The 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl got out to a good start weather-wise here in Mobile, Alabama. Last week the temperatures were consistently in the 30’s come nightfall. That may not seem like it is really cold if you live in the Midwest or along the upper Eastern seaboard, but here on the Gulf Coast anytime it hovers below 40 that is all anyone will talk about.
A full two practices got underway today. Last year the pandemic affected just about every aspect of Senior Bowl week and in certain ways it is having an affect on this year’s version as well. Any media must have proof of both shots plus the booster or else their press credentials are denied. This is not Senior Bowl guidelines but NFL guidelines which this event uses to a tee on everything. This game is not sanctioned by the NFL, but it is endorsed and deemed one of the important aspects scouting elite college players all in one venue.
This year’s game is February 5 with a kickoff at 2:30pm EST broadcast on NFL Network. Wednesday and Thursday practices will be televised on ESPNU with streaming on Fubo TV and Sling. Daily recaps will be available on NFL Network.
Maybe not this year, and certainly not last year, but this event allows coaches and scouts to get up close to players and interact and speak with them personally. The same goes for the media.
DBN’s Barry Shuck is at the Reese’s Senior Bowl this week taking notes on most positions that may be of interest to the Browns and their fans.
Quarterbacks (three on each roster)
The biggest name here is Kenny Pickett from Pitt. He could go anywhere from #6 to Carolina to later in the 20’s. Hate to see him going to the Steelers at Number 20. Pickett did not have a great practice session today. His throws were just off for most of the day and did not make a good first impression. Same could be said for Desmond Ridder of Cincinnati who just simply threw wild and missed quite a few open guys. Ridder needs to focus more on a location instead of trying to read where the receiver will end up. For today, he was just everywhere with ball placement.
Nevada’s Carson Strong can heave the football really well down the field with accuracy so his arm strength is never in question. Today he seemed more of a gunslinger than a precision passer with his ball placements. So far he appears to be on the track to be somebody’s backup quarterback once the season begins. Hard to imagine him being the starter right off with his decision making abilities.
North Carolina’s Sam Howell looked great today. He hit at least four receivers flying in stride without any hesitation whatsoever. Howell has a nice touch and displayed his accuracy today. Did not do any scrambling in drills, but this is a plus in his game.
Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe does not possess a strong arm and showed that weakness throughout longer patterns. He just short-arms any deep pattern, but has nice touch on the intermediate throws. Gets the ball out in a hurry which is a plus. Malik Willis from Liberty is one of this game’s biggest puzzles. Some mocks have him in the first-round whereas I am have seen him early in the third as well. A good week should elevate his draft status. He played well at times and then just wasn’t on target in other drills. You can tell he hasn’t much experience taking snaps from under center much as he struggled to get back into position to throw while dropping back. His feet placement needs a lot of work.
Right off I like Dontario Drummond from Ole Miss. He is just 6’-0”, 215 pounds but he caught everything thrown his way. Runs a 4.5 in the 40 and just gets open downfield and in a hurry, too. He consistently used his body to shield the defender and knows when to jump for the highest catch point. His college teammate, Braylon Sanders, also was impressive. I saw his 40 time at 4.5. This kid has big hands as well. Did not have that great a senior season as Drummond did, so he will need to step up every practice session. So far he seems to be able to separate well from his defenders and runs some convincing route fakes. Was wipe open several times today because of his shoulder and head bobs.
North Dakota State’s Christian Watson has good hands but his speed is just meh. He will also need to improve his routes so that he can separate more because the angles and body language he was giving today just weren’t fooling anyone. Calvin Austin from Memphis is one of the smallest players here at just 5’-9” and a paltry 162 pounds. He had some moves, but most defensive backs were able to muscle him around most of the day.
Khalil Shakir from Boise State struggled to make catches all day. He is another who gets out-muscled on contested balls.
SMU’s Danny Gray was impressive. Not a lot of scouts knew much about him, but after today they will. At first glance you don’t think he has the speed, but will turn it on with another gear (4.5 40). Truly runs a pretty route on long routes and had the ability to get good sight on the flight pattern and adjust his route nicely several times. His best catches were the 10-15 yard variety where he appears he can get good yardage after the catch.
