The Senior Bowl practices came to a close on Thursday afternoon on a beautiful sunny day in Mobile, Alabama. Both squads got in some solid work before it was time to head to the hotel and rest up for the game on Saturday afternoon. Here are my observations from the day.
- Having two quarterbacks like Josh Allen (Wyoming) and Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) at the Senior Bowl made all the difference in the world this week. When those two got under center for any 7-on-7 or team period, the entirety of Ladd-Peebles Stadium took notice. It was most evident when the North squad did some team red zone work. All eyes were on those two gunslingers and the intensity of the drill certainly went up a notch or three.
- Allen made a throw to Cedrick Wilson (Boise State) for a touchdown that was the epitome of Allen's entire draft resume. When he flashes the tools, oh…boy, they're so very nice. I mean, that throw to Wilson was a freakin' laser (cue the Dr. Evil sound bite). I haven't seen many NFL quarterbacks make that throw, much less any quarterbacks. He let fly on a rope from about the 16 or 17 yard line halfway into the end zone. Had any defensive player gotten a hand in the way, it would've broken a hand or a finger for sure. The other thing about it was that there was really not a lot of space to fit the ball in to Wilson, yet Allen did and made it look easy.
- Mayfield impressed me with his feel and patience in the pocket this week. One throw, in particular, got my attention. During a team session, he took a shotgun snap and then stayed in the pocket to wait for his routes to develop. What was so impressive was how calm he looked. He didn't look like a quarterback looking to escape or flee. He just made his reads and then he let it fly. He threw a frozen rope right over the middle, about 22-24 yards in the air on a line to Michael Gallup (Colorado State) for a first down. Mayfield hit Gallup right in stride, behind two linebackers, in front of the safeties, right in the bread basket.
- In that same goal line drill, Mayfield showed how he can get to his second read as well. He had double slants with two outside receivers to his left. He knew he had to let it go quickly, so as he took the snap he cocked to fire to the inside slant. Unfortunately, the linebacker jumped that route, so Mayfield pulled down, re-cocked and quickly fired to the second slant on the outside. Receiver DaeSean Hamilton (Penn State) had it go through his hands for the first time all week as Mayfield did throw it a bit high. Either way, though, Mayfield showed how he can quickly get through his reads and make the right choice.
- South defensive end/outside linebacker Marcus Davenport (UTSA) finally opened a can of, well, you know, on the South offensive tackles. We've all been waiting to see whether Davenport could reach down and find that nasty. Today, especially in a two minute team period, he did. He was in the quarterback's face on nearly every single play for a whole drive and ended the drive by hitting the ball out of the quarterback's hand and into the waiting arms of a South defensive back. THAT Marcus Davenport has top 15 pick potential but it's imperative that he match that intensity every rep, every game, every opportunity.
Check out some of the best shots from Senior Bowl practice in Mobile, Alabama. (Photo credit: AP Images.)
- South defensive end/linebacker/safety candidate Shaquem Griffin (UCF) was a menace as well during that two minute drill, rushing the edge and giving the tackles multiple issues. I'm not ashamed to say that I love everything about that young man and I will cheer for him no matter where he ends up in 2018 and beyond.
- Slot receiver Braxton Berrios is a route running beast. When he's in the slot, he's nearly automatic and it's clear that he has the respect of every defensive back on the North roster. Even when he ran some perimeter receiver routes today, he won repeatedly. Think of the best slot receivers in the game and he can put himself right in that class in the right situation in the future. I'm not sure that he's as dynamic as guys like Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman or Jamison Crowder, but that man can get open in a phone booth.
- One of those North defensive backs that tried to cover Berrios and actually had a little success was Duke Dawson (Florida). I think that Dawson is a ready made nickel, right now, tomorrow in the league, but he really got my attention today with his ability to mirror and break to and through the ball. He got his hands on a few balls today that were completions against other defensive backs. He's tough. He's versatile. I wanted to see how he would react out on the perimeter this week and he answered the bell.
- Another North squad defensive back that continued his ascent was Taron Johnson (Weber State). So quick. That guy can break on the ball in a heartbeat. He got taken to school one time by Cedrick Wilson (Boise State) but that was really it on Thursday. He's strong, quick and transitions as quickly as any defensive back I've seen in this draft class.
