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2023 Senior Bowl Preview: Offense

2023 Senior Bowl Preview: Offense

Thor Nystrom will be reporting live from Mobile for the 2023 Senior Bowl. To get you ready for the big game, Thor has put together his 2023 Senior Bowl Preview, focusing on the offensive players involved.

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2023 Senior Bowl Guide

Thor breaks down which NFL Draft prospect has the most to prove, most to gain, and who’s flying under the radar at each position entering the 2023 Senior Bowl.

2023 Senior Bowl Quarterback Preview

Most to Prove: Max Duggan

Duggan has always been a tough, athletic signal-caller with the arm strength to threaten deep. But his accuracy and decision-making issues were acute enough to tank the offense in 2021 and lose the starting job out of camp in 2022.

You remember what happened from there: Duggan entered for an injured Chandler Morris in Week 1 against Colorado and ended up spurring TCU’s shocking run to the national title game. The 2022 Horned Frogs weren’t as pass-happy as Sonny Dykes’ past teams, instead leaning on the RPO game to utilize Duggan’s legs.

While Duggan’s decision-making showed marked improvement in 2022, and while his accuracy also improved, TCU’s scheme was heavily tailored towards Duggan’s strengths and away from his weaknesses. Duggan achieved a career-best YPA amid a career-low aDOT.

Playing with multiple future NFL players – including RB Kendre Miller, WR Quentin Johnston, and a strong, veteran-laden offensive line – Duggan did a good job of playing point guard, but may have been flattered by his supporting cast. His pre-snap reads within the system were superlative – his post-snap reads could be hit-or-miss.

In Mobile, Duggan needs to show that he can go through multiple progressions in a more conventional pro-style offense and manufacture answers when his first and second options aren’t there. He also needs to show that he wasn’t simply being propped up by his exceptional supporting cast.

Most to Gain: Jaren Hall & Clayton Tune

Jaren Hall

The tools are there. Hall has an exciting mix of athleticism and arm oomph. On his best reps, he looks like a potential top-50 pick. On his worst, he looks like an XFL backup.

Hall was a multi-sport athlete who comes from a family of athletes. That’s apparent when watching him. Hall has a big-league arm and can throw on the move. A former baseball player, he’s comfortable – even natural – throwing from different arm angles, and off-platform.

But Hall has never equaled the sum of his parts. And he regressed in 2021, with his PFF big-time throw rate dropping from 6.7 to 5.5 while his turnover-worth play rate rose from 2.1 to 2.7. Hall’s play under pressure summarily crumbled, with a grade of 61.3 falling to 44.9.

Toolsy but undisciplined – think a well-behaved Johnny Manziel – Hall has fans in the league but needs a big week to win more converts. Will he leave Mobile as a priority Day 2 developmental target? Or seen as an undisciplined late-Day 3 longshot?

Clayton Tune

What I appreciate about Tune is his consistency. Last year, he remained extremely steady despite circumstances around him beginning to crumble. No passer in this class was more victimized by drops (31), and Tune was forced to stay sharp playing with one of the nation’s worst defenses – every game turned into a shootout.

Tune is a heady, accurate passer who knows how to run a system, and he doesn’t get rattled by pressure. But he shied from testing tight windows, instead taking what the defense gives him. Was that a system-based preference? Or was he hiding his arm? Either way, Tune is more dangerous in the short-and-intermediate sectors than he is deep.

Quarterbacks like this are easy to discount. But the right one with the right staff is Brock Purdy.

Mystery Man: Tyson Bagent

You know that old NFL adage that the most popular player on every team is the backup quarterback? Well, the most popular player on every Senior Bowl roster is the mystery quarterback. This year, that’s Tyson Bagent.

Even though Bagent was West Virginia’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2018, he was an unranked recruit out of high school. So he signed with D-2 Shepherd and proceeded to put up literal video game numbers – Bagent’s 159 career TD passes are an NCAA record for any division of football.

