With the Senior Bowl week now complete. Craig brings us his Gameday Notebook!
For those of you who followed me over at the old site will recall that every Tuesday I’d take a look through my notebook from the games I’ve sat and watched over the weekend and highlight a few things I wrote down.
After watching Saturday’s Senior Bowl I figured I’d bring back the Gameday Notebook – there may be some things you missed, some players who stood out for good or bad reasons, or even just some things I’m going to go back and watch some more film on. So let’s get to it shall we?
The quarterbacks are pretty much who we thought they were
Malik Willis and Kenny Pickett got the starts for the American and National teams respectively and both were able to demonstrate their strengths in the first quarter. Willis showcased his speed, ability to evade the rush, and ability to make off-script plays – something the modern NFL loves. Pickett was accurate, on time, and superbly efficient – just as we all thought he would be.
Sam Howell came in for the American team and, aside from a strip sack by Boye Mafe (more on him later), found ways to evade the pressure he seemed to consistently be under and made plays with his legs when needs be. Most impressively though he continued to keep his feet steady and his eyes downfield even as the pocket was collapsing, which are traits that will stand him in good stead when it comes to projecting how he will fare in the NFL.
Desmond Ridder was also efficient while throwing 2 touchdowns, finishing with 4 of 6 for 68 yards to go along with those two scores, while it was a more challenging outing for both Carson Strong and Bailey Zappe who threw an interception each.
The National team running backs show their skills
Rachaad White from Arizona State was the first of the running backs to really jump out at me in the game with a couple of good early runs, demonstrating his power and quickness on several of his carries. His hurdle over a defender to pick up his longest run of the day was cool and showed good awareness. The fact he almost managed to pick up a 2-point conversion despite the botched snap goes to show his toughness and desire to make a play even in the most testing of circumstances.
If you’ve not yet heard our interview with him, go and check it out – available on all good Podcast outlets.
Baylor’s Abram Smith was the other back who really made himself known during this game, finishing with 67 all purpose yards (more than any other non-QB on either team). He ran hard early, showed great awareness of what was around him and made some good cuts to make sure he picked up extra yardage. He was tough to bring down and deservedly picked up a touchdown on a swing pass from Kenny Pickett.
Christian Watson is a difference maker
Speaking of that Abram Smith touchdown, one of the key reasons why it was such a successful play was that the defense was busy accounting for North Dakota State receiver Christian Watson who lined up wide to the right of the formation and basically ran a go route to the back of the endzone, taking both the corner and safety with him.
That came one play after his only reception of the day, a cool 38 yard catch and run. He adjusted nicely to an underthrown ball, turning his hips, getting down low and stretching out to make the catch before jumping back up and making an extra 15 yards or so after remembering the rules in the NFL are such that you have to be touched by a defender to be down and unable to advance.
The American team had clearly identified Watson as the dangerman they needed to watch out for every time he came onto the field, bracketing coverages over in his direction. But that just goes to show how good he’s looked this week – I for one am glad I’ve already got him in my Top 100 as I think many others are now likely to be following suit.
I need to get Jalen Pitre into my Top 100
Safe to say I don’t always get my first Top 100 right though. Though I’m happy my evaluation of Watson was a good one, Jalen Pitre the Baylor safety was a guy who just missed out and after watching him throughout the week and in the game I think I’m going to have to get him on the list next time around.
Pitre was everywhere, and was particularly noticeable in the second half as he showed up around the ball play after play after play. He ran downhill and made a couple of tackles in the run game, blew up a screen play after showing some great instincts and excellent closing speed, and showed up frequently around the ball in coverage.
The defensive line depth is real
A lot of the talk all week has been about how this is a trenches draft with lots of talent on both the offensive and defensive lines. I’m sure that continues to be true, but it was the defensive guys who really shone on Saturday.
After picking up an injury during the week, Haskell Garrett from Ohio State was determined he was going to play in the game and made a nice move early on to pick up a sack after both he and Cincinnati’s Myjai Sanders were able to get pressure on Malik Willis.
UConn’s Travis Jones was another who took his form from practice out into the game; consistently bullying offensive linemen, using his strength and power to push offensive linemen backwards and picked up a sack by doing exactly that to Dylan Parham. I had him at #68 in my Top 100 but everything I’ve seen from him this week tells me I need to move him up.
Our very own Owain Jones is going to kill me for stealing his thunder here, but Boye Mafe from Minnesota was on fire throughout the game! He had the strip sack of Sam Howell in the second quarter and followed it up with another sack in the third quarter, finishing the day with 3 TFLs, those 2 sacks and the forced fumble.
Mafe highlighted his freakish explosiveness time and time again and pretty much lived in the backfield all day long. Nobody could handle his athleticism – the offensive line seemed to resort to just trying to slow him down rather than stop him entirely.
Mafe was likely in the running for the game MVP, but that honour instead went to Oklahoma’s Perrion Winfrey. Winfrey was consistently making himself known to ball carriers and his high motor and never-ending work ethic were clearly on display throughout the game. He ended up with 5 tackles, 3 tackles for loss and 2 sacks – statistics that completely bear out the complete and utter dominance he displayed on the field.
Jake Ferguson is under the radar
And he shouldn’t be. The Wisconsin tight end is often overlooked in this class. With people choosing to talk about Trey McBride, Jeremy Ruckert, Isaiah Likely or Greg Dulcich just to name a few others who were down in Mobile this week.
It was Ferguson however who finished up as the game’s leading receiver with 62 yards and a touchdown on 3 receptions. Displaying good hands, running some very crisp routes and continuing to add to his reputation as a good all-round tight end prospect.
I need to go back and watch more of his Wisconsin tape. But, his showing in the Senior Bowl alone has got me believing he might become a really solid, reliable pro.
Five Final Thoughts
- There weren’t too many pass breakups for the defensive backs. But, there were the two interceptions, a whole bunch of sacks (the National team had 8 alone), and several off-script rushes from Willis and Howell in particular which suggests there was some good coverage going on. The all-22 will be key to confirming that assessment.
- Coby Bryant’s bonehead defensive pass interference at the end of the first quarter, just as his team were about to get possession of the ball, was crazy though. He’s got absolutely no need to be getting involved with the receiver in that position and I guarantee he got an earful from his coaches for it.
- With the game rules as they were, the linebackers don’t necessarily get the chance to showcase everything they can do. But a few stood out including Channing Tindall on a special teams play, Damone Clark getting a half sack with DeAngelo Malone, Chad Muma showed up in coverage a couple of times and Jesse Luketa stepped forward and rushed the passer a couple of times to good effect.
- Let’s give some love to someone on Special Teams shall we? Take a bow Jordan Stout. The Penn State punter who average 49.5 yards per punt and had 2 (out of 4) end up down inside the 15 yard line. That’s impressive work by any standard.
- And finally…shame we had a few guys who missed out through injury. Khalil Shakir in particular who I was sure was going to have an excellent game. His tape speaks for itself though and he’s looked good in practice. So, I don’t imagine his inability to take the field will cost him too much. Provided the injury isn’t something too serious.
Keep up to date with the action at the Senior Bowl on @NinetynineYards.
Feature Image – S. Alabama Athletics