Senior Bowl Notebook: Under-the-Radar Wide Receivers Emerge in Mobile

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystJanuary 24, 2019

Senior Bowl Notebook: Under-the-Radar Wide Receivers Emerge in Mobile

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    Every year at the Senior Bowl, there are three types of players.

    There are the early-round picks just looking to solidify their stocks, the unknown small-school players just looking to make a name for themselves, and a massive group of lesser-known names you might not recognize from schools you do in-between.

    At the wide receiver position at least, those last two groups made more than a little hay in 2019.

    Quite possibly the best player in this week's practice sessions overall was a wideout from a third-tier SEC school. The wideout who helped himself the most on the North squad was much lower on draft boards heading into this week, despite wearing one of the most readily identifiable helmets in the college game.

    And one of the week's most electrifying players was a tiny pass-catcher from an even tinier school.

    Now, not all of the players who helped (or hurt) their draft stocks this week were wide receivers. There were edge-rushers and defensive backs, offensive linemen and tight ends.

    And of course, everything any quarterback does is instantly analyzed to within an inch of its life.

    But it's with that trio of standout wideouts that we'll begin our look at the third (and final) day of practices at the 2019 Senior Bowl.

Terry McLaurin's Big Week Continues

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    At first glance, Terry McLaurin's 35 catches for 701 yards at Ohio State in 2018 aren't eye-popping numbers. But do a little quick math, and you'll figure out that averages out to over 20 yards a grab. Eleven of those 35 receptions went for touchdowns.

    If this week's Senior Bowl practices are any indication, that's also just the tip of the iceberg regarding what McLaurin's capable of in the NFL.

    In Tuesday's opener, McLaurin checked in as the fastest player for the North team. On Wednesday, McLaurin drew praise from ESPN analyst (and former NFL GM) Bill Polian.

    "He's an outstanding special teams player as well as being the star of today's practice," Polian said. "He's got quickness, he's got acceleration, he looks as though he's got really good hands, he's fast."

    McLaurin continued that momentum into Thursday. Whether it's been short-area quickness, long speed, route running or hands, there wasn't a wideout in Mobile who did more to help his stock than the 6'0", 205-pounder.

    Per Chase Goodbread of NFL.com, McLaurin said he's only getting started, proclaiming that he will run a 4.35-second 40 at the combine, "and I'm not even kidding."

    Urban Meyer's offense at Ohio State isn't exactly conducive to wide receivers showcasing their talents. Just ask Michael Thomas of the Saints.

    McLaurin has done a fine job of doing it in Mobile, though.

Deebo Samuel Has Been Dominant

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    Every year at the Senior Bowl, there are a few players who shine from the moment they arrive in Mobile to the minute they leave. Last year, Rashaad Penny, Darius Leonard and Shaquem Griffin did so. 

    Griffin went on to have one of the best draft seasons in recent memory, becoming a national sensation in the process. Leonard wound up a second-round pick before leading the NFL in tackles as a rookie.

    In 2019, there hasn't been a player who has helped his draft stock more than South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel.

    The 5'11", 216-pound Samuel, who amassed 62 catches for 882 yards and 11 scores last year for the Gamecocks, came into the week the No. 10 wide receiver on Matt Miller's big board here at Bleacher Report.

    He's leaving town ranked higher.

    Of all the offensive players on the South roster, there wasn't one who more consistently impressed than Samuel, getting open with ease all three days. South coach Kyle Shanahan told Matt Barrows of The Athletic that he liked what he saw from Samuel as the week progressed.

    "He's a big guy, you can see it, he's got some power to his game," Shanahan said. "I'm excited to watch the tape and see how physical he is."

    Juking a DB out of his shoes in Thursday's final practice session was just the icing on the practice cake.

Huge Talent in a Small Package

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    Heading into the 2019 Senior Bowl, Andy Isabella of UMass likely held the title of the most talked-about small receiver from an even smaller school.

    He lost that title in Mobile—to an even smaller guy from an even smaller school.

    At just 5'8" and 180 pounds, Penny Hart may be one of the most aptly-named players in Senior Bowl history. His draft stock would be quite a bit higher were he Quarter Hart or even Nickel Hart.

