Senior Stand-Outs: Who Stood Out at This Year’s Senior Bowl?

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The Reese's Senior Bowl took place in Mobile, Alabama on January 26, 2019. (AP Photo)

The Reese’s Senior Bowl is an annual college football showcase that takes place in Mobile, Alabama in late January.

The game is traditionally hosted the week before the Super Bowl and is only eligible for college seniors and fourth-year juniors who have graduated from their academic program by December. Each year, the North and South teams are coached by the entire coaching staffs of two NFL teams.

The staffs are determined in cooperation with the NFL. The teams with the lowest winning percentage that season usually get the first opportunity to coach in the game, but only if a majority of their staff – and head coach – are intact.

This year, Jon Gruden and the Raiders coaching staff coached the North team, while Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers coaching staff coached the South.

The Senior Bowl has hosted standout stars who have made their mark in the history of the NFL, including: Walter Payton, Brett Favre, Bo Jackson and Dan Marino.  

Below you will find my assessment of who stood out, and who didn’t in yesterday’s game.

Quarterbacks:

This year’s Senior Bowl was touted as a QB showcase, hosting some of the more talented passers in this year’s class. However, after watching the game, it appears this QB crop in 2019 still has a lot of work to do.

West Virginia quarterback Will Grier (7) looks to pass against Texas Tech during an NCAA college football game in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson,)

Will Grier, QB West Virginia, (South): Grier showed great mobility, and appeared to have command in the pocket. In his short stint (playing only in the first quarter) he avoided several sacks and found himself on the move on many of his throws. He appeared comfortable rolling out of the pocket and throwing while on the run.

However, at times he seemed reckless with the ball and threw balls into contested territory. He also lacked zip on his downfield throws. Several of his deep attempts came out as ducks and luckily fell to ground. Those throws would have been easily picked on next level. Altogether, Grier came out as inaccurate.

Missouri Quarterback Drew Lock is projected a first-round draft pick in this year’s NFL Draft in April (AP Photo)

Drew Lock, QB Missouri, (North): Lock had an up-and-down performance on Saturday. He improvised with a nifty under-handed throw in the 1st quarter that drew “ooohs” from the impressed crowd in Mobile.

He also guided a nice two-minute drill at the end of the quarter. Lock appeared poised, and seemed to be comfortable orchestrating the offense while time slowly ticked away. This drive should have ended with a touchdown as Lock threw a strike in the red-zone that split two defenders.

However, his receiver dropped the accurate pass that hit his chest. The team settled for a field-goal which the North eventually missed. Altogether, Lock showed glimpses of potential, but definitely showed areas of growth.

Daniel Jones is also projected as a first-round talent in April’s draft. He ended his collegiate career going 8-of-11, for 111 yards, and two total touchdowns in the Senior Bowl. He was named the game’s MVP (AP Photo)

Daniel Jones, QB Duke, (North):  Leading up to the game, Jones was criticized for being indecisive with his throws, and it showed during the game. He often waited until his receivers were open before throwing. Due to this, he took sacks that could have easily had been avoided if he simply had thrown the ball away.

At 6’5”, Jones is surprisingly athletic, as can be seen by his 17 rushing TDs while at Durham. He displayed this trait on a read-option touchdown early in the third quarter. Jones ran it in near the goal line, after navigating a 10 play, 80 yard drive. He also chipped in a touchdown pass later in the game. Jones was named the Reese’s Senior Bowl MVP.

Buffalo QB Tyree Jackson showed why he was the MAC Offensive Player of the Year in 2018. He displayed his big arm on Saturday. (AP Photo)

Tyree Jackson, QB Buffalo, (North): It’s not everyday you see a 6’7″, 249 pound quarterback who can move. But Jackson did just that. As soon as he walked on the field he made plays. On his first play from scrimmage, he rolled to his right and launched a play-action crosser 54-yards down field into the hands of West Virginia receiver Gary Jennings.

The 2018 MAC offensive player of the year showed some mobility while scrambling for a 10-yard run on third-and-nine in the third quarter. Two plays later he found Jennings again for a touchdown strike in the Red Zone.

Jackson is an intriguing, but raw prospect. On one play, he shows flashes of limitless potential. On another, he is throwing an ill-advised pick. Hopefully he is selected by a team who can foster his growth. He has upside for sure.

