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Day 1 Senior Bowl standouts, and their NFL potential

The Senior Bowl is but one step in the evaluation process that eventually takes the best available college players to the NFL, but it is an important step in that there’s several days of practices in which personnel people can see like as like beyond the game tape. In the evaluative sense, the practices are almost more important than the games themselves.

Tuesday marked the first practices for the 2024 Senior Bowl, and here are six players who stood out immediately, matched with their NCAA tape, and some thoughts on their ultimate NFL potential.

Ladd McConkey, WR, Georgia

(Photo by Rich Storry/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rich Storry/Getty Images)

Make all the jokes you want about McConkey being a gritty, gutty, lunchpail guy who looks just like Cooper Kupp — yeah, we know. But on the first day of practice, the 6-foot-0, 185-pond target put some routes on the field that were just about impossible to cover.

Injuries limited McConkey in his 2023 season, but he still caught 30 passes on 37 targets for 483 yards and two touchdowns. He also had eight explosive receptions last season — both after the catch, and straight up the field, right into traffic. NFL teams will start coveting him in the early middle rounds.

Jackson Powers-Johnson, Center, Oregon

(Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports)
(Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports)

Powers-Johnson is the best center in this draft class — perhaps a fringe first-rounder — and those NFL personnel people on hand today didn’t take much convincing based on his practice reps. The 6-foot-3, 320-pound Powers-Johnson is plug-and-play from a technique perspective, and he matches power to agility as well as you could ask. He allowed no sacks, no quarterback hits, and one quarterback hurry throughout his 2023 season.

Powers-Johnson is also great at getting to the second level and sealing things off up there — based on his tape, there isn’t much you could want in a professional center that he doesn’t show.

Taliese Fuaga, OT, Oregon State

(Craig Strobeck-USA TODAY Sports)
(Craig Strobeck-USA TODAY Sports)

At this rate, Penn State’s Olumuyiwa Fashanu and Notre Dame’s Joe Alt won’t be the only two offensive tackles seen by NFL teams as worthy of a top-half pick in the first round. Fuaga was just about unbeatable all day, including reps against UCLA edge-rusher Laiatu Latu (a sure-fire first-rounder) in which he was simply dominant. The 6-foot-6, 334-pound Fuaga allowed no sacks, two quarterback hits, and 10 quarterback hurries in his senior season for the Beavers, and he took every bit of that to his first practice in Mobile.

Fuaga isn’t just a great pass protector; he can also take defenders right off the screen in the run game, as he did here to Washington EDGE Zion Tupuola-Fetui.

DeWayne Carter, IDL, Duke

(Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
(Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)

The 6-foot-3, 305-pound Carter, who put up two sacks, five quarterback hits, 18 quarterback hurries, and 19 stops in his senior season for the Blue Devils, came to Mobile with serious intent to disrupt.

Carter played everywhere from nose to edge in college, so he’ll be of interest to NFL defensive coordinators in need of more multi-gap disruptors — and in today’s NFL, that includes just about everybody. No. 90 was a specific menace against Wake Forest last season — he was charging through the backfield, knocking blockers over like it was nothing, and coming up with multiple tackles for loss.

Gabe Hall, IDL, Baylor

(Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports)
(Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports)

Like Carter, Hall was wreaking havoc all over the place on Tuesday, and his reps might have been even more impressive. The 6-foot-6. 287-pound Hall played mostly 3-tech for the Bears last season, but it’s clear that he has the strength, quickness, and technique to get it done all over the line. He had two sacks, 19 quarterback hurries, and 13 stops in 2023.

This forced fumble against Utah shows more of Hall’s carnivorous, effort-heavy playing style.

Quinyon Mitchell, CB, Toledo

(Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports)
(Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports)

The MAC star defender, who totaled six interceptions and 27 pass deflections over the last two seasons, allowed an opponent passer rating of 51.1 in 2023, giving up just 27 catches on 62 targets for 290 yards, 67 yards after the catch, no touchdowns, one pick, and 14 pass breakups.

If there was any question about Mitchell’s ability to hold up against better receivers, he put that to rest quickly and repeatably.

The 6-foot-0, 196-pund Mitchell has all kinds of reps on tape where he’s aggressive and sticky in coverage upfield, and he’s a devil when coming up to deflect potential catches underneath. Mitchell could be a second-day pick with star potential over time.

Story originally appeared on Touchdown Wire