Bramel parcels his defensive observations into categories that you can use.
I like to think of the third day of Senior Bowl practices as Confirmation Day. Talented players keep their momentum and continue to win the majority of their reps. Projectable players improve as they adapt to better competition and respond to coaching. Others get left behind a bit and it shows.
Both teams changed up some of their individual drills today. While the new drills gave us a chance to evaluate skills in a different way, it also prevented us from comparing how a player performed on Day 1 versus Day 3.
What remained clear, however, is that there are no obviously elite talents in Mobile this week. There will be a small handful of first round picks, but this group is unlikely to produce multiple top 15 picks. There’s also a lack of what GMJr’s Josh Liskiewicz referred to as the Senior Bowl Hero today, a lesser known player who performs above expectations and wins over scouts and media alike (e.g. Dee Ford, Johnathan Cyprien, etc.)
Don’t misunderstand. There is still much to be learned from this week’s practices. We may be watching mostly late second and third day draft potentials, but those talents are vital to an NFL roster.
Matt and I had dinner with someone who knows the football and business side of the NFL on Wednesday night. Our conversation kept coming back to the term “actionable” and recognizing those observations which can be applied to a decision in a useful way. There may not be a glut of elite talent here in Mobile this week, but NFL defenses have grown to value role players more than ever. Josh Norris smartly writes about prospects in this way, asking where they win and how a team might highlight a flawed propsect’s best skill.
With that in mind, here are a handful of players who should be successful on the next level if an NFL team puts them in a role that matches their skill set.
Nate Orchard – Orchard has been the most mature all-around defensive end prospect in Mobile this week for me. He consistently set the edge against both offensive tackles and tight ends and won in pass rush in the pit and team drills. “Good job, Nate,” was the most common sound heard during the North practices. Unfortunately, Orchard struggles mightily in coverage, something which was suspected but not plainly evident until the Tennessee coaches finally included 1v1 OLB v TE coverage drills into practice on Day 3. That’s not to say Orchard won’t be athletic enough to handle a few zone drops a game, but his best fit is probably at defensive end.
Jeff Luc – Luc followed up a solid Day 2 with a good final day of practice. But don’t mistake the praise he’s getting as an indication he’s now worthy of a Day 2 draft pick or that he’s showing he can be an every-down linebacker. But there’s a role for off the line of scrimmage linebackers who won’t be exposed between the tackles and have enough range to play to the sideline and hold their own in coverage on base downs. That’s what Luc is showing here this week.
Quinten Rollins – Rollins might qualify as the “Hero” of this year’s Senior Bowl practices. Inexperienced but not out-of-place in individual drills, you could see Rollins’ footwork improve from practice to practice. There are still some route recognition and receiver reading skills Rollins needs to work on, but his feet and hips look natural against air in drills and translated remarkably well in live action. It’ll be no surprise if he steadily moves up draft boards.
Day 3 (i.e Round 4-7) Situational Players
It’s easy to dismiss pass rushers who struggle to win on the edge with speed or technique. But the NFL is a rotational league now. Hau’oli Kikaha, Owa Odighizuwa, Preston Smith, and Trey Flowers each have flaws as pass rushing talents. But each showed an understanding of hand use and leverage and may be able to play the run well enough to be regular and versatile contributors to an NFL defense. Better speed rush talents like Vic Beasley, Shane Ray, Randy Gregory and others will push this year’s group of Senior Bowl prospects down draft boards. But it’s a deep group of players talented enough to make a roster better.
I found it hard to evaluate the safeties this year. I asked more questions of evaluators I trust this year and got lots of different answers. The consensus before this week seemed to be highest on Cody Prewitt. I wasn’t impressed, however, and I uniformly got looks of “Meh” when I asked others about Prewitt this week. There was no Deone Bucannon or Jimmy Ward here this year, but I’ll be interested to see whether Jaquiski Tartt and Damarious Randall are drafted highly enough to suggest a team believes they’re talented enough to start. I liked the footwork of both but the consistency in one on one coverage drills wasn’t always there.
Things Heard But Not Observed
Observing practice as a credentialed media member is an unbelievable privilege. I owe my good friends Cecil Lammey and Matt Waldman a huge debt of gratitude for that. But I look forward to the discussions I’ve had with those from all sides of the draft community just as much. Sometimes I’ve seen what they’ve seen, sometimes not. But these strong opinions cannot be ignored. Here are some of those observations from this week’s practices:
“Preston Smith is the best all-around defensive end prospect here this week.”
As I noted above, I’d go with Nate Orchard. But Smith quietly handled himself well in every drill this week and will earn consideration on the second day of the draft.
“Markus Golden is a better Missouri pass rushing prospect than Shane Ray.”
I haven’t evaluated Ray yet and can’t intelligently comment here. But, while this is the first time someone has specifically told me Golden is better than Ray, I think there’s a strong sentiment that Golden is underrated as an all-around player. I liked the fight in the undersized Golden against bigger offensive tackles in run defense this week.
“Hayes Pullard and Stephone Anthony can be every-down linebackers.”
I’m skeptical here. Pullard and Anthony looked okay in coverage and weren’t out of position in team drills against the run. But I wasn’t impressed with the routes run by any of the running backs and none of the tight ends here are quick-twitch players. It’s hard to project any of the inside linebackers as cover talents as a result. And, though Pullard and Anthony fit well against the run, no one will be mistaking their fundamental play with the physical, downhill presence I saw from Bobby Wagner and Lavonte David in 2012 or the “How did he get there already?” instincts I saw from Chris Borland in 2014.
“Henry Anderson should get the attention of teams in the late first round who don’t get a look at Leonard Williams and Danny Shelton.”
I like Anderson’s versatility and he won against some of the better offensive tackles and interior linemen here this week. But there are consistency issues with his play and his Day 1 practice was easily his best of the week. Inside, I liked Carl Davis and Grady Jarrett a little better. Outside, I’d rather have Preston Smith or Trey Flowers. But Anderson will be a productive member of an NFL defense.
“Ibraheim Campbell is the best cover safety here.”
Admittedly, I missed the reps where Campbell reportedly locked up Devin Smith and Jamison Crowder one on one in the red zone. But I thought Campbell’s body position in his back pedal was high and his transitions out of his back pedal were a little stiff. But I heard praise for his hand use and footwork from more than one evaluator. He’s on my list of those I’d like to learn more about.
Whereas most draft evaluators have a sense of what these prospects can and cannot do before this week, the Senior Bowl practices are often my first exposure to this year’s college talent. So, I’m often left with as many questions as answers.
There is more work to be done before I come to a conclusion on these players. This week’s observations help to frame my study. I’ll be taking another look at Hau’oli Kikaha and Owa Odighizuwa as pass rushers. Neither won enough off the edge against the competition here. I didn’t see any significant pass rush from Danny Shelton on film but his reps in Mobile suggest he’s capable of more. And I’d need to watch Hayes Pullard, Stephone Anthony and Jeff Luc more critically against the run.
Hope you’ve found our Senior Bowl reporting valuable. I’ll have many more observations on Twitter in the coming weeks.