2020 Senior Bowl Roundup

Photo Credit: Vasha Hunt (USA Today Sports)

You’ll be hard-pressed to find an event quite like the Senior Bowl. With nearly 1,000 NFL personnel, evaluators, coaches, scouts and media alike, the Senior Bowl is the one week of the year you can get legitimately excited to spend your time in Mobile, Ala.

With an incredible football atmosphere and die-hard locals, the week-long event is a rare chance to get incredible insider access to the next wave of NFL talent.

After three full in-depth practices for both the North and South rosters on top of the game itself, the past week provided a great chance to get a closer look at many prospects I’ve watched on film, and an even better opportunity to see a handful of small-school players who have stood out for some time.

If you’re a hardcore draft nut or just like to tune in on draft weekend, take a moment to read these notes on the next crop of young talent entering the NFL:

THE BEST OF THE BEST

It didn’t take long to realize who the most talented players were after just one day. The cream rose to the top with a few names clearly better than their peers who were flat out playing on another level from the competition.

Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina 

From his opening press conference, Kinlaw won the week before they even strapped the pads on. He has monster size and pythons he calls “arms” to match his impressive quickness off the ball. Kinlaw is closing the gap on SEC Defensive Player of the Year Derrick Brown as the best defensive tackle in the draft.

After this week, it’s tough to see him slipping out of the top 15 picks as a true three-down penetrating interior lineman.

Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon 

I stood next to Herbert during a media day interview and was in awe of his natural size and length, giving some lucky team the prototypical quarterback build you draw up — similar to Ben Roethlisberger when you consider his big time arm talent to match.

When you see the rare athleticism and movement skills to create outside the pocket, I have no doubt Herbert can thrive in the new-school era of quarterbacks posing a threat both in the pocket and with their feet.

I can safely pencil him in after this week as a top-10 player and a serious trade up candidate for some QB-needy team just outside the first 10 picks.

*Indianapolis Colts — Cough Cough*

In an interview at the Senior Bowl, Herbert broke down the critics who said he may be too quiet and shy to be a leader in the NFL.

Zack Baun, EDGE, Wisconsin 

Boy, he’s fun to watch. He still has questions as to which position he will play at the next level, but with great speed off the edge that finds a way into the backfield consistently, someone will find a home for him. If I had to put my money down, I like Baun as more of a standup linebacker in a 3-4 system.

Josh Jones, OT, Houston 

I heard too many people get nit-picky with Jones all week for some reason. All I saw was a big-bodied protector who swallows you up with great strength and surprisingly smooth feet. In a loaded class of offensive tackles, Jones is at the top of tier two, likely to hear his name called in round one thanks to a special week of practice.

Terrell Lewis, EDGE, Alabama

If you ask me who the most talented player was down in Mobile, I wouldn’t even flinch. You can’t build your edge defender any better than Lewis at nearly 6’6”, 252 pounds. Even better, he has arms down to the floor and with proper coaching could be one of the best at his position in the entire NFL. That’s how raw and talented he is.

The only issue is his ability to stay healthy. Lewis has already dealt with a few knee injuries at Alabama and could never regain his spot on top of the depth chart when he returned.

A first-round talent, Lewis is going to be a lottery ticket every team wants to scratch on Day 2 with upside through the roof.

Lewis talked about his natural playing weight and what position will maximize his talent after Day 2 of Senior Bowl practice.

WILD WIDEOUTS

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past week, by now you’ve heard that the wideouts dominated the game like they did all week at practice. The most talented group of the bunch, between both teams we had more than a handful of bonafide talent at the receiver position. This group was flat out the best group of receivers I’ve seen in my six years of visiting Mobile.

Here were my favorites throughout the week:

Van Jefferson, WR, Florida 

Top to bottom, Jefferson won the week with the cleanest route running that produced an open target for his quarterback nearly every rep. While his route running was impressive, I came away equally impressed with his ability to finish the play with strong hands at the catch point and fluid body control to pluck passes away from his frame.

He entered the week as a solid fourth-round prospect. However, after his performance, it feels like he’s now cemented in the third round or higher.

 

K.J. Hill, WR, Ohio State 

This dude just gets open. Hill was a highlight reel, catching everything in sight and showing off a great burst in and out of his cuts. In a loaded class, the combine will help me separate some of these names that are clumped together between rounds 2-4.

Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor 

The award for big-play machine goes to Mims who made the 50-50 balls look easy, hauling in more than anyone else. Baylor fans will remind you he’s been a matchup nightmare for multiple years now, but to see him do it consistently and against top-tier competition was a treat to watch in person.

