WNS Senior Bowl Winners
Whole Nine Sports’ first year in Mobile for the Reese’s Senior Bowl is unfortunately coming to an end after an incredible week of practices and media events. Those of us in the WNS House (thanks to Megan and Andrew, our Airbnb hosts) took some time to pick our 3 winners at each position, plus one honorable mention. Make sure to follow the other 4 people that voted on this: Brandon Olsen (@WNS_Brandon), Dylan Sanders (@DillySanders), Josh Berg (@JoshBerg0611), and Evan Mead (@Evan_Mead0700).
Justin Herbert, Shea Patterson, Jordan Love
With Joe Burrow understandably choosing to skip this game, Herbert came in as the most highly-touted prospect at the position, but questions about how he’d look compared to Love remained. At the end of the week, it’s safe to say Herbert distanced himself from Love and anyone else in the conversation as the next-best QB behind Burrow and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. The Oregon alum didn’t get many opportunities to throw the ball deep, but when he did he displayed the arm strength we all expected him to. I personally still don’t like Herbert as a prospect (I think he has issues facing pressure and while his footwork looked improved this week, he still has a few bad habits that need to be broken), but he’ll head into February as the WNS consensus QB3, and I’m fine with that.
The pleasant surprise of the week was Michigan’s Patterson, who at times looked like the best QB on the North roster. While the consistency issues that plagued him in maize and blue manifested in Mobile, we thought he made just enough NFL-caliber throws that a team will convince themselves they can make him more consistent. If they can, Patterson might end up as a starting-caliber QB in the NFL, but that future is way ahead of us. In the meantime, we’ll be looking for the former Wolverine to build off a good week here with a strong combine and pro day.
After Herbert and Patterson, another riser is a bit difficult to choose. We didn’t think any of the other 4 QBs necessarily had strong weeks; rather, they all showed flashes but struggled at times. Love had probably the strongest day of any QB during the indoor session on Thursday, showing off his arm strength in a number of reps. His first two days of practice were much more up and down, despite a ton of people gushing over him. I still don’t love his accuracy, which in Mobile resulted in him throwing a ball over the media barrier, but he likely showed enough to be QB4 or QB5 (depending on your opinion on guys like Jacob Eason, Jake Fromm, and Jalen Hurts) heading into the combine.
Honorable Mention: Anthony Gordon, Washington State
Josh Kelley, Lamical Perine, JaMycal Hasty
Ask Dylan about Josh Kelley, and he might never stop talking to you. The former Bruin came in at a stout 5’ 10 ⅝” and 214 lbs. at weigh-ins, then proceeded to look like the best RB on the field despite being scheduled to go to the NFLPA Bowl until Jim Nagy extended an invite. While he did everything well, his pass blocking was far and away the best of all running backs here, as he consistently was standing up linebackers in drills. His vision behind the line looked good, too, with a couple cuts that left defenders in the dust. In a very top-heavy RB class, guys like Kelley have been overlooked thus far in the pre-draft process, but that should not and will not continue after his performance this week.
Every time we looked at RB drills, Perine had a good rep. Zac Taylor and his staff ran a lot of simulated inside zone during their practices, which allowed the former Gator to show off his footwork and vision in the hole, both of which looked stellar. He didn’t look like the best route runner or pass blocker at practice, but he’s still a solid player that will see a boost from his performance. He’s probably the player I’m most excited to see play in the actual game, especially because RBs can be one of the hardest positions to evaluate based on practice reps.
JaMycal Hasty is 5’ 8”. While some may have been surprised at that during weigh-ins, we felt as though it didn’t matter too much because he looks small on film already. Hasty then went out and proved it doesn’t matter whatsoever, because he has some of the sweetest feet in this class. He moves so quickly that blinking would cause you to miss some of his cuts, something that showed up while he was running routes as well. In the NFL, he’ll likely be limited to a third-down role as a pass catcher and elusive back, especially because some of his pass blocking reps were rough. Hasty also got work in as a returner, an area in which he should continue to get work in the pros.
Honorable Mention: Darius Anderson, TCU
James Proche, Denzel Mims, Van Jefferson
With such a highly-touted pass-catchers group coming into this week, I’m not sure many people expected a guy like Proche to be the standout of the week. The SMU alum put together perhaps the most complete week of anybody. While he had some trouble with the toe-drag drill the Lions staff put the receivers through and needs to clean his footwork on routes up a little bit, he put guys in a blender during one-on-ones until late addition Javaris Davis decided to take every rep against him on Thursday. Proche showed off some nice contested catch ability as well as value in the return game, but we’ll get back to that later.
