MOBILE, Ala. — Thursday’s Senior Bowl practices had a different feel to them with both the North and South Team sessions moving over to the University of South Alabama covered football facility for the final day of practices before Saturday’s game.
Rain was the reason for the move from outdoor Ladd-Peebles Stadium, although there wasn’t as much accumulation as expected. But it also provided a possible sneak peak at the game’s future practice location.
Rumors have swirled for more than a year that the Senior Bowl will consider moving the practices and game from the dilapidated Ladd-Peebles to the USA campus once their new stadium project is completed. It’s expected to be finished by August.
Referees also were on hand again Wednesday’s practices, and they made their presence felt — flags were flying throughout both teams’ sessions, especially during the red-zone and two-minute drill portions
But we believe it also showed the disparity between the talent at wide receiver and cornerback for this week. Like the 2020 NFL draft class as a whole, the WR talent this week has been mostly terrific. On the flip side, some of the corners and safeties — though not all — have struggled at times.
Here were the standout performers from both the North team (coached by the Detroit Lions) and the South (coached by the Cincinnati Bengals):
Day 3 winners
Oregon QB Justin Herbert (North team)
I’ll likely go into more depth on stacking all the quarterbacks at week’s end, but Herbert has topped the group. He’s been consistently good every single day down here, earning the first-team reps immediately and throwing the ball with accuracy and conviction.
Herbert has good mobility and sets his feet quickly on his pass drops. Even with some pressure in his face during team work on Wednesday, he never looked panicked and typically found open men to connect with. Herbert’s balls have come out clean and on target, and he shined in all the situational work.
If there’s one knock is maybe that he hasn’t been the most aggressive QB down here — that’s likely Jordan Love, who consistently took more chances downfield — but that’s really the only knock that comes to mind. It’s been a productive week for Herbert down here, and the way things are going, there’s no reason to think he will fall in the draft past the first dozen or 15 picks at the farthest.
Liberty WR Antonio Gandy-Golden (North)
Gandy-Golden was this close to making our Wednesday winners list, but a dropped ball in the end zone yesterday put him on the cutting-room floor. It’s not happening again. Gandy-Golden has been mostly excellent this week, absolutely looking the part of an NFL receiver.
When the Lions went red zone, it was Gandy-Golden’s time to shine. He made several terrific toe-tapping, high-point grabs in the corner of the end zone against multiple corners and used his strong hands and good body positioning to win on slants and in-breaking routes.
Overall, it’s been a really promising week for the smaller-school wideout. Georgia Southern CB Kindle Vildor told us that Gandy-Golden was his toughest matchup all season, and that included games against LSU (Jordan Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase) and Minnesota (Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson). That’s high praise, and the North corners have gotten a taste of what Vildor was talking about this week. We think Gandy-Golden is absolutely a top-100 player, and he could even rise to the late second-round or early third-round range.
Another receiver who really stood out — and he has been polished and productive all week — was Ohio State’s K.J. Hill. He made a spectacular one-handed grab on a ball thrown behind him and never lost his stride, and Hill’s technical ability is so clean and polished, giving many onlookers Terry McLaurin vibes.
— The Buckeye Nut (@TheBuckeyeNut) January 24, 2020
McLaurin was a clear Senior Bowl standout a year ago, and he was a huge success as a rookie with the Washington Redskins. It speaks to the teaching ability of Buckeyes WR coach Brian Hartline, who is consistently churning out NFL-ready wideouts.
UCLA CB Darnay Holmes (South)
Maybe the best rivalry we didn’t see coming was that one that has brewed over the past three days between Holmes and Florida WR Van Jefferson. The two standouts have gone at their matchups tooth and nail, trash talking after nearly every one, and the scouts are just eating it up.
The 5-10, 192-pound Holmes had a slightly disappointing 2019 season overall but is still held in high regard for his high intelligence — he received his undergraduate degree in 2.5 years — and raw speed to stay step for step with even the fastest wideouts. And Holmes’ competitive side has become quite clear this week as he’s taken on every challenge head on.
Even with some lost reps for Holmes down here, he’s absolutely helped his cause with some strong play overall. His size might be an issue for some teams, especially with 30 5/8 inch arms that could limit him to slot duty in some schemes, Holmes has shown out.
Running backs (both teams)
The Senior Bowl isn’t always the best venue for backs to show their chops, and the group admittedly lost a little sizzle when Utah’s Zack Moss bowed out to rehab an injury. But we’ve been impressed this week with a number of the participants down here.
UCLA’s Joshua Kelley, Baylor’s JaMycal Hasty and TCU’s Darius Anderson all have showed nicely for the North squad, and Memphis’ Antonio Gibson and Arizona State’s Eno Benjamin especially have stood out for the South.
Kelley looks leaner and quicker (and healthier?) than he did during the season. Gibson still need some positional work, but his athletic traits are obvious. Benjamin has caught the ball well, save for one wheel route on Wednesday that he couldn’t quite haul in for what would have been a diving TD. But all in all, these guys have played well.
Day 3 losers
Nebraska CB Lamar Jackson (North)
I spoke with one scout who was cross-checking defensive backs, and he singled out Jackson has being a player who had an up and down week.
“It looked a little too big for him at times,” the scout said. “He looked like more of an East-West [Shrine Game] player to me.”
Jackson has the length and size you want in a press corner, and he certainly doesn’t lack in confidence and personality. But Jackson also could use a strong performance in Saturday’s game to end the week on a higher note.
Wake Forest’s Essang Bassey is another corner who, along with Jackson, hasn’t stepped up this week, unfortunately. Bassey was beat a few times deep on both Wednesday and Thursday.
Penn State DT Robert Windsor (South)
Not a bad week for Windsor, who had some eye-opening moments on Tuesday and Wednesday and kept his motor revved up. But this was not his best practice, as the South offensive linemen more often than not got the better of him in one-on-ones today.
Windsor also jumped offsides two reps in a row, drawing the ire of Bengals DL coach Nick Eason for that and for not varying his rush moves enough during those sessions. Windsor was better in the team sessions, but these one-on-ones absolutely matter, as several GMs and scouting directors had front-row vantage points for these battles.
Washington C Nick Harris (North)
This has been a disappointing development, as Harris flashed an ornery disposition on tape this past season and looked to be moving up the list in what projects to be a bit of a thin position in this year’s class. However, in this week’s practices, outside of a few impressive reps, Harris has been on the losing end more than on the winning one.
Harris’ quickness and efficiency were not on display in the one-one-one battles, and he hasn’t stepped up in the team sessions the way we hoped. His ability to anchor against big, talented defensive tackles looks like a problem, giving up way too much ground and collapsing the middle of pockets. Harris’ relatively small measurements (6-foot-1 1/4, 293 pounds, 32 3/8-inch arms) also likely limit his positional versatility.
Cal LB Evan Weaver (North)
Weaver’s tackle-vacuuming tape speaks for itself, and his instincts in the run game are really strong. But the biggest question he faced down here — can he cover in space? — remains a major worry. Even with Weaver dropping weight, from the high 230s during the season (and even in the low 250s in the 2018 season) to 231 pounds on weigh-in day, he looked stiff and flat-footed in coverage.
Compared to Ohio State’s Malik Harrison and Wyoming’s Logan Wilson, both of whom have stood out in coverage this week, Weaver hasn’t looked nearly as fluid or natural. There were even a few reps in the run game where Weaver tried to win by leading with his shoulder, leading to him getting cleaned out of plays.
We’d say he’s got a little work to do to get his stock back on the rise, but this just might be the player Weaver is.
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