Shepherd’s staff was very open about having built its entire offensive system around Bagent’s skillset. That is both high-praise and an evaluation hurdle. That system was heavy in RPO and play-action candy, giving Bagent the ability to show off his arm on throws to his first- or second-reads but not typically asking him to survey the entire field.

This is the thing to watch in Mobile: How does Bagent work through progressions in a more conventional scheme? How does he process the field with bodies moving far quicker through space?

Bagent has the arm and the attitude for the next level. No doubt. But it’s one thing to carve up D-2 defenses in a gimmick offense. Entirely another to solve complex problems with bullets flying and to beat NFL-caliber athletes with anticipatory throws.

Big, big week coming for Mr. Bagent. Not an exaggeration to say that a band of four rounds is up for grabs during his pre-draft process.

2023 Senior Bowl Running Back Preview

  • Chase Brown, Illinois
  • Eric Gray, Oklahoma
  • Evan Hull, Northwestern
  • Roschon Johnson, Texas
  • Kenny McIntosh, Georgia
  • Camerun Peoples, Appalachian State
  • Chris Rodriguez Jr., Kentucky
  • Tyjae Spears, Tulane

Most to Prove: Evan Hull

Feels odd to cite a guy with 582 career touches in the Big 10 for this category. But it’s nonetheless true.

Hull is a personal favorite of my colleague Derek Brown and I. He was an under-the-radar recruit who got the majority of his collegiate touches the past two seasons on Northwestern teams that combined to go 4-20.

And while Peter Skoronski was on the offensive lines he ran behind, Northwestern had essentially nothing else on offense – allowing defenses to key in on Hull.

Freed from that situation and in an apples-to-apples exhibition scenario in Mobile, Hull has a chance to shine on equal footing. And we think he will.

Hull offers a nice blend of vision, toughness, and agility. He’s not a burner – though the high school trackster should run in the 4.5s at the NFL Combine – but he offers more than enough short-area burst.

And for a guy who wasn’t working behind a great offensive line – Skoronski notwithstanding – Hull admirably did not appear to pick up bad habits we sometimes associate with running backs in similar collegiate situations (*cough* Cam Akers *cough*).

Lastly – and perhaps most importantly for his pro eval – Hull is an extremely skilled receiver. Last year, he was near tops in this class in targets, receptions, aDOT, and snaps in the slot or out wide.

My favorite sleeper back of the past five classes was James Robinson. Evan Hull will almost assuredly get drafted, so we’re not putting him in that category. But I bring up Robinson because I see a lot of similarities between he and Hull as runners.

But Hull is a far more diverse weapon in the receiving game. He’s currently being slept on. Mobile offers the perfect platform for Hull to display his diverse skillset and open eyes. He would be an ideal complimentary back in a number of NFL offenses. And, ala Robinson, don’t put it past Hull to start early in his career.

Most to Gain: Tyjae Spears

Spears is a polarizing prospect. I’ve been a fan of his for years – when he flashes, hide your eyes or you’ll temporarily lose your vision. This past year, those flashes turned into consistent production.

The never-Spears camp will say he’s a durability concern (ACL in 2020). They’ll say he has a skinny build that may not be able to handle the full load. They’ll say he has questionable third-down utility besides, and that he has no special-teams experience.

With running backs, there’s a natural element to the best ones. An innate ability. Something that cannot be taught, something they couldn’t explain after the fact if they tried. Poetry in motion. You know it when you see it. Spears has that.

He’s super explosive. He’s eyes-in-his-ear-holes instinctive. He makes the correct decisions at high speeds like a NASCAR driver. He consistently clowns defenders in the open field. I can’t tell you how many times last season I saw him leave an open-field defender on the ground who didn’t come close to getting a finger on him.

Tyjae Spears plays his position like a boxer. A jab is not a jab – it is setting up the hook, or an upper-cut.

