Best NFL Team Matches for Senior Bowl Week Standouts
This week's Senior Bowl is the first major convergence of teams and top prospects ahead of the 2020 NFL draft.
But the event's importance shouldn't go understated. While the game itself—Saturday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium—isn't an overly critical part of evaluation, the interviews, interactions, measurements and practices are more important than most stops on the draft calendar.
This is the first real chance for NFL teams and scouts to see how players from smaller schools mesh amongst top-tier talent and whether they can handle the leap. It's the first chance to get a behind-the-scenes peek at how prospects digest and apply assigned information in a high-pressure environment.
A year ago, standouts like Daniel Jones and Drew Lock put on good showings, as did lesser-known players like Nasir Adderley. While Joe Burrow isn't attending, future draft picks litter the attendance sheet.
Great measurements and showings in practice reign supreme for the following notable winners, which means it's time to start thinking about best team matches in the draft itself.
Kyle Dugger, SS, Lenoir-Rhyne
It isn't hard to find praise for Kyle Dugger this week. The Division II Lenoir-Rhyne defensive back is well on his way to household-name status after impressing with his measurements and then fitting right in with his handpicked, talented teammates in Mobile, Alabama.
Dugger checked in at 6'6" and 217 pounds and immediately turned heads on the field in drills and practices.
Comments like this from Draft Wire's Gavino Borquez weren't uncommon: "Adjusting to the speed of the game and bumping up in competition was not a problem for Lenoir-Rhyne's Kyle Dugger today. During the one-on-ones, tight ends struggled to get open against him. Dugger is a safety in a linebacker's body with a cornerback's speed."
Some of this praise is undoubtedly based on seeing Dugger perform so seamlessly amongst a group of elite peers. But that's a good thing, and so are his rare physical traits that will now have him on plenty of "rising" boards in the coming months.
Best Fits: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Detroit Lions, Arizona Cardinals
Dugger's special set of skills should intrigue teams that ranked near the bottom of the NFL in pass defense last year. His blend of size and speed could make him an ideal matchup against opposing tight ends, and jamming them up means more time for a steady set of pass-rushers to hit home.
The trio of Tampa Bay, Detroit and Arizona could be looking for this sort of help in the middle rounds, especially with things largely set on their respective offenses.
Javon Kinlaw, DL, South Carolina
Javon Kinlaw commanding attention even in a de facto all-star game doesn't come as much of a shocker.
Kinlaw dominated the weigh-in scene first, checking in at 6'5" and 315 pounds. Perhaps that isn't so impressive for an interior defender these days, but the pop of his pass rush in tandem with the measurables certainly was.
Video footage of Kinlaw ripping through linemen right off the snap and making offensive play calls irrelevant is proof enough of his first-round potential.
And a good interview process sure didn't hurt, as Jordan Reid of The Draft Network noted: "At events like this, you want to see first-round prospects stand out and look like first-round prospects. From the interviews through the first day of practice, Javon Kinlaw has aced the test."
Kinlaw checked every box, further cementing his first-round status.
Best Fits: Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks
Kinlaw is likely to appeal to every team, though value has to enter the conversation. That's what makes the rebuilding Miami Dolphins so intriguing. Those Dolphins have three first-round picks, and grabbing a presence like Kinlaw could jump-start the rest of a struggling unit.
Otherwise, Kinlaw screams "late first by a contender." Think struggling overall defenses like Houston and Seattle that ranked among the bottom 10 in total defense by season's end. A presence like Kinlaw would create a positive ripple effect on an entire unit.
Collin Johnson, WR, Texas
Most big-bodied wideouts win by using their frame to overpower defensive backs.
It's rare when a bigger player like Texas' Collin Johnson—who checked in at 6'5" and 221 pounds—flashes as a route-runner.
Dane Brugler of The Athletic touched on this aspect of Johnson's showings: "During practice, Johnson did a nice job of collecting his feet to cleanly stick and separate, introducing deception into his route plan. With his length and route prowess, cornerbacks know they are in for a challenge."
Johnson returned to Texas for his senior season and regressed statistically, but that will increasingly look like a minor blip on the radar if he keeps showing an ability to get open and use his stature to beat defenders to catches.
Best Fits: Las Vegas Raiders, Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars
Johnson seems like a middle-round target that teams in need of receiving help will pursue after refusing to spend major money on the position in free agency. The Las Vegas Raiders, for example, will want to keep beefing up a group featuring a steady presence in Hunter Renfrow.
Also consider the Jacksonville Jaguars, who want as much help for Gardner Minshew II and need a running mate for breakout star DJ Chark Jr. And a contender like the Buffalo Bills might not splurge on receivers in free agency, but adding a big-bodied complement to John Brown and Cole Beasley would help Josh Allen's continued ascent under center.
Ben Bartch, OT, Saint John's
It's an understatement to say the odds are stacked against a Division III player at an event like the Senior Bowl.
Yet there was Ben Bartch out of Saint John's measuring at 6'5" and 308 pounds before looking like he played at the very top of college football, using his 33-inch arms to stunt an opponent's rush at his quarterback.
As freelance writer Mark Schofield noted, zone teams will love Bartch's massive upside: "Offensive lineman Ben Bartch loves him some inside zone. It's his favorite concept to run. Take note, zone-blocking teams..."
In the coming days and weeks, Bartch figures to draw comparisons to Ali Marpet, a pro lineman who went from a similar situation to carving out a successful NFL career for himself. While it's going to get repetitive, that won't make it any less true.
Best Fits: Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers
Any NFL team would welcome help in the offensive trenches these days, but schematically speaking, three NFC contenders come to mind as middle-round candidates for Bartch.