    OK, that joke was rather forced. Apologies.

    But while the Georgia State receiver may be hard to pick out of a crowd, as Dane Brugler wrote for The Athletic, Hart hasn't been hard to find on the practice field.

    He's the small blur who is constantly open.

    "Hart has been virtually uncoverable due to his combination of athletic twitch and technical understanding of how to create separation," he said. "While a lot of athletes are quick, he has the controlled burst that forces defensive backs off balance as they try to mirror his movements. And the beauty of Hart's game is he isn't just a sudden athlete, but he is also crafty with the way he sets up routes."

    Granted, Hart's lack of size is also readily apparent in drills. But if he can carry this showing over into Indy, NFL teams are going to have some serious conversations about how small is too small.

Rock Ya-Sin Is More Than Just a Great Name

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    There's been one defensive back on the South roster who has managed to at least slow Samuel down a bit this week. Their matchups have been the most fun to watch of any of the one-on-ones in Mobile.

    And given how well he's fared at the Senior Bowl, Temple's Rock Ya-Sin has solidified his status as a potential Day 1 pick this April.

    Per Jason Butt of The Athletic, Ya-Sin said those one-on-one matchups are what he lives for—and he's not afraid to say so.

    "I feel like it started somewhat with wrestling, being a one-on-one sport," Ya-Sin said. "I love the team aspect of football, but sometimes it turns to one-on-one matchups. It's not being afraid to compete one-on-one with a guy. That comes from wrestling."

    "I feel like I'm a dominant press-man corner," Ya-Sin said. "I feel like I play with sound technique."

    Ya-Sin kept right on talking on the practice field. But whether it was with sound technique, speed or physicality, Ya-Sin also backed up all that talking again and again.

    The number of NFL teams that would like to get better in the secondary this year numbers exactly 32.

    And it's all but guaranteed they took notice of Ya-Sin this week.

Drew Lock Continues to Impress

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    Most of the discussion about the quarterback position in this year's NFL draft has centered on a pair of early declarers in Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State and Kyler Murray of Oklahoma.

    However, this week's practices in Mobile offered the eight senior quarterbacks in attendance an opportunity to make their cases for NFL scouts.

    At least one appears to have taken full advantage of it.

    From Tuesday's first practice in the rain all the way through Thursday's finale, Missouri's Drew Lock has consistently stood out among the four North quarterbacks. He hasn't been flawless—and with so many passers at the event there haven't been a ton of reps to go around—but Lock has demonstrated time and again the ability to make the sort of accurate passes over distance that get scouts to chattering.

    According to Denver Broncos 365, they've been doing just that.

    "I just saw Drew Lock make himself a ton of money," one scout reportedly said.

    Another added, "He threw the ball, in the rain (Tuesday), effortless over 60 yards."

    Lock, whom ESPN's Todd McShay called "a poor man's Patrick Mahomes," appears to have built up momentum heading into next month's scouting combine.

    If he's a poor man's Mahomes, does that mean he'll only throw for 4,000 yards and 40 scores?

    Asking for some friends in Denver and Jacksonville.

Some McStruggles for McSorley

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    Penn State's Trace McSorley has a moniker that none of the passers in Mobile wanted—at just 6'0", he's the shortest quarterback in attendance.

    As Bleacher Report's Matt Hayes wrote earlier this week, McSorley has heard the criticisms that he's too short and doesn't have the strongest of arms.

    That doesn't mean they are getting through to him, though.

    "I can't tell you how many times I've been told you're not good enough—more times than I can count and at every level," McSorley said. "When I step on the field, all of that nonsense doesn't mean a thing because there's something I can do about it. There's only one way to stop it."

    The problem, at least on Thursday, is that McSorley didn't do a lot to silence those critics.

    To be fair, McSorley had arguably the best throw of the North squad's practice session on a fade to Ohio State's Terry McLaurin.

    But he also underthrew UMass' Andy Isabella on a pass that was picked off, and he missed on a few other tosses.

    When you're trying to buck perceptions and conventional wisdom, you can't afford uneven throwing sessions.

