senior Bowl did another excellent job filling out the roster with some small school stars.

8. No more Belichick disciples at the Senior Bowl.

Last year, Matt Patricia and the Detroit Lions staff earned the ire of the media and draft analysts at the Senior Bowl. They devoted significant chunks of time to installing special teams and did not provide attendees with many scout-able reps. A year later, Matt Patricia has been fired and the Lions have an entirely new staff. But another Belichick protégé and his coaching staff were running practice in Mobile. Sadly, it was more of the same. Before I really dig into this, I have one minor administrative quibble: next year, if the teams are going to be named National and American again, please have those names match the conference from which the coaching staffs hail (National = NFC, American = AFC).

Throughout the morning practices, Flores and his coaching staff would intersperse periods of actually interesting drills and scrimmages with long sessions of punting and kicking and running down those kicks. Now, we understand that not all of these players will be starters that would deign to suffer special teams duty. Additionally, it’s not all about the media, draft analysts, and scouts. One of the Brawl Network’s senior members who has been to many Senior Bowls noted that Flores and the Dolphins’ staff were coaching to prepare their team for a legitimate game. Furthermore, the National practices seemed to lack intensity or intentionality from most of the coaches.

Conversely, Matt Rhule and the Carolina Panthers coaching staff brought the energy. Every American practice began exactly on time, if not early. Rhule was certainly living on Coughlin time. Furthermore, there seemed to be a specific schedule and plan for each day. There was usually some teamwork, frequently red zone or two-minute drills to get the blood going. Then the players stretched as a group, offense and defense facing each other, before doing positional drills then moving back into scrimmages. Additionally, the Panthers’ staff looked significantly more energetic and excited to be coaching and teaching the young players. Rhule’s somewhat tinny voice cut through the air. A video emerged of him calling the team together to exhort them to work hard and allow themselves to be coached so everyone got better seemed to really reinvigorate the players.

In the future, for the sake of those attending practices, please Jim Nagy: no more former-Belichick coaches. Let the players play real football; maybe run special teams stuff before or after people leave. Or just limit time spent on special teams.

9. Based on what we saw in practice, the American team should wax the National.

This is mainly based on the level of quarterback play. It could also be tainted by the differences in how the practices were run. But, with those two things in mind, based on how the teams looked in practice, there’s no reason to believe that the National team has a chance against the American. The American squad looked equal to or better than every position group on the National squad. Now, if Mac Jones elects not to play in the game, which is a very realistic possibility, we have a game on our hands. But on the whole, the American team looked significantly better throughout the week. Whether that actually helps them on game day is obviously still up in the air.

Senior Bowl Practice Winners: Tuesday

10. Scouting the Senior Bowl is not easy.

This should NOT be interpreted as dissuasion or a warning to stay away. The Senior Bowl is an incredible event and should be on every draft fan’s bucket list. But if you’re going to go, and actually try to scout every player, a certain ski instructor from Colorado has some words for you. Every position group is scattered across the field, some even splitting off further (cornerbacks and safeties). You have to accept you’re going to miss players, and you’re going miss plays. Personally, I did not get enough looks at Ifeatu Melifonwu or Cameron Sample, who is lauded as two of the best players here.

Furthermore, accept that one rep does not define a player. If you can, ask around; ask people about players that stuck out to them, rather than asking about specific individual players. Getting names from other people should help you look at guys you may have missed. If you have the time or the access, you can go back and watch the practice film. But if you want to limit it to your live viewing experience, accept you’re just going to miss some guys and even some who position groups on a day. And that’s okay. It’s an extremely fun event where you watch and talk football for up to 20 hours per day. I would recommend it to anyone.

Those are the Ten Things I Learned at the Senior Bowl this year. The game airs at 2:30 PM EST on NFL Network. We’ll have more content coming later this weekend about the Senior Bowl, and even more down the pipeline as draft season intensifies.

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I cover and write about the NFL, the NFL Draft, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. I am originally from Hershey, PA and was raised a Pittsburgh sports fan. I went to Boston College for undergrad and am currently finishing a Master's degree in Sports Business at Temple University, concentrating in Sport Analytics.

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