This will be my 7th season covering the NFL Draft “professionally.” It’s been a learning experience, including the understanding that seven years is not a long period of time. Most importantly, I’ve learned to not be certain about an uncertain subject. Early on I would dig my heels in, convinced what I saw in a prospect was fact. You learn to loosen the parameters of your certainties, and to identify different avenues that arrive at multiple answers. To me, that is improving process.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have let you down. For the first time in seven years I have not watched every Senior Bowl attendee prior to the week. I just did not have time to get to defensive backs and haven’t completed the linebackers. I apologize, but I also don’t lie to you. I will complete those groups throughout the week.
Senior Bowl week is a lot of fun. Talking to prospects, peers, taking in one on ones, picking up on coaching habits. So much content will be thrown at you from the football community this week, including from this account. So thank you for consuming it, and as always subscribe to the podcast and follow me on Instagram.
“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.
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. 80-plus percent of these players attending will be drafted.
In each section below I might mention multiple names, but the focus will be on one prospect.
“Arm talent” will be a popular term with Missouri’s Drew Lock this week. He throws beebees, especially in 7 on 7 situations and clean pockets. His arm whip can look like Jared Goff’s, and it allows him to hit windows others might not test. With that said, there are flaws that could be fatal and torpedo his game if they go unfixed or become exacerbated.
I need to give more credit to passers that succeed inside of structure. Those who carry out the gameplan in rhythm with accurate passes. When everything goes according to plan, the quarterback reacts appropriately and makes a positive play. Lock is not always one of these quarterbacks. Too often he makes the game harder on himself, by leaving structure and inviting pressure. And when actually pressured, he panics. He throws prayers, and too often those bad decisions result in negative plays. He’s a high variance prospect, yet in this environment it might not show up as much.
He just loses his damn mind on third downs when things go off script pic.twitter.com/lLf41m6Wgu
— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) January 17, 2019
This running back group is underwhelming. Wes Hills from Slippery Rock, via Delaware, has a similar stride and running style to Chris Carson, but few match Carson’s aggression on contact. Dexter Williams from Notre Dame stood out the most. Williams shows patience behind the line of scrimmage, then legit two step acceleration to burst through it. Seriously, his quickness is a lot of fun. He has that slow footwork behind the line to let things develop, and then as soon as ground is available, he has long strides to eat it up. His question to answer this week: How comfortable is he in the passing game?
Don't blink or you'll miss it!
— Notre Dame on NBC (@NDonNBC) September 30, 2018
David Sills from West Virginia is an unreal story. Scholarship offer from Lane Kiffin as a quarterback at 13 years old. Opening his career redshirting at quarterback for West Virginia. Accepting his coaches wishes to move to receiver after impressing on the scout team. Catching two passes for 64 yards and a score against Baylor, his first game at the position. Dropping down to the JUCO level to pursue quarterback again. Returning to the Mountaineers in 2017 and totaling 33 touchdowns over the next two seasons to close out his college career. The whole saga was laid out beautifully by Fran Duffy.
I’m not saying “big” receivers are being phased out of the NFL. But slow and big receivers are. The NFL went from prioritizing size to prioritizing separation. Sills, however, is fluid, separates, plays big and actually makes good on his red zone potential, as he was dominant in that area in college. The more “small” skills he shows this week, the better.
— Coach Dan Casey (@CoachDanCasey) September 4, 2018
Stetson’s Donald Parham is going to be a popular person at weigh-ins and during practice. 6-foot-7, Over 36-inch arms. 84-inch wingspan. He is carved out of stone for the tight end position. We know he can when in a straight-line, down the seam. My question is the agility. The separation in breaks. And overall, let’s not knock him for his blocking. Few, few tight ends are complete in the NFL. Like, maybe 10.
This week will feature a number of talented tackles. From Andre Dillard, who will be tested by non-Pac 12 pass rushers. To USC’s Chuma Edoga, who displayed plenty of athleticism and should practice on both the left and right side (which are of equal importance). To Dalton Risner, who wins ugly.
The one who has the most to gain: Alabama State’s Tytus Howard. I loved Terron Armstead out of Arkansas-Pinebluff. He was a top-40 prospect for me that year. I won’t go as far to say that Howard is on Armstead’s level, but if his process goes well he’s the closest we’ve seen. Howard was a tight end recruit who also played quarterback in high school. He has morphed his body and was close to dominant at his level of football. Howard’s upper body could get pressed and jolted this week, as his hands can be low and slow. But if it all comes together and he absorbs coaching, Howard could be a hot name. And if athleticism is important in defensive linemen, doesn't it make sense for it to be important for offensive linemen as well?
Offensive line and defensive line one on ones create momentum for successful prospects for the remainder of the process. This group presents a number of athletes on the outside, which could equal pass rushing potential. Byron Cowart is a former No. 1 overall recruit. Wyoming’s Carl Granderson is superfluid. Montez Sweat has a couple of plays per game where he greatly impacts the offense, and his motor is always going.
Yet the one I’m most interested in this setting is Louisiana Tech’s Jaylon Ferguson. His 10 yard split will be exceptional, and he frequently looked more comfortable at left defensive end, facing right tackles, which might create a natural mismatch. It might not look pretty on day one, but if Ferguson can absorb coaching and progress through the week, the tools to disrupt are there.
Ferguson catches the RT sleeping for a split second and takes the inside angle while using the RTs own momentum to shove him out of the play for a sack. He's quick to read and react on the fly. pic.twitter.com/GgSU2Zk8YS
— Alex Reno (@alex_reno) January 12, 2019
This is the position I gravitate to first. The interior linemen that are flexible and win with hips and athleticism stand out. Immediately. Unfortunately, I didn’t see a lot of those in this group. Kingsley Keke from Texas A&M attacks the edges of offensive linemen, putting pressure on their balance and getting deeper in the pocket.
The standout could be Renell Wren, Arizona State. His get off alone could cause issues for interior blockers. It doesn’t end there, as Wren works to use his length inside, locating the football and shedding to make plays rather than stay blocked. He maintains vision through separation. Turn on Washington in 2017 and you’ll see him destroy a blocker on the first snap. Plus his motor does not stop.
— Donavan Wilson (@donavan_wilson) October 17, 2017
Remember the name.