Senior Bowl Daily Notebook: Jalen Hurts Isn't Here to Switch Positions

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystJanuary 22, 2020

Senior Bowl Daily Notebook: Jalen Hurts Isn't Here to Switch Positions

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    NFL draft season begins in earnest with the Reese's Senior Bowl.

    Technically, scouts have been on the road since August and have already filed their initial reports on hundreds of prospects. Usually, front offices and their personnel departments meet in December to start putting their initial evaluations and boards together.

    But it's not until this week the entire league—except the two teams still preparing to play in the Super Bowl, though they'll still have scouts in attendance—descend upon Mobile, Alabama, for college football's premier All-Star event.

    Senior Bowl week serves as the league's biggest job fair, both on and off the field.

    A few things needed to be kept in mind as prospects took the field for the first time Tuesday for practice under the supervision of the Detroit Lions (North) and Cincinnati Bengals (South) coaching staffs.

    The game is the least important aspect of the entire week. In fact, most scouts and front-office personnel leave before Saturday's contest. Emphasis is placed on interviews, medical evaluations, interactions and how the young men who are participating respond to NFL coaching throughout the week.

    Tuesday's action was the first time these squads came together after all the prospects were officially measured in the morning. The practice and individual performances can be rough, but it's only the start of the week with plenty of opportunities to improve in the coming days. It's far better to peak late in the week than at the beginning.

    With those qualifications laid out, Tuesday's top stories started with hand-size season and multiple standout performers at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

Jalen Hurts Will Stay at QB

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    John Amis/Associated Press

    The Senior Bowl often serves as a chance for players who don't quite fit NFL norms at a position to try their luck by making a switch. Athletic quarterbacks are always at the forefront of the conversation.

    Fifteen years ago, Matt Jones learned to play wide receiver on the fly before becoming a first-round pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Tim Tebow declined to play any other position.

    Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts may be wearing two different helmets melded into one this week, but he has a singular vision for his future.

    "I've always been a team-first guy, but I'm a quarterback," Hurts said, per The Draft Network's Trevor Sikkema.

    Yes, Hurts is an athletic quarterback, but there's absolutely no reason to consider a position switch after the season he had at Oklahoma. The Heisman finalist finished third overall behind some guys named Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa with a 191.2 quarterback rating, completing 69.7 percent of his passes with a 32-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He also added 1,298 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground.

    "Jalen's come a long, long way. He really has," Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy said, per the Associated Press. "People asked me about Jalen when I took the job and I said maybe if he comes to the Senior Bowl in a couple of years it might be as another position player. He's blown that out. He's come so far."

    Justin Herbert and Jordan Love are the top two quarterbacks among this year's festivities, but Hurts has a chance to solidify his status as a Day 2 prospect (second or third round) instead of a Day 3 option.

    "He's been successful everywhere he's been," Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said. "He really is a little bit like an NFL quarterback in the sense that he had to go quickly and pick up an offense and really prove himself as a leader in a new program in a short period of time, which he did. ... Those are things that we get a chance now to see in person. Get to know the kid a little bit more. ... He certainly had a great college career. He's put himself in a good position."

Doctors Pull Top Offensive Tackle Talent

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Every year, the Senior Bowl loses a little bit of its luster because key performers pull out of the event for various reasons.

    Some invitees are already considered elite draft picks with little to nothing to prove in Mobile. For example, the presumptive No. 1 overall pick, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, declined his invitation.

    Others are still banged up because of injuries from the collegiate season.

    Nagy told those in attendance at Tuesday's weigh-ins that Utah running back Zack Moss, South Carolina wide receiver Bryan Edwards, Louisiana-Lafayette guard Robert Hunt, Notre Dame defensive end Khalid Kareem, Oregon linebacker Troy Dye, TCU cornerback Jeff Gladney, Ohio State cornerback Damon Arnette, Utah safety Julian Blackmon and Texas safety Brandon Jones won't participate.

    LSU's top cornerback prospect, Kristian Fulton, didn't make the trip, either, due to a combination of a long season and a significant family issue, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.

    The biggest surprise came when Auburn left tackle Prince Tega Wanogho was pulled from the event due to a lingering knee injury.

    Pelissero reported Wanogho had some swelling in one of his knees and doctors decided to pull him from action. Wanogho is a raw yet athletically gifted blindside protector with the potential to become a first-round pick.

    "He definitely looks the part. You hear talk about potential first-round grades for him. Maybe that happens but based on the way he's played football to this point, that's a stretch to me," an AFC personnel executive said to NFL.com's Chase Goodbread prior to the season. "Getting his eyes, feet and hands all working together, he's not there yet. But he's a big guy who can really move."

    The Nigeria native has only played football for five years and had an opportunity to show his progress and overall development in a pressure-filled and highly competitive setting. Unfortunately, that's no longer the case.

    Cal safety Ashtyn Davis, Arizona State wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk and Utah defensive tackle Leki Fotu also received medical red flags and won't compete, per The Draft Network's Jonah Tuls.

Hand-Size Season

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Once Nagy announced the players who won't compete at the Senior Bowl for various reasons, official measurements began.

    To set the stage (literally and figuratively), each of the participants strode across the room in front of hundreds of NFL scouts, decision-makers and media while wearing only compression shorts. Accurate heights, weights, arm lengths and hand sizes were taken for the first time

    The last measurement often becomes a running joke on social media, but franchises and evaluators do take it seriously.

