Matt Waldman shares his watchlist for the 2018 Senior Bowl’s South 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 (North Squad preview is here )
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 Kyle Lauletta (Richmond): Lauletta’s skinny posts and seam routes were often a step or two ahead of the receiver’s pace on film. He also seemed hesitant to check-down to his outlets when a down-and-distance situation demanded a big gain and the check-down included room for the receiver to run. This immature playmaking mentality extends to holding onto the ball too long after he’s exhausted 2-3 reads within a reasonable amount of time in the pocket. Lauletta’s range and accuracy as a thrower is also a question mark. I anticipate that the first and last items are the two I’ll see.
QB Mike White (Western Kentucky): I’m seeking more evidence of touch from White on red zone fades. Like Lauletta, he’s maturity to throw the ball away when receivers don’t come open in a timely fashion would be a nice thing to see this week. When the pocket compresses and 2-3 reads are exhausted, it’s often time to throw the ball away rather than buy time. His wisdom with trying opposite hash throws has been questionable — his eyes can be a little too big for his arm. I anticipate the most accessible things I’ll see is his skill throwing on the move and vertical accuracy.
QB Brandon Silvers (Troy): I doubt I’ll see compelling examples of him maneuvering against pressure during practices, but here’s hoping. The same holds true for opportunities to see off-platform throws. Like Lauletta and White, I’m expecting I’ll get more answers about his vertical accuracy and arm strength. There’s a lot of general accuracy to Silvers’ game, but I’d like to see more pinpoint accuracy. Considering his footwork, I’m skeptical I’ll will but his issues aren’t unalterable flaws.
QB Kurt Benkert (Virginia): I’ll be satisfied with what I saw from the week if Benkert can rip some intermediate and deep targets where the trajectory of the throw is a line drive. The touch and placement are good, but I need more viewings to see the extent of his velocity. This week may provide some answers although his stance tells me a lot already. It’s time to see Benkert deliver some digs, comebacks, and deep crossers.
RB Darrel Williams (LSU): This will be my first viewing.
RB Rashaad Penny (San Diego St.): It’s tough to gauge a player’s top speed at these practices and that’s my greatest question about Penny’s athletic ability. Any perimeter runs and bounce-outs he runs this week will prove helpful. More opportunities to see him press and cut in the zone game would be nice, but I’m most interested in seeing Penny work drills as a blocker and receiver.
RB Ito Smith (Southern Mississippi): Former teammate Jalen Richard was one of my underrated players in the 2016 NFL Draft and I got to see a lot of Smith while studying Richard. If the offense runs power this week, I’d like to see Smith do a better job setting up his pulling block. I’m also curious to see how often the bounce-out tempts him. His footwork, when engaged as a stand-up blocker, could also be an area of my focus.
WR Byron Pringle (Kansas State): This will be my first viewing.
WR Tre`Quan Smith (UCF): When he’s forced to adjust his hand position to the target out of his breaks, he can lose the integrity of his technique and drop the ball. I’d like to see if this shows up a lot more in drills. Smith also uses a lot of passive hands technique to catch passes that demand an active attack. His press-release technique can be slow and if he can demonstrate improvement with some focused coaching, it will illustrate something about his ability to learn in practice. If there’s an underlying theme about his game, Smith’s too passive with details that need to be active and from the film I’ve seen thus far, it holds him back. If his details are active and aggressive in practice, I’ll know I should see it in future studies. If not, I’ll bet the three games I’ve seen are indicative of his play.
WR D.J. Chark (LSU): Like his former teammate at Mobile last year, Chark doesn’t sell the vertical from the line of scrimmage when running routes breaking back to the quarterback. His hands weren’t consistent with targets to his beltline and we’ll see if it remains the case this week. Ideally, I’d like to see 6-8 targets where Chark has to make the play versus contact.
WR J’Mon Moore (Missouri): Based on the usage I’ve seen of him at Missouri, this practice will tell me a lot more about him as a route runner.
WR James Washington (Oklahoma St.): The Cowboys receiver can tip off breaks because he brings his pads up too early before his breaks. I’ll be curious if his opponents notice the same thing during drills. While physical and fast, tighter turns upfield after catching the ball is a coachable point and I hope to see the Texans staff point it out. More exposures to receptions with impending contact from a defender would also be helpful for me.
WR Marcell Ateman (Oklahoma St.): Like Washington, Ateman often tips off his breaks and I wonder if his practice opponents will catch onto Ateman’s tells with pacing and step length uniformity at the top of his stems. I’m also seeking a greater variety of targets than what I’ve seen thus far on his game film.
TE Ian Thomas (Indiana): This will be my first viewing.
TE Adam Breneman (UMass): His ball security, first-step at the line of scrimmage, catching the ball against contact, and holding up as a run blocker at the line of scrimmage are all question marks where I believe I have a good answer but seek more evidence.
TE Dallas Goedert (South Dakota St.): We know he’s good in the air, but I want to see how his speed and acceleration stacks up against top college competition. His footwork and route running also require further examination. Goedert’s work against press should be enlightening as will his efforts at the line of scrimmage. He tends to overextend in the run game and doesn’t close the gap with his opponent quick enough.
TE Jordan Akins (UCF): This will be my first viewing.
Matt Waldman’s annual coverage of the 2018 Senior Bowl can be found here at the Rookie Scouting Portfolio.