The Senior Bowl squads will be coached by two current NFL staffs (Texans and Broncos), adding an extra dimension to their evaluations. The Browns and Bears will be connected to every quarterback they coach, along with prospects at other positions. Position coaches of all teams have a tendency to fall in love with prospects at the event, as these are the first players they have watched during this year’s process.
“Evaluating the Evaluator” - Waldman
I open this preview the same way every year, so here we go.
Before we dive into the top prospects attending the event, let us discuss the conclusions that can be drawn from practice. I have a baseline evaluation for every player attending this week, with the main goal of understanding where each player wins. This is important, since many of these prospects will be utilized in new ways and in a new environment during the Senior Bowl. Therefore, their success might be limited or they might put forth poor performances. These will be written up in practice reports in a negative light, but sometimes without context.
Take a pure press corner for example. A few years ago, DBs coach Raheem Morris asked his corners to play off coverage during one on one drills, and the more physical press corners were smoked play after play. These prospects were used to jamming receivers at the line, then sticking with them downfield at their own pace. Some of those corners were bashed by viewers during the week. I think it lacked understanding and context.
Practice notes are great and I learn so much from watching prospects this week. Just use your own judgment in some of the conclusions and do not be afraid to ask the author questions regarding certain performances.
And above all, remember we are evaluating with our own eyes. Your eyes might tell you something different. And the 300-plus NFL personnel members might each see it their own way as well. This roster has taken SO many hits and lacks top-end talent. Still 80-plus percent of these players attending will be drafted.
Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield - Not on the Mahomes' spectrum of high variance. His highs are not at that level. Executes in the quick game, processing the necessary read swiftly and delivering off of it. RPOs are in his playbook. Obviously has the mobility and playmaker mentality to succeed outside of structure as well. So what does he need to show? Mayfield played behind one of, if not the, premiere offensive lines in the country. When he dropped his eyes, held the ball too long or misstepped, Oklahoma's offensive line frequently compensated by sustaining blocks. Those faults might be more evident against top competition or behind a worse unit. Mayfield's ability to evade pressure is uncanny, frequently moving just out of the reach of closing pass rushers. Can he keep that up?
Wyoming QB Josh Allen - Where to start... The best way to describe Allen is to say he's a pedal to the floor passer. He's a lead foot quarterback. Sometimes that leads to stunning throws, especially when rolling to his right and targeting downfield receivers. But just a play later Allen can totally overthrow a screen or easy completion. There is little touch or finesse to his game, leading Allen to trust his arm on every occasion, forcing passes into nonexistent windows or leading receivers straight into awaiting defenders. He also has a tendency to not see zone defenders in man coverages, like an underneath linebacker or safety down the field, leading to interceptions. But there are a number of high, high-quality plays, somewhat similar to Paxton Lynch. I did not fall for Paxton, but the Broncos did... and the same team is coaching Allen this week.
Few can make the first throw. Josh Allen nails it out of structure.
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) January 10, 2018
San Diego State RB Rashaad Penny - At his best, Penny is a one cut, hit the seam and go runner. His long speed is great for his size, and that frequently popped up on long runs. It is difficult for running backs to show their contact balance at all-star games, since defenders are not attempting to take ball carriers to the ground. However, that is my question with Penny, as is his reaction to well-defended fronts. Will he pick up what is blocked, create more, or lose yards by trying to do too much? And possibly most importantly, how is his pass protection?
Iowa RB Akrum Wadley - How much should we love running backs under 200 pounds? It is easy to like these types, since they create plays in college and make defenders miss. However, so many go through the draft process and few make a long-term impact, and even fewer reach "RB1" status. Wadley is so, so fun, but can he win on contact enough to win across the league? Or is he a role player?
South Dakota State TE Dallas Goedert - Goedert is very good. His former basketball background shows up when tracking the football, winning against smaller defenders and taking advantage of the movement deficiencies versus the bigger ones. The man question is if his FCS skills translate against top FBS talents, both as a receiver detached and as a true inline tight end.
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) November 15, 2017
Penn State TE Mike Gesicki - The volleyball background pops up on Gesicki's highlight reel. High vertical, explosive in a straight-line, winning in a crowd and along the sideline. But can he separate in his breaks versus safeties and linebackers? Can he break down at the top of his routes, sink his hips, fluidly cut and create space to form a target?
Indiana TE Ian Thomas - An interesting option on the third day. Started the season strong, but seemed to fade. Thomas boasts a big body and can move, so can he keep up with the other two names on this list?
New Mexico State WR Jaleel Scott - One goal is to identify prospects who possibly leave this week at the top of many lists. The ones who separate themselves from others at their position. Think Haason Reddick, Sheldon Rankins, Aaron Donald in recent years. Scott has a chance to do that receiver. He has one area of dominance: Winning contested situations. He floats in a similar fashion to Josh Doctson, and his traits are just an unfair matchup to corners in that area of the game. At 6-foot-5 and 216 pounds, the real question is if there is more to his game. I will never call a player with an area of dominance “limited,” but a narrow skill set might be in play here. Can he separate versus man? Find soft areas in zone in proper timing?
Boise State WR Cedrick Wilson - The son of a former NFL receiver. A few weeks ago I equated Wilson’s future role to that of Ted Ginn - Crossing routes, underneath receptions and vertical shots. Wilson is likely a bit taller, can track the football a bit better and might lack those rare quicks, however, I’m very intrigued to see him among the receiver group this week.