    The prevailing thought is larger hands can better grasp the ball (duh!) and become a preventative measure for turnovers when pass-rushers are chopping down on the ball or weather becomes involved. Hand sizes over nine inches hit the baseline requirement, though anyone at or over 10 inches is preferred.

    Oregon's Justin Herbert and Utah State's Jordan Love—the highest-rated signal-callers in Mobile—had 10- and 10 5/8-inch hands, respectively.

    Herbert came to Mobile in better shape than his listed playing weight. The Oregon Ducks' official site listed the quarterback at 6'6" and 237 pounds. He weighed 227 pounds Tuesday, which showed a readiness to perform in front of NFL personnel.

    "He's an impressive kid," Taylor said of Herbert, per ESPN's Jeremy Fowler. "I think he's got a good grasp of what we're asking him to do. ... You can see a lot of power in his arm."

    Maybe the most head-scratching and talked-about hand size had nothing to do with the quarterback position, which isn't usually the case. Texas' Collin Johnson is simultaneously the biggest wide receiver in Mobile and has the smallest hands. That's correct. Scouts measured the 6'6" target with 8 3/4-inch hands.

    Normally, massive receivers have massive mitts to snag the ball out of the of the year. Not Johnson.

Big Tackle Prospect from a Small School

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Size matters.

    Don't let anyone tell you otherwise when it comes to the evaluation of prospects.

    Organizations aren't going to overlook a gifted individual simply because he's undersized, but both scouts and coaches drool over developmental prospects with outstanding physical tools. You can't teach size.

    South Carolina State offensive tackle Alex Taylor stands above everyone in Mobile as the tallest player on the field. The 6'9" blocker impressed with his size and physique among a cast of characters, the majority of which are from bigger schools with more fanfare.

    Clearly, Taylor is a work in progress.

    "He's really raw, but he had an 88-inch wingspan, and there's things there that you just can't coach," Nagy said, per The Draft Network's Jordan Reid. "He's raw, but there's no reason why he can't become a starting left tackle."

    Length is an important attribute for offensive tackles. The position requires the reach necessary to engage far more athletic pass-rushers to run them wide or drive them down the line of scrimmage. Taylor's 36 1/8-inch arms are, by far, the longest of any player in this year's Senior Bowl.

    Taylor is expected to struggle to a degree as he adjusts to tougher competition. As long as he improves each and every day, he'll have more than a few teams interested in his services and his malleable skill set.

Interior Presence

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    A defensive tackle who collapses the pocket on a consistent basis is worth his weight in gold. A pair of standouts with the ability to become complete NFL interior defenders can be found in Mobile.

    South Carolina's Javon Kinlaw already won over many with his inspiring story, but his involvement in the Senior Bowl is far from a charity case. Kinlaw has consistently been one of major college football's best interior pass-rushers over the past two seasons. That didn't stop during the first day of Senior Bowl practice.

    At 6'5" and 315 pounds with an 84-inch wingspan, he tortured blockers Tuesday. His explosiveness and power were simply too much for offensive linemen to handle, which was expected to a degree since he entered this week as the top-rated non-quarterback at the event.

    Kinlaw didn't have to show up and perform as a top prospect. But he did because he "always wants to compete," per Sikkema.

    His willingness to do so will further endear the defensive tackle to prospective employers.

    Oklahoma's Neville Gallimore hasn't been as consistent the last two seasons, but he came into his own during his senior campaign. The 6'2", 304-pound defensive tackle evolved as a pass-rusher and disruptive force, and those traits traveled well to Mobile.

    First, Gallimore is an athletic interior defender. He's also developed into a solid technician with numerous pass-rush moves and counters. That lends well to one-on-one drills when guards and centers aren't used to working in space or without help. Gallimore turned in an impressive performance as a result.

    Auburn's Marlon Davidson found a home, as well. The defensive end showed up and weighed 297 pounds. The Bengals staff moved him all over the line, and he consistently won his matchups.

Wide Receivers Stealing the Show

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    As impressive as Kinlaw and Gallimore were during their initial performances, Ohio State wide receiver K.J. Hill can claim the crown as the most impressive player on the field.

    That may come as a surprise since Hill isn't generally considered a top prospect among a deep and talented wide receiver class.

    Refinement is the difference in this case.

    Hill is a polished route-runner and turned multiple defensive backs inside-out during one-on-one drills. His footwork, hips and selling of routes are all outstanding, and it showed.

    Ohio State wasn't a pass-first offense with J.K. Dobbins and Justin Fields in the backfield, so Hill's overall stats won't blow anyone away. He produced 57 receptions for 636 yards during his final year on campus. However, he finished with 10 touchdown snags because he knows how to get open in small spaces.

    The game features an impressive set of wide receivers overall.

    Like Hill, Florida's Van Jefferson is an advanced route-runner. Against a suspect defensive back class, he easily created separation.

    Jefferson's father, Shawn, was a 13-year NFL veteran and now coaches wide receivers for the New York Jets. It should come as no surprise the younger Jefferson was prepared for the moment and played well while others were just trying to get their bearings.

    SMU's James Proche created buzz among scouts, too, according to Pro Football Network's Tony Pauline.