Matt Waldman’s Rookie Scouting Portfolio recaps the performance of the offensive skill players on the second day of Senior Bowl practices.
The second day of Senior Bowl practices typically ramps up the volume of meaningful reps. A well-prepared evaluator that has watched his or her share of tape on each player isn’t expecting massive improvement or decline.
After all, each technical skill often takes weeks — if not months or years — of practice to develop. It’s like watching grass grow and unless you’ve taken LSD, you’re rarely going to see it happen. If a player does exhibit improvement with a technique, expect that behavior to be inconsistent in game situations until there has been time and effort for the player to truly get it ingrained in his game.
If a player is learning something new in practice, expect mistakes or slower, measured execution. In theory, this is the setting for this to happen.
However, that’s a loaded statement for an event where players enter this week with the expectation of scrutiny that could raise or lower their draft value in many parts of the league and NFL media. As a result, some players are playing ‘not to screw up’ instead of taking chances with new ways of doing things — if the new way of doing things is simple enough to change in the first place (refer to the ‘like watching grass grow’ statement).
This is the perspective I encourage you to cultivate when reading the practice reports from Days 2 and 3.
A popular Josh Allen video making the rounds is Allen and Mayfield before practice navigating some ground pads to simulate drop and pocket footwork. At the end of the footwork movement, they throw the ball into a net with squares about the width of a receiver’s hands.
However, the video is of Allen throwing the ball over the top of the net from 10 yards away. New drills force players to overthink and failure can ensue. In the beginning, this is the design of all exercises — otherwise, they are unnecessary.
The Allen failure is another layer of evidence indicating that he’s not used to sliding, climbing, and side-stepping pressure and delivering the ball with control and accuracy. For me, this is one of the most important components of pocket play. If a quarterback can’t reset and fire an accurate ball, his ability to avoid pressure doesn’t matter nearly as much.
This exercise wouldn’t be of consequence if Allen consistently demonstrated the skill to do what I described above. Yesterday’s slide, reset, and throw of the deep out was the first time I’ve seen it from him with multiple game exposures. Others I chatted with between yesterday and today’s practice also noted this play and had the same reaction, which tells me my chances may be low of seeing him exhibit this skill in other viewings despite the fact that I’ll do the work to find out.
In addition to this display of inaccuracy, he was wide on 2-3 consecutive throws because he was leaning through his releases early on — a common issue and often symptomatic of a quarterback lacking stability in his legs while executing his follow-through.
Other than a one-step climb and throw across the middle to Mike Gesicki, Allen didn’t do it today. However, he had some positive moments. He kicked off practice with a well-thrown deep fade to Allen Lazard who beat his coverage untouched up the left sideline into the end zone. He found Lazard again on a curl that the Iowa State receiver dropped.
For the most part, Allen exhibited similar positives and negatives as seen on his tape. He had two receivers open in the left outside flat and threw the ball between both targets making it difficult to tell whether he was high and behind the shallow option or low and outside the deeper target. On the next play, he effectively set up a tight end screen to Tyler Conklin who exhibited good quickness after the catch to work around two blocks and up the sideline.
Later in practice, he overshot Troy Fumagalli up the seam into the arms of the oncoming safety for an easy interception. And he ended his 11-on-11’s by flushing to his left from pressure, rolling to the flat and waiting until the last second to fire the ball into a tight sideline window to Justin Watson.
Athletically, the play was impressive. However, it appeared that he could have delivered this target earlier to make an easier play for the receiver.
Like the next player below, Allen’s greatest issues that will determine whether teams are to love him or leave him won’t likely be exposed during practice. However, he displays the baseline tools of an NFL quarterback even if I have much higher expectations for a franchise-caliber prospect.
Baker Mayfield is off to the best start of the North quarterbacks. He’s consistently been the most accurate and exhibited some maneuverability and sound decision-making. At the same time, nothing he has done here has been as telling as his tape — so far, his practice performances have demonstrated that when the defense can’t pin him into the pocket and force multiple reads while maneuvering from pressure, he makes good decisions and executes. This is the mark of an NFL-caliber prospect with tools a team can work with.
Mayfield began practice with a completion to DaeSean Hamilton that was a little high but still an easy target. He followed up with a target to a receiver who couldn’t make the one-handed catch while taking contact with the coverage — I believe it was Jaleel Scott but I was paying more attention to Mayfield here. Later in the segment, Mayfield hit Watson after the receiver worked free to the inside.
In the following series, Mayfield hit Braxton Berrios on a curl that Berrios dropped. On the next play, Mayfield was behind his receiver on a short out.
Later, Mayfield went deep on an out-and-up, hitting the receiver for the completion but with the ball placed behind the target and forced an adjustment that may have been intended as a back-shoulder placement based on the leverage of the coverage. Considering it was the first day of practice, I can’t give a definitive answer. He also hit Jaleel Scott with a pinpoint throw an out at the left sideline.
When pressure arrived from the edge, Mayfield climbed and slid to his right and rolled to the flat. He finished the play throwing the ball away. He was pressured on the following play after initially looking to his right. Once again, he climbed from pressure and this time found Akrum Wadley near the sideline.
The third time the defense earned pressure on Mayfield, he hitched twice in the pocket, saw a wide-open middle of the field and took off for about 25 yards before a defender reached him. I didn’t see an open option and while I could go to the film room to verify, I have plenty of tape at home in game situations that doesn’t make it necessary.
