The best senior football players in the nation (and some juniors that graduated too) have descended on football mecca, aka Mobile, Alabama, for this week's Senior Bowl. Oh, and so has Mother Nature who decided she'll reign thunderstorms from above on Wednesday.
As such, the practices will move indoors on Wednesday, which means no media and, as a result, nothing from me. So, that will make the Senior Bowl a short, but still productive and informative trip. What did I learn today?
Here are my observations from the day including both North and South squads.
1. Let's start with the clear winner from weigh-ins and that was New Mexico State linebacker Terrill Hanks (6-2, 234 lb.). I'm not sure that I've ever seen anyone that chiseled in my life. He looked more like a bodybuilder than a linebacker.
2. Now, I started with Hanks so I could transition into his day. He made his presence known with authority at practice. The two best hits I saw today? Hanks and Hanks. This yoked up dude blasted running back Slippery Rock's Wes Hills (6-0 ⅝, 209 lb.) on a run play and then he handled Bruce Anderson (North Dakota State running back - 5-11 ¼, 209 lb.) on a 1-on-1 pass coverage drill. Anderson came through the A gap and was going to shoot out either way to catch a pass but before he could...BOOM...Hanks nailed him straight to the Ladd Peebles Stadium turf.
3. One of my favorites in Mobile and one of the standouts was Temple cornerback Rock Ya-Sin (5-11 ¾, 189 lb.). Transition out of his breaks. Tough. Competitive. The first name I have written down in my notes was Ya-Sin after watching him during individual movement drills. Then, in 1-on-1s he showed the mirror ability to stay with receivers and the recovery quickness on routes that looked like he was initially beat. This guy is one heck of a story and he's everything teams will want in a corner.
4. The cornerbacks were on point today throughout the day, especially on the South squad. I mentioned Ya-Sin, but Houston's Isaiah Johnson (6-2 ¼, 207 lb.) and Kentucky's Lonnie Johnson (6-2 ¼, 210 lb.) were equally as impressive. Both have length and size that teams covet in the first three rounds of this draft. Isaiah went toe-to-toe with Buffalo's talented wide out Anthony Johnson (6-2 ⅛, 211 lb.) throughout 1-on-1s. They exchanged quality reps throughout the drill. Lonnie Johnson showed similar skills on his side against a variety of receivers. I just loved the way those corners all competed and the size, length and transitional quickness they possess. They all have a smooth nature to their games, but the elite size and length really stand out.
5. One of the best players in Mobile is Mississippi State edge Montez Sweat (6-6, 252 lb.). Physically, there is no equal in Mobile, that's for sure. Even in this draft, there may not be an equal. He has 35 ⅝" arms which is nearly unthinkable for an edge rusher and he knows how to use those stems with some power. On one of his last pass rush reps, I saw him take Alabama State tackle Tytus Howard (6-6, 313 lb.) and put him straight on his wallet. I heard ohhs and ahhs and the requisite buzz in the stadium after that rep (of course, I was doing it too after that play). I mean, Sweat just stabbed Howard with the long arm and Howard went down. That's the type of play that will leave an impression on a team with a pass rush/edge need.
6. Quarterback wise on the South squad, Auburn's Jarrett Stidham (6-2 ⅜, 214 lb.) is really heads and shoulders above any other quarterback on that roster. Buffalo's Tyree Jackson (6-7, 249 lb.) turned some heads with the power in his arm but it takes a while to get the ball out of his hand. Stidham flashed the arm strength some questioned leading up to the event. He wasn't perfect, but his mechanics and ability to drive the ball were well above anyone else on that roster.
7. Clemson receiver Hunter Renfrow (5-10 ⅜, 175 lb.) walked on stage for weigh-ins and I'm telling you someone near me snickered because Renfrow looks like the furthest thing from an NFL wide receiver there is. 7 ¾" hands. 29" arms. 70" wingspan. Think about it this way, there were some linemen with over 85" wingspan. But, BUT, put pads on that Clark Kent and he becomes this Superman on the field. He can absolutely fly and I can't wait to see what his Combine 40-time is. He has a different gear when he gets the ball in his hands. The one thing, though, that he does exceptionally well is get to top speed on his routes so he can get open/separation when the quarterback needs to deliver the ball on time. He's EXCEPTIONAL in that area. I had a chance to interview him today and that'll be up on the site soon and he was as down to earth as it gets. But, that switch gets flipped on the field and he's so fun to watch. I have a feeling we'll see him play for a long time in this league.
