MOBILE, Ala. — The first event of the NFL draft process is here. The 2017 Reese's Senior Bowl is this week, and in the stands of Ladd-Peebles Stadium, you'll see John Elway, Reggie McKenzie and Ted Thompson among the other NFL general managers evaluating the 100-plus players on the North and South rosters.
For the players on the field, this week of practices is incredibly important. Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz were here last year wowing scouts, and the players lacing up their cleats this week know that a solid performance can start a climb up draft boards throughout the next three months. No pressure, right?
With a solid class of seniors and graduated juniors on the field, the practices have been entertaining and educational. Seeing a small-school player like wide receiver Cooper Kupp hold his own against top-tier Division I cornerbacks answers many questions about the ability of the Eastern Washington star to project to the next level.
Who made money this week? Which teams are falling in love with which players? Here's what you'll find below:
- Updated two-round mock draft
- Two up-and-coming head coaching candidates
- Winners and losers from Senior Bowl week
- The 49ers passing on Kirk Cousins?
- Five players who made money at this week's Senior Bowl
The Scout's Report
—Two names I'm hearing a lot in Mobile are Matt Burke and Mike McDaniel. Neither one is familiar to casual fans, but the two coaches (Burke the new defensive coordinator for the Dolphins, and McDaniel currently an offensive assistant for the Falcons) are seen as future candidates for head coaching jobs.
—While not attending the Senior Bowl, Joe Mixon is a name on everyone's mind. The talented Oklahoma running back was suspended for the 2014 season after punching a woman in the face. Mixon, who I've graded as a first-round talent on the field, is a player teams are still digging on, but one scout I spoke with in Mobile believes he'll be drafted in the second round.
—The offensive tackle class isn't well-liked by scouts and analysts alike, but one personnel director told me this week he has a Round 1 grade on Alabama's Cam Robinson as a right tackle.
—One position group scouts do love is running back. During a dinner with one scout, he remarked this is the deepest running back class he's ever seen, with as many as six first-round grades floating around. The scout named Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey, Joe Mixon, Alvin Kamara and D'Onta Foreman as potential top-32 players.
—Many in the media and in the football world are connecting the dots between Kirk Cousins and the San Francisco 49ers, with potential new head coach Kyle Shanahan thought to love his former quarterback. One high-level personnel man I spoke with this week doubts the San Francisco connection for two reasons: the draft picks it would take to secure him and the high salary Cousins will command as a free agent.
—Leonard Fournette ranks as the No. 2 player on my board, but will he be drafted that early? One scout I spoke to doesn't think so given the depth at the running back position in this class: "A lot of teams can wait and get Dalvin [Cook] later, so why draft Fournette early?"
—The love for Malik Hooker is legit. The Ohio State safety is a top-10 player in the class. One scout this week told me Ohio State tracked his interceptions while he was a member of the scout team, and he grabbed 40 in his redshirt season.
—Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore has many high grades around the league, but I continue to hear of teams that value Florida's Quincy Wilson as the top cornerback in the class. My board reflects that same belief, with Wilson over Lattimore for the CB1 ranking.
—Two small-school linemen generated a lot of pre-Senior Bowl buzz, but neither Forrest Lamp (Western Kentucky) or Antonio Garcia (Troy) were able to build strong performances. Lamp went out with a high ankle sprain Wednesday, but one scout who watched him exclusively during the first day of practice said he "struggled a lot with inside speed and power. He's a project." As for Garcia, who weighed in at 293 pounds, the same scout said, "We'd need to add a lot of strength there, and you have to wonder if he can even hold more weight."
5 Names to Know, Senior Bowl Edition
5. EDGE Jordan Willis, Kansas State
Jordan Willis, the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, needed to show the bend and twitch of an athlete in Mobile to push his stock up draft boards. He accomplished that and made my early look at him look very wrong.
Willis' ability to get around the corner and attack the quarterback resulted in 11.5 sacks this past season, and he displayed those same traits in Mobile. Willis' fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker or 4-3 defensive end will have his value soaring for teams. Don't be surprised if he's a late second-rounder.
4. WR Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington
Cooper Kupp, the small-school wide receiver on everyone's mind coming into this week, did not disappoint with his separation skills and hands. Kupp was the best receiver on the field for either team and showed that he's fighting for the No. 3 wide receiver spot in the class.
There are times where he'll have a concentration drop, but Kupp's speed and route running were top-notch. And while Kupp weighed in under 200 pounds, I'm told he'll be heavier for the combine now that he's healthy and can commit to working out again.
3. S Obi Melifonwu, Connecticut
You don't see many 6'4", 219-pound safeties who can flip their hips and run like Obi Melifonwu.
