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For all but two NFL teams, the 2018 season is over. A memory that’s just disappointing for some and excruciatingly painful for others.
They know who they are.
For those teams, the page has already turned to 2019. And even the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams have personnel in Mobile, Alabama, this week for the next step toward April’s NFL draft: the 2019 Reese’s Senior Bowl.
The event is a showcase for the best and brightest seniors in college football, and while the week concludes with a game (sort of) at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on Saturday, the practice sessions that come before it are what really help NFL clubs and draftniks get a better feel for who slots where in this year’s class.
The first of those sessions took place Tuesday. Jon Gruden and the Oakland Raiders staff were helming the North, while Kyle Shanahan and the staff of the San Francisco 49ers were running the South.
Here’s a look at who stood out both in the weigh-ins and on the practice field, beginning with—shock and amazement—the quarterbacks.
Wonder how long it will be before hand size gets discussed.
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If you had “immediately” in the office pool, congratulations.
Weigh-ins and measurements are the first order of business at the Senior Bowl each year. At the quarterback position, there are two measurements that drive the conversation: height and hand size.
There’s no shortage of debate regarding just how important those measurements are, but the general rule of thumb is this: NFL teams prefer quarterbacks who are at least 6’2″ with hands larger than nine inches from thumb tip to pinkie tip. The former (supposedly) helps with seeing and throwing over linemen. The latter aids with gripping the ball—especially when the weather’s cold.
Well, this year’s crop of senior signal-callers has been measured by scouts.
Daniel Jones of Duke, who is the No. 2 quarterback in this year’s class, according to Bleacher Report NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller, cleared both hurdles with ease, checking in at just over 6’5″ with 9 ¾-inch hands.
Missouri’s Drew Lock, who is Miller’s No. 4 quarterback, did just fine in the height department, measuring in at 6’3″ and change. But Lock’s 9-inch hands sent up an eyebrow or two, even if that hand size hasn’t seemed to hurt Jared Goff of the Rams.
Things went a bit better for West Virginia’s Will Grier, whom Miller slotted third among this year’s quarterbacks. The former West Virginia standout has 9 ½-inch hands to go with his 6’2″, 218-pound frame.
Jarrett Stidham of Auburn, Miller’s fifth-ranked quarterback, was also OK in both regards—a little over 6’2″ with 9 ⅜-inch hands.
This year’s biggest head-turner in the tale of the tape is undoubtedly Buffalo’s Tyree Jackson. Jackson, whom Dane Brugler of The Athletic called a blend of Josh Allen and Cardale Jones, is one large individual at 6’7″ even and 249 pounds with 10-inch hands.
Does any of this matter? Maybe not.
But it will be talked and written about plenty nonetheless.
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Lock got a bit of a head start on the other players in Mobile.
Whether it’s meeting with Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins, addressing the not-so-quiet rumblings regarding the Denver Broncos’ interest in him or talking shop with the North Team (and Raiders) head coach Jon Gruden, Lock revealed it’s already been a busy week for him before practices even started.
Lock, who threw for almost 3,500 yards and had 28 touchdowns last season, credited his return for his senior year with helping to advance his knowledge of the game significantly, per Eric Edholm of Power Mizzou:
“We went into a play we ran a quite a bit at Mizzou — we called it Ernie, he called it something else — and he went through how he reads it. It’s just another example of why I should have stayed my last year. I would have come in there and had eyes like this [wide open] talking to him. I would have had no idea what he was talking about. I would have been overwhelmed.And here I was, just sitting there talking to Jon Gruden, like this: Shoot your shot at me. I’m ready.”
Lock also said he intends to show scouts in Mobile that he’s the No. 1 signal-caller in a muddied class.
“As far as from a competitor’s standpoint, I have to say I do believe I am the best quarterback in this class. … I’ve been trying to become a pure pocket passer who can run a little if he has to,” Lock said. “Show them my drops, show how fluid I can be in the pocket. That will be big for me this week.”
It was just one day of practice, but Lock showed off an NFL arm Tuesday…the best of any of the eight quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl.
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There’s little question that quarterback Will Grier is the most hyped prospect from West Virginia in the class of 2019. At a position that has no clear front-runner, that’s hardly a surprise.
There’s also little question that Grier’s first day in Mobile was…eventful.
