Matt Waldman shares his watchlist for the 2018 Senior Bowl’s North Squad and what he hopes to see during the week of practices.
The Senior Bowl is one of the highlights of my work year.
If you’re new to the Rookie Scouting Portfolio or haven’t paid attention to this site’s college all-star game coverage in the past, I recommend reading last year’s Senior Bowl Primer and A Senior Bowl FAQ. These posts share my philosophy on these events and I know it often differs from the norm.
I haven’t kept exact track of how long I’ve been going to Mobile but every year, I learn something valuable. Those lessons aren’t always from the field or directly sharable with readers.
The Senior Bowl functions as a networking event for various facets of the football community. While I’m not looking for work, the week in Mobile is good for meeting potential new guests for RSP-related projects or earning guest opportunities on their shows.
Still, you’re here to learn about the 2018 class and when practices start, I tend to pop the earbuds in and tell my colleagues that it’s time for me to go to work. Here’s my watchlist for the 2018 Senior Bowl Practices and what I hope to see:
A note about quarterbacks: There’s really no use for me to get into the mechanics of their footwork and release with you this week. These behaviors are deeply ingrained and rarely will you see a significant change take hold during a week of practice. If they do, odds are those old behaviors rear its ugly heads on Saturday.
QB Tanner Lee (Nebraska): Based on the years of practices I’ve observed, odds are low that I’ll see notable evidence of his pocket maneuverability but it’s at the top of the list of things I want to see from Lee. If it happens, I bet I’ll see how he responds to edge pressure. Of the tape I’ve seen, I have questions about him feeling edge pressure early enough. I hope I’ll see enough deep throws to get a gauge of his arm and accuracy in the vertical game.
QB Luke Falk (Washington State): I haven’t seen this year’s tape on Falk, so I’m hoping he’s improved at adjusting his feet in the pocket as he moves to the next progression read. This impacts his rhythm and accuracy as a thrower. Quarterbacks tend to be less aggressive during scrimmage conditions this week. If Falk proves the exception, I’ll be looking for him to show restraint when pressed into a corner or his initial routes don’t come open. He can press the issue, holding onto the ball too long or making an ill-advised throw.
QB Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma): I want to see him exhibit a mature internal clock in the pocket and not drift in the pocket. I’ve seen some of Mayfield’s anticipation, but I want to see a lot more. Most of the time, Mayfield has exhibited see-it, throw-it behavior on tape. My greatest question is Mayfield’s ability to deliver the ball consistently and accurately in the middle of the field without the need for baked-in misdirection from the scheme. A close second is his timing on red zone plays: Can he make quick decisions or will he lean too hard on buying time after he misses optimal situations that he could have hit in rhythm?
QB Josh Allen (Wyoming): Expect some ‘wow’ plays where Allen runs from pressure and fires an Elway-like rope across the field to a receiver sitting behind coverage. Then expect Big Draft to need some wet wipes and some private time. If Allen can demonstrate controlled and mature movement in the pocket while under pressure, I’ll have more optimism about his upside. I also need to see Allen identify the optimal read and execute it regardless of pressure.
RB Akrum Wadley (Wadley): I doubt I’ll see this but if he earns a shot at blitz pick-up in 11-on-11’s, has he learned to tighten his setup to the nearest inside blocker on edge assignments? When blocking, he leans into contact and I want to see more punching from him in drills to determine how far along he is with this technique. As a runner, Wadley can make one bounce too many when working inside-out — how frequent is this behavior? Wadley’s feet can stop when he encounters hard contact from front-seven defenders. I’m hoping this behavior has changed.
RB Kallen Ballage (Arizona St.): I’m seeking positive signs of improvement with whatever footwork drills the Broncos throw at him. This is especially true of footwork that’s used when cutting outside in ways that mimic a bounce-out. Ballage drops his head way too often into defenders when engaged as a stand-up blocker and any improvement there would be excellent. His cut blocking efforts are so awkward that I’ve feared he’d hurt himself. If Ballage can massively upgrade his footwork and pass protection, he becomes an enticing prospect. We’ll see if he displays any behavior that gives teams the impression that he’s a tall glass of water that’s half-full.