Mims is a player I came into the week with high expectations for after the season he had at Baylor, and I thought he largely delivered. He looked like one of the most physical players in Mobile for large stretches, as evidenced by these two reps:
There are questions about how well he’s going to separate in the NFL, especially after a few reps this week where he didn’t get off the line too well, but he’s so good catching contested throws that I’m not convinced it’ll matter that much.
I’d heard the buzz about Jefferson coming into this week, but I wasn’t convinced until the first day of practice rolled around. Now, I’ll happily join the Jefferson bandwagon if it hasn’t left the station, because he destroyed almost every corner the Bengals staff put him against in one-on-ones. Watch him almost end Dane Jackson’s life on this rep from Thursday:
(By the way, you can see Dylan, Brandon, and me in the background of this play.)
Jefferson is such a polished route runner already, which does leave in question how much room there is for him to grow, especially as a player that will be 24 by the time he debuts in the NFL. In the later rounds, though, a team might be getting a Day 1 contributor and a certified steal.
Honorable Mention: Collin Johnson, Texas
Adam Trautman, Josiah Deguara, Stephen Sullivan
Did you know Trautman majored in electrical engineering at Dayton? I know you didn’t. The former triple option quarterback showed off his athleticism with two nasty juke moves in a row on Wednesday and overall looked like a legitimate threat as a receiver. He said on media day that he wanted to prove he could block, which I thought he did well enough to silence critics. If you weren’t already excited about Trautman as a prospect, this week should’ve been enough to get you excited. Add on the fact that his coaches came to Mobile to support him, which says a lot about who Trautman is as a person, and you’re left with one of the biggest risers on the board.
Send all questions about Deguara to Brandon, who might be the biggest fan of the Cincinnati TE, including his family. Make no mistake, Deguara looked great this week both receiving and blocking while also taking reps at fullback. For the most part, he looked like the same player as the one on film, although his blocking has improved a bit. It’s mostly just that not many people have watched his film, which is understandable: this TE class was seen as weak and Deguara was one of the deeper names coming in. Now, though, put him high on your priority watch list.
Sullivan is a player that really got to shine this week after playing second fiddle to Thaddeus Moss for most of the season. The former receiver looks like a polished route runner in space, although there were a couple reps where he got locked up by safeties. His blocking needs the most work, but he showed a willingness to try this week. Overall, he looks like a player transitioning from WR to TE, but his potential is tantalizing at this point in time. Don’t be surprised if a team finds him in the later rounds and turns him into a quality contributor.
Honorable Mention: Harrison Bryant, Florida Atlantic
Josh Jones, Ben Bartch, Matt Peart
Jones is probably going to be a first rounder in April based on his performance this week. In one-on-ones, he won reps against guys like Bradlee Anae, Alton Robinson, and Jason Strowbridge, all of whom made other linemen look like children at some point this week. The Houston grad looked powerful and fluid at 6’ 5 ⅛” and 311 lbs. as well, which is his playing weight, unlike some of these guys who bulked up or slimmed down to look better to scouts. All Jones had to do to impress was show up and do what he’s been doing all season in Houston. He’s made himself a ton of money this week.
Bartch might be my favorite living person from Earth. (We’ll get to why that qualifier is needed later.) On media day, the Saint John’s (MN) product said that he’d watched all of this week’s matchups extensively on YouTube, and it showed in a big way during practice. Much like Jones, Bartch was able to win with both power and athleticism, proving that his skills will translate well from the D3 level. He himself said that he’d prefer to play in a zone blocking scheme, but the power he showed convinces me that he should be able to hold his own in man schemes as well. Much like Trautman having his coaches travel to see him, Bartch has 10-12 people that came from Minnesota to support him, which speaks to what a high-character guy he is off the field. He’s an early favorite to end up as one of my draft crushes this year.
The inclusion of Peart makes our winners list all small school guys. With good reps against players like Kenny Willekes and Josh Uche, he proved he’ll be able to play with NFL talent, although he struggled against the bull rush a bit in one-on-ones. I think he’s a bit more raw than the other two names on this list, but a team will fall in love with his measurables (6’ 6 ½”, 310 lbs., 86 ⅛” wingspan) and athletic traits. Look for his name to come up early on Day 3 or maybe late on Day 2 of the draft, depending on how the rest of the board falls.