And it’s not just on any given run. Watch any of his games start-to-finish from last year. Notice how he’ll offer certain looks early. And then use the doubt introduced into the defender’s head to set up his next open-field subterfuge.

Spears does not slow down as the game progresses. But his opponents do, and they additionally become progressively more unsure of their decisions against him in space. Their feet tend to get stuck to the turf or tied into knots as Spears introduces his newest Guitar Hero flurry.

Spears isn’t a clean prospect. He’s just a natural one. That’s why he has as much on the line as any back heading into Mobile. He’s not going to convert the never-Spears camp. That shouldn’t be the goal. The goal is to get evaluators who already like his game to fall head-over-heels.

Mystery Man: Roschon Johnson

Had Johnson signed anywhere else coming out of high school, we’d have seen so much more of him the past few years. But at Texas, he played second-fiddle behind demigod Bijan Robinson.

This may not be a bad thing for his next-level outlook: Johnson doesn’t have the wear-and-tear that other collegiate backs enter the NFL with. The 6-foot-2, 223-pound Johnson was a different sort of back than Robinson.

Whereas Bijan is a joystick mover, Johnson is a one-cut back semi. A towering back, Johnson gets a good vantage point of the line of scrimmage, and he uses that for a full-spectrum shot of his options.

He’s a patient runner who lets his linemen do their jobs. When he sees an opening, he makes his cut, shows strong short-area burst for a big fella, and hits the hole with authority. Ala Brian Robinson or Rhamondre Stevenson, Johnson has the footwork to make an over-leveraged defender miss, and the power to put them on their back if they don’t bring their lunch pail. Johnson’s athleticism will also sneak up on you – multiple times in college he hurdled a defender and kept trucking upfield.

Johnson showed a little more as a receiver in 2022, but at this time, he’s only a dump-off and run-after-the-catch guy in that regard. Johnson’s real utility on passing downs is in pass-pro. He’ll throw his body around and drop a linebacker.

Was Johnson overlooked because of his college situation? Was he flattered because of it? Is Johnson a complimentary back at the next level? Could he be a lead back? The big fella often got work when the defense was gassed from chasing Bijan around.

It’ll be interesting watching Johnson on even footing in Mobile.

2023 Senior Bowl Wide Receiver Preview

Most to Prove: Nathaniel Dell

We have plenty of tape on Tank Dell. And plenty of awesome tape. He lit up the AAC for 228 receptions over the past three years.

What Delle has to prove to scouts in Mobile is that he can win at his size in the NFL. Dell was listed at 5’10/155 but is assuredly shorter. But boy can he play.

Houston lined him up all over the place, but Dell will be a slot receiver in the NFL. He’s going to be very tricky for nickel defenders to stay with at the next level. Assuredly, NFL defensive backs will try to bully Dell at the line. On the reps they don’t have success, they’re in trouble.

Similar in size to Tutu Atwell, I’m concerned that Dell will be pigeon-holed as the same player. He’s not. At Louisville, Atwell was more of a two-trick pony in terms of utility. He either caught a screen and tried to create, or he was running a fly route. Defenses weren’t scared of Atwell in the intermediate sector.

Dell’s game has more nuance. He is not as straight-line fast, but he is more skilled, and the objectively superior route-runner. In 2021, Dell posted a PFF receiving grade of 90+ at all four receiving depths. Last season, the only one he failed to do so was behind the line of scrimmage. In two-of-Atwell’s-three seasons on campus, he posted a 90+ grade at only one-of-four depths. The other season, his best, he did it in three-of-four.

Even at his size, Dell comes to the NFL as a proven killer at every sector of the collegiate field. And Dell’s jumbo production was no fluke. In two games against P5 teams this past season as a marked man on Houston’s offense, Dell posted a combined 13-196-1 receiving line.

