During the week before Super Bowl week, there’s always a lull surrounding the NFL. Many fans are waiting for Super Bowl week and are disappointed with the lack of football. For draft nuts like myself, that week is as busy as any. The Reese’s Senior Bowl fills that week beautifully for us who enjoy evaluating players for the next level. The Senior Bowl is one of the last times for scouts and GMs to get a look at the best seniors in college football, all in one convenient week of practices and a game. The Senior Bowl is often a spot where draft prospects increase their stock and secure more money on draft day. Who stood out this week? Did anyone give themselves a chance to go in round one? Let’s take a look at some prospects who caught attention.
You might say “How could you evaluate a player during a practice?”. Well, you want to see guys who will practice how they play, and also, the one-on-one drills they have give you immediate looks at who is standing out. All week, there were matchups to watch. Each day, the OLine and DLine went one-on-one. The receivers and defensive backs went at it in the middle of the field and in the red zone. Also, specific drills to test the pass protection of running backs and the coverage of inside and outside linebackers were implemented. With all these drills, plenty of players stood out for different reasons. Here are 12 practice standouts to consider.
Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina: Plenty of heads were turned when Jones got to work on the field. He had very good hands and found the ball real well in one-on-ones. One play that stood out? He went up against 6 foot 2 corner Rasul Douglas from West Virigina. He ran a streak down the sideline and was able to high point the ball and come down with it against a big, physical corner. That moment was the catalyst for his week; it all went up from there.
OJ Howard, TE, Alabama: If you don’t know this name, you will. The Alabama tight end was already high on many boards (including mine), but he stepped it up this week in Mobile. There wasn’t a matchup he couldn’t win, and he especially stood out in full 11-on-11 drills. His speed and versatility translate beautifully at the next level, and his added value as a blocker cements his status as a likely top 20 pick.
Haason Reddick, LB, Temple: Reddick was another name people hadn’t heard much of going into the Senior Bowl, but he made sure that people would know. Where did Reddick stand out? Well, just about everywhere. He did an excellent job in one-on-one coverage, and ate up the running backs in the pass protection drill. He has serious speed to play inside and the explosiveness to come off the edge. That kind of versatility will wow teams.
Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU: White was a headliner coming into Mobile, and even though his week was cut short with injury, he made an impact. When he lined up against receivers, no matter if they were big or small, speedy or shifty, White could cover them all. He did very well down the sideline, guiding receivers out of bounds at the catch point. With his performance, many believe he could be on the cusp of a round one pick.
Carlos Watkins, DT, Clemson: Carlos Watkins has been an intriguing prospect, and many have gotten to see his ability in the College Football Playoff. He has the quickness and power to eat up interior linemen, and he did just that in Mobile. He won’t be a first round pick, but Watkins will be a great find for someone on day two.
Dalvin Tomlinson, DT, Alabama: Tomlinson was the other interior defensive lineman who grabbed headlines this past week. He is often forgotten on a defensive line that features Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams, and Ryan Anderson. But, make no mistake, Tomlinson makes an impact when he is on the field. He made a mess of the offensive line in drills, and his ability to engage and toss defenders inside make him an intriguing prospect come April.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington: Many scouts and analysts drooled over Kupp’s ability during the week. I can only remember one drop from him, and the fact that he actually dropped a pass stunned many. His hands are second to none in this draft, and he is an excellent route runner. Plenty of teams could use a route runner on the offensive side of the ball, and with the amount of drops we see in the NFL, teams know what they are getting with Kupp.
Evan Engram, TE, Mississippi: The tight ends were one of the brightest spots during the week, and even though OJ Howard grabbed many headlines, Evan Engram did very well all week. Engram has the field stretching ability that teams want to see in this passing league. Many question whether he is a tight end or a wide receiver, but if he can show that his blocking can continually improve, he would give defensive coordinators nightmares.
Trent Taylor, WR, Louisiana Tech: The term shifty is used primarily for slot receivers, and that’s what we see here. Taylor has excellent quickness, and reminds me a lot of Cole Beasley. Ryan Switzer was another who was shifty, but he struggled to get off of press coverage in drills. Taylor, on the other hand, was much smoother on his releases.
