This week down in Mobile, Alabama is one of my favorite ones of the year. More than a hundred of Senior prospects for this upcoming draft are put into positions, where they are comfortable in, but also some they are not used to. The organization’s staff does an excellent job bringing together some of the top talents in the country and it’s not just about these kids from the big-name schools, but rather they give some lesser known guys a chance to show off. This really is a chance for young players to boost their draft stock. Look no further than Temple’s Haason Reddick a year ago, who went from being considered a potential late day two pick, to being selected 13th overall by the Arizona Cardinals. We saw some superstars emerge from this event in recent years and there’s a good chance someone on this list will be in that category a few years down the line.
Kyle Lauletta, QB, Richmond
Coming into last week, I thought Lauletta was a very functional collegiate quarterback, who would struggle with the speed of some of these supreme athletes on the defensive side of the ball. After watching him earn the Senior Bowl MVP award on Saturday, I had to reassess my analysis on him. The Colonial offensive player of the year might not possess any elite traits, but he did everything pretty well in Mobile. I thought he showed that he is an efficient passer, who works his progression and gets rid of the ball quickly. He displayed a nice bounce to his step and good feel for the pocket. He connected on all kinds of throws and proved he can make plays outside the pocket, when things break down. With all the highly touted QB prospects getting so much recognition, it was Lauletta with the most impressive performance among them on gameday, going 8 for 12 for 198 yards and three touchdowns.
Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State
At Arizona State, Ballage averaged just around ten carries per game and was more of an all-purpose weapon for the Sundevils. Despite recording eight touchdowns in a game once for ASU, he surpassed 20 rushing attempts just once during all of his collegiate career. Watching him out there at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, you saw he has some special traits. He showed much more burst to the edge than you’d anticipate for a guy his size, the power to finish runs in a strong way by lowering his shoulder and running through a man and he excelled running away from people in one-on-one coverage drills. He continued to show up on gameday, including one run on which he absolutely trucked one of the safeties on the South team. To me he proved that he definitely is a three-down running-back, who is hungry for an opportunity to show all his talents and I wouldn’t be surprised if he made an impact for some NFL team early on in his career.
DaeSean Hamilton, WR, Penn State
After having one of the best showings of anybody at the East-West Shrine week, Penn State’s all-time leading receiver was promoted to Senior Bowl week and he just owned it. He looked loose from his first rep on and excelled with his route-running, using leverage and sink into his breaks to create separation and turning some of those DBs all the way around on double-moves. Hamilton showed a lot of confidence and made defenders look foolish all the time with those routes developing down the field. He also operated in very sophisticated ways, when stemming the corner and slightly throwing him off, to create some extra space and give his quarterbacks an easy target. The wideout definitely took his game to a new level against stiffer competition and I believe he changed the minds of some scouts with his work on the field. With a rather weak wide receiver class at the top, Hamilton might be on his way to turning into a top ten prospect at the position.
D.J. Chark, WR, LSU
Much like some other LSU receivers coming into the league, Chark is a smooth route-runner with nice ball-skills. He didn’t put up any big numbers in college because of the inconsistent quarterback play for the Tigers and the run-heavy offensive approach during that time. Coming into last week, I thought he made body-adjustments look easy and could really climb the ladder, but was too weak at the point of the catch at moments. In Mobile he showed that when he uses all those tools he has, he can get open as well as beating good coverage by adjusting to the ball. Chark got better and better as the week went along, with a great day three of practice and when turning the actual game into his own personal highlight reel. He beat man-coverage continuously, including a long bomb down the sideline, and earned co-offensive MVP honors for his South squad, with five catches for 160 yards and a touchdown.
Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State
Okay, this guy has some moves now. The former dunk champion and volleyball star was still pretty raw as a tight-end when he came to the Big Ten, but he soon would be feared in the entire conference. When he arrived at the Senior Bowl, the feeling from those defensive backs lined up across from him probably had to be very similar. Gesicki worked head-fakes to create separation early on his routes as well as posterizing a few defenders late on them. A lot of times, he could have basically stopped those one-on-one reps after his break, because he had so much separation that he didn’t even have to worry about a defender contesting the catch. Overall, he just looked a step ahead of the competition all week long and will be an extremely intriguing prospect as a move tight-end, similar to what Evan Engram and Gerald Everett were a year ago.