RB Jaylen Samuels (NC State): I’d like to see him and Ballage land straight-arms. More importantly, Samuels’ vision as a full-time back will be the focus of this week’s practices — at least as much as it can be in these sessions.
More Additions At Running Back: I hope Phil Savage’s crew has invited 2-3 more backs. I can understand why Sony Michel and Nick Chubb won’t be here so other than the Georgia duo, players I would have loved to see include De`Lance Turner (Alcorn St), Justin Jackson (Northwestern), Keith Ford (Texas A&M), Lavon Coleman (Washington), and Royce Freeman (Oregon).
I’m hoping Jackson will be here after positive work from the Shrine Week.
WR Michael Gallup (Colorado St): I’ve seen him repeatedly lose concentration over the middle when the flash of a safety comes into his view. His speed breaks weren’t as sharp on film as they could be and this is a good environment to see improvement. The same is true of Gallup selling the vertical during the first 5-7 yards of his release from the line. Gallup has a lot of minor details that need work but could make a significant difference in his game. Promising signs of Gallup tweaking his less refined behaviors will enhance my perception of him.
WR Allen Lazard (Iowa State): How he handles press coverage will tell me a lot about his projected role. I anticipate he’s more of a Vincent Jackson-like, free-access option. We’ll see if Lazard proves he’s more. He’s also been a hand-clapper as a pass catcher on tape and it heightens his chances of dropping targets. I’d like to see more triangle-making with his hands and less golf-clapping.
WR DaeSean Hamilton (Penn State): It’s not surprising he performed well enough at Shrine Game practices to earn an invitation to Mobile. Like Lazard, I want to see evidence of better acceleration and suddenness than I’ve witnessed on film.
WR Jaleel Scott (New Mexico St.): He gets pinned to the sideline too often and must learn to own the outside flat. I’ll be pleased if Scott shows something different in drills or make strides with coaching this week. More effort and effective variety with his release patterns against press coverage than what I’ve observed will also be good signs. If Scott can’t keep his feet after the catch when trying to elude defenders, I may have concerns about his balance. Scott will be a prime candidate for the ‘awe’ factor that comes from acrobatic plays, but I’m seeking evidence of refinement or physical suddenness with his routes so I can project the range of his upside.
WR Cedrick Wilson (Boise State): Like Lazard and Scott, Wilson’s work against press coverage in drills will offer helpful intel about the progress of his game. I want to see him sell his releases better and display a lot more variety. His sideline work is also a question mark for me. Wilson’s progress with hard breaks is also on my list.
WR Justin Watson (Penn): This will be my first viewing.
WR Braxton Berrios (Miami): I didn’t see enough violence with his release moves against press coverage when studying his tape and I want more snap and suddenness with releases and breaks. Berrios tends to cradle the ball to his body on low targets and leaving his feet too early and unnecessarily on high targets. If he can show some signs of improvement with extending for the ball, it will be a positive week. I doubt it because players don’t like to take a lot of chances during practice when scrutinized this heavily.
TE Durham Smythe (Notre Dame): This will be my first viewing.
TE Troy Fumagalli (Wisconsin): If Fumagalli can demonstrate improvement with anchoring against edge defenders that will be a major win for him this week. Earning position earlier in his assignments will help. I have questions about his ankle, knee, and hip flexibility as an athlete and I wonder if it limits his balance as a route runner and receiver. If he’s on the ground a lot after making the catch on targets that I think could have been made in stride, I’ll have a compelling answer.
TE Tyler Conklin (Western Michigan): Timing and setup of fade routes, boundary awareness, and hip and knee flexibility to drop his weight into breaks and make lateral cuts will be some of the things that I hope to see from Conklin this week. I like his tape as an underneath receiver and stalk blocker but the more he can show as a stand-up blocker or dynamic target, the better.
Matt Waldman’s annual coverage of the 2018 Senior Bowl can be found here at the Rookie Scouting Portfolio.