At first blush, it appeared that the Senior Bowl had hit a QB famine this year, after having Heisman Trophy winners on their rosters for the past 2 years. But after the fact, it might be more of an indicator that the QB field of graduates at that position was down a tad this time around. And it is certainly true that JOE BURROW had nothing left to prove by showing up after a Heisman and a national Championship for his team. However, JIM NAGY and his staff worked their butts off and ended up with JORDAN LOVE being in town after graduating in December. Then shortly before game week, JUSTIN HERBERT/Oregon and JALEN HURTS/Oklahoma, and formerly of the Crimson Tide, both came into the fold. As a result the game had 3 of the 4 best, healthy QB’s for the 2020 NFL Draft in town.
The biggest winner by far was HERBERT, who got off to a flying start when he weighed in at 227 lbs. and looking fit. He had reportedly played this past season at almost 240. Nobody had been complaining about his earlier weight, but I heard several conversations about how his sub-230 made him look a lot trimmer. His 10″ hand measurement ended any discussion about that physical feature. HERBERT displayed a strong arm and excellent accuracy right from the opening practice. He was also reported to be winning interviews with scouts, as well as gaining the locker room and huddle with his new teammates. He finished off the week with game MVP honors despite being on the losing team. He finished the game going 9/12 for 83 yards and 1 TD.
JORDAN LOVE, Utah State, got mixed reviews for his week’s work, but he may have answered enough questions to put himself in play as a potential First Round Pick, albeit late in the round. Physically, he of course looked the part at almost 6’4, and weighing 223 lbs. Of importance to yours truly, and others, he won the QB hand size contest with hands that measured 10 5/8″. The Big P word, Potential, is currently hanging around LOVE’s neck.
The biggest winner amongst fans at the game, and practices, was HURTS, just by his presence. He is still a hero in the State of Alabama (except on the plains) for his work for the Crimson Tide. But in reality, you might be hard pressed to find NFL personnel people who would proclaim him as any more than an early Day 3 Draft selection. The number one criticism from yours truly, and others, was his tendency to hold the ball just a little bit too long. As a result, open receivers were not so open by the time the ball got to them. In the pro game, a QB has to anticipate where his receivers will be and often must release the ball before they actually show separation. HURTS did not do that a lot and he ended up 6/13 for 53 yards and 1 INT in the game. I think he showed enough overall to still have believers that he can handle NFL play, but is far from ready to take over a team any time soon.
Small school star KYLE DUGGER/S/Lenoir-Rhyne wrapped up an impressive week with a strong game day performance. He topped all defenders in the game with 7 total tackles and a PD. He is clearly deserving of a Top 100 Prospect ranking, to my eyes. Due to his athleticism and size (6’006/217), I expect a creative Defensive Coordinator to use him in a range of roles from LB to S at the next level. Great week for a small school star against top level competition. By the end of the week, I was hearing some comparison talk of DUGGER to JABRILL PEPPERS coming out of Michigan.
The other small-school star, S JEREMY CHINN/Southern Illinois, had the misfortune to pull something in the first quarter and miss the remainder of the game. But he, like DUGGER, had already shown ability and potential with his practice performances all week. At 6’3/219, he shows many of the same skills as DUGGER. Watch for both of them at the Combine in a few weeks.
Another defender who I want to mention for his showing for the entire week in Mobile, is DaVON HAMILTON/DT/Ohio State. You don’t often see a 327 lb. interior-DL lead his team in tackles for the game, which HAMILTON did. He also got credit for 1/2 sack. He dominated almost every OL that was asked to block him during the week. His bulk, muscle, and surprising agility surely lifted him to Day 2 Draft consideration. At his size, and with his style of play, he reminds me greatly of another former Buckeye DT named JOHNATHAN HANKINS, who has been stopping the run for the Raiders in recent seasons. I also feel that he had the most impactful week in Mobile for a DT since a guy named JARRAN REED from ‘Bama.
I also wanted to give a shout-out for the effort of CALVIN THROCKMORTON/OL/Oregon. Now follow closely here… THROCKMORTON was in St. Pete for the Shrine Bowl the week before our exodus to Mobile. His rather short (32 3/8″) arms had helped precipitate his successful move from OT to OG at that venue. On Monday of the Senior Bowl, OT PRINCE TEGA WANOGHO failed his physical and was ruled out of the Senior Bowl. By the end of the week, the South was down to 7 healthy OL for the actual game. THROCKMORTON had been called in to add some depth. After even more OL went down he was inserted onto the South roster as #72. In the game, CALVIN played OC, OG, and OT. He struggled at OT and got some criticism for his performance. I want to defend him by saying he was better than TERENCE STEELE and TYRE PHILLIPS, who preceded him out at LT. He was also solid in his Interior play. We had already seen that OT was not his spot against top competition the previous week, but he took a big bullet for his team. Bravo to Mr. Throckmorton for his play, and his team first attitude.