It was a good day, but I’m still seeing multiple targets that are less than pinpoint and would have been problematic against tighter coverage. We’ll see if Day 3 yields greater comfort, rapport, and confidence.
Tanner Lee’s practices have been filled with highs and lows. He began the day with accurate throws to Hamilton and Berrios but Hamilton dropped his slant and Berrios was late breaking outside. Hamilton made up for his mistake with a reception of an on-time out.
One of Lee’s best throws was a beautiful skinny post to Michael Gallup. He continued the trend with a well-timed slant to Hamilton and also hit the slant with pinpoint throws to Watson and Scott, although Scott dropped his.
When Lee went deep, he was late and short to Lazard and it gave the defender position to knock the target away. He was also late and inside Gallup on a deep route up the right sideline.
Then the ‘however’ emerged. Lee misread underneath coverage just like he did on Tuesday and threw an interception to the flat defender. Even so, he followed up with an on-time crossing route to Hamilton. He finished the day with a ball high and behind Cedrick Wilson who had told a good story with his route to set up a break to the inside.
Lee looks like the type of prospect who gets drafted and contributes later. All of these quarterbacks in Mobile look this way to me on film. The problem is that the public and the league may have much higher expectations for some of them.
Luke Falk is the forgotten man of this group but he has held his own. One of his best throws was a skinny post to Lazard that was as good as any throw his teammates made during this session. While he underthrew Gallup up the right side and was high on a dig route to Berrios, Falk also made a trio of mature decisions that stood out.
The first was a one-step slide from pressure followed with a quick toss off-platform to Jaylen Samuels. Falk had to slide again to his right when his first read fell down. The quarterback bought time outside the pocket and found Lazard on a comeback up the right sideline with pressure on his trail. And when pressure came from his right, Falk slid to his left and found his tight end in stride on a crossing route.
I’m interested in following Falk’s career track as he competes for a foothold on a roster during the next 3-4 years.
Akrum Wadley is the quickest and most fluid runner in agility drills on either roster. He used one of those trademark jump cuts today to avoid penetration in the backfield on a high toss that nearly went through his hands a step before making that evasive maneuver. Other than a check-down I mentioned earlier, Wadley’s only other notable play was a head-on hit at the line of scrimmage that he bounced off to the left end for a few yards.
Kalen Ballage made a good cutback from left to right on a run but even so, his change of direction was still a little slow. It was something I’ve noticed at times on tape as well as the beginning of practice when working through agility drills. There’s just a little less stability to his C.O.D. at this point in his career. If I were his agent, I’d call Rischad Whitfield, the Footwork King, for some tutelage. The most notable thing about Ballage’s practice was some praise from his position coach for using his pads better on a pass protection drill that focused solely on technique.
Jaylen Samuels: The Wolfpack runner has had some encouraging moments this week — especially today. He made multiple good decisions to reach a crease or make a second cut in the crease to extend plays. The quickness is there when he’s not thinking through a drill or in a wholly unfamiliar situation. While his execution of footwork and agility drills is a little less than top speed, Wadley is the only one better on this roster.
Jaleel Scott has some notable plays on tape as a pass catcher but his practices this week are filled with drops and unrefined routes. His practice session began with instruction to keep his hips down on a turn during a speed out. Then he juggled a pass at chest level and never controlled it as he exited the boundary.
Scott recovered with a nice effort to fight through contact on a tightly covered route inside the numbers but later dropped a tightly covered target he tried to make with one hand. Mayfield later hit Scott in the chest up the left sideline but the receiver let it bounce off his frame incomplete.
DaeSean Hamilton: If the target is within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage and thrown with general accuracy where coverage can’t hit him hard, Hamilton’s winning the reception this week.
Cedrick Wilson: The Boise State vertical threat flashed that good rocker step again today but when he was forced to deal with press coverage and use a different move, he couldn’t win early enough to be a factor. He got tied up by his opponent on a route where he was late to get his head around to the quarterback on a target that whizzed by him incomplete. Against off-man coverage, he was able to tell an effective story with a set up of a defender to get inside but Mayfield placed the ball behind Wilson’s break. In fact, three other quarterbacks placed the ball behind Wilson on a variety of targets today.
Allen Lazard: Exhorted to use his size and play “big-man ball,” Lazard was at his best when he muscled through contact or when there was no contact at all. He led off with a deep route untouched through the release and stem to catch Josh Allen’s first target in stride for a TD. Although this play and bailing out Falk on a scramble drill with a comeback up the right sideline where his best moments as a pass catcher, Lazard played to his size a little better than yesterday. However, this might not have happened if he didn’t begin the day trying to make a defender miss and the Broncos’ receiver coached pulled him aside and told him to do so.
Michael Gallup: When his quarterbacks could find him within the rhythm of the play, he was in the right spot to catch the ball. If I saw every rep, he only dropped one target today.
Mike Gesicki: He’s been a smooth, reliable option on short and intermediate routes thus far. I haven’t seen him in situations that required much manipulation on his part to get free.
Tyler Conklin: His quickness and agility after the catch was notable on a screen. He wasn’t targeted much today in scrimmage conditions.
More of Matt Waldman’s annual coverage of the 2018 Senior Bowl can be found here at the Rookie Scouting Portfolio.