It's, unfortunately, time to move on to 2024 and the Senior Bowl is a great place to start. This is my 11th time to be down in Mobile and it was a beautiful start, to say the least. Beautiful day. Beautiful football. Beautiful futures. So, let's dive in, just like we do at Texans Training camp and hit some observations from Day one in Mobile.
The first place I'll start is where we don't have to worry for a while and that's with the QBs. It was interesting to watch various teams' video crews filming QBs as they worked out. I just walked past and chuckled because, well, you know. I'll discuss a couple of the signal callers a little later this week because there were some impressive performances. However, I spent the day spreading the wealth watching as much of each position group, at each practice.
This Senior Bowl group has a SERIOUS group of players. There are as many first round prospects on these two teams as I've seen in a while, if ever. One of those future first rounders is UCLA DE Laiatu Latu. Now, I have this thing about seeing guys in person vs. seeing them on television. Latu is Exhibit A. I walked down to see the DL do some footwork/bag work early in practice and as soon as I saw Latu, I said some bad words to myself. My goodness. 6-6. Around 260 lb. LONG arms. TWITCHY as it gets. A Jaelen Phillips (Dolphins) clone. He was a blur through the bags and it was so fun to watch him work. Then, during team drills, he beat much ballyhooed OT Oregon State's Taliese Fuaga twice in a row on the same chop/rip move off the edge. Before the snap, Latu was BOUNCING and then when the ball was snapped, he BURST off the ball, threw hands and was clear to the QB. My god, I knew he was HIM but to see him in person was even more impressive. He will be gone well before the Texans first round pick unless his medicals come back with some issues. Now, he's had some medical issues in the past so we'll see, but as a player, he's the best pure pass rusher in this draft. He's the highest rated player on my Harris 100 in Mobile, but he's not alone.
The American Team D-Line has some DUDES, aside from Latu. Illinois DT Keith Randolph has been one of my most underrated players in the country for two years, playing next to potential future first rounder Jer'Zahn Newton. Randolph showed his penchant for playing with violence today against the run in team drills. Duke DT DeWayne Carter flashed today as well as he was more twitchy and explosive off the ball than I expected and I expected him to be highly explosive. Ohio State DT Michael Hall is a twitched up ball of fire, even though he's just 280 lb.
Another future first rounder came to Mobile to solidify his potential status as CB1 and that was Toledo CB Quinyon Mitchell. And, he DID NOT disappoint. It was a no fly zone all day long when QBs were forced to throw at Mitchell. On his first rep in one-on-ones, he just ate up Florida WR Ricky Pearsall on a curl route for one incompletion. Then, he locked up a receiver on a deep route, running step for step down the field, which forced an overthrow. During a team period, he broke on a speed out in a blink, forcing another incompletion. Here's what I loved even more - when he made a play, he just jogged back to the huddle ready for more. No Straps seatbelt. No taunting. No incomplete signal. Just one great cover after another. I don't know if there's a better cover CB right now. He was a "player to study more this fall" for me heading into the season and he passed that with flying colors. Monday was just icing on the CB1 cake. It's not a lock, but it's darn close.
I like Rutgers CB Max Melton. He had a couple of solid covers during one-on-ones throughout the period. Excellent feet. Explosive transitional quickness. On the first rep of one-on-ones, he ran step for step with Rice WR Luke McCaffrey to force an incompletion. I thought it was a strong day for the Rutgers cover corner.
One position that was fun to watch was the running backs, especially on the American Team. I got a chance to speak with New Hampshire RB Dylan Laube after practice and what a really impressive soon-to-be professional. He showed the speed on zone plays and is a wonderful pass receiver. In a game against Central Michigan last fall, he had 12 receptions for 295 yards. He ran away from defenders and embarrassed a good FBS program's defense. He did much the same today, slithering through the defensive front and then hitting the gas once he hit the second level. He's going to run in the 4.4 range. He has mad receiving skills. I wrote in my notebook "Austin Ekeler crossed with Mike Alstott" because he was wearing #40 and he runs like a Mack Truck too. He told me after practice that Alstott was the actual reason he wore #40 and was wearing it on Monday. I got one right and didn't even know it. Regardless, Laube was impressive as all get out.
