MOBILE, Ala. — The Senior Bowl is the first step in a long NFL draft process, but for some it's arguably the most important. For Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, it has been his chance to show off his rare traits like top-tier arm strength and excellent athleticism while answering questions about his completion percentage and field vision. Through three days of practice, Allen has won over some, but he continues to have lots of detractors among NFL draft analysts and fans.
I spoke with or texted with multiple NFL scouts and executives this week, and one source whose team has a top-five pick told me Allen will "be the first or second pick in the draft." That's strong praise for a player with undeniable raw tools but unproven production on a young Wyoming team in 2017.
Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield surprised folks when he decided to accept an invitation to the Senior Bowl, but Mayfield told me last month that he wanted to prove people wrong and show teams what he's really like. On the field he's everything you'd expect—loose, fun, fiery and accurate on touch passes. The most important part of the week for Mayfield was weigh-in day, and he "won" that event by coming in just over 6'0" tall (6'0 ⅜") and with a hand size of 9 ½".
What we in the draft industry think of Allen and Mayfield ultimately won't affect how much NFL teams value him—or shouldn't—and those against Allen's being a top-five pick in the draft might want to at least open up to the idea that he will be an early pick even if they don't believe he should be. "Will versus should" is a valuable question this time of year, and when it comes to the big-armed Wyoming quarterback, he will be one of the first players to hear his name called this year.
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Here's what else is going on this week:
- News, rumors and notes from around the league
- Risers, fallers and sleepers from the Senior Bowl
- The trend of hiring assistants from the college game
- Stick to Football live all week from Draft Picks Tap Room in Mobile
The Scout's Report
• Josh Rosen (QB, UCLA) isn't Senior Bowl-eligible, but that doesn't keep him from being the talk of the week among NFL scouts. Rosen, per multiple scouts and executives, will turn off those interviewing him at the scouting combine and in his pro day and private interviews. Said one scout, "Scouts might like Rosen, but coaches won't because he's stubborn and cocky and he thinks he's smarter than them."
• What will the NFL do with Shaquem Griffin? The star UCF linebacker is missing his left hand, and there have been concerns on film that he struggles to disengage from blockers. We did see some of that from him this week on the field, too. So where will he be drafted? I polled four evaluators, and each said Griffin will be drafted, most likely in the late rounds.
• The Senior Bowl is a great chance to make a name for yourself as a prospect, and Penn State's DaeSean Hamilton has done so with a fantastic week of practices. Hamilton wasn't originally an invite to Mobile, but after a strong Shrine Game week he got the call-up and has shown off slick routes. I'll be watching more film on Hamilton next week to see what's real.
• A strong group of tight ends got thinner this week when Adam Breneman (UMass) and Dallas Goedert (South Dakota State) suffered hamstring injuries, but that allowed Mike Gesicki (Penn State) to shine. The 6'5", 242-pounder is an excellent athlete but also showed toughness, physicality and the ability to high-point footballs all week. Gesicki has a chance to push himself to the top of the tight end group this draft season.
• North Carolina State will likely have the first defensive lineman drafted in Bradley Chubb, but his teammates B.J. Hill and Justin Jones also made big moves this week. Hill and Jones both displayed the power to stack up offensive linemen and won often in blocking drills. Hill is more of a penetrator than Jones, but Jones was also the only person I saw beating UTEP's stud guard Will Hernandez this week.
• What do teams think of Baker Mayfield's decision to not play in the game? Said one head coach, "We've seen him play in 25 games the last two seasons, what's an all-star game going to change?" There will no doubt be differing opinions, but the decision-makers I spoke to were all happy Mayfield even came to Mobile.
• There has been nonstop hype of UTSA defensive end Marcus Davenport for the last week, and his performance through three days of practices in Mobile didn't match the hype. But as I said on the Stick to Football podcast this week, Davenport is the defensive version of Josh Allen. If you buy into his potential, you're going to love him. If you look at who he is today, you're likely to be disappointed or confused.
• Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith is just a junior, so he wasn't at the Senior Bowl, but his name came up often in talks with evaluators. Said one NFC scout, "You're going to have to convince me he can get off blockers because he didn't against Notre Dame or Oklahoma." On the flip side, another scout said Smith has "Ryan Shazier- or Shaq Thompson-like athleticism."
• The running back class is a strong one, but the Senior Bowl class is not strong after Sony Michel and Nick Chubb of Georgia and Oregon's Royce Freeman opted not to participate. Iowa's Akrum Wadley, who is a bit undersized (5'9 ⅞", 188 lbs), and San Diego State's Rashaad Penny haven't stood out like I expected. Both are likely complementary backs and not go-to-guys.
The Big Board
Senior Bowl week is all about re-evaluating what we've seen on film. That's what I'll be doing for weeks as the process rolls onto the scouting combine, but I wanted to give a taste of how my rankings have changed after this week. Of course, it's still early, and things will still change, but this preliminary list is how things look to me now. If you notice a cluster of players at the same position together, that's because I'm trying to decide the order of those players.
1. RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State
2. DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
3. OG Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
4. EDGE Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State
5. QB Sam Darnold, USC
6. QB Josh Rosen, UCLA
7. QB Josh Allen, Wyoming
8. CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State
9. LB Roquan Smith, Georgia
10. LB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
11. OT Connor Williams, Texas
12. CB Josh Jackson, Iowa
13. QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
14. RB Derrius Guice, LSU
15. WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama
16. S Derwin James, FSU
17. RB Ronald Jones II, USC
18. LB Rashaan Evans, Alabama
19. DL Maurice Hurst, Michigan
20. EDGE Harold Landry, Boston College
21. CB Isaiah Oliver, Colorado
22. C Billy Price, Ohio State
23. OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame
24. WR Courtland Sutton, SMU
25. LB Malik Jefferson, Texas
26. DL Da'Ron Payne, Alabama
27. S Ronnie Harrison, Alabama
28. EDGE Sam Hubbard, Ohio State
29. DL Vita Vea, Washington
30. EDGE Arden Key, LSU
31. CB Carlton Davis, Auburn
32. RB Sony Michel, Georgia
33. OT Kolton Miller, UCLA
34. OT Brian O'Neill, Pitt
35. EDGE Marcus Davenport, UTSA
36. C James Daniels, Iowa
37. TE Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State
38. DL Harrison Phillips, Stanford
39. DL Derrick Nnadi, FSU
40. WR Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
41. LB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State
42. WR D.J. Moore, Maryland
43. S Justin Reid, Stanford
44. TE Mark Andrews, Oklahoma
45. OG Will Hernandez, UTEP
46. CB Mike Hughes, UCF
47. OG Isaiah Wynn, Georgia
48. CB Jaire Alexander, Louisville
49. S Kyzir White, West Virginia
50. TE Mike Gesicki, Penn State
10. People who work in the draft industry—whether it's team or media—start watching players in August and don't stop until they land in Mobile. That creates perceptions of players and expectations for them. It also creates biases.
Scouts should be willing and open to change. If a player you liked on film comes to Mobile and is smaller, slower or less impactful than you thought, that's something that has to be re-evaluated. The same goes for a player who shows up faster, bigger or better than you thought. For me, that was James Washington. For too many on my Twitter timeline this week, there was a refusal to acknowledge good and bad days from players.
Sticking to your guns is expected, but good evaluators (pro and not) must be willing to add new information to the profile of a player and let that information alter the report.
9. A new trend is emerging in the NFL and it's a good one. Let's give credit to teams like the Chicago Bears and Tennessee Titans for tapping into the college game to find innovative coaches and being flexible with schemes, the way players practice and are coached.
The Bears, after hiring head coach Matt Nagy, brought in former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich as offensive coordinator. Helfrich will bring even more spread elements to Nagy's offense that already features a West Coast foundation and a healthy amount of run-pass option plays and spread schemes.