Collin Johnson, WR, Texas 

One of the most talented returning seniors in the country, Johnson showed off the 6’6” frame with a catch radius the size of a two-car garage. We’ll see what he runs in Indianapolis. However, get it in his vicinity and he’ll find a way to get his hands on it. He was maybe the best run-blocking wideout I watched, too, using his huge frame to his advantage

Antonio Gandy-Golden, WR, Liberty 

Standing 6’4″ and 221 pounds with long arms, Gandy-Golden was another matchup headache all week long. However, while most big-framed, long wideouts struggle to create separation, Gandy-Golden’s most impressive attribute, for my money, was his ability to win at the line of scrimmage.

He possesses outstanding understanding of how to get off press coverage and release cleanly, which gives him just enough space to make the big play down the field.

Even with all these big names from big programs, Gandy-Golden might just have the highest ceiling of them all with the potential to sneak into the top-40 picks, taking a similar path of now-Denver Broncos receiver Courtland Sutton from SMU. Forget about the “small-school” label, this kid can play.

Tailbacks Still Matter

Out of all positions to watch during Senior Bowl week, running backs are by far the least valuable for scouting purposes. Defenders are not allowed to tackle during practices and without full speed 11-on-11 drills it’s tough to glean any necessary traits such as vision and balance. The only beneficial drills tend to be associated with the passing game like blocking and catching out of the backfield.

When it comes to these guys, stick to the tape, which is far more valuable and will show you their best traits at the next level. Having said that, there were still some noteworthy takeaways once the dust settled from live game action.

Joshua Kelley, RB, UCLA

Running backs had a tough week, but Kelley made the most of his touches during the game itself racking up 105 yards on 15 carries. Kelley makes his defenders work hard for every tackle out in open space and should be one of the first tailbacks drafted in that second tier after names like D’Andre Swift and J.K. Dobbins.

Antonio Gibson, RB, Memphis 

Just what position is he? Gibson was a swiss-army knife for Memphis as a player that did a little bit of everything inside the offense. Maybe the best pass-catching running back here, Gibson showed off his great hands all week but can also run between the tackles when needed.

Because tailbacks typically get pushed down, Gibson is a likely a Day 3 pick. However, he offers tremendous value as a player who you can leave on the field for all three downs, helping in both the run and pass game.

Lamical Perine, RB, Florida 

The brother to former Oklahoma legend and Washington Redskins back Samaje Perine, as well as the cousin to Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack, Perine has all the NFL genes you could ask for and displayed the vision and physicality of his family before him when he scored the first touchdown of the game Saturday.

Eno Benjamin, RB, Arizona State

In a pass-happy league, Benjamin catapulted to the top of my standout list of the week thanks to some of the nastiness pass blocking reps I’ve ever seen in Mobile. Despite weighing in at just 195 pounds, Benjamin stuck his nose into the pocket and absorbed huge blows from bigger linebackers with ease.

For being labeled a smaller “scat back,” I’m now sold Benjamin can be a three-down back in the NFL, boosting his stock and helping him separate himself from some of his peers.

Shaking the “Small School” Label

When Ali Marpet was invited several years back, people laughed that a Division-III prospect would hold up against top-flight competition. Not only did he hold up, he went onto become a Day 2 pick and solid starting guard.

No one has a better opportunity to improve their stock than the small school names, and these guys made the most of their time down in Mobile, proving they can hang with the country’s best.

Kyle Dugger, SS, Lenoir-Rhyne

Holy cow. Dugger popped off the tape after coming from a college many thought was made up and still can’t point out on a map. But Dugger carried a big-play mentality into the week and was an animal flying to the ball no matter the level of the defense.

The Senior Bowl is such a rare opportunity to shake the small-school label, and no one did that more than Dugger, who proved he can not just hang with the big boys but can make an impact in a big way.

Ben Bartch, OT, St. John’s (Minn.)

Remember when folks laughed at Phil Savage for inviting Marpet to the all-star game, and all he did was look stout against the most talented players in the country?

Bartch just did that, and then some. A former tight end, Bartch showed off some smooth movement skills despite towering over defenders at nearly 6’7” and 305 pounds.

Like many, the combine will be a tipping point for Bartch’s final draft grade. But, as of now, he looks the part of a legitimate NFL player despite many assuming he would go undrafted.

Akeem Davis-Gaither, LB, Appalachian State

I had a chance to talk to Gaither — interview below — and came away awfully impressed with not just his play on the field but the mental makeup he brought with him to show coaches he belongs on the big stage.

Davis-Gaither made himself a lot of money during Senior Bowl week and will be talked about as one of the better linebacker prospects in what some were calling a weak class.

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