South Dakota State Isaiah Davis is the tallest, biggest running back in Mobile and I loved him back in college as a mini-Derrick Henry - downhill runner, powerful, difficult to tackle and long speed. I remembered seeing him in the 2021 spring National Championship against Sam Houston and that defense stopped every RB all year long. As a freshman, Davis ran over, around and through the Bearkats. But, on Monday, he showed some serious receiving skills during drills. He caught a wheel route over his shoulder easily on a less than average throw. Then, he shook a LB on an angle/circle route for a clean open catch. He's intriguing for sure and has size as well.
Florida WR Ricky Pearsall had a tough start to the day going against Toledo CB Quinyon Mitchell, but he rebounded well. Very, VERY well. His hands are freakin' glue sticks. He can really run as well. He flew by a CB during one-on-ones easily and then when the ball was underthrown, he was able to go up over the CB and take it away from him for a touchdown. Moss'd him, as the young kids say. Later, he ran a double move to the corner of the end zone for an easy touchdown catch. Intriguing, INTRIGUING for sure.
One player to watch, for multiple reasons, is Western Kentucky WR Malachi Corley. On the first rep of one-on-ones, he literally bull rushed the press corner, running him over at the line of scrimmage before running a slant route. That was Corley's way of announcing his presence with authority. Now, a little later, he couldn't hang on to a Michael Penix Jr. (Washington QB) fade ball, but that was about it. Later in team drills, Penix threw him a low ball on a shallow route and Corley snatched it a foot from the ground before continuing up the field with the rock. Also, Corley was the only receiver that I saw all day that beat Toledo CB Quinyon Mitchell for a catch all day long.
North Carolina WR Tez Walker was the fastest WR on the day given the GPS measurements but he had an up and down day. It was clear he wasn't happy with his practice throughout the day. He's mega-talented with length, height and speed, but he didn't catch the ball cleanly throughout the day.
Now, let's get to one of my Harris crushes. I wrote this WR up TWO YEARS ago thinking he might head to the NFL after a great 2022 season. Michigan speedster Roman Wilson stayed at Michigan for 2023 and that decision paid off. Here was my quickie report, though, from two years ago.
*Wilson isn't just fast; he has Will Fuller V speed. Fast guys can always get caught or someone with the right angle can run with a fast guy. "Fuller Speed" means a guy can easily run away from the fastest guys on the field. I routinely saw Fuller do that in Houston and well before his time in Houston at Notre Dame. *
Wilson has that type go-go speed. The Hawaiian ran away from the fast Georgia defense once he got his hands on the ball. He needs year three to be more than a glorified nine route, but I think he can get there. Having seen Fuller up close, I know the fear that he put into defenders and throughout the 2022 season, that's what Wilson is going to do as well.
Player Comp - Former Texans/Dolphins WR Will Fuller V
That name at the end - Will Fuller V - will get your attention as Texans' fans. I've not seen a player in my ten years on the sideline that made fast guys look silly as easily as Fuller did in his Texans career. Wilson has the same easy acceleration. He doesn't even look like he's running fast and he's PULLING AWAY from fast defensive backs. During one-on-ones, his first route was a dig route and the DB couldn't stay close - easy completion. During team drills, he ran a post route off of play action and Wake Forest QB Sam Hartman just lofted one to the middle of the field. Wilson nearly had to slow down to catch the pass, but he made the catch with ease. Wilson is going to test off the charts and don't be surprised when you hear "here's a surprise top 50 name - Roman Wilson". You'll be able to say you heard it here first.
Marshall RB Rasheen Ali had a couple of sweet plays during the team part of practice. He was stuck in the back of the RB rotation so it wasn't until the end of the team session when he took an inside zone handoff and BURST through the pack untouched, shook a linebacker with a subtle, but deadly, cut and then hit the gas. He also linked up with Washington QB Michael Penix Jr on a pass route in the team period for a big gain. At Marshall, he had an injury that curtailed his 2022 season but he returned for 2023, scoring 16 total TDs for the Thundering Herd. He has such a smooth running style and that was on display today in Mobile.