There was an explanation of Grier’s bowl-game absence. He said he didn’t skip it as originally believed. He had torn ligaments in his ankle, according to Daniel Popper of The Athletic (h/t RotoWire, via CBSSports.com).
There was a missed media availability session (again, not skipped—there was apparently just a mix-up).
And there was an up-and down workout that included both excellent and missed throws.
Grier connected with fellow WVU product David Sills V on a long score and showed good zip on most of his passes, but his accuracy came and went a bit when he threw on the run in team drills.
Josh Norris of Rotoworld singled out Sills before the Senior Bowl as a player who could help his stock with a good showing:
“I’m not saying ‘big’ receivers are being phased out of the NFL. But slow and big receivers are. The NFL went from prioritizing size to prioritizing separation. Sills, however, is fluid, separates, plays big and actually makes good on his red zone potential, as he was dominant in that area in college. The more ‘small’ skills he shows this week, the better.”
So far, so good. The 6’4″ Sills showed good wheels and the ability to separate Tuesday.
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There may not be a non-quarterback at the Senior Bowl whose first day was more anticipated than Mississippi State edge-rusher Montez Sweat.
After a senior season in which he piled up 14 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks, Sweat is a potential top-10 pick in April’s draft—if he checks all the boxes between now and then.
So far, so good.
It started with the weigh-in. Sweat checked in at 6’6″ on the nose and 252 pounds—up from his listed weight of 241 with the Bulldogs.
That added weight doesn’t appear to have affected the speed and explosiveness off the edge that defined Sweat’s collegiate career. He was one of the big winners for the South in individual drills, using his 35 ⅝-inch arms to absolutely destroy a lineman as those drills wound down.
In his most recent mock draft at Bleacher Report, Matt Miller predicted that Sweat would begin his pro career with the Tennessee Titans.
“Sweat is long, physical, fast and versatile enough to stand up or put his hand in the dirt,” Miller wrote. “He’s also super competitive, which is why he has a chance to shoot his stock past the Titans’ draft reach with a big week at the 2019 Senior Bowl.”
Sweat’s well on his way to doing just that.
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If the first day of practices were any indication, Rock Ya-Sin has his sights set on leaving Mobile as the best senior cornerback in the nation.
Mind you, the 5’11”, 189-pound Ya-Sin (a midyear transfer from Presbyterian College) doesn’t have that far to climb in the eyes of some draftniks. Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com ranked him as the No. 2 cornerback in this class and a potential Round 1 pick.
“Ya-Sin has ideal size, speed, toughness and ball skills. In off coverage, he has quick feet and he’s very fluid when he turns and opens up. He doesn’t waste steps on his plant and drive — he closes in a hurry. In press coverage, Ya-Sin needs to do a better job of using his hands and he will occasionally get turned around versus shiftier wideouts. Fortunately, he has the speed to recover when he’s caught out of position.”
Ya-Sin did indeed get turned around once in one-on-ones, but he also displayed impressive physicality, disrupting routes and causing what would have been a forced fumble in a game.
All in all, it was an excellent start to the week.
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The most famous Deebo in history is currently a fictional character—the neighborhood bully in Friday.
South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel is making a run at that title.
Prior to Tuesday’s workouts, Tommy Call of 95.7 the Game highlighted Samuel as a player that South Team (and San Francisco) head coach Kyle Shanahan would be well-served to keep a close eye on:
“Samuel is special with the football in his hands, the definition of a dynamic playmaker. One thing to keep in mind when hearing about Samuel is he dealt with a super inconsistent passer in college, so the fact he will have some legit passers throwing him the ball will greatly benefit his draft stock, enough to where he could be a first round pick.”
The quarterback play for the South was inconsistent on Day 1, and Samuel didn’t have a flawless performance (not that he’s expected to first time out with a new team). But there wasn’t a more consistent winner in WR vs. DB drills than the 5’11”, 216-pounder.
Samuel’s explosiveness was on full display, including his long speed, which will have draftniks drooling over what he will run at next month’s combine. And his short-area quickness may have been even more impressive.
All this came from the player B/R’s Matt Miller listed as the draft’s biggest sleeper at the position just a couple of weeks ago.
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There isn’t a team in the NFL that heads to the Senior Bowl saying to itself: “We’re not going to look at any tackles. Don’t need ’em.”
