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Reese’s Senior Bowl Diary: Opt-outs on Thursday opens up opportunities for others

Final day of contact reveals quite a bit

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 31 Reese’s Senior Bowl
RB Ray Davis
Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Reese’s Senior Bowl week came to a close with the final day of contact and drills. Typically, on Fridays, it is shells and shorts, plus working on special teams.

Dawgs By Nature staff writer Barry Shuck is at the Reese’s Senior Bowl this week watching practices, taking notes, interviewing able bodies for the Browns, and turning over every stone doing NFL draft prep for our Cleveland Browns coverage.

Because the contact practices end on Thursday, all of the NFL folks head home, then tape the game. When I say tape, I mean record.

After having a stellar week, several players sat out the Thursday practice because now they have jumped up a round and will mostly be a first-round selection. Usually, the projected Top-15 in the draft does not compete in any All-Star game because it can only do harm and make a player drop. And dropping means money lost.

Players to opt-out on Thursday were UCLA DE Laiatu Latu, CB Quinyon Mitchell from Toledo, C/G Jackson Powers-Johnson of Oregon, WR Ricky Pearsall from Florida, FSU WR Johnny Wilson, and OT Taliese Fuaga of Oregon State.

I have been covering the Senior Bowl for a long time, and this is the first time I have seen opt-outs. I don’t know if this means they are a game scratch, nor did I attempt to find out. In the past, guys like Von Miller, Justin Herbert, Jordan Love, Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, Tiki Barber, Jalen Hurts, Baker Mayfield, and Cooper Kupp would all have a great practice week, and then play the game regardless that their practice week catapulted them into the first round.

The beauty of this game is the players who use it to boost their draft status. In 2008, QB Joe Flacco was pegged as a late second-rounder, had a superb Senior Bowl week, was voted the game’s MVP, then jumped up one full round and was taken with the 18th pick in the first round.


COLLEGE FOOTBALL: FEB 01 Reese’s Senior Bowl
Isaiah Adams
Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Two players who stood out along the interior of the offensive line today were Christian Hanes (6’-2”, 318 pounds) of UConn and Illinois guard Isaiah Adams (6’-5”, 316 pounds). Think the Browns are set at offensive guard? As long as they remain, okay. But you know this O-Line gets injured more than any other team. And now is the time to take a guy or two to groom. Hanes is just nasty. I bet he hates ice cream and unicorns. He showed some natural knee-bending and has a powerful upper body. On running plays, the dude just won’t quit even as the whistle continues to blow. He has shown he can move defenders at the point of attack, and after the snap, he is the first one to go. Will need work in pass protection and doesn’t remain engaged with guys bigger than him. But he is a thumper. I can tell that Adams has a good time in life. He has strong hands and despite having a taller frame, he was able to get some good leverage consistently.

I have emphasized that Cleveland should draft an offensive tackle at some point. The preference would be Oklahoma’s Tyler Guyton as profiled yesterday who would start sooner than later. So, when Jack Conklin is hurt again, and Jed Wills disappoints again, there is already an option in-house. Guyton would bookend Dawand Jones nicely and is a mature guy. He is a realistic choice for Round 2. Missouri’s Javon Foster (6’-5”, 319 pounds) in the third round would make a lot of sense. One word: physical. He is athletically gifted and a better-than-expected player in pass protection. He also has a wide stance so he can maintain a wide base. I like this man-child quite a bit. He was a First Team All-SEC selection. The Browns need a bona fide backup tackle. They do.

The wide receiver group is outstanding along both squads and has been a while since this room was so deep. Xavier Leggette of South Carolina would be a second-round steal for the Browns. He is not a WR1, but could man the other side away from Amari Cooper and produce. Big big-bodied at 6’-3” and weighs 227 so he is able to push around smaller cornerbacks. Was beating press coverage in the 7-on-7s and has shown great balance for a bigger player.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 31 Reese’s Senior Bowl
Ladd McConkey
Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I talked about Roman Wilson and Brenden Rice in other diary submissions who look like the best ones here along with Ladd McConkey who has shown a lot but is a smaller guy. He is a chain mover and has been mentioned as this year’s Cooper Kupp. Solid route runner. Oh, today I was interviewing Rice along with about six other writers, finished, turned around and there stood his day Jerry. Not every day you see a legend.

