2020 Senior Bowl Week (Insider Notes) – Rumors, Conversations, The Game, Deeper Scouting
OK, we’re a couple days past Senior Bowl week/the game and I’m re-watching the game itself for scouting purposes and I’m going to touch on my game notes here – but I’m mostly going to unload more of my in-depth notes, conversations, rumors, intuitions that I have from the Senior Bowl week here. Going deeper than my surface notes/coverage for FantasyPros.
In addition, I’m going to re-grade all the Senior Bowl prospects at all the positions post-event over the next week+ – re-ranking/grading them from my quick preview scouting conducted prior to the game/week. See that all week+ on CFM.
OK, a lot of material to unpack here…so, in no particular order:
-- As for the game itself, nothing overly amazing happened…which is to be expected in an all-star game. There are rare ‘defining moments’ in the Senior Bowl. It’s difficult for one player to stand head and shoulders above everyone because so many players are rotating in and out in the game, and all week…it’s hard for players to get a real feel for the plays or working together on short notice with foreign coaches. On top of that, some guys work with or against the best or worst QB or WR or OL prospects there, so it can create some head fake moments, etc., trying to scout them properly.
There are three overview notes from the game itself that I want to hit on…
1) Justin Herbert won the QB sweepstakes this week. He won it in two parts…(a) he just played better than all the other QBs here. He has ‘the look’ – the size/height, the arm, the polish…and then won with his play all week and in the game. (b) Jordan Love hurt his draft stock here with his weak play.
Coming into the week, and after practice day one…everyone was marveling at the strong-armed Love. If teams were drafting after day one, Love would have been the top choice over Herbert-Hurts, etc., here. After practices got a little more 11-on-11, more challenging – then Love faded away and Herbert seized the moment.
Love did nothing of note in the practices…not bad but not all that good. He has no personality. He did little to help his draft stock, which might have been a top 10-15 pick Tuesday night…but now he’s probably played his way to the 2nd-round with this showing.
It seems meaningless, and maybe it is, but…in the actual game itself, just watching/listening to the QBs pre-snap – Herbert’s voice was booming and in command calling out the cadence/plays. Love was barely audible when you listen/watch live or on tape. It’s a little thing, but it’s symbolic (to me) of the issue of Jordan Love not having any ‘it’ factor.
Herbert capped off a great week with a top prospect look/feel this game -- and made himself a top 10 pick, and he should (but probably won’t be) selected ahead of Tua Tagovailoa. Love sent himself from top 10 aspirations to #30-50 range. Someone is always a sucker for ‘big arm’ and ‘we can fix him’…and maybe they can, but it’s a leap of faith, a developmental situation and not an obvious future star.
2) When I watch a football game for scouting purposes, especially in a game like this…I’m looking for athletes/players that just jump off the tape in an instant – coming from a guy who may watch more tape/live play than anyone on the planet in a given year…it’s hard to impress me.
There were three guys, in this game, that to me were like…’wow’. They were…
#1: Memphis RB Antonio Gibson – clearly, CLEARLY the best athlete at running back here and maybe the best athlete at RB in the upcoming draft. That doesn’t mean he’s the best prospect or even a good NFL RB prospect…he might be all athlete and little vision/skill.
Gibson was making runs, cuts, moves unlike any RB here could make. I just don’t know that he’s a legit total package RB. He’s so raw, so inexperienced – a college WR for 90%+ of his college career, and then got a few carries later in the season and was so good – BOOM, he’s here at the Senior Bowl. I’m worried he’s a Dwayne Washington ‘flash’ of raw talent with no experience running the ball and gets buried/never developed properly.
UCLA RB Joshua Kelley had the best instincts/vision for the RB position here but has nowhere near the raw ability/athleticism Gibson does. If you took Gibson’s body and put Kelley’s mind for the game with it…you’d have a superstar.
Gibson is a ‘wow’ player/athlete…I just fear the NFL will overlook it and not know what to do with it or want to groom it.
