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2018 Senior Bowl Game Analysis (Fantasy Football)

Jan 29, 2018

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Typically, the Senior Bowl game is a lower-scoring affair as players have trouble getting on the same page with just a short week of practices to get used to each other and the playbook. This year, we saw a 61-point (combined) explosion. The last time we saw a combined 60+ points in the Senior Bowl was in 2002…a game featuring future No. 1 draft pick David Carr and game MVP Antwaan Randle El.

I think there were two reasons for the scoring spike this season:

(1) The Senior Bowl officials really pushed for the coaching staffs to use the practice time more wisely to showcase players in live action drills…1-on-1, 7-on-7, 11-on-11. I saw more meaningful work between QBs and their receivers this practice week than in any in my five years covering the Senior Bowl week, and it showed in the game.

(2) Bill O’Brien, the coach of the 45-point scoring/winning South team, was the game’s/week’s best coach and had the most engaged staff with the players that I’ve witnessed in my Senior Bowl time. Vance Joseph, by contrast, looked like a fan who had been given sideline passes and was wandering alone on the North team’s sideline, both during the week and during the game. The contrast between O’Brien’s engagement and interaction and Joseph’s distant aloofness was striking to me. And it’s something I noticed during the 2017 preseason and regular season with Joseph, just not a great ‘connection’ with players and staff.

Those two things needed to be mentioned because I believe it affected the game performances and all our interpretations of them. If you look at everything equally, you could elevate one group of players and dismiss another in scouting post-game, but the coaching gap and the difference in prep may have had a lot to do with the better-than-normal performances/outputs from this game.

With that in mind, let’s review the key performances from the 2018 Senior Bowl from a fantasy perspective.

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Baker Mayfield vs. Josh Allen
Mayfield got the start but only played two series and then left for home. Mayfield didn’t do anything of note in the game. He was only 3-of-7 for nine yards passing. Mayfield helped dispel a lot of rumors and concerns about himself during the week but lost some goodwill when he left the game early. Sure, Mayfield got excused to depart early, but it’s just bad optics from a guy who has a lot of doubters and people concerned with his mental makeup. Had he skipped the entire game for whatever reason, I don’t think it would have raised as much of an eyebrow (what did he have to prove?). But leaving the stadium early/mid-game after arriving at practices later (excused) it has a diva feel to it, and I’m a Mayfield defender. I just thought it was poor optics in his campaign to be the top draft pick.

Josh Allen came in after Mayfield and struggled early. The primary problem with Allen is his sketchy instincts dropping back in the pocket. He can throw the ball a million miles an hour. He’s a decent athlete. He’s got NFL size and skills. The most difficult thing to measure is the ability to process everything in real time, real danger, and to do it quickly. Allen took too long to make decisions for a few series as he stayed in the pocket too long and then ran the ball/scurried away from slight pressure way too much in the first half. In the second half, he got his feet under him and had clean pockets and made a couple nice touch passes.

Allen was set to play just the second quarter in this game and had he stopped playing and only had his first-half performance to rely on, it would have seriously eroded his chance to be a top-10 pick. His initial play was pretty poor and troubling. Coming out in the second half asking to play and making some nice touch passes, the general optics were the opposite of those for Mayfield. Allen had a feel-good, comforting finish on a high note, while Mayfield was ‘too good’ (perception) to hang around. Allen’s second-half improved performance keeps him in the No. 1 overall draft pick conversation.

What Allen did in this game was a little overblown, to me, because he did simple things that all the other QBs in the game were doing, but because NFL analysts are locked in on Allen’s ‘big arm,’ everything he does is magical even when it’s basic, and even when other QBs did similar things better in the same game. NFL analysts are all-in on Allen, so he’ll be on all the ‘Senior Bowl winners’ lists this week. He was solid for a short stretch and outshined by perceived lesser QB prospects in the same game, but it won’t matter since the die has been cast. When Allen goes to the NFL Combine and throws the ball 90 miles an hour the legend will grow, and he’s going to get talked into being the top QB prospect in the draft. I can see it coming.

Allen is plausible and developmental for the NFL but not the ‘best in class’ among the 2018 QB prospects as far as ability/feel for the position. There’s a risk he never ‘gets it’ and is just another ‘arm talent’ that fails hard at the next level.

Mike White and Kyle Lauletta vs. the media hype QBs
If you didn’t have any awareness or see any pre-hype of the QB prospects in this game, and you only watched this game to judge between them all, then Western Kentucky’s Mike White would have been your clear top QB prospect of the Senior Bowl game.