Cam Sutton, CB, Tennessee: When corners are evaluated, teams look for ball skills as well as their coverage ability. Sutton showed plenty of ball skills this week against top receivers, and showed versatility by playing some safety during drills. With many corners looking to stand out, Sutton showed flashes all week.
Dion Dawkins, OL, Temple: During a week when we saw the defensive linemen continuously wreak havoc in drills, not many offensive linemen held their own. Dion Dawkins was one of those linemen. He showed he can handle power and speed off the edge while also holding his own when he was kicked inside to guard. This guy is a riser on my board.
Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan: Lewis was another corner who stood out. Many believe he doesn’t have the size to play outside, but his press coverage ability and his ball skills say otherwise. One play comes to mind when thinking of Lewis’ potential. In a red zone drill, Lewis got his inside arm on the receiver early and forced him outside. He then broke up the pass. Keep an eye on Lewis throughout the process.
As you can see, there were plenty of takeaways from the practices. But, games usually provide stiffer competition and allow scouts to see who adapts and who can succeed with the pressure applied. Let’s take a look at who starred during the game.
Davis Webb, QB, Cal: Webb was far and away the best quarterback in Mobile. It didn’t come to the forefront until game time, but boy could you see the difference. Webb has elite arm talent, and he made some throws down the field that impressed. His touchdown pass to Josh Reynolds was a brilliant toss, and if he can be consistent in the accuracy department, then he could be an eventual starter.
Kareem Hunt, RB, Toledo: Hunt finally got to show the world what we’ve been missing. He is 208 pounds of speed and power, and no one could stop him once he reached the open field. He is impressive when it comes to breaking tackles and finishing runs. Some team will scoop him up on draft day.
Carroll Phillips, EDGE, Illinois: Many scouts were impressed with Phillips’ speed and explosiveness off the edge all week, and it was good to see him produce on the field. His speed rush past tackle Conor McDermott was outstanding, and that resulted in a sack for Phillips. If he can consistently get by tackles on key situations, there will be a place for him, at least as a situational pass rusher.
Jordan Willis, EDGE, Kansas State: Jordan Willis did a decent job during practice all week, and he showed up big on Saturday. He set the edge well and did a good job getting pressure and throwing quarterbacks off their rhythm. He, like Phillips, has serious potential, but what separates Willis is his ability to use power to get past linemen.
Vince Biegel, OLB, Wisconsin: Vince Biegel got involved early and often on Saturday, with great pressure off the edge and getting involved in big plays, including the forced fumble on running back Matt Dayes. Biegel is one of those guys who has great work ethic and a great motor, but his size could be an issue against quicker linemen. Nevertheless, Biegel is someone scouts will be pondering over.
Obi Melifonwu, S, Connecticut: Remember this name folks. You don’t see a 6 foot 4 safety very often, and his weigh in at the combine will be impressive. Melifonwu came up and laid some big hits on running backs early, showing his ability to play the Kam Chancellor role on defense. If he can run well, Melifonwu could be a late find that develops into a solid safety or even a moneybacker in a hybrid role.
Lorenzo Jerome, S, Saint Francis: Another small school guy with big play potential. It’s hard to ignore Jerome, who intercepted two passes and forced a fumble. That ability to create turnovers never goes unnoticed, so you know scouts will be frantically searching for his tape this week.
Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina: What more can you say about this guy? It’s unfortunate he wasn’t credited with either touchdown (even though the first one would have been had it been reviewed), but scouts won’t care about that. Jones has all the intangibles needed to play the position, and he looks like a future star.
What We Learned
Small School Standouts: There are always guys who many don’t hear much about before Senior Bowl week, and there are always guys who leave the week with plenty of buzz. Let’s think about it. Haason Reddick from Temple, Zay Jones from East Carolina, Cooper Kupp from Eastern Washington, and Kareem Hunt from Toledo are just four of the many names scouts will remember in the coming weeks. The moral of the story? Senior Bowl week means a lot, and if you get noticed, you can really help your stock.
Jake Schyvinck covers the NFL and the NFL Draft for The Sports Guys. Follow him on Twitter @JSchyvinck13.