The Titans hired Mike Vrabel, who immediately tapped into his Ohio State roots and reportedly tried to hire Ryan Day away from the Buckeyes to run his offense. That move didn't happen, but Vrabel did hire defensive back's coach Kerry Coombs to his staff in Tennessee. Considering Ohio State has put first-rounder after first-rounder into the NFL in the secondary, this is a smart move.
8. Much was made of Lane Kiffin hiring 24-year-old Charlie Weis Jr. to be his new offensive coordinator at FAU. I talked to a few NFL coaches about this hire and joked that nepotism must be a real thing. I was quickly corrected. Weis, they said, is the real deal.
I know nothing firsthand about the younger Weis, but he was compared to Sean McVay and Matt LaFleur—the offensive coaches who just turned around the Los Angeles Rams—and I was told that within six years Weis will be a college or NFL head coach.
That might sound like high praise for a guy barely out of college, but I'll be keeping tabs on Weis as he moves up the ladder at FAU.
7. NFL Draft Sleeper: Richmond Quarterback Kyle Lauletta
I had zero expectations for Kyle Lauletta heading into Senior Bowl week. In fact, I intentionally didn't watch any film of the Richmond quarterback once it was announced he'd been invited to the all-star game. Lauletta grew on me as the week progressed. He has an athletic build, and he showed off his arm strength by zipping the ball around the field for the South team. He's an intriguing late-rounder.
6. NFL Draft Riser: Oklahoma State Wide Receiver James Washington
Senior Bowl week is all about separating myth from reality—and sometimes it's about admitting you were wrong on a player. That's what I'm doing on James Washington. On film, I was worried that Washington's separation from defenders was the product of the Oklahoma State scheme. On the field in Mobile, he's showed that his speed and route running are the cause of his excellent separation skills. It's stock up for Washington, who I've moved to Round 2.
5. NFL Draft Faller: UT-San Antonio Edge-Rusher Marcus Davenport
I was worried the hype on Davenport was too high after multiple draft analysts ranked or mocked him in the top 20 recently. On the field in Mobile, Davenport hasn't looked like a first-rounder. Of course, where a player is ranked and drafted is a mixture of how they look on film, how they look here and how they look at the scouting combine next month. Davenport is a nice athlete with room to grow into his 6'6" frame. My hope for him is that he's drafted as a defensive end and asked to put on weight. He needs to develop, not be rushed onto the field. That's why I have him in Round 2.
4. One of the highlights of Senior Bowl week has been watching the nastiness of offensive linemen Alex Cappa (Humboldt State), Brett Toth (Army) and Will Hernandez (UTEP). All three went to work with a serious mean streak and backed up what they showed on film this season as some of the toughest blockers in college football.
A team wanting to install a culture on the offensive line would look to draft at least one of these players. Add in non-Senior Bowl attendees Quenton Nelson (Notre Dame) and Billy Price (Ohio State) as first-round talents and there are a good number of offensive linemen in this draft you'd want to have your back in an alley fight.
3. I was down on the wide receiver class before arriving in Mobile and will leave with a much better impression of the group. Not only did James Washington shine, but DaeSean Hamilton and Michael Gallup both impressed with their separation and ball-tracking skills. Gallup was much quicker in person than I had expected from film study. Hamilton did bobble or drop a few this week, but he was the smoothest route-runner of the unit.
The underclassmen in this class, like Calvin Ridley and Courtland Sutton, will go first on draft day, but the seniors in the group are worthy of praise.
2. So, what's next?
NFL teams will go home from Mobile and hold meetings to discuss what was seen. For general managers and their top executives, they've been working on studying free agents up to this point and now pivot briefly to talk about the draft. Front offices will go back to free-agent planning between the Super Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine, which is when many free-agent deals are hammered out.
For me, it's on to Minneapolis for the Super Bowl before spending a few weeks at home watching film and working on studying players for the combine in late February.
1. The Stick to Football crew attacked Mobile this week and recorded live episodes every night from Draft Picks Taproom and then Stick to Football Friday from Heisler Heat Baseball Academy. You can get every episode with day-by-day recaps and breakdowns by subscribing on iTunes, Podbean or TuneIn. If you have the B/R app, you can also subscribe to the STF stream.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.