Isaiah Wynn, OG, Georgia
First of all, I give Wynn a ton of credit for even showing up in Mobile, despite playing in the National Championship game a few weeks ago and not having much to prove at this point. The former Bulldog was as consistent all week as it gets, probably not losing a single rep in any practice session. He was so good at Georgia that the coaching staff slid him in at left tackle despite being only 6’2’’ and he showed no sign of slowing down at all, transitioning to the inside, where he will make a living in the league. I also saw great base power, the quick feet that made him survive on the outside and just the grip to stay glued to defenders in protection. He never really seemed out of position at any point during his stay down in Alabama and all things considered, he made a very strong case for being the second guard off the board in April.
Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP
This load of a man is known a road-grader in the run-game, but in pass protection one-on-ones down at Ladd-Peebles Stadium he also showed some lateral agility and he dominated those Ohio State guys, who were part of one of the elite defensive fronts in all of college football. Hernandez consistently finished his blocks by landing on the chest of the opponent and he off the mobility to pull around and get onto linebackers on the second level. The obvious comparison due to his fridge-type body and neck roll would be the Bills’ Richie Incognito and much like the perennial Pro-Bowler, this draft prospect carries that massive body very well. His biggest problem going forward will be the fact he can get grabby at times, because of how wide his hands go to the outside, but his OL coach in the pros will work on him keeping his elbow close to his body and forcing officials to make a call with his paws inside the frame of defenders.
Marcus Davenport, Edge, UTSA
At the media session on his first day in Mobile, Davenport said he models his game after Calais Campbell’s power, J.J. Watt’s motor and Von Miller’s speed off the edge. Not a bad combination, but he still had to convince scouts he has some of those traits himself. After starting the week off rather slow and seeming to overthink things a little bit, he started to settle in and just play loose on day three of practice and in the game. He showed a lot of power and used that inside arm very well to guide himself past blockers. The Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year took over some portions of practice on day three, providing constant pressure and making me think he will be a top ten pick come April. He reassured that on gameday, getting a bunch of hits on the highly touted North QBs. Davenport is a unique athlete who can be a hand-in-the-dirt 4-3 DE, a 3-4 OLB as well as sliding inside in sub-packages and using mismatches against guards, which he displayed throughout the week.
Harrison Phillips, DT, Stanford
During his time at Stanford, Phillips was a run-stuffing, double-team absorbing rock in the middle of their defense. To me he was the premiere run-defender in the country last season, but I thought he didn’t get enough credit for the things he did in the passing game. Throughout his week at the Senior Bowl he showed that he can not only push the pocket, but that he also has a little shake to him for the big guy he is. I thought he showed a lot of upside as a pass-rusher and had a great overall week in practice. The former member of the Cardinal really upped his value by proving himself a two-way player, with the ability to control the point of attack in the run game as well as taking away space for opposing quarterbacks to step up. He put some of those interior offensive linemen on the South team on skates in the game, pushing the pocket and getting a couple of hits on the QBs.
B.J. Hill, DT, N.C. State
This dude was a problem all week long. He dominated one-on-ones with that power he possesses and then the change-up once he got the blocker out of position. I mean he won with ease against some of the top interior offensive linemen in the country. Hill only collected eight sacks during his four-year collegiate career, but when he stayed low in practice, he couldn’t really be held. The 315-pounder put up one of the sweetest spin moves I saw from anybody all week in one-on-ones, including the running-backs. With one of the most loaded defensive lines at N.C. State, Hill got kind of overlooked, but he raised a lot of eyebrows when he was singled out last week. Not only did he make his mark in those one-on-ones, he also was the immovable object against the run he usual is, with heavy hands to shock O-linemen and squeeze gaps. I feel like there’s an interior defensive lineman every year, that raises his draft stock in Mobile, and Hill was the guy in 2018.