Baylor DE Gabe Hall stands out in a crowd, no matter who's around him. He towers over many fellow DTs at the Senior Bowl and he is super quick down the line of scrimmage in the run game. OL had a tough time with him in the run game on zone plays. He might be a tad too light to play inside full-time, but he's got serious potential.
Not taking a backseat to any one at the WR position was Georgia WR Ladd McConkey, who gave me a little bit of a Tank Dell-vibe on Monday. NO ONE covered him, regardless of the route, or spot on the field. Similar to Wilson, McConkey can flat out FLY and defensive backs have yet to cover him. Sudden is the word that came to mind. On one of his routes, I could hear a few coaches/scouts behind me with some bad words, which were a positive for McConkey. I mean, you know what I mean? He shook a nickel defensive back on a flat route and then made a diving catch on one of his reps. That was SUPER impressive. I'm convinced that McConkey's lack of good health held Georgia back in the SEC Championship loss to Alabama. He's that good and I think he's going to be a top 50 player in this 2024 NFL Draft.
One of my favorite transfer portal players in 2023 was Florida State DT Branden Fiske. He was an All-MAC player at Western Michigan but wanted more eyes on him as a potential NFL player. He transferred to Florida State and was a rockstar as the foundation in the middle of the Noles defense. He earned an invite to the Senior Bowl and on day one was impressive. He didn't totally dominate the one-on-ones, but his athleticism pops when he has to redirect on screens or pursue plays from behind. He redirected on a screen play during team drills and ran the screen behind for no gain. He's going to be a name heard more and more often in the draft process. He's built like a tank too.
Oklahoma OT Tyler Guyton was the most impressive edge pass protector on Monday. Now, I didn't spend much time watching the American OL (Oregon OC Jackson Powers-Johnson had a great day, apparently) but I did watch Guyton's National OL group. He was the cleanest with his technique and effectiveness, minus one spin move he gave up to Houston OLB Nelson Ceasar. He stood up to bull rushes. He was patient and never overcommitted to pass rushers' moves. I wrote in his scouting report back in July that he was so much more impressive than the starters for OU in 2022 and when he stepped in as the full-time starter, he was excellent in 2023. He was THAT guy on Monday.
A big surprise was LSU DT Jordan Jefferson. He whipped nearly every interior OL during one-on-ones. Bull rushing on a few reps. Working an edge on others. He wasn't someone on my radar throughout the year, but he got my attention on Monday.
Texas' BIG DT T'Vondre Sweat was up and down throughout the day. He's the heaviest player at the Senior Bowl and that really showed itself throughout practice. On the first rep of the day, he collisioned OU OC Andrew Raym in a run block drill and nearly knocked Raym three yards backwards. Raym moved him about as much as you or I could have. But, on the next rep, Arkansas OC Beaux Limmer got up under Sweat's pads and moved him a yard or so backwards. Sweat geared up for that first rep and it showed. But, he didn't have quite the juice on the second rep and Limmer moved him. Consistency and conditioning are going to be vital aspects for Sweat as he moves into the league.
Two tight ends that caught my attention today - TCU's Jared Wiley and Penn State's Theo Johnson. Wiley made a tremendous catch as I walked up to seven-on-seven after watching the OL/DL. He's an impressive looking athlete and I've been waiting for him to be draft-eligible for like three years. I don't know that he was ever used the way that he could've/should've at TCU.
Johnson caught everything thrown his way throughout the day. He made an over the shoulder catch during one-on-one. He's a physical gift from the gods and he could be a gem in a tight end class that isn't thought to be one of the best in the past few years.
USC WR Brenden Rice got mauled multiple times by Penn State CB Johnny Dixon, but showed his ball skills/tracking skills as he still caught those deep balls for touchdowns.
One of the prettiest plays during the day was a Joe Milton (Tennessee QB) laser to Kansas State TE Ben Sinnott on the basic route across the middle. I mean, Milton HOSED that throw to Sinnott, who cleared the linebacker in front of the safety.
Louisville WR Jamari Thrash will have my eyes more on Monday as I spent more time during his practice watching OL/DL. But, one play I did see him make was a go route down the far sideline for six. I'm a huge fan of the Louisville star and that play showed why - speed, physicality and ball tracking skills.
Okay, darkness is descending on Mobile and day one is in the books. There will be plenty more from Wednesday. Can't wait.