Conclusions from this week of practices.
As someone who studies film yearlong, the Senior Bowl has a different purpose for me than those in the media who are just getting acquainted with prospects. While I haven’t studied every player before traveling to Mobile, I’ve usually seen 85-95 percent of them.
The Senior Bowl offers a setting where I can see a coaching staff’s assessment, how player’s handle instruction, and certain practice habits. I understand that they are winners and losers in the eyes of corporate media editors, fans, agents, and players that are invested in the draft game.
I am not one of them. The draft is the short game. I recognize its importance with starting salary and early playing opportunity, but I prefer the long game of talent, work ethic, and persistence paying off. These three things aren’t an unstoppable formula, but they hold more value than the machinations of the draft.
After three days of practice, I’ve sorted the skill players into three groups:
- Caught My Eye – Notable positives or negatives.
- More to See – Not enough observable information from this week.
- Re-evaluate – Information that flew in the face of what I thought heading in.
To clarify, many of these players fit multiple categories but for the sake of this post, I’m going to simplify my conclusions. Let’s do this.
Caught My Eye-Positive
WR Isaiah Jones, East Carolina: The thing I appreciated about Jones all week was the smoothness of his routes and his ability to get on top of a defender early in his pattern. He did this twice on go routes during Day Three’s practice and it echoed what I’ve seen from him on tape.
WR Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington: Kupp made his job look easy this week. The worst rep I saw from him in three days was a quick breaking hitch that was poorly timed with the pass and the target bounced off Kupp’s chest well before he even thought to look for the ball, much less raise his arms to greet it. Kupp routinely earned separation against all types of coverage and he could win the ball in the air. If I had to pick one receiver for my team from this event, I’d take Kupp.
TE Jonnu Smith, FIU: I have more to see because I haven’t studied Smith yet, but his overall play caught my eye repeatedly this week. He’s quick, he tracks the ball well into his hands, he earns position well against tight coverage, he shows promise as a pass protector. Smith got beat with one inside move early on in Day Three drills but didn’t lose to another defender for the final four reps. He dropped multiple passes, but based on his tracking, hand position, and the defender’s efforts on these drops, I wouldn’t be surprised if Smith is more reliable than what my observations suggest.
RB Matt Dayes, NC State: The Wolfpack runner was smooth and explosive.
TE Evan Engram, Ole Miss: The most consistent route runner and pass catcher at the position all week.
WR Fred Ross, Mississippi St: Getting to see Ross improve his route running before our eyes added value to his projection because he arrived to Mobile a reasonably sure-handed and athletic option.
WR Chad Williams, Grambling: His consistent performances against top college talent was a validation of the athletic ability I saw from him on tape. It will be easier to project his development potential after seeing him make small improvements throughout this week while winning mostly on his physical ability.
RB Jamaal Williams, BYU: There wasn’t a lot to see, but he had a few moments to give a brief demonstration of the burst, decisiveness, and agility that I’ve seen on tape.
Caught My Eye-Negative
WR Jalen Robinette, Air Force: His routes aren’t smooth, they lack burst, and his size and I have doubts that his catch radius will compensate for his difficulty getting separation at the next level.
TE Jeremy Sprinkle, Arkansas: Sprinkle has upside as a blocker and short area receiver, but he’s a lumbering athlete compared to those at this game. He also lacks coordination with his arm movement. Because of his size and strength, it’s sometimes a happy accident that he clubs a defender with a forearm or fist when the intent was to avoid the opponent with a release move.
TE O.J. Howard, Alabama: A false start penalty, multiple dropped passes, poor effort on a catch able target, and lining up with a stance that you’d think would have been addressed at Alabama were among the things that confirmed my concerns about Howard on tape. Howard is the most impressive athlete at the position in Mobile, but his approach to the game is a detriment to his ability.
RB Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego St: I hate it, but his weight is an issue. If you’ve read my work in the past, you know that I have a wider range than most when it comes to physical dimensions. Running back is one of the widest for me in this respect. But Pumphrey’s 169-pound frame that’s also far skinnier than Darren Sproles’ thick-legged build at Kansas State concerns me. I have no doubt about Pumphrey’s skills. If he was 185-pounds, I’d consider him a viable committee option. Unless he can add and keep 10-15 pounds, I’m skeptical that he’ll earn a roster spot.
WR Ryan Switzer, UNC: He had a strong week as a route runner and reliable receiver, but with one exception—targets requiring a wide, but convertible catch radius. This also confirmed one of my concerns about Switzer’s upside.
More to See
RB Corey Clement, Wisconsin: I liked that he was the aggressive with his punch during pass protection drills. I also liked his receiving ability. But I didn’t see good decisions between the tackles and I only saw enough tape on Clement prior to this week that his vision in Mobile differs from my early studies.
All the Quarterbacks: This is not the place to seriously study the position unless you’re getting to review tape and whiteboard with the player. Even Nate Peterman, who I thought displayed the best decision-making, pinpoint accuracy, and polish at the position (things I didn’t remotely have the opportunity to see with anyone else playing quarterback in Mobile this week), didn’t have a rep where I could gauge his arm talent to its fullest.
WR Amba Etta-Tawo, Syracuse: Although a finger dislocation mitigates some of his issues catching targets over his head, I thought stems, breaks, and position on the ball had a lot of inconsistencies this week.
WR Amara Darboh: I liked what he did against coverage a lot more than the routes he ran during drills. That can be interpreted as a positive, but Darboh wasn’t facing NFL defenders and the drills and instruction were based on what will be needed in the pros.
RB Kareem Hunt: I didn’t see much that was negative, but there weren’t enough reps to take away positives. I think any observations about his burst are rife with projection based on how observers liked Hunt on film before seeing him in Mobile. I’m sidestepping that potential trap.
RB De’Veon Smith: There’s little doubt he can catch the football and there’s enough burst in his legs that he be a tough tackle with momentum behind his 220-pound frame. I still need to examine where I should separate the Michigan offensive line from Smith’s performances.
WR Jamari Staples, Louisville: The tall, lanky receiver is fluid at the catch point and not fazed by tight coverage or contact. This was also evident on tape. What I didn’t see in Mobile is refined route running, strong releases at the line of scrimmage, and skill after the catch. I’m hoping additional film study will provide better answers.
WR Artavis Scott, Clemson: Can Scott be a quality outside receiver? This week offered signs with his route running and catch radius. I need more film evidence to support this idea.
TE Gerald Everett, South Alabama: This is the first time I’ve seen Everett and I liked the quickness and skill to track the ball. I only saw one dropped pass, but I want to determine how much his smaller than average hands will actually matter at the next level. I also didn’t see enough of him as a blocker.
WR Trent Taylor, Louisiana Tech: If you asked me before the Senior Bowl how I thought Taylor would fare, my answer was positive. I was excited to see him show a little more than his projected slot role and I thought he’d out-perform Ryan Switzer. Instead, Taylor failed to earn separation against press coverage and he made too many moves as a route runner, often faking himself out and missing the target. Eliminate some of the extra moves and there is enough talent for Taylor to become a slot option in the NFL. But he struggled mightily against press coverage and I need a few more games of study to project his upside.
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