#2: Nebraska CB Lamar Jackson – he is going to be a 1st-round CB prospect, or he should be. A safety for years, then converted to CB last season or so…he is great in coverage with a body the NFL should kill for at CB – 6’2”+/206 and can move and is tough/physical (like a former safety that he was).
Because he’s not a Clemson-Alabama-Ohio State-LSU guy, he’ll be undervalued – an NFL team is going to get a steal here, I think.
#3: Notre Dame WR Chase Claypool is the ultimate ‘wow’. He might be the perfect WR prospect…6’4”/229 with graceful speed, routes/cutting ability, and terrific hands. USC WR Michael Pittman is up here with Claypool too, but Claypool is the most ‘wow’ guy I saw.
I may change my mind with more study/the NFL Combine, but the work I’ve done so far, in my book…any analyst who has Jeudy-Higgins-Lamb rated ahead of Claypool, talent-wise, to me, right now…they are way off in their early talent evaluations/are doing the typical ‘follow the crowd’ scouting. I know Jeudy-Higgins-Lamb should be mock drafted ahead of Claypool right now by the likes of mock draft experts like Xavier Cromartie – he’s trying to predict/learn what NFL teams will do, not make his own scouting preferences. As far as a talent assessment, for me so far, there's no contest on Claypool over those top names…and likely Pittman as well (who left the Senior Bowl after missing day two of practice with a foot injury).
3) The South team lost 34-17 despite having the better QB tandem, and the better QBs tend to be the ‘winning team’ in the Senior Bowl…but not here. The South also had the best RB (Gibson). The South team lead 7-0 quickly and then by the end of the 3rd-quarter it was a 31-10 North team, in a laugher. The biggest issue I saw in the game itself was poor blocking by the South team and it corrupted the #2-3 QBs, the QBs who played the most in the game, Jalen Hurts and Steven Montez (Herbert played 1Q and was done for the day). Hurts-Montez didn’t do much of anything passing (9 for 21 passing combined). Hurts was under pressure a lot.
No one really cares about who won the game, but I am setting all that up to pass along this note – I’ve heard from trusted source that insiders and the players were not impressed at all with the Cincinnati Bengals’ head coach Zac Taylor and his practice organization, attempted game plan, or usage/identification of the talent. Zac Taylor did himself no favors here…just more ‘how did he get an NFL head coaching job, again?’ thoughts evoked from the people around the game.
The last time I heard so much negativity about a coaching staff was Hue Jackson’s back-to-back years at the Senior Bowl as Cleveland head coach and the Gus Bradley Jacksonville year. Hue was the worst of the lot, in chatter I ever heard. The negative things spoken about a coach’s abilities to run practices, etc., at the Senior Bowl, among the names I just mentioned (Hue and Gus) – they turned out to be harbingers of really bad things to come for their NFL teams. Joe Burrow is going into that same type of ‘situation’ in 2020 with Taylor.
I will offer you my own dot connection theory on what will happen with the Bengals coaching situation ahead – Cincy will draft Joe Burrow, he and the team will have an up and down 2020 season, and then the Bengals will throw money at new Carolina offensive coordinator/former Burrow QB coach at LSU, Joe Brady to be the new head coach of the Bengals in 2021.
I ask the question to myself – why didn’t the Bengals hire Joe Brady as O-C…knowing Burrow was to come? It may be that Brady knew his path there might be faster waiting from afar for Taylor to die and then sliding over with a year’s NFL experience.
Random notes from the week…
-- One other Justin Herbert thing that caught my attention and it has some more draft ramifications, and I’ll be increasing my own grade on him for it…that dude can run for a 6’6” pocket passer. He has some Joe Burrow, Daniel Jones sneaky type of runner ability.