In 2020, in two games against P5 teams and a third against Cincinnati’s CFP team that featured Sauce Gardner, Coby Bryant, and Bryan Cook in the secondary, Dell posted a cumulative 26-382-2 receiving line in those three games. In sum, over those five games, Dell had 39 catches for 582 yards and three TD. All five of those teams went to a bowl.

College football couldn’t find anybody to cover the guy. Tank Dell is going to ask the Senior Bowl: Did you?

Most to Gain: Puka Nacua

Nacua flies in a bit under-the-radar because of a star-crossed career. He was a ballyhooed four-star recruit who signed with Washington. And while he saw the field immediately as a true frosh and flashed, he broke his foot.

The next year, on a dreadful offensive unit, Nacua again flashed, but appeared in only three games during the COVID-shortened season. So, in advance of the 2020 season, Nacua transferred to BYU.

Nacua made it through 12 games during a strong 2021 campaign, but was dogged by a pair of nagging injuries that cost him multiple games in 2022. He decided to declare for the draft anyway.

A fortified outside receiver (6’2/205) that BYU had great fun using on gadget plays, Nacua has a diverse skillset. He’s more dangerous with the ball in his hands than most receivers in this class who are this size.

Evaluators will fall in love with the way he plays. It’s full-go all the time – whether he has the ball, whether he’s blocking, whether he’s playing special teams, it doesn’t matter. And this perhaps explains the collegiate injuries – his staff wanted to get Nacua the ball, Nacua wanted the ball, and even on plays Nacua didn’t get it, Nacua had his foot on the gas pedal looking for more work. That’s something to keep an eye on long-term.

Short-term, in Mobile, it’s Nacua’s fleshed-out skillset and exuberance for the game that should carry the day and open eyes.

Mystery Man: Andrei Iosivas

If Evan Hull is a pet favorite of DBro and I’s, Iosivas is our veritable Senior Bowl crush. Perhaps it was written in the stars after Christian Watson stole each of our hearts in Mobile last year.

Watson is my comp for Iosivas heading into Senior Bowl week. Iosivas’ thumbnail bio will explain to you why: 6’3/205. Track star. Feldman Freak Lister. FCS All-American. Sound like anyone you know?

A native Hawaiian, Iosivas (pronounced “Yoshi-vas”) has vertical-jumped 39 inches in the past. He believes he could run in the 4.2s at the NFL Combine.

Not just a burner, Iosivas also shows soft hands and a my-ball ethos downfield on tape. At the FCS level, he was a threat to take it to the house from anywhere on the field if you hit him on the hands in stride. His speed is one thing on a television screen – it’s quite another on the field itself, where it regularly erases angles.

Two areas for Iosivas to flesh out for evaluators in Mobile: route-running and physicality. His breakneck speed toggles significantly down out of breaks before requiring multiple steps to build back up. At the next level, this will allow defensive backs to crowd him at the catch point.

Iosivas was also a matador run blocker in the FCS. He has the frame for marginal improvement in this area if he wants it. Senior Bowl week would be a good opportunity to show coaches he isn’t allergic to contact.

2023 Senior Bowl Tight End Preview

Most to Prove: Will Mallory

I’m almost all the way out on Will Mallory. His last shot to keep my interest comes in Mobile.

I cover college football in the fall, and play in way too many college fantasy football leagues – including dynasty formats. Mallory was a big buy back in 2019. I followed his career closely.

Solid frame. Moves well. Seemingly has skill. But lean in and I’ll tell you the dirty little secret about Will Mallory: He’s a receiving-only tight end who struggles to catch the ball downfield or with a defender anywhere in his vicinity.

There are tight ends in this class who never got the opportunity. Mallory can’t claim that. Over five years on campus, he played 2,555 snaps. Mallory caught 115 balls over that time. Only 31 of them came more than nine yards downfield, on 63 targets. Five times he dropped catchable balls.

Mallory struggles in traffic. Over his career, Mallory is 13-for-34 (38.2%) in contested opportunities. And let me repeat: The vast majority of his opportunities came within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.

