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Standouts from Senior Bowl Week

With the Reese’s Senior Bowl having wrapped up on Saturday, the pre-draft process is well underway as prospects from all over the country attempt to sell teams on being the next NFL star. In Mobile, scouts, coaches, and general managers got a first-hand view of each player’s skill set, as well as how they take coaching.

The prospects also got to talk with teams one-on-one, making the Senior Bowl one of the most important job interviews of these players’ careers. As always, some stood out, while others failed to capitalize on the opportunity.

After three days of practices, the week wrapped up with the National Team defeating the American Team 20-10. Let’s take a look at some of the standouts from a week in Mobile.

2022 nfl mock draft kenny pickett senior bowl
Credit: Matt Freed/Post-Gazett

Standouts from Senior Bowl Week

The Quarterbacks

Like most expected, Liberty’s Malik Willis’ displayed the most big-play ability of any signal-caller. However, consistency eluded him for most of the week, with his performance in Wednesday’s rain standing out simply because he was the only one with the hand and arm strength to consistently deliver throws with a wet ball.

Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett consistently made smart decisions with the football, and his accuracy was the best of any passer at the event. Still, questions about his hand size and overall arm strength were justified with a rough practice in the rain.

North Carolina’s Sam Howell played consistent football throughout the week, albeit not spectacular. With his physical gifts, I would have liked to see him produce the same amount of “wow” plays that we saw from Willis. Still, his mobility and arm strength showed up at times.

Nevada’s Carson Strong showed off his big arm at times, but his cautious approach limited those in attendance from ever seeing truly let it rip. His mobility was an issue at times, though the defensive linemen were pretty disruptive throughout the week.

While Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder struggled with consistency as well, he did get better each day. His best day came in the game when you could tell he was just playing and not thinking as much. He’s described as a gamer, and we all saw why.

It was also no surprise that Bailey Zappe had the least flashy week. He was clearly a notch below each of the other quarterbacks in attendance regarding physical gifts. However, his timing shined in glimpses, and while it is probably a long shot, I haven’t closed the door on him hearing his name on day two of the draft.

Rachaad White, RB, Arizona State

While backs like Florida’s Dameon Pierce and Baylor’s Abram Smith both showed power, and Missouri’s Tyler Badie played with vision and burst, White was the only one that played with both.

At just over six feet tall and 210 pounds, the former Sun Devil had a terrific week. His vision was excellent, and it didn’t take him long to stick his foot in the ground and get moving upfield.

His acceleration was great, and he routinely ran through tackles and pushed the pile in the game. White played with outstanding game speed and play strength, and also displayed natural hands catching the ball through the week.

For teams that run a zone-heavy rushing attack, White made a case to be an option at some point before day two is over.

Calvin Austin, WR, Mempis

Throughout the week, Austin and Rutgers’ Bo Melton were the players scouts wanted to see getting the ball in the open field. Their speed stood out, and in Austin’s case, it showed up in his routes as well.

Austin was not an easy player to cover this week, from his explosive releases to his ability to accelerate out of his breaks. At 5’7”, it doesn’t take much for him to change direction, and I thought he’d make several big plays in the game.

I couldn’t have been the only one that was disappointed when he took off on the opening kick, only to lateral to a teammate on a trick play. Still, he was able to get open on one of the game’s final plays for a big catch, and had a chance to score on a pass that was underthrown by Bailey Zappe a few plays later.

While the return game is growing more and more obsolete in the NFL, offenses are also figuring out how to employ more designs to get the ball in the hands of guys like Austin. It will take a creative offensive mind to make the most of his skill set, but I could see the right team selecting him late on day two.

Jalen Tolbert, WR, South Alabama

Tolbert was my top-rated receiver participating this Senior Bowl week, and he did nothing to dispel that with his hometown performance. Not only was he one of the bigger targets at the event, but the speed to separate from his competition.

Most importantly, he was a reliable target. Tolbert’s body control to adjust to off-target throws was impressive, as was his ability to extend his 32-inch arms to the football and pluck passes out of the air.

His big body was not only strong enough to help separate defensive backs from the ball, but it also helped him handle contact on 50-50 balls deep. He reminds me a lot of Michael Gallup, who was a steal by the Cowboys in the third round in 2018.