I came into this week expecting quite a bit from Cincinnati’s Alec Pierce. Several years ago during the Senior Bowl I did an interview with Cooper Kupp who I thought had his head on straight and caught everything no matter how wide or overthrown it was. The two seemed similar body types and third round material. But Pierce had lots of issues today. His 40 time is listed at 4.5 but I don’t see it. He comes out of breaks slow and makes rounds instead of crisp routes. Had a drop today as well as he turned his head instead of cradling then turning upfield. Romeo Doubs of Nevada has almost no quickness to him. Same can be said for Rutgers receiver Bo Melton who has soft hands but his routes need improvement.
Tre Turner of Virginia Tech had several good catches and then just didn’t get to the ball on others. South Alabama’s Jalen Tolbert is a very quick guy who runs in the 4.4 arena. He’s a big receiver as well standing 6’-3” and is shifty. Impressed with his route-running and ability to catch up to overthrows. Cornerbacks struggled against his frame on contested throws as he uses his body well. Will be a guy to watch this week. Tennessee’s Velus Jones is also quick, but struggled to go get the ball when he could not separate.
Most impressive was Zion Johnson of Boston College. The tackle (6’-3”, 316 pounds) is the highest ranked OL in this game and he shows it. His hand placement is excellent with good leverage once engaged. Did not see any D-linemen get around him in 1-on-1’s which is unusual with all the big names on that side of the ball. Also Braxton Jones of Utah (6’-7”, 310 pounds) had excellent arm extension and appears to be a solid run blocker. Strong hands that was able to steer his defensive counterparts away as he decided. Seems to have an aggressive demeanor.
Extremely impressed with the play of tackle Darian Kinnard (6’-5”, 345 pounds) from Kentucky. The Consensus First Team All-American and 2021 Jacobs Blocking Trophy Award winner was on display today. His reach is incredible and seems to be as strong as he needs to be. Solid recovery skills and just a mountain of a man to try to get around. Not fooled by that quick first step. A player to watch all week if the Browns want to bring in a solid tackle.
DT Zachary Carter from Florida has great upper body strength. He had several great plays and then became invisible and pushed aside by larger O-linemen. DT Haskell Garrett from Ohio State was the immovable man today as his lower frame size (300 pounds) was just too much to move aside. Made plays and then just stayed put at times. South Carolina’ DE Kingsley Enagbare struggled and just did not impress.
Penn State DE Arnold Ebiketie came into this game looking to advance his draft status as one who could rise quite quickly. Explosive off the snap and is a difficult man to maneuver. Great hand placement as well. Did well off the edge and has good speed. Houston DE Logan Hall was a disappointment. DT Travis Jones of Connecticut showed he is a powerful man by driving multiple blockers backwards more than once. Impressive good initial punch and was very consistent. Fires off with force and several times controlled the block.
Minnesota DE Boye Mafe (6’-4”, 265 pounds) is the defender that most scouts were talking about before today’s practice and he did not disappoint. He clearly is an explosive player. Several times he blew through the block to have a clear shot at whoever was behind the offensive lineman. A lot of upside with this guy. Will need more bend off the edge also as he plays more upright and is a high-impact guy. There were few times he was actually blocked. UCLA DT Otito Ogbonnia had flashes.
Another impressive player was Miami of Ohio DE Dominique Robinson. Very flexible at times off the edge and just bursts coming off the snap. Very fast and quick but also a bit light (256 pounds). Flashes of above average extension after his initial punch. LSU DT Neil Farrell wasn’t very disruptive but was able to win or stalemate most match-ups.
Jalen Pitre (6’-0”, 197 pounds) of Baylor is one feisty, nasty fighter. This guy does not miss tackles and looks like a missile going downfield. Today, he took advantage of the tight ends when asked during drills and the height difference did not matter. Has a great back pedal and is quick. Was able to process what was in front of him well and was physical all day. His speed is his best attribute.