Shaquem Griffin, OLB, UCF
Much was made of the fact Griffin didn’t receive a combine invite despite being the AAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 and another season as one of the key pieces to a perfect record for UCF. To be honest, he shouldn’t even care anymore – he has been nothing but amazing ever since Scott Frost’s arrival at the school. Griffin was an edge defender during his last two years in college, but at his size and frame, it was likely that he would have to convert to a stand-up linebacker on early downs. During his week in Mobile, he was used all over the field and showed he can fit in a lot of spots. He covered tight-ends and backs one-on-one, rushed off the edge and made some plays against the run. Moreover, Griffin has tremendous quickness on inside-moves and won a couple of those clean off the snap. Texans’ defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel put him in a bunch of different spots and excelled in all of them, including safety. Without a doubt, his best attribute is his ability to run and chase, which he is second to none at. Fittingly, the coaches named him Practice Player of the Week.
Nick DeLuca, LB, North Dakota State
I always love Senior Bowl week, because I get to watch some players from schools, I didn’t get a chance to see that much during the collegiate seasons. North Dakota State is a tremendous program in my opinion and they have brought out some really good talents in recent years. This year it’s Nick DeLuca. The linebacker showed off tremendous intelligence and instincts in team-drills, sniffing out toss plays and coming downhill aggressively, to minimize the yardage gained. He likes to get physical with RBs out of the backfield, which he showed in coverage sequences. He will put hands on his opponent and get called for some holds at the next level, but that’s something NFL coaching can’t correct. To me, he showed everything in the drills with awareness and thump to make his mark. He didn’t leave any doubt he belonged with those talents of the FBS and looked like a starting NFL linebacker to be honest.
Darius Leonard, LB, South Carolina State
This is the second FCS guy at the position, that really stood out to me. Leonard is a run-and-chase linebacker with a bit of an undersized stature. He was very good when he could stride and run with people, but got his feet stuck in the sand a little bit when asked to change directions. Either way, he made a couple of huge plays on the goal-line sequences, once stuffing Rashaad Penny going up the middle and the other snap sprinting out to the flats from the inside LB spot and knocking Ito Smith back for negative yardage. He was an FCS All-American, who broke Deacon Jones’ school record for most tackles in a career and his name just popped up time and time again when I watched the prospects compete on the field. The guy repeatedly showed up nicely in coverage during practice and continued to make plays all over the field in the actual game.
Michael Joseph, CB, Dubuque
After talking about two prospects from non-FBS schools, here’s someone from Division III for you. This kid made an impression on me just based on the fact, how competitive he was all week long. Joseph displayed easy movement skills and didn’t back down from the any of the Division 1 players. While I’m not quite sure about his long speed, he is very quick in short areas to attack right off the breaks of the opposing receivers. Assuming he will receive an invite, the Dubuque star will put a number on that speed at the combine and show if he can survive on the outside at the next level. Either way, I love his fluidity, aggressiveness and ball-skills. He won day one among defensive backs for me, undercutting a few routes early on in practice. Throughout his time in Mobile, I thought he came out with a confident demeanor and chip on his shoulder. He never panicked, getting his head around and going after the ball.
JaMarcus King, CB, South Carolina
The one guy who scouts should be very intrigued by at the cornerback position, just in terms of measurements, was the Gamecocks’ JaMarcus King. At 6’2’’, he has excellent length with limbs as arms. Looking at him on the field, he clearly needs to get bigger and strong, but he brings some of the competitiveness to make a name for himself and I have to doubt NFL trainers will get in the work on him in the weight room. King likes to get physical at the line of scrimmage and plaster receivers downfield, but he also knows when to turn his head and find the ball in the air. On gameday, he was beat deep once, but came back strong by making a big play on the ball thrown his way, when going up against Oklahoma State’s James Washington, which led to an interception in the end-zone by one of his teammates on the North squad. There’s always that one kid, people around the league get fascinated by, because they think he can develop into a guy who can stop the big wideouts we have in the league today and this might be the guy.
Others who had a good week:
Mike White, QB, Western Kentucky
Ito Smith, RB, Southern Mississippi
J’Mon Moore, WR, Missouri
Jordan Akins, TE, Central Florida
Mason Cole, OG, Washington State
Bryan O’Neill, OT, Pittsburgh
Kemoko Turay, Edge, Rutgers
Da’Shawn Hand, DL, Alabama
Poona Ford, DT, Texas
Garrett Dooley, LB, Wisconsin
Duke Dawson, CB, Florida
M.J. Stewart, CB, North Carolina
Jeremy Reaves, S, South Alabama