Oh, and, Mallory is one of the class’ worst blockers. He’s a fifth-year entrant who has never been even mediocre in this area. Hope for improvement in this area dies here.

If Mallory doesn’t arrive in Mobile showing an ability to test the seam or catch the ball in traffic, I’m sorry, he’d hit the dustbin for me. Here’s the best I can do to drum up hope in that regard: Last season, Mallory was 3-for-5 on targets 20+ yards downfield, including 3-for-4 in contested situations. Those are great percentages. But it’s also a very small sample size in his fifth-year on campus.

We need to see more of that in Mobile. Because if a player’s only NFL utility is being spoon-fed line of scrimmage targets, he had better run faster than the 4.6s.

Most to Gain: Luke Musgrave

Easy choice, here. Thin tight end crop in Mobile this year. And Musgrave is the only one with any shot whatsoever to crack Round 1. Musgrave has a three-step plan to crack Round 1 in April.

  • Dominate the on-field drills in Mobile.
  • Go ballistic in testing at the NFL Combine.
  • Answer any other open question at Pro Day.

That’s the path. Let’s tackle why each is crucial.

On-field drills in Mobile: Scouts have only 13 starts of Musgrave to pour over, in part because he got hurt last season in what was expected to be his coming-out party. Musgrave caught only 47 balls in college. His drills will be scrutinized closer than any other player in his position group.

Go ballistic in testing at the NFL Combine: Musgrave is seen by several respected voices in the industry as a top-5 TE heading into the process. That is almost exclusively due to his athleticism and perceived upside. Musgrave must prove it in Indianapolis.

Answer any other other open question at Pro Day: Any worse-than-expected test at the NFL Combine, Musgrave must hit expectations with his second chance. It goes without saying that Musgrave must ace interviews throughout the process, but it is assumed that the nephew of Bill will do so.

The odds of the above happening are slim. But the scenario is in play. Musgrave’s work begins in Mobile. Few prospects have as much on the line as he does.

Mystery Man: Josh Whyle

Nobody really fits for this category in the tight end group, so we’ll force Whyle, who had 88 receptions over five years on campus but was never a featured component of the offense.

During the 10-game 2020 COVID season, PFF graded his work an elite 90.9, including an even-more elite 92.9 receiving grade. Whyle snagged a superb 82.4% of his 34 targets and cashed them in for a six TD. He came down with all three contested targets thrown his way.

The odd thing is he’s never approached those heights since. He’s always been a solid blocker, though that aspect of his game may play down at the next level because he’s a sky-scraper, not a dump-truck. He can wall off nickel defenders but will get bullied by power EDGE rushers.

The upshot is this: Is Whyle athletic enough to win as a 6-foot-7 big slot in the NFL? Is he strong enough to trust as a sub-250 pound inline? Or is he a Quadruple-A tweener?

2023 Senior Bowl Offensive Linemen Preview

Most to Prove: Jaelyn Duncan

Duncan is a classic traits-versus-production tackle. As such, he stands to make a lot of money over the next few months with a big pre-draft process – or lose a lot with the opposite.

Here’s what you like: Extremely experienced. Four-year starter. Career 2,631 snaps, with all but 10 of them coming at left tackle. Well-built (6’6/330). Quick-footed big man who isn’t getting beaten with speed around the edge. Mobility plays in the run game, a two-level climber who is a threat to linebackers. Admirable leg drive in this facet when he gets his cleavers into you.

Here’s what you don’t: Duncan’s technique comes and goes, mostly because he doesn’t consistently marry his lower- and upper-halves. Duncan minds his base up until the contact point, at which point he’ll sometimes abandon it to lurch into contact, throwing off his balance.

He doesn’t appear to have great length – long-levered edge-rushers consistently get their hands on him first – and may have taken on this bad habit in an attempt to bridge a gap that cannot be closed. When his base is sound, his hands can be used to control opponents. Too often when it’s not, his hands are relegated to helping him try to play catch-up, a losing strategy.

