26 observations from Senior Bowl Day 1

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There’s something soothing and relaxing about being in Mobile, Alabama in January. Well, for me, anyway because it’s SENIOR BOWL TIME! Who doesn’t get excited for MORE football, especially with nearly every key decision maker in the NFL on site? The first day on the field had a little bit of everything so here are my observations from day one at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

  1. The tight end group in Mobile is ridiculous, especially on the South squad. That position is all the rage in Mobile and nearly every analyst, scout and coach that mentions the strength in this draft, mentions tight end right up at the top.
  1. Alabama tight end O.J. Howard was a definite winner on Tuesday. He’s a natural pass catcher but what’s most impressive is his ability to get open and then run away from defenders after the catch. He did start practice with a one hand grab that looked like he did it all the time. He’s a bona fide star at the next level, especially in a system that features him a bit more in the passing game than he was at Alabama.
  1. Ole Miss tight end/pass catcher Evan Engram showed his ability to win against man coverage when he beat a safety in coverage down the seam late in the team part of practice. Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs threw a laser to Engram who never slowed down heading untouched for the end zone.
  1. The one tight end most may not know is South Alabama star Gerald Everett. He looks like a small forward in a tight end body. He’s incredibly athletic with the ball in his hands and is so tough for linebackers, nickel corners or safeties to cover. Flat out stud.
  1. Villanova defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon is a freak of nature with a wingspan the size of Mobile. He gave the South offensive linemen trouble with his length but he has to get stronger at the point of attack.
  1. Perhaps the true winners of the day were two Aggies - receiver Josh Reynolds and defensive end Daeshon Hall. Watching Reynolds early in practice, he dropped two passes just working routes on air. Then, when it came time to face a defensive back, the drops were history and he put on a show. He snatched anything in his vicinity. No body catches at all. He went deep and made catches. He ran intermediate routes on the outside, got open and caught everything. Hall? Well, let’s put it this way - the South offensive line still hasn’t blocked him yet. He threw an inside move on one of the South linemen and got to the quarterback clean. He worked a spin move on UCLA tackle Conor McDermott and got loose again. EVERYONE knew about Myles Garrett on the other side of Hall at Texas A&M, but if you truly paid attention to the Aggie defense the past two years, you knew Hall was capable of unleashing the beast within. He did that on Tuesday.
  1. Speaking of being struck by size, I interviewed USC offensive tackle Zach Banner and I don’t know that I’ve ever interviewed a more physically impressive human being in my life. He towered over me and even tussled my hair at the end of our interview. You’ll love it when you see it. He had an up and down day on the field. He held his own against some speed off the edge. He has to get more flexion in his knees to stay balanced against powerful edge players using a bull rush to knock him off the spot.
  1. North Carolina receiver Ryan Switzer is this year’s answer to current Washington Redskins star Jamison Crowder. He’s ultra-quick, perhaps the quickest receiver I saw on Tuesday. Watching Switzer, I felt like I was watching Crowder all over again. The former Duke star lit up Ladd-Peebles two years ago in the same manner and Switzer had similar success on Tuesday...and we haven’t even seen him return kicks yet either. That’s thought to be his specialty.
  1. Grambling receiver Chad Williams was a late add to the Senior Bowl roster after a strong week at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl out in California last week. Chase Goodbread from NFL Network, who was standing nearby on the field, said he heard a few of the South defensive backs talking about how impressive Williams was throughout practice. He went deep for a big catch, one of the few deep ball completions. Furthermore, he was smooth in his route running and effective getting open at all levels on the field.
  1. Antonio Pipkin from Tiffin University displayed a quick release and showed off a relatively strong arm. Like nearly all of the quarterbacks in Mobile, though, he’s adjusting to playing under center, but he had a few moments throwing the football that caught my attention. He’s going to be a major work in progress, but he definitely has tools.
  1. That said, the first day for all six quarterbacks was rough, especially during team drills, but, BUT, that’s to be expected. The key, as it’s been each year I’ve been in Mobile, is the improvement day after day after day. Iowa’s C.J. Beathard has some RPM on his ball but he got picked throwing into zone coverage during the North team practice.
  1. The guy that made that interception is one of the most unknown players in Mobile. Well, to the general populace, not to scouts. His name is Connor Harris, an inside linebacker...from Lindenwood College. Even though, Harris played for the Division II Lions, he’s FAR from out of place. He’s completely rocked up at 241 pounds, but his 5-11 frame may force most scouts to look the other direction. He can absolutely fly to the football. He got some serious pop in his pads. He made that pick during 7-on-7 and took off for the end zone 50 yards away. He ran right by me and his speed was impressive. I can’t wait to see more of him in full pads to see him find the ball and strike, especially in the run game.
  1. The North offensive line really struggled with the North team edge rushers. Illinois’ pair Dawuane Smoot, a defensive end/outside linebacker hybrid, and Carroll Phillips, a true outside linebacker candidate, took turns rushing the edge and succeeded. Smoot is one of my top 40 candidates and, on Tuesday, he showed why. He threw a lethal spin move on Pitt tackle Adam Bisnowaty that left the former Panther offensive lineman shaking his head. Phillips went back and forth from coverage drills to rushing the quarterback and actually made it look relatively easy.