In the Rose Bowl, against Wisconsin…Herbert ran for 29 yards and 3 TDs as he had been pushed/allowed to run more later in the season. Early in his career, as a freshman he ran for 40+ yards in a game in three games in a five-game stretch. He rushed for 13 TDs in his 43-game career at Oregon. He has some get up and go for a big/tall QB not known for his runner skills. He didn’t run much, by design, over his college career…but watching him go more late 2019 and here at the Senior Bowl – it’s another asset he has as a franchise QB hopeful.
-- Speaking of running QBs…Jalen Hurts is a unique weapon, a la Lamar Jackson (but not near as good), that will be totally missed/undervalued by the mainstream.
Jalen Hurts, if thought of as an RB prospect, might be the 2nd-best or best RB prospect here – 6’1”/218 and probably runs in the 4.5s but is one of the strongest players at the Senior Bowl. His commitment to weight training is unmatched among QBs. He’s a lesser runner, differently styled than Lamar, but a more accurate/comfortable passer to some degree.
For dynasty/fantasy (and for the NFL Draft), we’re going to rate him a lot higher than just about anyone I’m sure. Rumor/talk I hear is the Ravens are planning to take him in the draft as the natural fit for Lamar’s backup/insurance in case Lamar goes down – which is brilliant. Which also means if you own Lamar in dynasty…you’ll need to have Hurts, in that instance.
Total other side note…Hurts looked fine/OK in practices, but not anything anyone went wild about…but I think some of that is his game is not built for the Senior Bowl setup. QBs aren’t practicing running in Mobile. Stuck as a pocket passer here, he’s ‘meh’ to look at in just passing drills. With the fear of his purposeful running…he can be more of a pass game weapon. He had a couple QB RPO keepers and run for 1st-downs in the game itself that should’ve made scouts drool a bit, looking for the next Lamar.
Also, note -- Hurts had a close family member (grandfather) pass away during the Senior Bowl week. He had to deal with the stay or go and decided his grandfather would want him to stay and pursue the NFL with this golden opportunity, so Hurts may have been a bit subdued at Mobile for good reason.
-- I entered the week thinking Texas WR Devin Duvernay was perhaps the best WR prospect for the NFL game that I had pre-scouted (him and Claypool and Pittman all together at the top).
…then I watched Chase Claypool play/work all week and thought he was even better than I thought from my preview. He might be the best WR talent I’ll have scouted ever (replacing Courtland Sutton for that honor).
…I watched Michael Pittman’s work/play day one, before he got hurt, and saw he was as good/better than I thought.
…I kept watching Duvernay all week waiting to be dazzled, I never was. Not saying I saw things to make me dislike him, but I was expecting this ‘wow’ factor and he really was a dud all week. His team’s QBs didn’t really look for him in 11-on-11s. He made no ‘wow’ plays in 11-on-11s. He was just kinda ‘there’. He has a lot of hype and is notorious for speed, but he may be track fast and football ‘less fast’. I’m still pro-Duvernay, but not as much as I was. His Senior Bowl week created some doubts on how high his ceiling is, for me.
-- The WR the South team QBs were always looking for in practice was not Devin Duvernay – it was the much less lauded Florida WR Van Jefferson. He made a bigger name for himself here for sure, but I thought he was just very good/solid/professional and not a radical game-changer.
-- UCLA RB Joshua Kelley is an interesting scouting dilemma…
He stood out in drills during the week…slicing through traffic, but it’s so hard to project/scout RBs playing 11-on-11 two-hand-touch/no tackling. Kelley did seem to be the guy who found holes and darted through them. However, he didn’t seem overly athletic or big…just doing well in these drills.
Everyday he looked solid in the drills, and the media would delight in the things that they saw, not really taking context into consideration…and I was always dismissive in my mind -- like ‘pfft, these guys don’t know how to look at RB prospects in this setting!’
Then in the game itself, there was Kelley slicing and dicing his way through the mud to make plays (he ran 15 times for 105 yards in the game, and had a short TD taken away on a holding call). I kept trying to explain it away all week, but then I started thinking – maybe it is me, maybe I’m the dummy.
