2020 Senior Bowl: Matt Miller's Latest Stock Update for Game's Top Players
Mobile, Ala. — Allen Iverson didn’t think so, but practices matter. Especially to NFL scouts and coaches who are seeing many draft prospects in person for the first time, or seeing the players in an uncomfortable situation, which allows for a better evaluation. Sorry, A.I. We’re talking about practice today. Not the game. Practice.
Senior Bowl week is made up of three days of practice, one day (Friday) of walkthroughs and then the actual game on Saturday. NFL staffs arrive on Monday and then hit the ground running, with weigh-ins starting at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, followed by interviews and then practices. Most pro personnel staff leave town Thursday night following the last padded practice and head home to watch practice tape and then the game tape together as a group.
The practices here mean more than the game, which can look like a scrimmage at times. Practices allow scouts and coaches to put players in situations that their collegiate schemes protected them from. Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts was asked to make throws that Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley’s offense didn’t. Wide receivers are asked to run routes they weren’t running in college. Linebackers who didn’t play often in pass coverage are put through the wringer during positional drills.
This work in practice allows scouts to evaluate a player’s athleticism, coachability, football IQ and position-specific traits, which is why players will move up and down the draft board following Senior Bowl week.
Winner: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
Justin Herbert needed to remind scouts why he’s been considered a potential top-10 pick for the last three years. He did that this week with excellent practice sessions that showed off his versatility as a passer.
Herbert, who has a reputation as a quiet person, made a more noticeable effort this week to lead and connect with his teammates. He also connected with his receivers and tight ends on the practice field while showing off his arm strength and touch.
Working on the South roster, Herbert formed a connection with Florida receiver Van Jefferson, and the two were unstoppable in the passing game. Herbert’s ability to win down the field with strength was matched with his touch on underneath routes. His work in the first series of the game showed that his impressive week wasn’t restricted to just practice, and he was named the MVP of the 2020 Senior Bowl as a result.
There are still concerns about his game that can’t be answered in a seven-on-seven drill: Can he get to his deep progressions? Can he hit passes while under pressure? And how will he handle playing football outside of Eugene, Oregon, for the first time in his life? But Herbert did all he possibly could this week to elevate his stock. It’s very likely he will be a top-10 selection in late April.
Winner: Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
In Mobile, Love showed off an arm talent that will have coaches drooling. He also fits what teams want with his above-average mobility and enormous potential to improve once he’s in an offensive system with a better surrounding cast. Scouts believe Love’s game is only going to get better.
Throughout the week, he showed that while participating on the North roster, coached by the Detroit Lions. His arm strength throughout a windy practice on Tuesday was excellent, but by Thursday, he was showing touch and anticipation in team drills that points to the type of improvement and variety teams need to see from a passer.
Like Herbert, Love has questions that can’t be answered in a practice setting after throwing 17 interceptions in 2019, but coaches and scouts who favor traits over production and factor in a Utah State offense without other NFL-caliber talent could push Love into the top 10 picks.
Winner: Josh Jones, OT, Houston
The senior offensive tackle class was lacking a top-end prospect until Josh Jones stole the show in Mobile.
Every evaluator who had studied Jones knew he was good, but the belief pre-Senior Bowl was that he could be a potential mid-Round 2 player. He’s athletic and poised but lacks strength, which many thought would push him down. Then Jones showed out while handling all types of pass-rushers.
A rise like Tytus Howard experienced last year wouldn’t be a surprise considering the needs at offensive tackle and the limited supply of prospects in this class. Teams who miss out on Jedrick Wills Jr. (Alabama) or Mekhi Becton (Louisville) will have to consider Jones given that some evaluators believe Andrew Thomas (Georgia) and Tristan Wirfs (Iowa) are not true left tackle prospects. Jones could benefit greatly from his plug-and-play ability at the position.
Winner: Kyle Dugger, S, Lenoir-Rhyne
One of the best aspects of the Senior Bowl is being able to evaluate small-schoolers against the bigger colleges. Lenoir-Rhyne isn’t seeing many Power Five passing attacks, which made safety Kyle Dugger a bit of an unknown headed into the week.
Dugger excelled after shaking off rust in Tuesday’s practice. Many believed he might have to move to linebacker once in the NFL, but his quickness combined with a 6’1”, 217-pound frame indicated he can hang at safety while also being a big contributor as a punt returner.
