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Final Senior Bowl practice notes

The standouts from the practices preceding 70th Senior Bowl have made their mark in Mobile. While the quarterbacks underwhelmed, the players protecting them, rushing them, and getting open for them stood out from the pack.

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Practice-North John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The Senior Bowl is fun, and I think that’s about all that needs to be said about it. It’s an event entirely comprised of new acquaintances on multiple levels. Colleagues in the NFL and in the media connect with one another, sharing ideals and stories alike. The separate factions of NFL personnel and NFL writers also become personally acquainted with some of the top seniors in the upcoming NFL Draft class.

But Luke Easterling of USA Today’s The Draft Wire knows what follows.

We’re literally talking about practice man. Not a game, not a game, not a game — we’re talking about practice.

And this is because the game also doesn’t really matter much. It may shoot some players up a few draft boards because they lit up a defense that is forced to play one coverage all game long without blitzing, but the evaluations aren’t notably affected by what happens in the game. At least they shouldn’t be.

The practices at least have some value, and that’s myself and many others were on hand to witness them. You can notice traits up close from players that you may not have noticed on film. Some of the players have never competed against Power 5 competition before this week, and seeing how they fared athletically and technique-wise in comparison is always notable.

After seeing two of the practices live and one of them displayed on a projector in a hotel, here are my takeaways:

  • The North offensive line looked like they stockpiled the overall talent of both rosters. While the South possessed a couple tackles in Andre Dillard and Tytus Howard, who flashed on all three days, the North had some maulers and serious space blockers from the interior. Center Garrett Bradbury from NC State looks like he’ll be following in James Daniels’ footsteps as the should-be best center in this class with his insane quickness to reach frontside defensive tackles.
  • Bradbury had two guards playing beside him in Nate Davis from Charlotte and Chris Lindstrom from Boston College. Both dominated in different ways. Davis displayed incredible natural power when anchoring and down-blocking, while Lindstrom never missed a second-level block, he was literally a magnet for linebackers and when he engaged them, he cleared them out of the lane.
  • We were lucky that those interior players ended up on the same team as a few interior defenders, specifically Renell Wren of Arizona State, Khalen Saunders of Western Illinois and Greg Gaines of Washington. Wren and Saunders flashed explosion off the snap and making an impact as backside defenders, while Gaines showed proficiency with his hands all week long.
  • The North had a few tackles that made me question my own initial judgement. Going into the week I pegged USC’s Chuma Edoga and Kansas State’s Dalton Risner as college tackles who should move inside to guard (or center for Risner) based off the film I initially watched. While they could thrive in the interior, I was also impressed how they composed themselves at tackle this week. Edoga measured in with 34 7’8” arms and uses all of that length. Risner made headlines on Thursday for his energetic conclusion to the practice, but make no mistake, he put plenty of positive tape out there leading up to this.
  • The consensus MVP of the three practices is South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel, and for good reason. After weighing in at 216 pounds, Samuel looked like he was 196 with the way he released off the line and created immediate separation against the group of South cornerbacks. A couple receivers from the North should definitely be mentioned along with him: Georgia State’s Penny Hart and Ohio State’s Terry McLaurin. At just 5’8”, Hart’s sudden quickness and lower-half efficiency immediately reminded me of Andrew Hawkins, while McLaurin looks like the special teamer that the Bengals tried to advertise Cody Core as. Both players will find there way on a roster, and they could play for my team.
  • The linebacker that caught my eye the most was NC State’s Germaine Pratt. Measuring in at 6’3 and 240 pounds, Pratt brings size, speed and plenty of instincts to the table as a middle linebacker. He’s quick to diagnose concepts and play fakes that allows puts him in the position for his stellar athleticism to make a play. Those instincts show up in his production profile as well. He’s a name to remember for the Bengals this April.
  • Two names I want to mention as guys who impressed the longer they were here were Ben Banogu of TCU and Elgton Jenkins of Mississippi State. Banogu is an edge rusher who really caught my eye on Thursday as a guy who could bend and come back with an inside counter. His win total in one-on-ones was high. Jenkins was the South’s first-team center and displayed the anchor and power that Bradbury struggled more with in the other practices. He’s a name to monitor in the upcoming process.
  • Finally, my thoughts on the quarterbacks haven’t quite shifted, and I suppose that’s not too surprising. Missouri’s Drew Lock and Duke’s Daniel Jones each have their own positive traits, but neither is close to a complete player, and their shortcomings are not qualities that exponentially develop at this stage. There is no Baker Mayfield in this group of upperclassmen, and that’s okay. It won’t stop two teams from taking those two earlier than they should, but it’s still okay. I’d advise the Bengals to be neither of those teams.

That about wraps up my work from my second Senior Bowl trip. Just like last year, I met plenty of informative, cultivating and genuine minds in the NFL Draft community that I can only hope to emulate one day. The learning never stops, and this is always a great opportunity to re-evaluate your own process as these young players are finding their way to fulfilling their dreams.