After drinking it all in, I think Kelley is a superior RB prospect in instincts but lacking a bit on athleticism. However, that may not be visually pleasing…but it’s effective. It’s better than Kalen Ballage looking like a Greek god in shorts and a t shirt drills, and running in the 4.4s, but then possessing zero aptitude for reading holes and avoiding tackles. It’s a gift…Ballage doesn’t have it, and Kelley has it in spades – like a smaller version of Jordan Howard, or a lesser-ish version of Kareem Hunt.
Whatever it is…I’m no longer pooh-poohing Kelley. I think I get it now. I just had to have it beaten into my head watching more. I was the dummy, not them. I still think there are limitations here and potential problems excelling at the next level, but I’m not as shut off to it as I was going into the week.
-- I know the O-Lineman aren’t sexy to discuss, but the three guys that jumped out at me…
#1) Houston OT Josh Jones – he impressed everyone. He looks like an OT created in a lab/video game. We’ll have to see how his Combine numbers come in, etc.
#2) S.C. State OT Alex Taylor – always was holding up/beating his pass rusher in drills I was watching. 6’8” with long arms. He’s a bit of a freak.
#3) LSU OC Lloyd Cushenberry – took on some heavy hitters like DT’s Neville Gallimore and Jason Strowbridge and stoned them on the reg. He’s likely going to be the #1 ranked OC prospect for most analysts.
-- The player I think most coaches fell in love with the Senior Bowl week, from his play to (especially) his in-person interviews…that player is Cal ILB Evan Weaver. He is a classic ILB prospect – smart, QB of the defense type. Tough as nails. 2019 PAC-12 Defensive Player of the Year. Mentally tough.
People are going to be watching his NFL Combine closely…I think many teams are hoping he runs slow and folks are scared off of him a bit. He’s the one guy I think coaches, not scouts, walk away from Mobile in love with/wanting on their team.
-- RB Antonio Gibson stole scout’s hearts with his unbridled physical/athletic prowess. RB Joshua Kelley stole scout’s hearts with his savvy rusher instincts. Baylor RB JaMycal Hasty kinda sailed right under the radar a bit in their shadow.
Hasty is like a Dalvin Cook or Devonta Freeman type of smaller, hard-nosed bulldog of a runner who can catch the ball really well out of the backfield. They won’t light up the NFL Combine, but they’re just good at what they do.
-- Two CBs that caught my attention for cover skills…
Pitt CB Dane Jackson looked better than I expected. A lot of people had him as their CB ‘winner’ of the week. I’m way more with Nebraska CB Lamar Jackson and others over Jackson, but I saw Jackson could hold his own.
One of the ‘others’ that stood out – Georgia Southern CB Kindle Vildor. I liked him going in and liked him going out. A top 100 pick prospect.
-- I was not blown away by any of the TE prospects during the week, but it’s difficult for them at an event like this considering the drills, etc. You need to have more relationship/offensive plan to make use of tight ends vs. at an all-star game/week. And shining in 1-on-1s is tough because that’s not what we see from the slower athletes (TEs) in the passing drills.
I did not dislike them all, I just did not see one that blew me away. I was with Vandy TE Jared Pickney as the top TE here from my previews but watching this week I like Purdue TE Brycen Hopkins right up there/close with Pickney.
Many analysts came out of this in love with Dayton TE Adam Trautman, but he looked very OK/average to me by comparison.
LSU TE Stephen Sullivan was the one who made the biggest strides with me. He was the guy the South QBs were looking for more than any of them, to my surprise…but it kept happening all week. He had a very bland college career, but the former WR is making great strides.
-- Everyone loved Ohio State WR K.J. Hill here this week…they love his route running. The ‘route running’ golden label is a tricky one…sometimes it is applied to a guy who has great feet but then there’s nothing else much after that. I see his great feet too, but I didn’t see a star in the making here. He might be…there is a talent to work with (quick feet to get open)…but if that’s all it took Taywan Taylor and DaeSean Hamilton would be NFL stars right now.