Dugger had a little culture shock early in the week when facing elite athleticism at wide receiver and tight end, but by Friday, he had fully acclimated and was playing top-tier football. He might still be a Round 3 selection, but Dugger protected his stock this week while showing he has a home at safety in the NFL.
Winner: A.J. Green, CB, Oklahoma State
A.J. Green lined up across from South team wide receivers this week and accepted the task of physically dominating his opponent at the line of scrimmage. His 6’1”, 200-pound frame allowed him to rock players off the line of scrimmage with his length and power.
He won’t be for every team, but Green is perfect for a scheme like those of the San Francisco 49ers or Jacksonville Jaguars in which size and strength at the line of scrimmage are key. As a player who flew under the radar before Senior Bowl week, Green leaves with a good amount of buzz.
The senior cornerback class was limited after injuries forced LSU's Kristian Fulton (who also had a significant family issue, per NFL Network's Tom Pelissero) and TCU's Jeff Gladney (knee) to drop out, and Green made the most of his opportunity to shine against an excellent receiver class.
Green’s stock is rising and might gain a top-100 grade after the combine.
Winner: Van Jefferson, WR, Florida
It’s easy to get lost in this talented wide receiver class—even if you just look at the senior participants on the field this week. That makes it harder to stand out, but Florida senior Van Jefferson did just that with silky-smooth routes and excellent quickness in and out of breaks.
Jefferson, who started his college career at Ole Miss, didn’t have amazing statistics at Florida, which caused many evaluators to question his ability. On the field this week, Jefferson looked like the best wideout on either roster. It’s easy to look at the quarterback play at both Ole Miss and Florida and think it contributed to his lack of production.
Jefferson has seen his stock rise throughout the week; a Day 2 selection isn’t out of the question if he shines at the combine.
Winner: Joshua Kelley, RB, UCLA
It’s hard to stand out as a running back during Senior Bowl week; the practices aren’t tailored to allow the position to shine in individual drills, and most of the time backs are limited on passing-game reps. UCLA’s Joshua Kelley is one exception after a standout week.
Kelley also gained notice in the game, showing his quickness and vision as a runner. After posting back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons for UCLA, Kelley is ready to contribute as a pro running back. He profiles well as an outside-zone runner and could be a steal in the middle rounds.
Winner: Bradlee Anae, EDGE, Utah
Bradlee Anae dominated Saturday just like he did all season as Utah’s primary edge-rusher. The South team's offensive line couldn't stop Anae’s power, hand use and speed. He came into the week as a Round 2-3 player but moved up the board with continued good play.
Franchises that want a bigger edge-rusher to pair with speed on the outside will have to take a look at the 6'3", 265-pounder's profile. Anae is perfect for a team like the Tennessee Titans, Baltimore Ravens or San Francisco 49ers who want power to pair with speed.
With back-to-back-to-back pressures and two sacks during one stretch in the game, Anae simply took over and couldn’t be stopped. He could be a top-50 player in this year’s draft.
Loser: Shea Patterson, QB, Michigan
It’s never fun to point out when a player fails, but it has to be done if we’re being unbiased. Michigan’s Shea Patterson was the least impressive of the quarterbacks in Mobile for the week and routinely struggled to hit passes accurately both in the practices and games.
Patterson did hit a nice wheel-route throw for an easy run-in touchdown during the game, but he followed it up with a bad misfire overthrow that led to a pick by the South's Kindle Vildor. Patterson, who came to the Senior Bowl with major accuracy questions, continued to struggle throughout the week.
It was a surprise to most analysts when Patterson was invited to Mobile, and the week did not help his case to be drafted.
No Change: Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma
How do we evaluate what Jalen Hurts did this week? For me, nothing changed.
If you love Hurts’ mobility and leadership, you saw that on display throughout the week. If you question his accuracy and mechanics, you saw that too. People who wanted to either elevate his stock or move him down based on the week are left without answers to many questions about Hurts’ play.
This will be a true scheme-by-scheme evaluation. Teams that want a runner with good work ethic and big-play potential as a passer will be willing to develop Hurts. Others won’t be satisfied with his limited skill set as a thrower. He’s not a first-rounder, and he’s not an undrafted free agent. He’s somewhere in between and offers enough talent to be drafted and developed at quarterback.