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2020 Senior Bowl: Day Three Practice Notes (Fantasy Football)

Jan 24, 2020

USC’s Michael Pittman looks like a top receiver going into this year’s Senior Bowl.

R.C. Fischer previews the 2020 Senior Bowl practice week for FantasyPros.

This piece is part of our article program that features quality content from experts exclusively at FantasyPros. For more insight from R.C., head to Fantasy Football Metrics and College Football Metrics.

I’ll be covering the Senior Bowl week practices for FantasyPros again this season. For all three practice days, I will offer my thoughts and notes from the practices for both teams and share some rumors/buzz/chatter going around among the scouts that I’m hearing. I work as an independent scout for the NFL Draft for the past decade+, but most of my annual football work is mainly for dynasty and fantasy football purposes, so most of my notes and concerns will be on the offensive skill players with a fantasy bent.

Day three practice means the end of the “real” practices and I’m going to use this article to summarize all three days and to share things that I’ve been discussing with other analysts and scouts about the practice week. I’ll go position by position…

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Day Three (Thursday) Senior Bowl 2020 Practice Notes

Quarterbacks
I came into this week with a positive or decent early scouting grade on Justin Herbert, Jalen Hurts, and Jordan Love. My tape sessions and my in-house analytics had OK-to-good grades on all of them, but I still had some concerns and unanswered questions coming into the Senior Bowl. Not that this practice week changes everything but, it is an important evaluative tool to get real measurements on hand size, true height, etc., but also to gauge how these quarterbacks perform in a foreign environment (to them) with mostly unfamiliar players. You also get to observe their interactions and leadership, as well as how they look in drills in a similar format.

After day one, I knew the media was going to buzz over Jordan Love, and that they did. He’s got such a great arm and throwing motion. He’s a natural. Love’s draft stock raced immediately on Tuesday night. It was an infatuation at first sight. By the end of the three practices, the love for Love subsided some. Justin Herbert clearly looked like the best quarterback prospect here, and that should’ve put an end to the debate of who the No. 3-ranked quarterback in this draft is for the consensus opinion (Burrow-Tua-Herbert will be most of the consensus NFL Draft quarterback rankings after this week). After day one, I think everyone wanted to rank Love ahead of Herbert, but by the end of day three, Herbert was the clear winner for anyone being honest.

Herbert just looks like he knows what he’s doing and has a classic quarterback look, throwing motion, and cannon arm in his own right. Love, by comparison here, played reservedly and didn’t stand out. He was a better 7-on-7 or 1-on-1 quarterback, just from his gawking at his arm ability.

I thought Jalen Hurts showed that he belongs in the “future NFL starting quarterback” discussion in this draft. He’s a guy that should be drafted to start, to be the future and not just a gimmicky runner — his superpower is how well he can run the ball, but (as he showed here) he knows how to play legit quarterback. He was smooth, confident, and in total control of his play all week.  

Running Backs
It’s always hard to evaluate the running back prospects at an event like this because there is no real contact to worry about all week. My three quick bullet point headlines on the running back group here…

1. Memphis running back Antonio Gibson looks like an elite athlete at the position. I’m not sure if he has a feel for running the ball at the next level (he might have Kalen Ballage syndrome — looks great in shorts and pads practices but not in real games). But we should give some grace to him on that because Gibson was a wide receiver for most of his college career. He’s raw at running back. But just watching him move around this week — he’s the only guy that elicits “wow” comments because of his build, size, and movement skills.

2. The running back prospect that stood out the most for me was Baylor’s JaMycal Hasty — the one guy who seemed like he was ready for the next level as a receiver out of the backfield, who could run the ball well with limited touches, and who also positioned himself well for blocking or setting up screens or running routes. He’s not a superstar or an elite talent, but he’s well-polished with some wiggle for sure.

3. UCLA’s Joshua Kelley needs more study. He will be a lot of Senior Bowl analysts’ proclaimed “winner” among the running backs, and I think that’s because he was picking or gashing through the defense in basic drills — but it’s hard to say if he truly. That’s because the defense slows up on runs to deliver a two-handed touch, but the backs still run forward at full speed through it like they were never touched. The optics on Kelley looked great in practice mode, but I don’t know that it was a representation of reality.