Hill has promise but he really didn’t help himself here all that much because everyone knew he had good feet going in, and he showed them in low level drills but never made a lot of plays otherwise in 11-on-11s or in the game itself.
-- Lenoir Rhyne SAF Kyle Dugger had a very good showing here all week…he was a big ‘winner’ in that he legitimized himself as a real NFL prospect from the lower college ranks. Dugger led all players with 7 tackles in the game itself. He’s 6’1”/218, a big, hard hitting safety who is not only a clean tackler but earned his way to be the lead punt return man for the South.
-- Speaking of safeties, Miss State SAF Brian Cole showed a lot of athleticism all week and then made a helluva run back on a fumble scoop early in the game. He had big time speed and agility on that fumble return, and that’s what I’ve seen with him in previews – he has the athleticism and size (6’2”/205) to be a legit NFL DB. I need to research his ‘mind for the game’ deeper.
-- Utah EDGE/DE Anae Bradlee had a couple sacks in the game and a few more pressures. He had a nice game, but it also looked like he was facing inferior OLs…but it could be Bradlee’s ability is to blame. I’m on the fence on him…he looks good at times, but mostly looks ‘average’ by NFL starter terms to me.
-- One of the big winners of the Senior Bowl week…Georgia Southern kicker Tyler Bass. Man, what a leg. Had a great career at Georgia Southern and earned many accolades, but his work in this week, people getting a chance to see him up close – it’s like Matt Gay’s jump to become a highly drafted kicker and instant NFL starter last year.
-- Everyone liked UNC DE/DT Jason Strowbridge’s week, but I think that’s because he batted down a few passes at the line of scrimmage and thus drew attention to himself and was seen as some big playmaker. He’s a prospect, but I didn’t see the rising star many were proclaiming.
Similarly, there was a lot of Wisconsin LB Zach Baum talk and accolades for his move from DE to LB…I just wasn’t overwhelmed. Maybe I’m missing it. He looks like an NFL player, but I was not blown away here.
-- Auburn DE Marlon Davidson, South Carolina DT Javon Kinlaw, and Oklahoma DT Neville Gallimore…everyone loves them, and I see why. Physical specimens and talented. But not one of them totally blew me away. They might be great NFL prospects, it looks like they are, but my first watch…I wasn’t as giddy as everyone else was.
-- Two WRs who disappointed me all week: Liberty’s Antonio Golden-Gandy…might have a hands issue, but everything else is there. And Texas WR Collin Johnson, I thought, killed off his top 100 prospect status and fell to a late day three guy. A lot of height and no great ability or hands to play the position.
-- If you made this far with me then thank you because you love football info! So let me just say, to get you pumped for what is ahead – WR Chase Claypool will be one of my first, if not thee first non-QB study I do…and it’s possible he’s going to be a cross between Julio Jones and Mike Evans. He could be a real franchise WR, a guy not even ranked in the top among 5-8 WRs in this draft at this point by the mainstream.
Claypool looked like he had, and displayed, good-to-great hands all week…but I need to study that more. It could be like a 2019 Miles Boykin head fake (that I didn’t fall for last year)…a guy with all the analytics but just isn’t a great WR/not a smooth catcher of the ball. I’m not coronating Claypool just yet, but he’s one of the few guys I leave this week thinking…’wow’, at first sight.
Also, Michael Pittman may be just as good or better. This draft is crazy stocked with WR talent, so much so that talented guys like Baylor’s Denzel Mims or SMU’s James Proche or Tennessee’s Jauan Jennings haven’t been mentioned much by me in any coverage of the week. It’s a disservice because they’re all interesting/talented…it’s just Claypool and Pittman knocked me off my feet. I cannot believe humans are built like that and move like that as college WRs. It’s amazing the size and graceful movement…I just need to dig deeper as to how good at their craft they are, but from what I’ve seen…it’s ‘wow’ material.