We have the check-in tale of the Senior Bowl practice tape in our hands and the players put on pads today. The first day can be tough with almost everyone finding themselves practicing with guys who they, in most cases, have never even met before. That can be tough in a team game that sends out 11 players per snap on each side of the ball. There were winners and losers out on the field at Hancock Whitney stadium on the University of South Alabama campus Tuesday. But I want to predominately write about the guys who might have made the strongest impressions of what will be a busy and revealing week of football action.
Morning Practice NATIONAL Team
This is the squad that looks to me on paper as being the more talented group overall. And that is not just because they have the 2 biggest name QB in PENIX & NIX, but more on each of them a bit later.
One of their brightest stars this morning was #72 TALIESE FUAGA OT from Oregon St. He measured in at 6’057/332 lbs. And he does NOT look like a “fat guy” at that weight. He was also very nimble on his feet going either straight ahead or backwards. Some would say that his 33 3/4″ long arms are a bit less than ideal for an edge blocker. But I don’t think the defensive players he handled pretty easily in 1-on-1 blocking drills noticed his arm length. His wingspan is a totally acceptable 81 1/2″. I loved his economy of motion in his pass pro. No lunging, grabbing or nervous feet for this guy. He dominated defenders on every snap of the ball. Practiced like a legit Round 1 OT today.
An absolute revelation along the National OL was JACKSON POWERS-JOHNSON/OC/Oregon. He’s a 6’3/334 block of granite who moves quite well and just overpowers defenders. He’s somewhat of a late bloomer, who was the leader of a very good Oregon OL this season. He is OC No. 1 in this year’s Draft class and looked every bit of it. I would say he’s a notch above last year’s standout OC J.M. SCHMITZ who was a Rookie starter for the GIANTS.
Looks to me like these two guys are about to confirm this week that they are First Round draftees/first year starters for some NFL teams.
The WR group looks almost as good as last year’s group and the leader of the pack today was Michigan’s ROMAN WILSON, who had his best college season this past season. Don’t look for huge production numbers primarily because the Wolverines were a running team, and the WR room was full of talent in Ann Arbor. I am now most acxious to see the 40-time for this guy at the Combine, because he got more separation the deeper the pattern that he was running went. He was almost uncoverable. He is only 5’104, but don’t pigeon hole him into a slot receiver spot, because he stretches the field from anywhere he lines up. I cannot wait to see a 40-time from him next month at the Combine. Same for the guy below.
DEVONTEZ WALKER, #14 out of UNC had a mixed bag of wins & losses, but his hands catching and easy gliding running impressed me right away. Because of eligibility battles with the NCAA his overall grade for the 2023 season had to be an incomplete. But his style and overall skill potential say NFL all day long. He won more than he lost yesterday. This week is an important opportunity to show us more.
JACOB COWING and MALACHI CORLEY struggled a bit to find a groove yesterday, but I expect both of them to look a lot more comfortable and productive by game day.
And speaking of guys coming to Mobile looking to prove their ability and potential lets take just a moment to praise the overall play, and athleticism, displayed by CB MITCHELL QUINYON #7 from Toledo, of the MAC. He stands 6’003/and weighed in at 195 lbs. And he looked nothing but smooth at his CB slot in Tuesday’s practice. I don’t think I have seen a first round Mock Draft in the past month or more that did not have him Round 1 for this year’s Draft. Count me in as being on his band wagon even more after his solid to excellent work in coverage already. He looks so smooth and confident that I’m thinking he earns a starting NFL CB job as a rookie.
As practice unfolded I realized that I was seeing a large #90 flashing past my eyes and making impact plays in every drill he was involved in. His name is DEWAYNE CARTER from Duke and he was a solid performer during his Blue Devils playing career. He was a constant winner in DL/OL 1-on-1’s and flashed into the backfield during Run Game work. He literally looked more explosive than I remembered him being in the 3 Duke games I watched last Fall.
But without a doubt the best DL I saw all day was #95, GABE HALL/DL/Baylor. This guy just blew past blockers in every session of the practice. He was throwing blockers around, literally, and penetrating across the line-of-scrimmage. How about a first day evaluation that he’s a Day Two Draftee in the making. At 6’056/290, with 34 /38″ long arms he’s gonna be a DL coaches dream to work with. He doesn’t waste time dancing with blockers he sheds them.
Afternoon Practice AMERICAN Team
QB JOE MILTON #5 showed off some surprising athleticism and as expected a super powerful arm. I heard someone form NFLNetwor refer to his Jamarcus Russell arm strength and that is the exact comp I have been using this past year. But his accuracy is sporadic and he knows not what the word “touch” means relative to his throws. Is there a QB guru on some NFL team that can refine this guy? That is gonna be a monumental task, and he showed why again in a wildly varied performance overall.
Surprise, at least to me, but USA QB CARTER BRADLEY is the son of NFL Defensive Guru GUS BRADLEY. And he’ll also be a fan favorite for the Mobile Area fans who watched him QB the college team that calls this stadium home.
I doubt it was much of a surprise to very many talent evaluators that Georgia’s WR LADD McCONKEY #84 was a pass catching machine and made me immediately flash to a comp with Hunter Renfrow. McConkey is a bit bigger than many people seem to think, being just a half inch short of 6′ tall. He runs great patterns, gets a bit of separation and just battles for every reception. He likely lasts ’til Day 3 of the Draft, but he shows serious pro potential.
I am not at all impressed with RB room on this squad. And I didn’t see anyone who changed my mind… at least in Practice 1. Hopefully, more to come from this group.
McKINLEY JACKSON, DT, Texas A&M #3 looks almost ridiculous with jersey # 3 on his rather bountiful back side. He has the biggest base (read butt) I think I have ever seen. But he can fire off the ball with power and surprising speed to collapse an IOL group. He buried some guys in 1-on-1. There is no secret to his game and it’s called P-O-W-E-R. And he also uses that frame of his (6’015/331 lbs.) to stay low and submarine blockers. He might be some NFL team’s answer to stopping the tush-push short yardage craze, epitomized by the Eagles in recent seasons. This guy plays bully-ball, and may make a better pro player than he did a collegian.
I didn’t identify any elite CB on this roster, but I will say I liked the toughness and cover skills of #1 NEHEMIAH PRITCHETT CB Auburn. He played aggressively and made several very nice plays downfield throws.
Missouri CB #7 KRIS ABRAMS-DRAINE looked solid in his coverage work. In fact when checking my practice notes I wrote down a comment that on several occasions he actually “ran the pattern” for the wide receiver he was covering. I’ve seen him in most Top 100 prospect lists and want to watch him more this week.
Wrap up… It struck me that these two rosters are poorly matched as currently composed. I see a lot more talent on the National Squad than the American squad. I also felt that at least for Day One practice the coaching staff for the National got a lot more quality work in during their roughly 2 hours of practice time.
But as I always try to remind myself, it’s only Day One of 3 practices and then an actual football game on Saturday.