Teams are talking about Melifonwu as a tight end eraser. He's physical enough at the line of scrimmage and has the length to be developed into an effective press safety. His over-the-top range is also impressive.
I'd like to see Melifonwu attack the ball better in high-point situations, but his measurables and traits are off-the-charts good.
2. CB Desmond King, Iowa
Desmond King may end up playing safety in the NFL, but no matter where he lands or what position he plays, he'll be one of my favorite players in the class.
King has a short frame but a thick and well-built physique (5'10", 206 lbs). He's aggressive, tough and competitive on the field. In talking to a coach at Iowa, he raved about King's leadership skills and "whatever it takes" mentality.
His lack of long speed and length may mean a nickel or safety move, but King has the goods to carve out a long, productive career as a second-round pick.
1. LB Haason Reddick, Temple
Nothing could stop Haason Reddick, who played both linebacker and defensive end in practices. He was a monster all over the field, making plays as an inside linebacker in run/pass drills and again when asked to put his hand in the dirt and rush the quarterback.
Reddick's size (6'1 ½", 237 lbs) isn't an ideal fit for a true defensive end position, but his movement in space is opening doors for him as an off-ball linebacker who can then dip down on third downs and rush the quarterback. If you want a versatile, attacking linebacker, he's a fit.
Round 1 isn't out of the question for Reddick, a player whose style and traits scream New England Patriot.
The Mock Draft
The draft order is close to being set with just two teams hanging in the balance. Before the Super Bowl and free agency change everything, here's one last look at the first two rounds:
|Updated Mock Draft|
|1||Cleveland||EDGE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M|
|2||San Francisco||QB Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina|
|3||Chicago||QB DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame|
|4||Jacksonville||RB Leonard Fournette, LSU|
|5||Tennessee (f/Rams)||WR Mike Williams, Clemson|
|6||New York Jets||S Jamal Adams, LSU|
|7||Los Angeles Chargers||S Malik Hooker, Ohio State|
|8||Carolina||DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee|
|9||Cincinnati||LB Reuben Foster, Alabama|
|10||Buffalo||DL Jonathan Allen, Alabama|
|11||New Orleans||EDGE Solomon Thomas, Stanford|
|12||Cleveland (f/Eagles)||QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson|
|13||Arizona||CB Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State|
|14||Philadelphia (f/Vikings)||WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan|
|15||Indianapolis||EDGE Charles Harris, Missouri|
|16||Baltimore||CB Marlon Humphrey, Alabama|
|17||Washington||S Jabrill Peppers, Michigan|
|18||Tennessee||CB Quincy Wilson, Florida|
|19||Tampa Bay||TE O.J. Howard, Alabama|
|20||Denver||T Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin|
|21||Detroit||EDGE Taco Charlton, Michigan|
|22||Miami||EDGE Takkarist McKinley, UCLA|
|23||New York Giants||TE David Njoku, Miami|
|24||Oakland||RB Dalvin Cook, FSU|
|25||Houston||CB Sidney Jones, Washington|
|26||Seattle||CB Teez Tabor, Florida|
|27||Kansas City||CB Tre'Davious White, LSU|
|28||Dallas||DL Montravius Adams, Auburn|
|29||Green Bay||CB Gareon Conley, Ohio State|
|30||Pittsburgh||EDGE Ryan Anderson, Alabama|
|31||Atlanta||DL Caleb Brantley, Florida|
|32||New England||RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford|
|33||Cleveland||T Garett Bolles, Utah|
|34||San Francisco||LB Jarrad Davis, Florida|
|35||Chicago||T Cam Robinson, Alabama|
|36||Jacksonville||S Budda Baker, Washington|
|37||Los Angeles Rams||G Forrest Lamp, Western Kentucky|
|38||New York Jets||RB Alvin Kamara, Tennessee|
|39||Los Angeles Chargers||WR John Ross, Washington|
|40||Carolina||S Justin Evans, Texas A&M|
|41||Cincinnati||CB Adoree' Jackson, USC|
|42||Buffalo||LB Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt|
|43||New Orleans||QB Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech|
|44||Philadelphia||RB Joe Mixon, Oklahoma|
|45||Arizona||QB Brad Kaaya, Miami|
|46||Minnesota||G Dan Feeney, Indiana|
|47||Indianapolis||CB Cordrea Tankersley, Clemson|
|48||Baltimore||EDGE Tim Williams, Alabama|
|49||Washington||S Desmond King, Iowa|
|50||Cleveland (f/Titans)||LB T.J. Watt, Wisconsin|
|51||Tampa Bay||S Marcus Williams, Utah|
|52||Denver||TE Jordan Leggett, Clemson|
|53||Detroit||RB D'Onta Foreman, Texas|
|54||Miami||LB Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State|
|55||New York Giants||EDGE Dawuane Smoot, Illinois|
|56||Oakland||LB Elijah Lee, Kansas State|
|57||Houston||LB Haason Reddick, Temple|
|58||Seattle||EDGE Jordan Willis, Kansas State|
|59||Kansas City||S Eddie Jackson, Alabama|
|60||Dallas||WR Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington|
|61||Green Bay||TE Evan Engram, Ole Miss|
|62||Pittsburgh||WR Carlos Henderson, Louisiana Tech|
|63||Atlanta||TE Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech|
|64||New England||EDGE Carl Lawson, Auburn|
Is it likely Big Ben will retire? I doubt it, and the people I've talked to doubt it, but you have to take this talk seriously. It's possible Roethlisberger is just hurt after a loss to New England and is wondering how long he wants to play. It's definitely possible he could be considering retirement, too.