- South offensive tackle Joe Noteboom (TCU) had some outstanding one-on-one pass rush reps on Thursday afternoon. He struggled a bit during team, especially against Davenport, but he's shown me that he has some potential to play tackle at the next level.
- South outside linebacker Marquis Haynes (Ole Miss) has always been faster than anyone on the offensive line, even in the SEC. As such, he often just ran right around them. The Texans staff has been working with him to be more of a rusher, to think about his rush. When he used an inside move to beat one of the South team tackles, there was a big cheer from the Texans defensive coaches. If that guy can learn an arsenal of pass rush moves, he's going to be one heck of a pass rushing prospect.
- South offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn (Georgia) left practice a bit early after meeting with the Texans medical staff, but that guy was unbeatable during one-on-ones on Thursday. After spending much of his career at left tackle at Georgia, his move one spot over, which could be more problematic than it appears, has been nearly seamless. I would love to see him in a Texans jersey this fall. Did I just say that out loud?
- After I finished that note on Wynn, I saw Alex Flanagan's note on Wynn's torn labrum. A TORN LABRUM and he STILL dominated dudes at the Senior Bowl???!!?!?! You've got to be kidding! He played through it at the end of the season while he faced Auburn (SEC Championship), Oklahoma (Rose Bowl) and Alabama (national championship game). I'm completely stunned that he could play through it at this level. I'm even more of a fan now.
- One guy I haven't mentioned much from the South squad is tight end Ian Thomas (Indiana). He's built like a true Y-tight end and has some decent hands in the passing game as well. Jordan Akins (UCF) is one heck of a pass catcher too. I was watching the offensive line and defensive line go after it on one end of the field, but I could see the tight ends making plays on goal line 7-on-7; Thomas and Akins made a few plays.
- Early in the week, I was not overly impressed with receiver Allen Lazard (Iowa State). As the week unfolded, though, he was more and more impressive and impactful. He must have caught about a dozen passes in the end zone in all the different one-on-one, 7-on-7 and/or team drills. He embarrassed a number of North squad cornerbacks throughout the past two days. I was a fan of his heading into this week and although he had a slow start, he remains on my list.
- Guard Cole Madison (Washington State) had a better day on Thursday, holding up better against bull rushes in one-on-one.
- One of the most impressive defensive linemen in one-on-one drills all week long was Justin Jones (NC State). Total dude. He did a lot of bull rushing on Wednesday and he played off of that today. He used an excellent bull/snatch move where he got the center to re-anchor against his bull rush. Once he felt that resistance, he snatched the center right to the ground. The more and more I watched Jones, the more impressed I was.
- Running back Akrum Wadley (Iowa) isn't a big guy in the slightest. When he stands next to fellow North team running backs Dimitri Flowers (Oklahoma), Kalen Ballage (Arizona State) and Jaylen Samuels (NC State), he's lilliputian. But, get that guy the ball in space and look the heck out. He caught a screen today in the middle of the field and then the fun began. He made one cut after another, but he never once lost his momentum going downfield. He never had to stop to make a cut. It was just so fluid and smooth. He might end up being a third down specialist back; however, picking up the blitz will be tough. Either way, I like the ball in his hands a lot.
- Offensive tackle Jamil Demby (Maine) has been steady throughout the week for the North squad in most of his drills, individual and team.
- Tight end Mike Gesecki (Penn State) is a pass catching wizard at the position. Think about this for a second, while at Penn State, Bill O'Brien recruited Jessie James, Adam Breneman (injured this week at the Senior Bowl) and Gesecki, who committed to Penn State before O'Brien left for Houston.
- We saw this a few years ago when LSU played Texas Tech in the Academy Sports Outdoors Texas Bowl - D.J. Chark (LSU) can flat out fly. Wow, he can run. He ran a reverse today and it looked like guys had angles on him and he outran them all. He might be a one trick pony at this point, but it's an elite "trick". His receiving skills are improving too under the watchful eye this week of Texans receiver coach John Perry.
- I got asked a question today on Twitter - which was a better option at nickelback - Duke Dawson (Florida) or M.J. Stewart (North Carolina)? I just said yes. They're both very good and could excel at that position in the future. I think Dawson is more dynamic, but Stewart might be a bit more physical, handsy in coverage, etc.
Well, I'll cut it there. Thanks for reading all week long. See ya soon - OTAs are right around the corner, seemingly.