NFL Draft

2020 Senior Bowl Preview

It is Day One of the 2020 Senior Bowl down in Mobile, Alabama. We’re excited to be covering it this year. Daniel Valente and I have flown down for the week of practice (we won’t be staying for the game, most people don’t) to give you the inside scoop on what happens during the week. Today will include a couple of press conferences, tomorrow will be weigh-ins and practice with additional practices on Wednesday and Thursday leading up to Saturday’s contest.

To kick things off, here’s what I’m looking for over the next couple of days. We’ll go position-by-position.

Quarterback

– I’ll admit I haven’t spent much time focusing on this position in my draft prep on the position since I don’t expect the Pittsburgh Steelers to address the position early and probably not at all. This group carries some of the biggest names, as is often the case, led by Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts. Herbert is jockeying for position to be the next QB off the board behind Joe Burrow and, assuming the medicals check out, Tua Tagovailoa.

Herbert will be on the same stage as Jordan Love, who also accepted his invite, so there will be a direct compare/contrast based on their week goes.

– Elsewhere, Shea Patterson is looking to bounce back after a terrible senior year. This is the place to do it.

– Will Washington State’s Anthony Gordon create buzz the way former Cougar Gardner Minshew did last year? Minshew struggled in the game, going 1/8, but was voted captain by teammates and impressed during the week of practice. Gordon, as QBs in a Mike Leach system tend to do, dazzled with a 71% completion rate and 48 TDs in 2019. It was his only season of action, however, which gives him a limited body of work.

Running Back

– There probably isn’t a standout name and most of these seniors have been buried by one of the most impressive underclassmen groups in a long time. But there’s still talent. Memphis’ Antonio Gibson will receive plenty of Tony Pollard comps for his extreme versatility, an asset as a runner (4 TDs), receiving (8 TDs) and kick returns (1 TD). Finding his best fit will be key but if teams are smart, they’ll draft him and be confident he’ll find a home as a playmaker no matter what you want to call him.

– Baylor’s JaMycal Hasty is an explosive, zone runner while Joshua Kelley, a walk-on at UCLA, functions best in a man/gap scheme. Florida’s Lamical Perine is somewhere inbetween, showing a blend of vision, power, and burst, but it’s fair to wonder if he shows any one particular memorable trait.

Tight End

– Certainly a position the Steelers will be keeping a close eye on this week. It’s a muddied class lacking a standout player, meaning there’s a chance for someone to separate and move to the front of the pack. Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins figures to wow with his hands and explosiveness at the top of his route while Jared Pinkney is sure-handed over the middle. FAU’s Harrison Bryant bested them all, winning the John Mackey Award for college football’s top TE but his weigh-in will be key. Listed at 6’5 240 and we know schools tend to be generous with their numbers. If he comes in at 6’3, 234, that’s going to ding him.

– LSU’s Stephen Sullivan got lost behind all the weapons his school had. A former WR shifted to TE, it’ll be interesting to see if they ask him to line up in a three point stance, something he didn’t do in college even after changing positions. Michigan’s Sean McKeon offers a different strength, probably the best blocker of the entire group. And Cincinnati’s Josiah Deguara is a potential sleeper. Big chance for a small school kid like Dayton’s Adam Trautman too. He’s generated plenty of buzz.

Wide Receiver

– Lot of talent here. Denzel Mims is going to make some highlight reel plays that’s going to show up in your Twitter feed. Above the rim player who attacks the ball in the air. South Carolina’s Brayden Edwards could be in for a big week while Tennessee’s Jajuan Jennings is a big body who’s tough to bring down in the open field. For slot options, pay attention to Ohio State’s KJ Hill and SMU’s James Proche.

– I’ve yet to watch him but there’s a draftnik buzz surrounding one of this year’s top small school players, Antonio Gandy-Golden out of Liberty. He caught 79 passes and averaged nearly 18 yards per catch for the Flames in 2019. Senior Bowl is a great chance to even the competition plane and let those who didn’t play FBS football have a chance to prove they belong.

Offensive Line

– Couple of big boys at tackle. That includes Washington’s Trey Adams (6’8 314) and Mississippi State’s Tyre Phillips (6’5 345). Phillips will have to focus on getting the proper depth and width on his kickset or he’ll be exposed in 1v1 drills.

– There’s also a pair of LSU Tigers fresh off their National Championship victory, Lloyd Cushenberry III and Damien Lewis. They were part of football’s most physical offensive line and may set the tone for the group, though a week removed from their last game, it’ll be interesting to see if they can maintain that energy.

– Clemson guard John Simpson is one of the top names up front. Massive frame, huge lower half, who can bury defenders into the ground. But he will lunge in pass pro and has to work feet before hands when attempting to mirror. So there’s work to be done with his game.

– At center, Washington’s Nick Harris is the top name to watch and only player listed at center. He did start at RG early in his Huskies career so there’s versatility on his resume. There’s also worry over his size, listed at just 6’1 302. Even if we’re charitable and assume he is 6’1, of players who attended the Combine since 2000, only 11 offensive linemen 6’1 or shorter have been drafted. None prior to the 4th round.

Funny enough, three of them have been Steelers – AQ Shipley, Marvin Phillip and Chukky Okobi. Shipley and Okobi carved out long-lasting careers while Phillip fell out as quickly as he came.

Defensive Line

– Oklahoma’s Neville Gallimore is one of my favorite prospects of the week. Feels like another Javon Hargrave. Watch out for Utah’s Leki Fotu and Ohio State’s Davon Hamilton too. Ole Miss’ Benito Jones is more of an old-school plugger but shows a surprisingly good first step and ability to disrupt. He’s gotta stay on his feet and if he doesn’t, will have some ugly reps.

Edge

– Tennessee’s Darrell Taylor Jr. might be the most impressive name on the list, showing a combination of pass rushing (16.5 sacks the last two years) and fluidity dropping into coverage. Meanwhile, Josh Uche might have the best bend of anyone participating but with a slight frame and lack of power, should function best as an off-ball linebacker who can rush off the edge in obvious pass situations.

– Syracuse’s Alton Robinson took a long road to get to this point and his off-field history will certainly be something coaches and scouts will take a hard look at. But the talent is unquestionably there.

Off Ball Linebacker

Anfernee Jennings from Alabama is listed as an ILB but he spent most of his time with the Crimson Tide off the edge. He’s a smart pass rusher who attacks half-man and shows a varied game but only an average athlete with good, but not great, production.

– Utah’s Francis Bernard has an interesting story. A RB at BYU, he transferred to Utah and became All Pac-12 at LB in 2019. He’ll need to have an impressive week due to the fact his age is working against him. He was a freshman at BYU in 2015, served his LDS mission, and spent a year at a JUCO.

Cornerback

– Local kid of note. Dane Jackson was a light recruit coming out but found a home at Pitt. He’s physical and patient at the LOS but can get grabby with the ball in the air. We’ll see how he handles the WR/DB drills. Kristian Fulton struggled in the Title Game and has to show a short memory and put that behind him.

Safety 

– And the safeties to round the group out. Cal’s Ashtyn Davis might be my favorite. Combo of versatility, smarts, athleticism, and tackling ability. Just an impressive, well-rounded game. Brandon Jones is similar and could profile to either safety spot. Bama’s Jared Pinkney was less impressive on tape but only had one year of starting experience. This is a chance for him to take advantage of the spotlight.

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