The Senior Bowl is the perfect cross-section of endings and beginnings. College careers end on Saturday in Mobile, Alabama at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, but this week is just the start of what each player hopes is a long, fruitful career in the NFL. As such, here are my Harris Hits from the first day's proceedings.
The biggest winner today had to be South Carolina defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw (6-5 ⅛, 315 lb.). During his senior campaign, he seemed to get better each and every rep, each and every play. He packed on weight throughout the campaign to a point where he measured 315 lb. during weigh-ins on Tuesday morning. That was just the start. Now, considering my frame of reference being Aaron Donald in 2014, it's hard to recall a non-Aaron Donald day on par with Kinlaw. He flashed the whole package during practice. His long arm was lethal. He threw a spin move on a pass rush move that completely shocked me. He ran by a lineman with a simple arm/rip under. His hands are HEAVY. Taking all of that into account, he was unblockable throughout this first day. I thought he was a for sure, first-round pick in April and with this performance at 315 lb., mind you, he's moving into top 12-15 territory quickly, in my estimation.
Kinlaw was a big winner with the way he controlled the South team offensive linemen through the practice, but he wasn't alone, of course. Pitt cornerback Dane Jackson (5-11 ⅝, 180 lb.) was perhaps the best cover corner throughout the day. When he measured in at just 180 lb., I was worried, knowing that he loves to play physical and challenge receivers in press coverage. As such, it was no surprise that Jackson was physical in press and made a ton of plays on the ball against some big, physical pass catchers. He really only struggled a bit when he was in off coverage on one route that I saw.
One of my favorite pass catchers down in Mobile is Florida star (Ole Miss transfer) Van Jefferson. Crisp and clean in his routes, Jefferson put on a route running clinic. Linear, defined cuts out of his break, Jefferson never seemed to be covered throughout the day. Looking back at my notes, I just wrote the word "smooth." For a good number of young receivers, I can anticipate the routes they're going to run, but Jefferson's ability to cut on a dime, redirect, work back down a route stem and make a catch were all on display. The discipline in his route running reminded me of Terry McLaurin last year. The former Ohio State receiver put on a show and Washington made him a third-round pick as a result. He rewarded Washington with a 58 catch, 919 yard, seven touchdown season as a rookie in 2019. That's who Jefferson reminded me of on Day 1.
LSU offensive guard Damien Lewis didn't get one of the early invitations to the Senior Bowl, but watching him up close, it's hard to understand why he didn't get one. He's one of the most powerful interior players down here and his ability to anchor at the point of attack against stout South defensive linemen was impressive. He plays with a strong base and is rarely knocked backwards in the run game.
Ohio State receiver Austin Mack had a strong day as well. Similar to Jefferson, he ran his routes with explosiveness and precision. He ran the deep out route as well as anyone I saw run that particular route on Tuesday. There was one time that he couldn't hang on to a throw on a wonderfully run route, but that was about the only mistake that I remember seeing. He was open nearly all day as a result of his meticulous route running/execution.
Colorado linebacker Davion Taylor stood out in coverage against one of the quicker players in the backfield in this draft - Eno Benjamin, Arizona State. On one pass route to the flat, Taylor was in such good position on Benjamin, the former Sun Devil star just stopped in mid-play because he couldn't go anywhere to get open. Taylor isn't a big guy by any means, topping the scales at 224 lb, but if he continues to cover like that at the linebacker position, he'll open even more eyes as the week progresses.
UCLA cornerback Darnay Holmes is one of the smallest cornerbacks in Mobile, but he will make a play on the ball in a quick minute. He's physical and more handsy than I'd like, but he's feisty to say the least. He beat up a couple of receivers as they tried to run slant routes on him during 1-on-1s.
Florida pass rusher Jon Greenard has a litany of pass rush moves and over the past few years, he's shown many of them to his opponents on this first day. He threw a spin move during 1-on-1s against one of the South team's offensive tackles that was just sick. He's one of those edge guys with a plan with how he attacks/schemes his rushes to the quarterback.
I didn't focus too much on the quarterbacks, and for good reason, but I did see Oregon star Justin Herbert make a couple of laser-like throws for completions. I watched the South team practice with my buddy, fellow sideline reporter for the Buffalo Bills Sal Capaccio and after one throw on the run, I said to him that Herbert reminded me of his quarterback Josh Allen. He's a better thrower right now than Allen was entering the NFL, but Allen was a better playmaker with the ball in his hands than Herbert. But, the more I watch of both of those guys, the more apt the comparison is.
One offensive tackle that really caught my attention during OL/DL 1-on-1 was left tackle Ben Bartch. When I tell you where he's from, you'll immediately go, "Oh, yeah, I know where that is," but it's the "other one." He played at St. John's University. No, not long time hoops great Chris Mullin's alma mater. St. John's University in Collegeville, MN, the division III school. Similar to when Ali Marpet (starting Bucs guard) came to the Senior Bowl from Hobart College a few years ago, Bartch caught my attention in pass protection. I saw edge guys try to bull him and he anchored, holding his own. I saw guys try to run around him with speed and he escorted them upfield. I saw guys try to counter with inside moves and he shut it down. I kept writing "75 at tackle is nails today" and that was Bartch.