  1. Western Kentucky offensive lineman Forrest Lamp is perhaps the most complete lineman in Mobile. He has the body of a linebacker and the desire to put defenders on their backs. He played both tackle and guard during the day and seemed to be more comfortable on the inside, even though he played left tackle at WKU. At left tackle, he thrived against Alabama’s gaggle of pass rushers when WKU played in Tuscaloosa this season. But, with just over 31” arms, he’s probably a better fit on the interior. That said, guard or tackle, he has the right mentality to play offensive line at the next level.
  1. Another “buzzworthy” name heading to Mobile is Troy left tackle Antonio Garcia. When we talked with him earlier in the day on Texans TV, he mentioned that he needed to add weight, coming in at only 293 pounds. But, BUT, if there’s a guy made to play tackle in the NFL, it’s Garcia. He wants to absolutely bury edge players in the run game and has the athleticism to disrupt edge speed. What gave him issues, though, was his 293 pounds against true power/bull rushers. A couple of edge guys bull did just that to him. Once Garcia adds weight to get to 305/310 pounds, he’ll be an NFL starter for a long, long while.
  1. Ryan Anderson, outside linebacker from Alabama, is such an instinctive player. He sniffed out a screen during team before it even had a chance to develop. He did that one other time this year too...man, when was that...oh that’s right, in the national semifinal win over Washington. That play recognition turned into a pick six for the Crimson Tide in the 24-7 win over the Huskies.
  1. San Diego State cornerback Damontae Kazee, wearing No. 24, reminded me of a younger Johnathan Joseph. His ability to make up ground, closing on the football, was impressive.
  1. Kansas State defensive end Jordan Willis made an offensive lineman trip, literally fall down, on his first pass rush move in 1-on-1s. It’s hard to figure out exactly where Willis fits, whether at 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker, but let’s be clear, this guy is a player. We saw it at NRG Stadium against Texas A&M in K-State’s bowl win and I saw it today when he rushed the quarterback during the South team’s practice.
  1. Keep an eye on Florida linebacker Alex Anzalone. He had two huge pops on running backs during a team running drill. After seeing (and hearing) those hits, I texted a few friends of mine that follow Florida football closely. One responded by saying that Anzalone was Florida’s best linebacker before he broke his arm against Arkansas at midseason. He’s healthy again and because he graduated in four years, he was eligible to participate at the Senior Bowl. One other text I got said he’s a steal for whatever team picks him up. He may not be a secret much longer if he continues to light dudes up with the ball in their hands.
  1. Former UConn safety Obi Melifonwu doesn’t look anything like a safety at 6-4, 219 pounds and seeing him at free safety is a bit disconcerting because of it. But, he showed some range on deep balls down the field, outside the numbers, when he was playing a middle of the field safety position.
  1. I’m 95% sure most of you, not named Ryan Griffin, didn’t see much of Melifonwu playing at UConn. I’m nearly 100% sure you’ve never seen Charlotte defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi play. I’m nearly 100% certain you didn’t even know Charlotte had a football team. Trust me, it exists and Ogunjobi is representing the program well. Very, VERY well. Arguably, this guy might be the best player on the North squad. Now, there’s little question he was the best player on the field Tuesday afternoon for the North squad. He flashed his quickness and power often in pass rush 1-on-1s, then during inside run period, he penetrated clean a couple of times, forcing running backs to have to avoid him. One of those times, he turned Michigan running back De’Veon Smith right into a big shot from Iowa defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson.
  1. Western Michigan tackle/guard Taylor Moton also cuts an impressive figure and there are some that think he’s the best lineman in Mobile. He was a bit up and down, in my opinion. He got rocked a couple of times with bull rush moves, but he’s strong/long enough to then re-anchor and keep the pocket tight.
  1. Temple linebacker Haason Reddick played both inside and outside and made plays at both spots. He’s a TREMENDOUS edge rusher. He has insane burst that helped him rack up 10.5 sacks for Temple in 2016. But, he’s under 6-2 and only 237 pounds. As such, the North team coaches (Chicago Bears) are looking at him at inside linebacker. On an inside run during team, he deciphered a zone running play, shot the gap and tagged off on the running back before he got to the line of scrimmage. If he’s able to show that he can play inside linebacker on the first two downs and then can transition out to the edge to rush the passer on third down...wow, look out.
  1. Michigan cover corner Jourdan Lewis was a magnet on receivers throughout the North team’s practice. If Lewis were 6-1, he would be a top ten pick, no questions asked. He’s only 5-10, 188 pounds but trust me, he’s a shadow in coverage.
  1. Greg Mancz's former Toledo teammate Kareem Hunt has some serious juice with the ball in his hands. Or hand. He made a one hand catch during 7-on-7 on a checkdown swing route from Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard. Definitely impressive, but it was more his subtle shake and explosiveness that stood out.
  1. Michigan receiver Amara Darboh and Iowa defensive back Desmond King have had their share of battles over the past few years. Tuesday, though, Darboh got the best of King during one-on-ones when Darboh sold the deep route, broke down and worked back down his stem on a curl route. King wasn’t so lucky as his momentum carried him upfield, leaving Darboh open for the catch.
  1. Michigan teammate defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow reminds me a lot of Buffalo Bills star Kyle Williams, mostly in his relentless, maniacal nature playing the position.

There’s plenty more that happened, but I’ll cut it right there for the day. I’ll be back with more tomorrow from Mobile on day two on Wednesday.

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