I thought White was a solid-but-not-spectacular prospect coming in, but I was shocked by how commanding and arm-talented he was in this game. Mayfield looked choppy in a brief appearance. Allen looked lost early and then stabilized later. White came in like a hurricane and dominated right from the jump. Again, some of the advantages of the practice week helped the QBs play pitch and catch long-ball with wide open receivers. It was a little ‘too easy’ at times for the QBs.

Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta came in as the third QB for the South and on eight completions racked 198 yards and three TDs. Statistically, Lauletta could have been tapped the star QB of the game, but using some perspective the game was really falling apart for Vance Joseph’s losing North team and Lauletta took advantage. Lauletta is solid, but he’s not ‘this’ good.

Mike White really helped his draft stock with analysts. He goes from back-end top 10 QB for the 2018 NFL Draft to now making an argument for the top 5. Lauletta, meanwhile, jumps from maybe not drafted to probably drafted (late).

Many observers will go crazy for White’s, Lauletta’s, and Allen’s performances this game, but the fact that they all dominated in spots waters down how excited we should get.

D.J. Chark vs. all the other WR prospects
I thought LSU WR D.J. Chark had a solid Senior Bowl practice week, a raw, speedy, thin WR prospect with some get-up-and-go and a quality return guy in college. However, he shockingly posted five catches for 160 yards and a 75-yard TD in this game and won co-Player of the Game honors for his South squad.

I think this is another sign of not taking this actual game output too seriously for scouting and overvaluing the performances. I know the media and analysts will go overboard, but Fantasy GMs should show more restraint. Chark is very fast and beat defenders off the line a few times, and the QBs dropped a few in the bucket for him so a huge output ensued. There are better WR prospects for the NFL here. They may have had the bad fortune of being stuck on a not-so-prepared North team.

Penn State WR DaeSean Hamilton was a big attention getter in the practice week but caught just one pass for five yards on five targets. Regardless of this game, Hamilton will be taken higher in the draft than Chark. Ditto for Penn WR Justin Watson (one rec., 34 yards, one target) and Oklahoma State WR James Washington, WR award winner of the Senior Bowl practice week, who saw two uncatchable targets and registered no catches.

In a game of big plays, and 1-2-3 play drives, etc., Chark just happened to have a few hot right-place, right-time moments while the more regarded prospects saw limited chances.

Rashaad Penny vs. Kalen Ballage
Penny came into this game with all the publicity – leading rusher in NCAA, his conference’s Player of the Year, and Special Teams Player of the Year. He ran the ball well but caught a fortuitous short pass (should’ve been picked) that became a ‘broken’ type play, and he turned it into a 75-yard catch-and-run TD. So, Penny will get a lot of nods as a ‘winner’ from the Senior Bowl game for his sweet output, but if you watched this game you would have found the most electric RB prospect that had everyone’s attention (and he was grabbing attention all week as well) was Arizona State’s Kalen Ballage.

Ballage ran 10 times for 57 yards, no TDs and didn’t see a target. Not as ‘sexy’ as Penny’s game numbers, but Ballage looked so much quicker, agile, and powerful. Ballage looked like a smaller Leonard Fournette at work, finishing off runs with a ‘bang’ and plowing over would-be tacklers. His bounce to shift into open spaces and burst when he found them caught people by surprise. His hands in passing drills were on display all practice week, but he saw no targets in this game.

Penny is going to have all the attention going into the NFL Combine, but Ballage is now getting the ‘keep an eye on…’ treatment, and if he outperforms Penny in the speed-agility drills at the Combine (and I think he will), his draft stock is going up and over Penny potentially. Ballage has helped his draft stock dramatically this whole Senior Bowl week.

IDP Winners
UTSA DE prospect Marcus Davenport had a great draft stock going into this game but helped himself further with a half a sack and an easy scoop-and-score fumble recovery TD. He’s the defender everyone loved going into this week and coming out.

South Carolina State LB prospect Darius Leonard registered 14 tackles in the game. His stock is the fastest rising among the linebacker prospects, and he really took a step forward in this game. He has a great NFL body and could add five-plus pounds of muscle and be even more imposing. The Telvin Smith comparisons could be real. We’ll see if the NFL Combine confirms it.

Hawaii SAF prospect Trayvon Henderson got noticed more as the week went on and capped things off nicely leading his team in tackles in the game (10), but what caught my attention is the tackles Henderson made in this game. He was the only man left between the ballcarrier and the end zone on a few plays, and Henderson made the clutch stop. Also, Henderson caught players from behind a few times all week. He has a closing speed that’s noticeable where other safeties didn’t stand out as much.

We will be scouting, analyzing, and statistically grading over 600+ prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft over the next few months for our seventh year at College Football Metrics and analyzing their dynasty-fantasy football impact of these rookies for the rookie drafts all offseason at Fantasy Football Metrics.

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