Tennessee wide receiver Jauan Jennings won't beat many, if any, South team defensive backs in a foot race, but if that ball is in the vicinity, he's going to go get that thing. I could see some of the cornerbacks getting frustrated because they'd be in position to make a pass break up and Jennings would just go steal the rock from them. Now, Jennings has to prove he can be more than just a Human 9 route, but he has some serious ball skills and competitiveness to go get it.
A very intriguing player on the South squad is Alabama edge rusher Terrell Lewis. When I use the word "freaky" to describe him, it's not hyperbole. He measured in with 34 ⅛ inch arms and an 83+ inch wing span. I mean, that's ridiculous. When he rushes without getting lost in his head as to what move he's going to use, he's impossible to block. On the first few pass rush reps, he seemed to struggle getting loose and thinking too much, but then on his last one, he threw a spin move that left the offensive tackle in concrete. His injury history is certainly a concern, but dadgum, he can be a special edge player at the next level if he's healthy... and cranked up to volume ten at all times.
One of my favorite players in this draft, since the time I really studied him last summer, is SMU receiver James Proche. He's a slot receiver at the next level due to the lack of size to subsist on the outside, but this guy catches everything thrown his way. Throw in the fact that he runs immaculate routes and he should find a spot in the league for a long, long time. I watched each and every North team receiver run a little box drill to start practice and each guy faded off the last line to absorb the catch with a little more distance from the passer. EVERY single guy faded away except one - Proche. He actually stepped inside the cone to make the catch more difficult and when the ball hit his hands, there was hardly a sound. His concentration on the football is outstanding as he could catch a BB in a crowded mall. I am absolutely one of his biggest fans in this draft process.
Another receiver that stood out was Liberty University star Antonio Gandy-Golden. Two years ago, my friend Richard Cross called me because he was going to do play-by-play for the SEC Network for the Auburn-Liberty game. He wanted to know what I thought about Gandy-Golden as a pro prospect. As he was just a junior, I hadn't seen him play, but Richard stoked my curiosity. So, I found a Liberty game and felt like I was watching another A.J. Brown (Titans). Tough, strong and versatile, AGG gave the defensive backs nightmares throughout the day. He ran by them for deep catches. He beat them on back-shoulder throws to the sideline. He swam through physical coverage on in routes. He was excellent on Tuesday and a player I'll continue to monitor throughout this draft process. Trust me, someone will use the words "draft sleeper" soon to describe him. Trust. Me. And, know that he's not a sleeper at all; he's an absolute dude.
Baylor receiver Denzel Mims looked great as well. He ran pristine routes against a variety of coverages and his body control near the sideline to make catches with the two feet toe tap was excellent.
One of the best reps of the day was a pass rush rep between Utah star edge rusher Bradlee Anae and Houston tackle Josh Jones. It was like a Mortal Kombat fight. One guy threw a move and the other countered, then one would try another and another counter move. They kept going at it until the whistle and I nearly stood to applaud the effort (apparently, that wouldn't have been cool in the scouting world, ya know?)
The North team centers and quarterbacks struggled a bit with the C-QB exchange, which isn't totally unexpected given the fact that only one of the quarterbacks in Mobile spent much time at all under center (Shea Patterson, Michigan). Either way, it seemed to make Lions head coach Matt Patricia a bit perturbed, to say the least.
Speaking of North team centers, Washington center Nick Harris doesn't look much like an offensive lineman. He's short. He definitely does not have a Garrett Bradbury body, but I'll be damned if he doesn't fight his guts out against any interior defensive lineman. I don't recall which defensive behemoth tried to bull rush Harris, but it ended up being a bad move as Harris anchored against the bull rush and nearly lifted the rusher off the ground in the other direction. He's shorter than most, so he has a natural leverage advantage and that was obvious throughout the practice.
Wyoming linebacker Logan Wilson is one of my top five favorite players in this draft class; let me just put that on paper and be truthful about it. This guy was a defensive back and receiver in high school, packed on weight to move to inside linebacker and then tackled anything that moves or intercepted anything that flies. Love that dude and it's going to sting when he's drafted elsewhere next year. My friend NFL.com's Lance Zierlein immediately pegged Wilson as "one of my guys" and he was 1000 percent correct.
Syracuse defensive end Alton Robinson had some impressive rushes from different spots today. He's from San Antonio and he ended up at Syracuse after some off the field issues in high school. He matured well beyond those years and turned into one of the best rushers in the ACC. He showed that on Tuesday at various points in the practice. He can really be a problem when he wants to be.
My man Tyler Marcotte (star producer of Texans Extra Points and Texans 360) loves him some Michigan State Spartans and one of his favorite players is edge rusher Kenny Willikes. He would've been awfully proud of the arm under/rip move he threw on Houston tackle Josh Jones. I mean, it was just lethal and got him free to the quarterback.
The best pass rush move, the singular best move of the day, belonged to versatile Wisconsin linebacker Zack Baun. He played off the ball linebacker for some of the day and then came down to pass rush 1-on-1s to get some reps later in the drill. On one rep, he threw a chop/spin move that was just, I mean, wow. It was better than anything I saw all day. Just stupid quick and destructive.
Well, I'll cut it there and pick up tomorrow with more on Day 2 from Mobile. See ya then, everyone. Thanks for reading.