8. Washington State left tackle Andre Dillard (6-4 ⅞, 310) arrived in Mobile on the late hype train, but that locomotive was, and is, picking up serious steam. I spoke with him and he said he hit his target weight of 310 lb. which seemed like a pipe dream for a young man that started his career at 240 lb. at WSU. He's so quick and can dance so well that he's as intriguing a left tackle prospect as I can remember here in Mobile. The funny thing is that I noticed him two years ago as I was studying another upperclassmen at WSU. He started as a redshirt sophomore and as I started to tell him that story today he chimed in "...at all of 275 lb." Well, he's packed on weight and it hasn't slowed him down. He was a hot commodity among the media types all day long, heck, I had to fight to get him away from Mike Keith, the Voice of the Tennessee Titans, just for a few minutes. I kid, I kid, Mike's a great guy, but everyone wanted a piece of Dillard which goes to show how valuable a left tackle is in this league was, is and will forever be.
9. Dillard wasn't perfect in his pass protection reps as Louisiana Tech star edge rusher Jaylon Ferguson (6-4 ⅜, 256 lb.) gave him some work with a hard outside rush and then an inside rip move on two consecutive reps. Ferguson led the nation in sacks (17.5) in 2018 and finished third in the nation (14.5) in 2016 and as a result, he's the all-time sack leader in the history of college football. So, Ferguson has some skills getting to the quarterback. His 45 sacks moved him above some guy named Suggs - Terrell Suggs. Heard of him? Yeah, me too.
10. One of the latest Senior Bowl invitations went to Texas A&M defensive tackle Daylon Mack (6-1, 327 lb.), after a stellar week at the East West Shrine Game. He stepped right in and continued to dominate as he did in St. Petersburg. His power is just immense. His legs are tree trunks and the first name that came to mind was D.J. Reader. Now, D.J. is built a little differently, but his power and ability to hold up with such strength is a hallmark of his game, just like Mack. It took Mack three years and a coaching change to really get the most out of him at Texas A&M, but a great senior season, a tremendous East West Shrine Week and a brilliant start to the Senior Bowl week have EVERYONE'S attention.
11. Mack's A&M line mate/teammate Kingsley Keke (6-2 ⅝, 286 lb.) had a solid day as well. Heck, the South offensive linemen couldn't block him on a few reps so they essentially ripped the #8 jersey right off his back. Mack made the bigger statement, so to speak, but Keke showed that he can be a versatile interior option for a team that needs a player of this caliber. And, there's one team that he REALLY wants to play for and that would be your Houston Texans (he's from Richmond, TX like yours truly).
12. Arizona State interior defender Rennell Wren (6-4 ½, 315 lb.) was a monster throughout the entire day, especially in 1-on-1 pass rush situations. There wasn't one center or guard or anyone that had a chance against Wren's quickness and power. I heard a number of people, a couple of GMs too, wondering who #95 was after a few of his reps. Wren made a HUGE first impression.
13. The North defensive linemen served up the pancakes during pass rush 1-on-1s. Oregon's Jalen Jelks (6-5 ½, 250 lb.) dished one version and Texas' Charles Omenihu (6-5 ⅝, 274 lb.) and his 36 ½ inch arms also served up one.
14. Another interior chef, if you will, was Western Illinois' defensive lineman Khalen Saunders (6-0 ⅝, 320 lb.). His day started with a decision - whether he should fly home to be with his fiancee who had just gone into labor. They both decided he needed to stay and compete and that he did. He's one of my favorites to watch, in large part due to his relentless motor and positive attitude. He's a matchup nightmare with his short, but stout and powerful stature. He delivered a pancake to one of the Wisconsin interior linemen on one pass rush rep. He had another win with a quick rip move up the field to get loose to the quarterback. When the team convened at the end of practice, he did a full flip for which the team went bonkers. I've seen him do that at some point on Twitter during the last year, but this guy is a full-on player, no matter where he lines up every play.
15. One of the late adds to the Senior Bowl was Ohio State receiver Terry McLaurin (6-0, 205 lb.). I'll be honest, he wasn't really on my radar screen at all after a decent, but unspectacular season. Now, he did average over 20 yards per catch and had 11 touchdowns, but if you asked me which receiver was THE key for OSU this year, I'd have said a few other guys. However, today, he caught my attention with his route running and his speed down the field. He burned a couple of defensive backs deep with ease. He turned around Texas' cornerback Kris Boyd (5-11 ½, 195 lb.) something wicked on a deep in route. McLaurin was brilliant and has my attention now for certain.
16. One receiver that many people wanted to see in person was UMass star Andy Isabella (5-8 ⅞, 186 lb.). Talk about route running maestro, whoa! He can just turn guys around running option routes from the slot. Now, he doesn't always snatch the ball out of the air and doesn't have the greatest pair of hands, but Isabella got open against nearly everyone. I don't know that I've ever seen anyone use his head fakes as often on his routes. The great ones can sell a route that way, but he does it almost as an OCD habit, so to speak. During team drills, the Raiders staff called for a reverse to Isabella and his speed was HIGHLY evident when he turned the corner with the rock. Obviously, he's not big at all, but his speed and ability to get separation are paramount in his game.