Honorable Mention: Charlie Heck, North Carolina
Interior Offensive Line
Lloyd Cushenberry III, Matt Hennessy, Hakeem Adeniji
Cushenberry had a quick turnaround coming to Mobile: the national championship and its associated festivities ran until last Saturday; Senior Bowl week got into full swing on Monday. Despite that and a weigh-in that left some people questioning his size, the center looked the best of anybody in Mobile. It’s actually partially due to his shorter stature (6’ 3 ¼”) that he’s able to get such good leverage on defenders, and once he gets a hold of you, you’re not going anywhere. Positional and scheme versatility are also a plus, as the Louisiana native said on media day he feels comfortable playing at guard or center and in any scheme because of the coaching changes during his time at LSU. Couple Cushenberry’s strong week with a tougher one from Nick Harris and the continued tumble of Tyler Biadasz, and the LSU product may very well be the top interior lineman prospect in this draft.
Hennessy was a prospect I wasn’t too aware of coming into this week, but will be high on all of our watch lists when we return home. A lightly recruited player coming out of high school, Hennessy said on media day that he was discovered by then-Temple head coach and new Panthers head Coach Matt Rhule, making Carolina an interesting team to watch come draft time. If Rhule wants to secure the player he once found in Ramsey, New Jersey, however, he’s going to have a lot of competition. On Wednesday, when UNC defensive lineman Jason Strowbridge won nearly every rep, Hennessy was the lone player to stop him, and he did it twice in a row. With opinions changing so quickly on this IOL class, Hennessy could be a sneaky name to watch as a riser in the process.
Adeniji looked the best of the players asked to move inside to guard after playing tackle in college despite a rough first day against the likes of Strowbridge and Neville Gallimore. He improved immensely over the course of the week, to the point where I’m convinced he could stick at guard in the NFL. That’s good news for Adeniji, who measured at 6’ 4 ⅜” and 302 lbs. That’s tweener size, so now with tape at tackle and a good week of practice and hopefully good game at guard, a team could talk themselves into using him in either of those roles as a sixth utility lineman and possible future starter. Look for him to land in the middle rounds with a team that has an experienced line coach to continue to develop him.
Honorable Mention: Justin Herron, Wake Forest
Javon Kinlaw, Larrell Murchison, DaVon Hamilton
Despite only practicing for the first two days, Kinlaw was the story of the week from the jump. After an incredible introductory presser where every media member fell in love with him on Monday, Kinlaw dominated one-on-ones against everyone except his friend and longtime rival John Simpson. It’s impossible not to root for Kinlaw: he and his family grew up basically homeless, with his mom and one of his brothers still in and out of homelessness to this day, which was partly what spurred his decision to declare. He recently had a daughter, Eden, and mentioned at media day that he wanted to show other young parents that it’s okay to be a good father. Despite the tough background he comes from, Kinlaw is a funny and down-to-earth guy. He also is absolutely an alien, which is why I mentioned earlier that Ben Bartch is my favorite person from Earth.
After Kinlaw and Marlon Davidson, who practiced once before hurting his ankle, it was a bit harder to identify defensive linemen who stood out for positive reasons. Murchison, however, looked more fluid than I was expecting, especially in the change of direction drills. In one-on-ones, he beat Justin Herron and Matt Hennessy on nice-looking spin moves and overall looked like a solid player. In a class with a lot of question marks after the top tier, Murchison could be a player to watch as early as Day 2.
I hope that whoever drafts Hamilton doesn’t decide whether or not to play him based on reps against pads. In drills, Hamilton was getting yelled at by coaches: he wasn’t getting low enough, wasn’t getting his hands high enough, and wasn’t light enough on his feet. Once he got into reps against other players, however, he looked quick off the line and powerful, beating guys with burst that he converted well into power. Media scouts seemed to be low on his week (me included), but he won Practice Player of the Week for the North defensive linemen, an award voted on by the offensive linemen he played against in practice. Expect him to be available early on Day 3, with a chance to rise if he continues his momentum into the combine and pro day.