Greg Dulcich, TE, UCLA

This was a talented group of tight ends, and many stood out through the week. Ohio State’s Jeremy Ruckert showed off his versatility as a smooth athlete that is likely to have a bigger contribution in the NFL if utilized properly.

Colorado State’s Trey McBride was physical throughout the week, both as a receiver and a blocker. Still, I thought Dulcich raised his stock the most. We already knew he was a competitive blocker coming out of UCLA, and he did a nice job all week.

I also felt he a was a reliable receiver that made some big plays this past season, but it looks like big plays may be part of the package. His straight-line speed showed in a variety of ways during practices.

There were times it showed up after the catch, and at 248 pounds, I think most defenders were glad the practice sessions weren’t live. In addition, his ability to separate from coverage was on full display.

On one particular rep, he got matched up on the perimeter with a linebacker and not only blew right by him, but flat out ran away from him. It was one of the more impressive reps I saw last week, and proof that he can stretch the field.

He only caught one pass for the American Team that made few throws down the field. Still, he opened up some holes in the running game to cap a terrific week.

Zion Johnson, OL, Boston College

In Mobile, Johnson proved to be one of the most technically sound players in attendance and one of the safest prospects in this draft. Not only did he enter the week as one of my top-ranked prospects at the Senior Bowl, but he displayed a humble, workman-like attitude that caught the eye of every scout, coach, and general manager at the event.

After playing tackle and guard in college, he spent a good portion of his time at center in Mobile. While some prospects frown at the idea of switching positions at an event like this, he not only accepted the challenge but stayed after practices to work on his snaps.

That is something you just can’t coach. Extra effort like that shows how much the game means to Johnson, and I just don’t see how he gets out of the first round.

Johnson was displayed active feet and hands throughout the rep and fought to recover when his opponent initially got the best of him. Two other players on this list were his prime competition throughout the week, and guys like Houston’s Logan Hall, Ohio State’s Haskell Garrett, and UCLA’s Otito Ogbonnia had strong practice sessions as well.

Despite that bevy of talent consistently lining up across from him, Johnson was the most consistent player of the week. He even won the weigh-ins at a trim 314 pounds with nearly 34-inch arms and 11-inch hands. His spectacular week culminated with Johnson being named the 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl Practice Player of the Week.

Trevor Penning, OL, Northern Iowa

By no means did Trevor Penning have the kind of week Johnson did, but he certainly left scouts with a smile. No one fought harder to finish their opponents through the week, and I’m sure Penning’s defensive teammates were thrilled on gameday when the American Team finally had to deal with him.

There is still plenty of room for improvement, as Penning got caught playing too high too often and was also guilty of being overly aggressive at times. Still, his strength and size shined at times, and he blocks to the echo of the whistle.

Penning spent most of his time at left tackle and even played a little guard. However, I think he starts his career at right tackle. I’m not saying he can’t handle the blindside, but he needs to first clean up some of these issues.

We could see as many as ten offensive linemen hear their name called on day one this year, and Penning’s is firmly in the mix after his time in Mobile.

Jermaine Johnson, DE, Florida State

Johnson was fantastic during the first two practices, displaying much more diversity than I remembered from his tape. He’s always shown great explosion off the snap, as well as the ability to convert speed to power.

However, the balance that we saw from him against some very powerful linemen and the ability counter when his initial move failed was terrific. Johnson was relentless throughout the week and has many mentioning him in the first-round conversation.

I still think he’s a little stiffer than some of the top pass rushers in this class, but he can disrupt the play on all three downs. Some of his reps against Kentucky’s Darian Kinnard were my favorite of the week.

There were plenty of edge rushes that stood out this week, but Johnson had the brightest moments of them all.

Travis Jones, DT, UConn

Jones was a handful throughout Senior Bowl week with his size, length, and power, and few were able to stop his momentum once he got his big hands on them. After demonstrating it all week in practice, he capped his time in Mobile by bull-rushing a lineman right into Bailey Zappe’s lap during the fourth quarter for a sack.

One thing that impressed me throughout the week was how well he disengaged from blocks to get in on tackles. He continuously got separation with his 34-inch arms and used active hands to get free and pursue the ball.