Defensive Stand-Outs:

Khalen Saunders, Defensive Tackle, Western Illinois (North): At 320 pounds, Saunders is a disruptor. He has a big body and he can move. He drew some fame this week, for being “the collegiate player who skipped his child’s birth for a job interview”.

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After watching the birth of his daughter on FaceTime, Saunders flew back to his wife Friday to meet his newborn in Chicago. He missed his connecting flight and landed early Saturday morning to play in the game. He must have been motivated, because he made some money this weekend.

NFL Network Commentator, Charles Davis, told viewers to “watch out for 99” shortly before the game started. And Davis proved prophetic as Sanders showed out.  He did a good job extending his hands and keeping offensive tackles away from his chest. He showed several slap and swim moves, and had a big sack in the first half.

Montez Sweat has the build and quick first-step that NFL teams covet in pass rushers. (AP Photo)

Montez Sweat, DE Mississippi State, (South): Sweat is projected as a first-round talent, and he sure looks the part. He’s built like an NFL player, and still has time to add muscle in a professional weight lifting program. Known as a pure pass-rusher, he showed a quick first step and forced opposing quarterbacks to throw the ball quicker than they desired. Although he didn’t record a sack yesterday, he did have 14 tackles for loss (TFL) this season and 11.5 sacks. He’s an intriguing prospect on the next level.

Lonnie Johnson has ideal NFL size. But will his speed translate to the next level? (AP Photo)

Lonnie Johnson Jr, S Kentucky, (South): Is a big defensive back, who is listed at over 200 pounds. Although Johnson played as a safety in Kentucky, he’s projected as a corner on the next level. He popped on tape early in the first quarter with a jaw-dropping hit on a receiver.

The NFL combine will be vital for Johnson, since speed is an important question for him. If he lacks burst, he may be viewed as simply a Cover-3 corner. However, if he’s fast enough, he’ll be used as an elite press corner… then you got something.

Wide Receivers:

UMass Wide Reciever Andy Isabella was a producer for the minutemen in college. He was targeted early-and-often during the Senior Bowl. (AP Photo)

Andy Isabella, University of Massachusetts, WR (North):  Isabella got a lot of buzz coming into the game after he ran a self-proclaimed 4.26 40-yard dash in college. If true, that makes Isabella a prime target to focus on for those looking at a slot receiver. Isabella produced at UMass, with 102 receptions (second in the FBS) and 1,698 yards (first in the FBS).

Shifty and quick, Isabella showed that he had sure hands in the Senior Bowl. He was fed early and often, as well as in a variety of ways.  In addition to being a punt-returner, he had an end around rush of 15 yards in the first quarter. He also added a 20-yard bubble-screen touchdown in the third quarter from Daniel Jones.

Some lucky NFL team will be proud to have the second-team All-American and Biletnikoff award finalist on their team.

Keelan Doss may be the solution to an NFL team in need of a big-bodied receiver (AP Photo).

Keelan Doss, WR UC Davis, (North): Doss produced at the collegiate level with 321 receptions, 4,069 yards, and 28 touchdowns for his career. So he was highly touted coming into this game. He proved to be a precise route runner, and displayed a clear connection with Penn State Quarterback Trace McSorley.

What I liked about Doss is that he caught the ball away from his body, and consistently won on his routes. At 6’3”, 209 pounds, Doss may become a big-bodied play-maker on the next level.

Deebo Samuel is known as a “burner” who can score whenever he touches the ball. At South Carolina, he had four special team touchdowns as a kick/punt returner (AP Photo)

Deebo Samuel, WR South Carolina, (South): Samuel has speed (4.36 40-yard dash) and a stout, NFL frame (5’11”, 216 lbs) . He was open early and often. He won on hitches, he won on breaks, and he even flashed open for a potential touchdown reception on a go-route at the end of the second quarter. However, he struggled to produce in the game due to inaccurate QB throws.

It was documented that he had a great week of practice, and I can easily see why NFL teams would fall in love with him. He has the makings of a receiver who could produce on the next level.

What’s Next?

Collegiate Players have now completed a crucial step in the draft process. February and March will feature several pro-days as players hone in on their craft in preparation for the NFL Combine which will commence February 26-March 4th.

Finally, the NFL Draft kicks off on April 25th, in Nashville, Tennessee.

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