In the run game, his best reps he looks like a priority target for zone teams, on his worst he’ll frustrate you – Duncan has a habit of hunting high, and he rarely re-sets to recoil into contact, similarly lunging down into it, which allows some defenders to matador him, others to slip him like a bad first date.

Duncan’s inconsistency can be seen both game-to-game and season-to-season on tape and in his game grades. In his first full season as starter, in 2019, he posted a ghastly 40.9 PFF grade. The next year, enormous strides, with a 71.2 grade, and, the next year, in 2021, even more, with a 71.8 grade. But last year, more bad habits started to crop back into his game, and Duncan regressed to a 61.7 grade. He allowed seven sacks, matching that 2019 season.

Duncan is a high-variance prospect that some are going to love and some are going to hate. This is a very, very big week for him. Scouts will have a spotlight on him during one-on-one drills.

Most to Gain: Nick Saldiveri

Saldiveri allowed zero sacks and only two QB hits over 455 pass-pro reps this past season. Coming from Old Dominion, he now steps onto the big stage against high-end prospects.

A right tackle for the Monarchs who dabbled a little at guard, Saldiveri likely will be viewed as an NFL guard due to his lack of length.

He’ll shine in one-on-one pass-pro drills in Mobile – this is where scouts will fall in love with him. Saldiveri has an intuitive sense for this work. It’s difficult to get him off-balance or to fool him. Not the heaviest anchor, but Saldiveri’s wide-base and play-balance give him sufficient ammunition to deal with bull-rushers. On the edge in college, Saldiveri was happy to shuffle the arc-to-nowhere with defenders who chose the long way.

Assuming he gets guard work in Mobile, I’ll be watching how Saldiveri deals with defensive tackles in the run game. Saldiveri gets after it each rep, but power EDGEs could stymie him, slowing his leg churn to a halt. And while Saldiveri showed the ability to consistently get to the target shoulder in the run game at the line of scrimmage, his accuracy percentage with fleeter-footed linebackers at the second-level was mediocre. While Saldiveri posted an elite 85.1 PFF pass-blocking grade last fall, his mediocre run-blocking grade of 61.5 showed he still has plenty of work to do in this area.

Saldiveri’s mission in Mobile: Show out in every available pass-pro rep, and show that you’ve begun to make strides as a run blocker.

Mystery Man: Cody Mauch

Your leader in the clubhouse to be this process’ most-beloved personality. Mauch’s gap-toothed smile, flowing red hair, and first-down celebrations in Fargo made him a fan-favorite.

Around the nation, North Dakota State’s strength and conditioning program is renowned for being one of the nation’s best. Mauch is its most-recent success story. Mauch walked-on as a tight end, and, over the next six years, gained 80 pounds as he developed into a legitimate NFL offensive line prospect.

Though he played tackle in the FCS, Mauch is likely headed to guard at the next level, like Saldiveri. In Mauch’s case, that’s because, despite his ample athleticism and skillset, he never became elite in pass-pro at the FCS level as his technique lagged behind.

There are a few issues in that regard. One he can’t help: Mauch lacks length. Long EDGE rushers get into his pads and can steer him like a wheel. He doesn’t help his cause with his hand usage when he has use of them, depriving himself of both power and control by letting them fly outside his frame.

Inside, and with further technical work, these issues will quiet down.

Where Mauch excels is in the run game. This is where his former-TE athleticism shines brightest, and where his goofy happy-go-lucky style of carnage comes to the fore. Mauch gets onto linebacker’s doorsteps in the second-level while they’re still diagnosing.

There were plays he’d have the defender looking up at the Fargo Dome ceiling without ever knowing where the ball had gone. Mauch’s quickness, pursuit angles, leverage, attitude and understanding of assignment will play in a zone-based system.


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