Because of that uncertainty, the Steelers have to be smart about looking at the position in free agency and the draft with backup Landry Jones a free agent.
9. Boston College defensive back John Johnson had a good week of practices, flashing coverage skills from the safety position and range to make an impact on plays over the top. He's moving up my board and earned a scouting report in 140 characters this week.
8. The top quarterback in Mobile was Pitt's Nathan Peterman. What do I see on the field that makes him a riser?
7. Houston edge-rusher Tyus Bowser was a much more complete player than I expected to see. Here's my 140-character take on the Day 2 prospect.
6. Ryan Switzer is a fun player to watch. What's the scouting report on the North Carolina wide receiver?
5. Josh Dobbs may be the smartest player in the draft with an aerospace engineering degree, but can he play ball?
4. A hot topic around Mobile wasn't just the barbecue or Yuengling but the number of agents taking low fees to represent players and the influx of non-football agents now representing rookies after focusing on NBA or MMA contracts in the past.
One rumor circulating around Senior Bowl practices is that Myles Garrett signed a deal including a 0 percent commission. Agent fees have gone down in the past—from 3 to 1.5 percent—but a 0 percent deal is unheard of.
Many agents also complained to me about "new" agents coming into the market and flooding prospects with inflated marketing advances (one in the neighborhood of $500,000) to secure their services.
This may not be of interest to the hardened draft fan who comes here for mock drafts and rumors, but it's something that I heard every day in Alabama.
3. Who were the three biggest risers during Senior Bowl practices?
Haason Reddick—The Temple linebacker prospect was amazing every day. He packs a big punch as a hitter, showed off range and agility in pass drops and was at his best rushing the passer in both team and individual drills. I'll be going back to the tape on Reddick, who may run in the 4.4s when it's time for the scouting combine.
Cooper Kupp—Answering questions about how well he'd fare when playing top-tier competition was a huge moment for Kupp this week. He was the best route-runner of the group and showed nice upfield burst and power when attacking on vertical routes. His hands were equally impressive.
Zay Jones—It's easy to see why Jones set records at East Carolina as a receiver. Throughout practices, he showed excellent body control as a route-runner and when adjusting to the ball in the air. His hands were also consistent to a point where if the ball was catchable, he was bringing it in.
2. On the other side of the coin, who were three fallers in this year's group?
Antonio Garcia—The pre-Senior Bowl hype on this kid was too much. Garcia's numbers at Troy were fantastic as a pass-blocker (zero sacks allowed in 2016), but his lanky frame and poor handling of power rushes will remind too many scouts of T.J. Clemmings with better feet. Daeshon Hall notably worked him in one-on-one drills.
Amba Etta-Tawo—Stiff routes, slow transitions and poor hands plagued the Syracuse wide receiver. Senior Bowl week can be tough on receivers as they adapt to the quarterbacks around them, but Etta-Tawo was making mistakes no other receiver on the field did. With his lack of athleticism, there are too many questions.
C.J. Beathard—A lack of arm strength kills any buzz Beathard could have generated here. On a day with just a little wind, Beathard struggled to throw with the zip to push the ball down the field. There's an Aaron Murray without the wins feel here, which likely makes Beathard a late-rounder.
1. With three days of practice completed, here are my award winners from the 2017 Senior Bowl:
Most Impressive Offensive Player—TE O.J. Howard, Alabama
Most Impressive Defensive Player—LB Haason Reddick, Temple
Best Quarterback—Nathan Peterman, Pitt
Best Running Back—Jamaal Williams, BYU
Best Wide Receiver—Cooper Kupp, Eastern Michigan, and Zay Jones, East Carolina
Best Tight End—Howard
Best Offensive Lineman—Julie'n Davenport, Bucknell
Best Defensive Lineman—Montravius Adams, Auburn
Best EDGE—Tyus Bowser, Houston
Best Defensive Back—Desmond King, Iowa
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.