He’s tailor-made to play the nose in an odd man front, where he can clog up the middle of the field. Georgia’s Jordan Davis may be the only prospect that fit’s that role better in this class. Like Davis, Jones won’t offer much versatility on passing downs, likely keeping him off the field in most nickel situations.

Perrion Winfrey, DT, Oklahoma

There were a lot of exciting players to watch last week at the Senior Bowl, but none brought scouts to their feet as often as Winfrey. The former-Sooner went through stretches where it seemed like he was constantly bringing the play to a halt.

His explosion off the snap, power at the point of attack, and high-octane motor showed up all week long, and his energy was contagious among his peers. Winfrey’s week started in impressive fashion when his arms measured in at 35.5 inches.

There were glimpses of him being this disruptive during his time at Oklahoma, but he took his game to another level in Mobile. I also think Winfrey’s skill set gives him some position flexibility to play in a three or four-man front. All-in-all, his draft stock is likely cemented in the top 50 after a terrific week.

Chad Muma, LB, Wyoming

One of my favorite prospects going into the Senior Bowl, Muma sent a message that he is one of the best linebackers in this class. In a week where most linebackers were quiet because there was no tackling, Muma stood out.

He is so smooth in coverage as he can change direction and accelerate with ease. Muma is also quick to react to what his eyes see, and he is fast and physical in pursuit. After a terrific week in practices, his instincts, athleticism, and physicality were on full display in the game.

While Malik Willis wowed those in attendance with his run at the end of the first quarter, watching Muma chase his down was just as impressive. He was highlighted several times on the broadcast, but some of his brightest plays came in areas where he forced plays into the arms of others thanks to his quick read on the play and positioning.

He was one of several players who weren’t fooled on a reverse early in the contest, and he jumped running lanes on several occasions. Not only was he one of the bigger winners in Mobile, but the rest of the pre-draft process should fall in his favor.

I came into this touting him as a top-50 prospect, and he’s inching his way closer to the end of the first round.

Jesse Luketa, OLB, Penn State

I went back and forth between Luketa and Minnesota’s Boye Mafe for this spot, as both had terrific weeks. Mafe’s raw athleticism showed up all week, and with offensive linemen working hard to implement new techniques, he took full advantage with his burst and acceleration.

He was one of several defensive linemen that shined in the game as well, and while he needs to continue to develop in order to gain some consistency, I seriously doubt he gets to day three of the draft.

However, Luketa was more consistent and equally as impressive. He may have been the twitchiest edge player in Mobile, as his ability to change direction gave blockers fits.

Penn State’s defense was packed with talent this past fall, and much like Georgia’s defense, it seemed like few put up standout numbers because so many people were flying around making plays.

Still, for a team looking for a stand-up edge player, Luketa could be a steal on day two. He’s got the size teams want at just over 6’2” and 261 pounds, and his 33-inch arms will come into play the more he works on his hand usage.

Like his teammate, Arnold Ebiketie, Luketa is a balanced player who is equally disruptive against the pass and run, which was on full display during the game. On a side note, Ebiketie also had an outstanding week that might have got lost in the shuffle because of the level of expectation.

Jalen Pitre, S, Baylor

Like many prospects that took the field in Mobile, expectations were high for Jalen Pitre heading into the week. However, few exceed those expectations like thee Baylor safety.

All of these Senior Bowl prospects had boxes they wanted to check off for scouts, knowing they were question marks heading into the draft. For Pitre, many (including me) wanted to see where he fit in coverage.

Could he match up against tight ends or slot receivers? Could he patrol the middle of the field? Are his instincts in route recognition and coverage as good as they are against the run?

The answer to those was simply yes. In a week of practices where we were unable to see his run instincts shine, Pitre was terrific in coverage, with my only concern being his size matching up against tight ends.

Still, he mirrored most of the tight ends well throughout the week, which was one of the most loaded positions at the event. Then, on game day, he got to chance to put his whole skill set on display, and Pitre was the top safety in the contest.

I kept hearing comps to Tyrann Mathieu, and I don’t disagree. However, his instincts for the game are the best I’ve seen at the safety position since Budda Baker, and that is exceptionally high praise.

Washington Commies

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