The annual problem is that many young linemen who play tackle at the collegiate level are projected as guards in the pros because of a lack of length. That’s the case with Kansas State’s Dalton Risner, who played at both ends of the line for the Wildcats. Risner was Miller’s sixth-ranked guard prospect (and the top pass-blocker at the position) on the latest big board.
However, the concerns about Risner’s length may have been a bit overblown. He measured at 6’4″ and 308 pounds with arms over 34 inches long.
For his part, Risner told Jordan Reid of Cover 1 that he intends to practice at right tackle in Mobile—and show NFL teams that’s where he belongs.
“I don’t think that people really know who Dalton Risner is yet,” he said. “You know, I want the scouts to look outside and say … ‘Who is that guy? He looks pissed off.’”
Actually, that’s not all he said. But the rest was, um, colorful.
If Risner can show he can play tackle in the pros, his draft stock will get a sizable boost.
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The small-school watch is one of the annual rites of passage at the Senior Bowl. It’s understandable—everyone loves the little guy, and the notion of a young player going from a tiny college to NFL stardom is a great story.
According to Scott Bair of NBC Sports Bay Area, Senior Bowl chief Jim Nagy highlighted a pair of small-school standouts worth watching this week.
Delaware safety Nasir Adderley is a 5’11”, 195-pound converted cornerback with plus ball skills who has reeled in nine interceptions over the past two seasons for the Blue Hens. Matt Miller has Adderley as the fourth-best safety in the class of 2019, while Dane Brugler placed Adderley atop his rankings at the position.
If Adderley fares well in Mobile, the first-round buzz surrounding him is going to grow.
Charleston edge-rusher John Cominsky certainly looks the part at 6’5″ and 286 pounds with 33 ⅛-inch arms. The numbers are there too: 39.5 tackles for loss over the last two years.
However, that production came in the Mountain East conference in Division II. This week’s practices (and Saturday’s game) offer Cominsky a chance to show he can do that against the best in college football.
Both players were relatively quiet Tuesday, but they are names to file away as the week progresses.
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There’s no way this notebook would be complete without mentioning Khalen Saunders of Western Illinois.
Saunders entered the Senior Bowl with a measure of hype—not necessarily because of what he accomplished in college but because of his ability to peel off backflips.
At 320 pounds.
But that’s only the beginning of Saunders’ Tuesday journey. As Saunders prepared for one of the biggest days of his football life, he learned that his fiancee, Ayanna Hall, was about to give birth to their first child.
Saunders stayed in Mobile. With her blessing, according to Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports.
Guess that makes the whole “how much do love football?” question easy enough to answer.
Given the circumstances, it would be understandable if Saunders didn’t have the best of practice sessions. The pressure of working out for scouts from every team in the NFL plus the angst a first-time dad feels waiting for word that he’s officially a father is a lot on a fella’s plate.
That’s not what happened, though. In fact, Saunders won as many one-on-one battles as any D-lineman on the North squad Tuesday. Maybe more.
When your fiancee tells you to go get ’em, you by golly better go get them.
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Adderley and Cominsky aren’t the only small-school players in Mobile.
And at least one made quite the impression…just by standing up.
As Dane Brugler tweeted Tuesday, tight end Donald Parham of tiny Stetson University in DeLand, Florida—yes, that’s an actual school in an actual place—checked in at over 6’8″ and 243 pounds and had arms over three feet long.
“They had to turn the ceiling fan off before he stood up,” Brugler wrote.
Parham’s measurables aren’t the only eye-popping thing. One of only two consensus FCS All-Americans in 2018, Parham piled up 85 receptions for 1,319 yards and 13 scores in just nine games. Scouts will no doubt want to see the converted basketball player work as a blocker, but Parham told reporters that he’s eager to show he’s capable of being a well-rounded tight end.
“I’m a first-down kind of guy. I get you that first down on third down,” Parham said. “I’m a deep threat when it’s needed. My upper level is always there. It’s just a matter of good technique and also getting my lower body overall stronger.”
Like most of the FCS players in Mobile, Parham’s eager to show he belongs.
“Small schools hardly ever get recognized throughout the season, especially coming from Stetson,” he said. “We didn’t go to the playoffs, so we weren’t in the limelight during those times. I have to make sure I always put my best foot forward and applying myself whenever I get my opportunity in front of scouts.”
Parham put his money where his mouth was in drills, bodying up defensive backs and getting open with ease while showing good hands.