17. USC cornerback Iman Marshall (6-1, 203 lb.) was also a late addition to the North roster and I was impressed with how he competed. He was probably the most consistent North team cornerback in coverage throughout the day. He didn't win every rep, but one thing that stood out was that he covered without clutching/grabbing/tackling receivers as a number of cornerbacks did during the day. These college stars won't quite get that out of their system until they're forced to do it in the NFL, but the ones that can cover tighter without having to be so physical will succeed earlier. I wouldn't mind seeing him get some safety reps or even some nickel reps over the next few days, but on day one, his cornerback cover reps were solid.
18. As far as the other corners here in Mobile, Jordan Brown (6-0 ¾, 199 lb.) of South Dakota State is a personal fave, while Penn State's Amani Oruwariye (6-1 ¾, 204 lb.) looks the part but doesn't always trust his speed and technique in coverage. Washburn's Corey Ballentine (5-11 ⅜, 188 lb.) had an up and down day as he was faced with covering McLaurin a number of times during the day.
19. One of the more unknown players in Mobile that will climb up draft boards VERY soon is Washington tackle Kaleb McGary (6-8, 324 lb.). When I talked to him earlier today, he casually said to me that the first time that he stepped into the workout facility this winter, he posted a 32-inch vertical jump. Did I mention that he's 6-8, 324 pounds? Today, he went to work in pass rush 1-on-1s, burying guys rushing the passer. He's probably a bit over critical on himself, but he did say that he wanted to polish up his overall technique so he's working with long-time, legendary offensive line guru Howard Mudd to do it. That work paid off on day one. I'm telling you, he's going to be a top 40 pick in this class if his tests and measurements at the Combine match what he hinted at to me today. McGary rising.
20. I liked what Mississippi State's Elgton Jenkins (6-4 ⅜, 314 lb.) did today at center. He did move around to both guard positions and center, but he seemed really comfortable anchoring against bull rush moves and sliding and defeating spin moves at center. In fact, two of the best interior linemen reps were his on back-to-back pass rushes against said moves.
21. Charlotte produced interior defensive star Larry Ogunjobi two years ago and the 49ers are at it again with offensive lineman Nate Davis (6-3 ⅜, 317 lb.). I mean, he's built like a brick house and the huge neck roll is the perfect accompaniment for a guy with loads of power and strength. On one pass rush rep, a defensive lineman tried to bull rush Davis and got nothing and nowhere. Davis played right tackle at Charlotte, but out of necessity. He'll be an interior player going forward and will one day be a starting guard in this league.
22. I don't understand why we don't see more of South Carolina's Deebo Samuel (5-11 ½, 216 lb.) on top ten lists at wide receiver or even hybrid/playmaker. He's so dynamic in space and his ability to get loose on any type of route is hard to find, especially at 216 pounds. I can't tell you how many times I wrote "Samuel again got free" in my notebook. I don't know if people are just sleeping on him but man, he's a true baller.
23. Stanford linebacker Bobby Okereke (6-1 ½, 231 lb.) flashed a few times with impact tackles during team drills. The first time that I noticed Okereke I was actually studying Texans safety Justin Reid last year. First few plays of the game and I see this flash wearing No. 20 flying across the screen and I didn't know exactly who it was. That's the same sort of thing I saw from Okereke again today, something I didn't see as much of this year from him. That juice was back, though, today for the Stanford product.
A few quick hitters…
-- NC State linebacker Germaine Pratt (6-2 ⅝, 240 lb.) has pythons (i.e arms) to die for - oh my goodness those arms.
-- Missouri quarterback Drew Lock (6-3 ¾, 223 lb.) is going to be my number two or number three quarterback in the initial Harris 100. Book it. Arm talent for DAYS.
-- Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew II (6-0 ⅞, 224 lb.) threw two or three deep ball gems during 1-on-1s.
-- The only running back that really grabbed my attention today was Temple's Ryquell Armstead (5-11, 223 lb.).
-- West Virginia receiver Gary Jennings (6-1, 213 lb.) was another late addition to the Senior Bowl mix and he was lethal down the field throughout 1-on-1 and team drills.
-- Stetson tight end/receiver Donald Parham (6-8 ¾, 243 lb.) is one of the most unusual looking players I've ever seen but he's a matchup nightmare for defenders.
-- Kansas State's Dalton Risner (6-4 ⅝, 308 lb.) can honestly play any offensive line position on the field and I could listen to him talk about that all day long.
-- Speaking of big, Elon offensive tackle Oli Udoh (6-5 ¾, 327 lb.) has lost weight to get down to 327 and still looks like the biggest tackle in the world. Serious strength and skills.
-- Washington defensive tackle Greg Gaines (6-1 ⅛, 307 lb.) is as no-nonsense as it gets and is ultra-difficult to block at the point of attack.
Well, that'll do it from Mobile, unfortunately, due to the impending bad weather on Wednesday. This is a really exciting senior class and Jim Nagy, Executive Director of the Senior Bowl, and his scouting staff did a tremendous job getting as many draftable seniors into this game.
So, what's next? The Combine. We will see ya from Indianapolis very, VERY soon.
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