Honorable Mention: Jabari Zuniga, Florida
Jason Strowbridge, Terrell Lewis, Josh Uche
Strowbridge is an edge rusher at this juncture, having weighed in at 6’ 4 ¼” and a slim 267 lbs. However, it is worth noting that Strowbridge told the media that he lost weight in preparation for testing at the combine, but prefers to play 2-tech over the edge position. Regardless, he looked and played like an edge rusher this week. I mentioned earlier that Strowbridge could only be stopped by Matt Hennessy during practice on Wednesday, which was mostly because the UNC product was so quick off the line that most other linemen weren’t even aware he had gotten past them. If Strowbridge changes his mind about wanting to play inside, he’s proven he’ll be a serviceable edge rusher, if not, we’ll see if he still moves as well with 20-30 more pounds on his frame as an athletic interior lineman.
Did any of you see Terrell Lewis lose a rep? Because I didn’t. Every time I looked over at the edge rusher group, Lewis was blowing past offensive linemen and making it look rather easy. At 6’ 5 ⅜” and 258 lbs., he’s the prototypical size for a 3-4 pass rushing linebacker, but there were questions about how raw he looked at times at Alabama. We thought he answered those this week, and expect him to sneak into the back half of the first round.
Uche worked with both the linebackers and edge rushers for the North team, but we thought he looked best on the edge. A bit more undersized at 6’ 1 ⅜” and 241 lbs., Uche won a lot of reps by simply getting lower than the lineman in front of him, kind of like this:
However, he proved he has more than just bend in his arsenal, as seen here:
Uche got exposed in coverage a few times, most notably by Michigan teammate Shea Patterson, but as an edge rusher looks like a solid player despite being a bit smaller. I’m intrigued which scheme he ends up in, because moving him to a blitzing off-ball linebacker role in a 4-3 seems tantalizing, but it’s possible he could succeed as a pure 3-4 outside linebacker as well.
Honorable Mention: Kenny Willekes, Michigan State
Akeem Davis-Gaither, Francis Bernard, Khaleke Hudson
Davis-Gaither plays like a dollar store version of Isaiah Simmons, and I mean that in the best possible way. He lined up in the middle, as an off-ball linebacker, and even in the slot for a few coverage reps over the course of this week, looking pretty good doing any and all of them. Another guy we were lucky enough to talk to this week, we came away impressed with his personality as much as we did his game. In an ever more pass-happy league, the versatility Davis-Gaither brings will make him a valuable asset on an NFL team. Expect him to continue to rise on boards barring something out of left field.
If we hadn’t visited the film suite the Senior Bowl provided us, Bernard might not have made this list. Thankfully, we did, and what we saw was Bernard pointing out Every. Single. Play. to the rest of the defense in 7 on 7s and 11 on 11s. That was on Wednesday, when the Utah product had been in this defense for all of 36 hours. In talking to his Ute teammates over the course of the week, it’s clear Bernard was the quarterback of the defense there as well. He may not always make the play himself, but his football IQ is just so off the charts that he puts every other player in your defense in a position to succeed. We’d expect him to whiteboard very well at the combine, which may catapult him up NFL team boards in what still looks like a weak LB class.
Hudson alternated between safety and linebacker this week, but most of his reps came as an off-ball linebacker. He’s built like a tank at 5’ 11 ⅛” and 218 lbs., with 10” (!) hands, and you could tell when he hit somebody. He looked phenomenal in coverage also, including this rep:
That’s Hudson staying stride for stride down the field with JaMycal Hasty, who’s one of the fastest players we saw this week. Although we have him listed as a linebacker, he’s starting to remind me of a Chauncey Gardner-Johnson type player who can move around the back end or down into the box and be effective. With defenses becoming so much more position less, Hudson could see a huge bump thanks to this week.
Honorable Mention: Malik Harrison, Ohio State
Darnay Holmes, Dane Jackson, Michael Ojemudia
I was a fan of Holmes coming into this week based off his 2018 tape, but many of the people I talked to were down on him because it’s fairly apparent on his 2019 film that the effort simply isn’t there as a member of a struggling Bruins team. Against the best of the best, however, Holmes came to play. Here’s him locking down Jauan Jennings from Tennessee:
Here’s him closing on Collin Johnson for a pass deflection:
Reps like this were a dime a dozen for Holmes, who made himself a lot of money simply by playing the game he showed in 2018.
On Monday night, the three of us old enough to drink headed to Draft Picks to listen to the Stick to Football crew record their first live episode of the week. While we were waiting, we talked to EJ Snyder of Windy City Gridiron (@thedraftsmanFB), who told us to watch out for Jackson. I’d never heard of him, to be honest with you, so I kept it in the back of my mind. The next day, Jackson weighed in at 5’ 11 ⅝” and 180 lbs. At this point, we’re thinking he might be a good slot corner, but playing him on the outside? You’d have to be crazy.