Wide Receivers
I agree with most everyone on the planet at the top of the rankings of the receivers attendees here – USC’s Michael Pittman and Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool are just “wow” receiver prospects in size, speed, hands, and movement. I entered the week with Claypool slightly over Pittman, but both are fantastic prospects. After day one, I was wondering if it should be Pittman over Claypool, and many in attendance were buzzing more on Pittman after the first practice.

I thought Pittman looked off the second day of practices, but he may have been hurt, and he skipped day three with a foot issue and is heading back home and skipping the game. Pittman’s absence allowed scouts to watch Claypool more, and the more I saw from him, the more he wowed me. Both of these guys are great, and scouts and analysts will leave Mobile loving both.

My disappointment receiver prospects were Texas’ Devin Duvernay and Ohio State’s K.J. Hill. I expected to see a show from both, especially Duvernay, but in the 11-on-11 work, it’s like those guys weren’t even there. Where, at the same time, lightly regarded (by comparison) Florida receiver Van Jefferson looked like the Michael Thomas for the South team — every quarterback rotation, in about every situation, was looking to Jefferson — and he delivered in most cases. Duvernay and Hill did not lose any draft stock, though, as everyone loves them for their speed and ability to get open, but they didn’t do anything special during 11-on-11s consistently to help ignite their draft stock here among the crowd.

The wide receiver who lost a lot of draft stock was Texas’ Collin Johnson. I was a skeptic of him from my previous scouting work two summers ago, and my previewing some of his 2019 work didn’t move me either. Watching him here was the final nail in his coffin; he’s a big dude but an unreliable catcher of the football. Really unreliable.

Tight Ends
No tight end just jumped out at me and made me think “future superstar,” but a few them stood out as looking like legitimate NFL tight ends who would be capable of nice fantasy performances if they landed in the right situations.

Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins was probably the most polished of the group, but I’m not sold on that evaluation because the tight ends were not a big part of the 11-on-11 work. We didn’t see enough from them to change any scouting/thinking radically.

Analysts were gaga for Dayton tight end Adam Trautman’s practice week, but I wasn’t as swayed. He proved that he belonged here, for sure, which was a question for the FCS prospect. He checked that box. But I was not swayed into thinking that he was a top tight end prospect, just a legitimate NFL tight end prospect.

Honestly, the guy who kept getting my attention was LSU’s Stephen Sullivan. Coming into the week, I thought he was more of a project or more third-tier type tight end prospect after a bland career at LSU. But every time that I turned around, he was the tight end making smooth or sweet plays, especially in the red zone. He looked like a young Jared Cook at times. I’m going to be interested to see his NFL Combine speed and athleticism numbers. He definitely made me note to go back and do more work on him.

Defensive Players
A lot of the players who looked good to me are names that many are hyping up — South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw moved around like an elite defensive tackle, as did Oklahoma defensive tackle Neville Gallimore. North Carolina defensive line prospect Jason Strowbridge went from a guy I wasn’t thinking much about to making me plan to go back and do more research on him. Everyone who observed the Senior Bowl practices liked the guys I just mentioned. It’s not a fresh take.

The one big fresh (maybe) take on a defender I walk away with here — Nebraska cornerback prospect Lamar Jackson is a damn good corner, and he might end up a first-round pick at this rate. He was a safety his first few years at Nebraska, which makes sense at 6’3″/215, but he moved to corner in 2019 and looked good on the preview tape that I watched. While my first preview watch didn’t really grab me one way or the other, he definitely got my attention this week. Of all the players I had OK or so-so pre-grades on coming in, Jackson was the biggest game-changer (upward) of my mindset in this entire week. I’m definitely going to do a deeper study on him.

Well, that’s it for Senior Bowl practices for another year. Enjoy the game on Saturday. I’ll be writing up/analyzing the game next week for my site, College Football Metrics.com. 

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