Colorado State WR Michael Gallup - A really enjoyable watch. Gallup finishes every single reception with aggression. He wants to pick up the difficult yards, and often does. That is also his question, so much of his game is contested or in tight coverage. How is he at creating separation and sustaining it?
Oregon T Tyrell Crosby - With other prospects backing out, Crosby has a real chance to secure his place in the tackle rankings. It might not always look great, but Crosby consistently gets the job done and has natural strength. He can force defenders to the ground and also sustain against bigger opponents. Again, he is not visually appealing, but Crosby seems athletic and has plenty of left tackle experience.
Pitt T Brian O’Neill - I believe O’Neill is a former WR/DE recruit, and I buy it based on his game. O’Neill is quite athletic moving laterally, but lacks an anchor in his set, especially after being jolted. Can he hold up in one on ones versus the bull rush of Tyquan Lewis and Chad Thomas?
West Georgia T Desmond Harrison (Out with a knee injury) - Look at this guy.
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) January 11, 2018
Now for the questions. He is or will be 25 when he sets foot on an NFL field and he obviously faced lower competition in recent years. Does that finisher’s mentality translate this week? 25, athletic, finisher
Humboldt State T Alex Cappa - Technically sound, small school tackle. Does he show enough to warrant starter consideration? Or is he a utility lineman.
Interior Offensive Line
UTEP G Will Hernandez - An absolutely demolisher inside. Will flat out run defenders over, but what else do you expect from a neck roll wearing guard? Many will rank Hernandez as the top guard here entering the week, so can he maintain that status?
Georgia G Isaiah Wynn - This is the prospect I believe challenges Hernandez, and Wynn could stake his claim for a first round grade in Mobile. He is moving inside from left tackle, where he held his own against Oklahoma and Alabama. His game just fits better inside. He is strong, can move and sustain. There’s so much to like here.
Appalachian State G Colby Gossett - App State is no longer a small school program, and Gossett has a big game. He plays confidently at the line of scrimmage and also works to the second level consistently. A bit lean for the position, but it aids his movement.
UTSA EDGE Marcus Davenport - So many eyes will be on Davenport. On Twitter I compared his game, strictly on the field, to Aldon Smith. Davenport is long and is very effective when looping inside and rushing from different angles. Part of the reason Aldon was so effective was Justin Smith, and Davenport might need a similar player or scheme. There are glimpses of Davenport pass rushing with a plan. Using his hands and length to hit a target, create a balance advantage and work off of that. But as of now, those do not happen often. He needs to soak up the Texans coaching like a sponge, but that team has helped a number of edge rushers over the years.
Stanford DT Harrison Phillips - I know many people love Phillips. He obviously wins at the line of scrimmage against the run, but I need to see so much more than that to consider him early on. That is my bias showing, I don’t value linear run defenders highly. I feel like I can find that on day three or in free agency. Phillips’ tackles for loss and sacks did not really get me excited and he did not disrupt one on one in pass rushing situations enough. This week is a great opportunity to prove me wrong.
Fort Hays State DT Nathan Shepard - Talk about small school… Shepard flashed a few times when I watched him, mainly completely overpowering his opposition. He also faced a large amount of double and triple teams. How will he handle this week’s one on ones?
UCF LB Shaquem Griffin - I’m not just saying this because Griffin has an incredible story, but man do I love watching him play. His motor is absolutely incredible. Griffin’s closing speed is outstanding. At UCF, he frequently lined up on the edge and was asked to rush the passer. Let me add that I have no idea how his deformity (if that’s the appropriate term) will impact his game, but if lacking one hand impairs something it will be as a true pass rusher against tackles and tight ends. Griffin combats this by his use of spin moves, but those do not consistently work. Therefore, a bit of a projection is needed with Griffin off the ball… but I would be stunned if he doesn’t make it. Griffin is comfortable in space, chases down plays while maintaining his responsibility and absolutely finishes big tackles for loss when called upon. Again, he is a real player.
Shaquem Griffin played every single defensive snap in this game.
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) January 21, 2018
Ole Miss LB Marquis Haynes - Similar to Griffin, Haynes will need to convert from his edge spot to off the ball. His traits are intriguing, as he looks extremely quick, but it is clear he has no idea what he’s doing. Right now, Haynes looks like an athlete.
Clemson LB Dorian O’Daniel - Another athlete. O’Daniel played a hybrid safety/linebacker role, frequently acting as a force player in the slot. He shows range and an understanding of his assignment, i.e. holding his edge and forcing runners back inside.
Western Michigan CB Darius Phillips - He won’t rank at the top of the list at this event, but Phillips is easily one of my favorite prospects attending. He attacks the football with the goal of breaking up passes or forcing interceptions. He absolutely is a gambler, and that shows more often in zone than it does man coverage. They are different players due to their frames, Phillips is much smaller, but I wonder if his career path could be similar to Josh Norman. Phillips could shine in one on ones since those offer man and press situations. But in zone schemes, we’ve already seen some wonderful stuff. Plus, he is a great returner.
He might not be the highest drafted player at the Senior Bowl, but Western Michigan CB Darius Phillips might be my favorite.
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) January 22, 2018
Penn State S Marcus Allen - Plays in the box and flies around. Looks like he’s a linebacker from the strong safety with how quickly he attacks upfield. We know he can work downhill, so his goal this work should be to show off man coverage versus tight ends, receivers and running backs.