A major pleasant surprise for my eyes in Mobile was Florida Atlantic TE HARRISON BRYANT. Coming into his star game appearance, I had some major concerns about flaws in his game, considering that many folks had him ranked as a Top 5 TE prospect. I had seen 3 of his games at FAU this past season, and he left me concerned about dropped balls and a lack of zest for blocking. While I still think he’s more of a move/slot TE than an inline guy, he surprised me with some serious effort in his blocking in Mobile. He wasn’t a devastating blocker, but he got in the way of some defender’s on running plays and he caught most everything thrown his way. I was also pleased to see him weigh-in at 6’5/242 lbs. BRYANT moved up a notch in my eyes, overall.
Time to mention an athletic specimen who toiled away in college in a presently poor football program at UCONN. It can often be complicated to get a read on a player when his team seldom wins. However, MATTHEW PEART was recognized on multiple post season honors teams, and was recommended highly for Senior Bowl inclusion. My first look at PEART came at the weigh-in, and his numbers made my head snap up. PEART measured in at 6’064″, 310 lbs., 9 3/4″hands, 35 1/8’ arms, and an 86 1/8″ wingspan. To my eyes, he was a long, lean, muscled athlete. He held his own during practices and was rock solid for most of the game at RT. Most impressive were his footwork and mobility in pass-pro. He may not be an instant NFL starter, but he might be great, and a long term starter in a couple of seasons if his desire is high and he gets quality coaching.
This year’s WR class at the Senior Bowl was representative of the entire receiver prospect class, in general. Plenty of talent and lots of variety to go around. Best of all, quite a few of this year’s receivers have serious Special Teams experience. By the end of the week, one of my favorite players was QUARTNEY DAVIS of Texas A&M. Not to sell him short, but he may be exactly what some teams are looking for in a move-the-sticks, possession receiver. He has traditional pro wideout size at 6’01/199 lbs. His 9 3/4″ hands are very reliable. He doesn’t have the speed to be a deep threat, but he runs good patterns and works the sideline really well. I saw few, if any, drops by this guy all week. In the game, he caught 4 balls for 53-yards. I’d label him as a 3rd Round Pick that will likely contribute early as a No.3/4 wideout. Long term, he may have No.2 receiver potential.
I’d been watching a lot of Iowa games again this past season. Coach KIRK FERENTZ and his staff always have polished, fundamentally sound players. Although only a few develop into NFL stars, a lot of ex-Hawkeyes dot pro rosters. Since October, I have been touting Iowa DB MICHAEL OJEMUDIA as a solid pro prospect. But my eyes see a pro S, not a CB. He does not have the speed and quickness to handle top wideouts, but he is a physical presence at 6’0/199. He also has some ball skills that should translate well as a deep defender in multiple pro secondary schemes. He is also a dependable tackler downfield or in run support. OJEMUDIA was all over the field during practices, and was the second leading tackler for the North in the game with 5. My evaluation stands firm; he’s a potential 3rd or 4th Round Pick as a Safety.
One more player that I want to mention, because he showed that though currently unpolished as a football player, he’s a fine athlete who appears to have a very high upside. He’s ANTONIO GANDY-GOLDEN, WR, Liberty. Most talent evaluators were anxious to see him in action this week against elite competition. He did not blow us away with this week’s work, but he flashed enough talent to remain a highly scrutinized player between now and the April Draft. Right now, he’s still a better athlete than he is a football player, but I can see more than a few NFL coaches that would luv to mold this lump of clay.
A few years back, HUE JACKSON and his Browns staff were in town coaching one of the teams. As the week progressed, there were some serious questions arising about how they conducted their practices (among other things), as a very high number of their players had to leave the practice fields with injuries. I found it interesting that we did not hear the hue and cry about this year’s Bengals coaching staff, which lost 10 players from their active roster to injuries by game time.
Let me clarify one thing when it comes to injuries. The overall philosophy of the Senior Bowl is to take no chances with a minor injury becoming a major one during the game week. When in doubt, a player is declared out of the proceedings for almost any injury situation. It is a good philosophy and serves the players, their agents, and the game itself well, especially in the long run.
Last year the Senior Bowl almost hit that double-digit mark of First Round draftees with a strong group. In general, this year’s rosters were a bit down, especially when injuries began to take away some key players and game day depth, but I can see 8 guys who left here with a shot at a first round grade:
Marlon Davidson DE Auburn
Justin Herbert QB Oregon
Javon Kinlaw DT South Carolina
Zack Baun LB Wisconsin
DaVon Hamilton DT Ohio State
Josh Jones OT Houston
Jordan Love QB Utah State
Jason Strowbridge DE North Carolina
My gut tells me that 6 of these 8 may crack Round 1.
I am also not convinced that the game will be able to top its 92 Draftees from last year, but at closer to 80 (my guess) this year, they will still have done well getting the cream of the prospects to assemble in Mobile.