Upon arriving in Mobile, Alabama for this year’s Senior Bowl, I knew less about this year’s rosters than I had in previous years covering the event. Maybe it was the fact that the Cincinnati Bengals really don’t have a first-round pick to discuss, or because that pick is really all that matters this year. Either way, this year’s crop of seniors didn’t really intrigue me; especially with most of the best ones dropping out right before the week began.
It was that mentality that made me happily surprised at how talented these Senior Bowl rosters were, because it seemed like nearly no one had a bad week on the practice field.
Much like last year, a practice at the Senior Bowl was moved to South Alabama’s indoor practice facility due to inclement weather. Unlike last year, Cincy Jungle was allowed on the premises to get a first-hand look. Here are some final thoughts on yesterday’s practice and the players that made the best impressions throughout the week.
Utah State’s Jordan Love (#5) was the quarterback everyone was rightfully intrigued with on the North squad, but Washington State’s Anthony Gordon (#3) had the best combination of velocity, accuracy and decision making in full team drills. Mike Leach’s previous two quarterbacks were drafted in the sixth round over the last two years, but Gordon might have more arm talent than both Luke Falk and Gardner Minshew II. His work was further elevated since he was sharing reps with the inconsistent Love and poor Shea Patterson, who simply didn’t belong here.
The pass catchers of the North each have something unique to offer the league. Receivers James Proche (#13) from SMU and K.J. Hill (#17) from Ohio State were practically impossible to guard from the slot with their shifty releases and low-to-the-ground explosion out of their breaks during Thursday’s practice.
Each of them turned in very solid weeks, but both seemed to be playing catchup to Baylor’s Denzel Mims (#15), who simply looked like the complete package. Expert ball-tracking? Check. Timely high-pointing ability? Check. Nuanced hand-separating faculty? Check. Mims did everything in his power to elevate his stock in a deep receiver class.
It was a great week for all the small school players, and Dayton’s Adam Trautman (#84) perhaps had the best week of them all. With prototypical size at 6’5” and 251 pounds, Trautman showcased fluidity and acceleration that’s typically seen in a much smaller human. These eyes never saw him drop a pass and rarely saw him get locked up in coverage. Pending on how he tests, he could be 2020’s version of Adam Shaheen.
dayton’s own adam trautman has had himself a productive week with the north pic.twitter.com/vyLEtiFbut— john sheeran (@John__Sheeran) January 23, 2020
Josh Jones (#70) of Houston was the offensive lineman to watch going into this week and he didn’t disappoint. Just watching him stretch, his flexibility is incredibly evident and that shows in his pass sets. When he gets his hands in the correct landmarks, his core power can take over and the rep goes from a win to a dominant win. Earlier this week I raved about the work Temple’s Matt Hennessy (#58) and Ohio State’s Jonah Jackson (#73) were doing together and they also finished strong.
On defense, it was captivating to watch North Carolina’s Jason Strowbridge (#55) no matter what he was doing, because he was doing everything at 186% speed. Beyond just wrecking C-gaps at the 5-technique spot, he made ample plays in special teams as well—that’s what coaches and scouts want to see. He made himself some money this week. Michigan’s Joshua Uche (#6) the North was also tearing it up off the edge. Uche is a natural speed rusher who knows how to time his strikes and can bend around the arc in an instant. He’s a bit undersized by traditional standards (6’1” and 241 pounds) but in today’s NFL, there’s definite value in guys who can give you a boost off the edge.
Specifically on Thursday, I was very impressed with cornerbacks Troy Pride Jr. (#5) from Notre Dame and Josh Metellus (#14) from Michigan. Pride’s stickiness in coverage was only matched by his energy he exuded after each rep, and his speed when returning kicks confirms rumors of him running under a 4.4 40-yard dash. Metellus was listed as a safety but got plenty of work at corner, and even when he got beaten off the line, he made several timely plays on the ball. He probably stays at safety in the pros, but showing adaptability helps his resume.
There may’ve been four media members who knew who Georgia Southern kicker Tyler Bass (#16) was going into this week, but everyone knows his name by now. There are only a few kickers in the NFL right now who have the raw leg power Bass showed he has this week. On Thursday’s practice inside South Alabama’s indoor practice facility, he hit three straight kickoffs off of the ceiling and hit the left upright halfway up on a kick from more than 60 yards away. Rarely is it a good idea to draft kickers, but Bass’ leg is absolutely worth a Day 3 pick.
While Bengals fans may not want to hear it, Justin Herbert (#10) did nothing but improve his stock in front of Cincinnati’s coaching staff. However strong his arm looks on TV, it’s even stronger in person. The touch still needs work, but he continued to look like a natural throwing on the run and hitting outside routes from the opposite hash. It’ll be interesting to see if how high he goes, and no, it won’t be first overall.
zac watches on as herbert throws a fade to lsu’s stephen sullivan pic.twitter.com/TqLHSWT5Hd— john sheeran (@John__Sheeran) January 23, 2020
Florida’s duo at wide receiver, Van Jefferson (#14) and Tyrie Cleveland (#9), got the chance to ball out with competent quarterbacks throwing to them for a change and each took advantage of the opportunity. Cleveland especially was exquisite at releasing and immediately stacking the corner off of the line and his ball-tracking skills are clear as day.
Continuing the trend of former teammates dominating together, LSU’s Llyod Cushenberry III (#79) and Damien Lewis (#68) were as good as to be expected playing at center and right guard. Handling assignments in pass protection and driving defensive tackles off of the ball on double teams in the run game were nothing to these national champions. Both of them made great impressions in front of offensive line coach Jim Turner.
The story of St. John’s Ben Bartch (#75) has been told numerous times this week and he had another solid day at offensive tackle yesterday. Unfortunately, it ended with him being helped off of the field just before practice ended. A former tight end, Bartch confirming his athleticism at the scouting combine is so imperative for him to get drafted relatively high, so hopefully his injury isn’t too bad.
Going back to Florida, Jonathan Greenard (#58) continued to look impressive as an off-ball linebacker as much as he did on the line of scrimmage rushing the passer. That versatility is going to be valuable for a team like Cincinnati, who may need more guys that fit a multiple defense then they need traditional linebackers.
Last but certainly not least, cornerbacks A.J. Green (#9) of Oklahoma and Dane Jackson (#11) of Pitt saved their best days for last on Thursday. Green’s intensity seemed to resonate with the rest of the defense and he was air-tight defending fades and digs. Jackson, specifically, didn’t have a single bad rep in his last practice. He was running the receivers’ routes with precision and also keeping his hands in position to deflect away at my count four passes during the red zone period. Out of all the players I watched on Thursday, he was by far the most impressive.