Then we went to practice and fell in love.
Jackson locked up receivers inside and outside despite his thin frame. This was his first rep on Tuesday:
Go back and watch Dane Jackson’s film.
When Ojemudia accepted his invite, I texted our Big Ten analysts Mike and Devin to see if he was any good. The fact that I was met with shrugs from both of them told me that perhaps this would be one of the guys that went to the Senior Bowl but didn’t end up drafted. This week, Ojemudia has flipped that opinion on its head. At one point, he got frustrated after a bad rep, then won the next six one-on-ones in press man coverage. He’s also looked good as a run support defender and seems to do the little things well. His technique still needs work for him to be a starting-caliber player in the NFL, but he should at the very least be in the conversation for a Day 3 pick at this point.
Honorable Mention: Troy Pride Jr, Notre Dame
Kyle Dugger, Jalen Elliott, Jared Mayden
Dugger is another player we can’t help but root for as the small school darling of Senior Bowl week. The Lenoir-Rhyne alum has played all over the field in his career, from running back to wide receiver to corner to safety and now some work as an off-ball linebacker, plus his time as a punt returner. He said on media day that no teams had asked him to move back to corner, but teams had asked him about being a return specialist. Its clear Dugger takes pride in special teams, which is always something that endears you to teams. What also endears you to teams is looking like you absolutely belong on the field with a bunch of Power 5 prospects, either in man coverage, where Dugger undercut a couple routes, or in run support as an off-ball linebacker, where he forced a fumble on Eno Benjamin on Thursday. I think Dugger’s ceiling as a prospect is the second round, and after the week he had, I think I speak for most of us in saying I’d be shocked if he was still available going into the fourth round.
Elliott stood out the most in man coverage of this group, showing lockdown skill against wide receiver and tight end alike. On Day 1, he shut down Adam Trautman:
Then, on Day 3, he denied Brycen Hopkins on this slant route:
The former Fighting Irishman made himself a lot of money this week as a safety who can drop down and play nickel corner if need be. Admittedly, we didn’t see him take many reps as a deep zone safety, but the man coverage ability alone should make a team very happy in the middle rounds.
Mayden showed his versatility more than anything else this week. With a few of the other safeties looking a little raw or just plain lost in roles they’d never played before, Mayden looked solid wherever the Bengals staff put him. One of his best reps came on Thursday, when he kept with the play and pushed Tyrie Cleveland out of bounds:
Mayden got lost a bit on an uber-talented Alabama defensive roster, but his ability to shine in such an isolated environment will serve him well in the process going forward. He’s made our priority watch list.
Honorable Mention: Brian Cole II, Mississippi State
Tyler Bass, Braden Mann, James Proche
Thursday’s practice was indoors and questionably open to the media, so you’re forgiven if you missed Bass’ performance. We were there, though, to see the Georgia Southern kicker hit the roof of the facility in virtually the same spot three times in a row on kickoff drills. At the end of practice, Bass missed his only two field goals of the week.
Both were from 58 yards, and neither was short.
The first one veered a bit right, but he had so much leg on it that the staff let him try again, at which point he hit the upright probably 5-10 yards up. What I’m trying to say here is that Bass has a boot. Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship may be a bigger name, but don’t be surprised if Bass ends up as the first (or only) kicker drafted.
The reasoning for putting Mann on this list is very similar. On Wednesday, the Lions lined up for punt drills, much to the chagrin of most of the media, including Dylan and I. While we were making fun of how much punting Matt Patricia had scripted into practice, Mann drilled a punt that went roughly 65 yards, and that shut us up pretty quickly. As much as it may have annoyed media to have the punters getting so much work, a guy like Mann that can flip the field with one kick will always have value to NFL teams.
Shouts to Blake Ferguson and Steve Wirtel, but we honestly have no idea how to scout long snappers. If you do and you want to write for us, please let us know. With that said, we decided to pick a returner as our last special teams winner instead, with Proche making the list for a second time. The former Mustang got consistent work as both a punt and kick returner for the North team and looked the best doing it. Other players will likely get reps as returners in the NFL, but Proche might be getting the biggest boost from his return game skills.
Honorable Mention: Tyrie Cleveland, Florida