Jamari Thrash of Louisville and Tulane’s Jha’Quan Jackson who are shorter guys but have been great followed by invisible. North Carolina’s Devontez Walker has elite speed (4.41) but his biggest stat this week is his drops. He definitely has stone hands. Florida State’s Johnny Wilson has great size (6’-6”) but does not look good to me. He cannot gain any separation and will drop a few. As a receiver you have to be reliable, which Wilson is not. Ricky Pearsall of Florida probably will have the biggest jump in his draft status from this week although he sat out today. Great route runner and plays faster than he has shown. He came in as a Day 3 prospect and now looks like a third-round prospect.

The Browns don’t need a quarterback, but Bo Nix has not had a good week. He is not accurate and has short-armed quite a few passes. And Nix is supposed to have a grade at #20. He does interview well. I get it that Spencer Rattler is the name guy, but Sam Hartman of Notre Dame and Washington’s Michael Penix both look like special talents. Penix appears like a solid second-rounder while Hartman may be taken in Rounds 3-4. Hartman does not show elite arm strength, but so far he has shown he can make every NFL throw. Penix can throw it a country mile and has shown continued progression in arm mechanics. He does show some accuracy lapses. Joe Milton of Tennessee has been a roller coaster. Just when you see a great pass along the sideline, then he will toss one that is uncatchable. He is Day 3 material. Carter Bradley of South Alabama showed a lot of good stuff. He is smooth and has enough arm talent.

RELATED: SENIOR BOWL DIARY: WEDNESDAY

As far as linebackers, James Williams of Miami is a converted safety and appears he should go back to that position. His coverage skills are very good as expected, but he doesn’t react quick enough to decide if the play is a run or not and finds a lot of hesitation instead. Surprisingly, he hasn’t been able to win against tight ends one-on-one. J.D. Bertrand of Notre Dame is going to make somebody very happy. He has good size and is a lot quicker than he appears. Round 3 would be a perfect spot to find him. He will start this year for whoever drafts him. Nothing flashy about him, but he is a beast in the run game. He led Notre Dame in tackles the past two seasons which is saying a lot. Not the biggest guy, but neither is JOK, another ND product. As mentioned yesterday, North Carolina State’s Payton Wilson has had a great week and should bump up his round destination.

Texas A&M v Miami
McKinnley Jackson
Photo by Lauren Sopourn/Getty Images

Defensive tackle is a full-out need for the Browns. As mentioned yesterday T’Vondre Sweat is a huge man who will be available in the second round, or perhaps the third. He is not a pass rusher and has zero speed to win. Nobody will move him, and will have to form a plan to work around him instead. Also impressive was McKinnley Jackson (6’-2”, 331 pounds) of Texas A&M. This is one mean dude with a third-round grade. I would draft him. Has excellent feet and seems to find the right gap to penetrate. Great burst coming off the snap and has good lateral movement. I would call his hands violent. He doesn’t seem to have a lot of pass-rush moves, but that can be taught. Third-round – mark it down. Dewayne Carter (6’-2”, 308 pounds) from Duke has shown flashes but has also struggled.

RELATED: SENIOR BOWL DIARY: TUESDAY

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 31 Reese’s Senior Bowl
Marshawn Lloyd
Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

At running back, Ray Davis (5’-8”, 220 pounds) of Kentucky has popped this week. Very quick and has excellent in-line vision. For a smaller back, he gives it everything he has and runs hard. Davis also has good hands which is what the Browns require. He is 24 years old which may be of some concern. Was First Team All-SEC this past year. Round 3-4 is my prediction. Marshawn Lloyd (5’-9”, 217 pounds) of USC has great burst and is a jump-stepper. Good hands as well. New Hampshire’s Dylan Laube (5’-9”, 210 pounds) has showed out. He seems to be more of a receiving threat and has consistently won in the 1-on-1 drills. Can he block is the question. Kimani Vidal (5’-7”, 215 pounds) of Troy is more bruiser than scatback despite his build. He is content with just aiming for his defender and find out what happens. Needs better receiving skills.