The Green Bay Packers wouldn't mind an upgrade inside on, say, Billy Turner (64.8 Pro Football Focus grade), and the same goes for the Minnesota Vikings with Josh Kline (61.6). And as good as the San Francisco 49ers have looked, they assuredly wouldn't mind upgrades inside, too (Mike Person, for example, graded at 61.8).
Dane Jackson, DB, Pittsburgh
It's often difficult for defensive backs to shine at the Senior Bowl. They're tasked with going against a top-flight weapon armed with a good quarterback at almost all times.
However, Pittsburgh's Dane Jackson wasn't fazed by that pressure. In fact, he might have been the best corner in Mobile. After measuring at 5'11" and 180 pounds, Jackson was composed and consistently sticky in coverage.
That drew the attention of evaluators, as David Helman of the Cowboys' official site noted:
"Pittsburgh cornerback Dane Jackson garners special mention. I didn't know much about him when I got here, but the guy grabbed eyeballs right of the bat by swatting everything that came his way. By my count, he finished with [three pass breakups] and just one completion allowed during the one-on-one portion of practice."
With good size and clear playmaking ability, Jackson's stock figures to keep rising going into the combine.
Best Fits: Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions, Baltimore Ravens
The Washington Redskins had a so-so defense last year and face a possible transition in the secondary as they move on from Josh Norman, which would make Jackson a savvy developmental pick in the middle rounds. The same holds true for the Baltimore Ravens, who have one of the pricier cornerback free agents set to hit the market in Jimmy Smith.
Meanwhile, the Detroit Lions coughed up the most passing yardage per game last season and traded cornerback Quandre Diggs to the Seattle Seahawks in October, which irked fellow defender Darius Slay.
Jonathan Greenard, Edge, Florida
Matching hype before an event isn't always easy, but Florida's Jonathan Greenard made it look simple in Mobile.
Greenard looked the NFL part at weigh-ins when he measured 6'3" and 262 pounds with superb 34.5" arms. He put that size to use with his athleticism to punch and swim his way past blockers in drills and practices.
A versatile prospect who figures to line up in different spots, Greenard did it all, including reliance on a classic, per Andrew Spivey of Gator Country: "Jonathan Greenard with the bull rush and easily wins his one-on-one battle. Greenard keeping people off balance with the speed and bull rush."
Greenard might have been the outright best defender in Mobile, which makes him one of the big risers.
Best Fits: Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks, Atlanta Falcons
Greenard feels right for a Miami Dolphins team trying to rebuild every layer of its defense. With three first-round picks, it would make sense for Miami to beef up a pass rush that mustered only 23 sacks last season.
The same holds true for an Atlanta Falcons team that finished the season strong and finds itself in the middle of each round. After generating only 28 sacks, it's obvious where the Falcons should spend some of their draft picks. And the Seattle Seahawks, who likewise finished with only 28 sacks, could also use Greenard rotationally getting after opposing passers all over the line.
Van Jefferson, WR, Florida
Florida's Van Jefferson didn't check in as big as some of the other wideouts in Mobile, but that didn't make his performance during Senior Bowl practices any less impressive.
The 6'1", 197-pound Jefferson ripped off some wicked routes that left defenders scrambling to adjust and catch up. Those same routes opened him up for 13 or more yards per catch in each of the last two seasons with the Gators.
Senior Bowl defenders having problems against Jefferson should be more important than whatever numbers he posts at the combine, as Eric Edholm of Yahoo Sports argued: "What matters more is how fast a player plays, and Jefferson checks that box. He ran clean routes and made several smooth grabs on Tuesday and reads like a prospect who will be a better pro than his college production would suggest."
While the wideout class seems deep, Jefferson's knack for shaking himself free with his route running is bound to be a crowd-pleaser in the NFL.
Best Fits: Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots, New York Jets
Jefferson would be a good fit for a contender like the New England Patriots because his skill set could translate to instant production. That's especially important for a Patriots team looking for immediate help if a regressing Tom Brady returns.
As for rebuilders, teams like the Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets stick out. The former could be losing A.J. Green in free agency and needs to help a likely rookie passer, while the latter could be losing Robby Anderson and needs to surround Sam Darnold with as much talent as possible.
Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
As expected, Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert wasn't just physically dominant at the Senior Bowl.
But don't gloss over the measurements—he checked in at 6'6" and 227 pounds with 10" hands. Most of those numbers were higher than all other quarterback prospects.
And Herbert's advantage hardly ended there. He was comfortable in all facets and didn't have many issues, as ESPN's Todd McShay and Steve Muench noted:
"Herbert is very clearly the most talented quarterback on the field, and that's going to work in his favor. The Senior Bowl is a great opportunity for him to stand out and firmly entrench himself as a first-rounder. On Tuesday, he looked natural with his footwork, showcased some athleticism and was consistently accurate."
If an outside observer wasn't enough, keep in mind that Cincinnati Bengals and Senior Bowl South team head coach Zac Taylor wasn't shy about heaping praise on Herbert, either.
Best Fits: Miami Dolphins, Los Angeles Chargers, Indianapolis Colts
No matter how much Taylor might like Herbert right now, his Bengals figure to take LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the No. 1 overall pick. Teams in need after No. 1 make the most sense for the Oregon passer.
First up is a rebuilding Miami Dolphins team that picks fifth. Immediately thereafter, the Los Angeles Chargers might be on the hunt for Philip Rivers' successor, regardless of whether he re-signs with the team this offseason. And after Jacoby Brissett failed to dazzle in the wake of Andrew Luck's sudden retirement, the Indianapolis Colts might pounce on Herbert at No. 13 if he falls that far.
Weigh-in results courtesy of The Draft Network.