Dalton's Road House

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    As Brooke Pryor reported for the Kansas City Star, Kansas State tackle Dalton Risner entered Senior Bowl week determined to make a positive impact on scouts on the practice field.

    "Who are you going to be in that hour and a half? Are you going to be a guy that finishes blocks? How do you practice? Are you a good leader? Are you hustling back from drills? Are you a guy that we want to spend millions of dollars on and bring you into our club and are you going to represent the Chicago Bears in a good way? Or are you going to come in and not represent us and not work hard and get your butt kicked every single day in practice. That's what they're trying to see."

    Regardless of what happens in Saturday's game, Risner accomplished that goal. He was one of the most consistent linemen on the North squad from start to finish, whether it was allaying concerns about his length a bit by measuring with 34.5-inch arms or playing with power and more than a bit of a mean streak in practices.

    As Bleacher Report's Matt Miller pointed out, Risner capped his practices by getting into a dust-up with Boston College defensive end Zach Allen.

Grier's Roller Coaster Week Rolls on

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    There may not have been a quarterback at the Senior Bowl with more to gain (or lose) than West Virginia's Will Grier. Some draftniks, such as Matt Lombardo of NJ.com, had Grier high on their boards at the position.

    "Grier has tremendous pocket awareness and field vision, which is boosted by his prototypical throwing motion that helps him push the ball downfield, as well as hit the intermediate or shorter routes with accuracy," Lombardo said.

    With a good week in Mobile, Grier could have headed to the combine with a chance to vie for the top spot at football's marquee position in this year's class.

    Unfortunately, Grier didn't have an especially good week.

    It wasn't the media availability snafu on Tuesday, which was momentarily much ado about nothing. And to be fair, the velocity Grier showed may have allayed some concerns regarding his arm strength. But on the short and intermediate throws that are supposedly Grier's strong suit, he missed repeatedly.

    It may have just been a rough few days for Grier, who appeared to be pressing on the final day of practice. But unless the 6'2", 218-pounder shows out in the game Saturday, Grier may leave Mobile with more questions surrounding him than when he got there.

Dillard Solidifies Round 1 Status

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    This isn't considered an especially deep class at offensive tackle, but that does nothing to reduce the number of teams that need one.

    On Daniel Jeremiah's NFL.com big board, the top prospect at the position is Washington State's Andre Dillard.

    "Dillard has an athletic frame for the position and he's a very easy mover," Jeremiah wrote. "In pass protection, he explodes out of his stance and plays with tremendous knee bend, patience and balance. He shoots his hands in tight and can redirect with very little effort."

    That viewpoint isn't unanimous, though. For instance, in his latest big board, Matt Miller slotted Dillard at No. 6 among tackles—although he did label Dillard the "biggest riser" at the tackle spot.

    That rise continued in Mobile. Over all three days of practice at the Senior Bowl, Dillard displayed the mixture of power, technique, hand placement and footwork that makes scouts look like bobbleheads.

    Dillard might not be the consensus No. 1 OT in the class of 2019, but if he keeps this up at the combine, there's a good chance the 6'4", 310-pounder will hear his name called on April 25.

Tyree Jackson Remains an Enigma

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    We'll close this final edition of the Senior Bowl Notebook with the one player who will probably be watched more by draftniks than any other over the next couple of weeks.

    The wild thing is that it's not really because of anything Buffalo quarterback Tyree Jackson did in Mobile. He didn't have a terrible week, but Jackson didn't have an especially good one, either.

    No, all Jackson had to do was show up.

    From the moment Jackson checked in at 6'7" and 249 pounds, the draft community began to buzz about Jackson. Then came the video clips of throws like this one—and draft Twitter kicked into hyperspeed.

    Of course, the reality with Jackson isn't as much fun as the fantasy of a 6'7" quarterback with a cannon arm. As Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel tweeted, "Jackson pushes the ball when he's on the move. Doesn't look fluid doing anything."

    Eric Edholm of Pro Football Weekly added that Jackson's "movement is clunky and a bit awkward" but also remarked that he "puts some sauce on his throws."

    Jackson is a tantalizing physically but is also sushi-raw as a passer.

    And as such, he's become one of the most interesting stories to watch over the next couple of months.