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2024 Senior Bowl Preview & Players to Watch

2024 Senior Bowl Preview & Players to Watch

We’ll be live from Mobile, Alabama this week to cover the 2024 Senior Bowl. We’ll be getting you ready for the 2024 NFL Draft, diving deep into practices and streaming live in the evenings throughout the week. Here is my 2024 Senior Bowl Preview.

2024 Senior Bowl Preview

*Note: Players with a * below are confirmed out for the game with injury.

2024 Senior Bowl Quarterback Preview

*Note: The Senior Bowl currently sits with an uneven seven quarterbacks for its two rosters. Executive director Jim Nagy told the media recently that it’s possible that an eighth quarterback could be added to the roster in the coming days. Nagy also said he may just stick with seven.

*Note: South Alabama’s Carter Bradley says he’s healthy from the recurring knee injury that cost him the last two games of the 2023 season.

Pre-Senior Bowl QB rankings off tape…

  1. Michael Penix Jr.
  2. Bo Nix
  3. Spencer Rattler
  4. Michael Pratt
  5. Joe Milton
  6. Sam Hartman
  7. Carter Bradley

Most to Prove: Joe Milton III (Tennessee)

This is the kind of showcase that was made for Joe Milton. He will almost assuredly rise on boards after Senior Bowl week. Joe Milton might have the strongest arm for throwing a football on planet earth. At 6’5/242, Milton is such a good athlete that he can do standing backflips. In walk-through simulations, he’s going to look like a million bucks. In game conditions, it’s been another story.

Milton is a big, strapping athlete. Nicknamed “Bazooka Joe” for his rocket arm. Will provide strong rushing utility in the NFL.

The issue with Milton is you don’t know where the ball is going when it leaves his hands. Playing in one of the most proven quarterback-friendly systems in all of college football, one that offers one-on-one shots downfield on a silver platter, Milton had a big-time throw rate of 3.3 last fall, lower than noodle-armed NC State QB Brennan Armstrong.

Tennessee’s system, which cleaves the field in half and offers pre-delineated reads, didn’t help Milton’s issues under duress. Milton easily had the lowest adjusted accuracy percentage and PFF grade when blitzed of this Senior Bowl crop.

Milton has all-world tools, and for that reason is going to get drafted. But the accuracy, pocket presence, and decision-making issues that caused him to lose two starting jobs in six years – in 2020 to Cade McNamara at Michigan and in 2022 to Hendon Hooker at Tennessee – remain inherent to his game, making it all the more crucial that he has a big week .

Most to Gain: Michael Penix Jr. (Washington) and Bo Nix (Oregon)

There are three lock first-round quarterbacks: Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, and Jayden Daniels. Reasonable minds can disagree, but I believe JJ McCarthy will also ultimately go in Round 1. There are more than four NFL teams that desperately need a quarterback of the future.

Nix and Penix are going to be duking it out all process – along with McCarthy – for the QB4-6 designations. Whoever is ultimately QB4 is nearly assured of going in Round 1. It’s possible that QB5 could as well.

McCarthy will not be in Mobile. But Penix and Nix will. Not only that, but Senior Bowl czar Jim Nagy, in a delicious bit of symmetry, placed them on the same team so we could watch them throw side-by-side.

This sets up a battle royale between Penix and Nix this week for draft jockeying. Whoever wins that battle has a shot to go in Round 1. The loser probably does not.

A few thoughts on each heading into Mobile…

Penix: “Pocket-passing lefty with a live-wire arm. Engineered a cleverly-constructed Washington offense with three NFL wide receivers. Penix has the arm talent to fit the ball into tight windows – he has a highlight reel of bucket throws down the sideline, and lazering balls between multiple defenders into his receiver’s arms. Though he has an unorthodox motion, he can also get the ball out very quickly, and he doesn’t take sacks. In clean pockets, he was one of the nation’s most dangerous surgeons the past few years, calmly carving up each defense he faced. But there are also multiple red flags in his evaluation. Penix’s game craters when he is pressured and moved off his spot. This was the only reliable way to slow Washington’s offense the past few seasons, but even mediocre teams could do it if the pass-rush was up to the task. Penix lacks mobility, and his accuracy wavers when he doesn’t have his platform beneath him. For this reason, Penix is not a good fit for teams that seek mobility out of their quarterbacks, or who have a lot of bootleg concepts in their playbook. Penix also needs a sturdy offensive line in front of him. Because even though Penix doesn’t take many sacks – an admirable quality – he can be frazzled into mistakes when his first read isn’t there and heat is in his face. Washington’s offense often gave Penix a pre-delineated first read to go to, and many times he took it. When it wasn’t there, you’d see instances of ball-patting and indecision – Penix wanting to confirm a receiver was open before throwing, oftentimes leading to being a beat behind. Lastly, Penix’s accuracy comes and goes. While he has some of the prettiest throws in the class, he also has a propensity to overshoot targets. He has a lot of arm action in his delivery – lack of repeatable, natural mechanics leads to errant balls. In addition, medicals are a big concern following four-straight season-ending injuries at Indiana.”

Nix: “Former five-star dual-threat quarterback with five years starting experience. Provides strong rushing utility and will steal yards outside the pocket when you let him. Comes in off statistically dominant season (45/3 TD/INT). Nix’s accuracy numbers surged from around 60% his first three seasons at Auburn to around 75% the last two years at Oregon. He has improved as a passer, but he was also flattered by the offense he played in and the fleet of athletic playmakers that surrounded him. Last year, only three FBS quarterbacks had an average release time quicker than Nix – oftentimes, Nix was throwing to his first read immediately after the snap, be it an outside screen, a slant, or some other quick-hitting concept. His aDOT, by extension, ranked No. 93 in the FBS – two-thirds of his throws came within nine yards of the LOS. This scheme not only juiced his accuracy numbers, but it kept the ball out of harm’s way while inoculating Nix from pressure. All three of these things were issues at Auburn, and all three of them were addressed not necessarily by Nix improving as a player, but by the offensive scheme he played in. Nix has a solid arm, with heat-ring intermediate velocity throws on film. But his downfield passing has always lacked upper-level touch and accuracy, perhaps in part because he needs to throw the kitchen sink into getting it down there. The part of Nix’s improved accuracy that he can take credit for is the upper-body throwing motion – it’s very fluid and repeatable. However, his legs and feet can get a mind of their own, and when he’s errant, it’s often because the two aren’t married. At the NFL level, Nix is going to provide rushing utility, and his short-and-intermediate passing success from Oregon should more or less translate. But you can’t construct an NFL offense out of YAC yardage from quick-hitters on the perimeter like Oregon did, which means Nix is going to have to learn to stand in the pocket, survey his options longer, and pick and choose spots to attack downfield. Set to turn 24 in February, I’m dubious of his odds of becoming something in the NFL that we’ve never seen him be before.”

Mystery Man: Spencer Rattler (South Carolina)

Seems odd, doesn’t it? That for a five-star recruit that we’ve seen so much of, we still can’t quite put our finger on who Spencer Rattler actually is – or what he will become.

A short, aggressive pocket passer with a zippy arm, Rattler has plenty of experience – 2,676 snaps over five seasons. Rattler was done no favors by South Carolina’s terrible offensive line that ranked No. 107 in PFF pass block grade last year. What the NFL will appreciate about him is that he goes through his progressions and is comfortable with heat in his face. They’ll also appreciate his willingness and proven acumen testing NFL money zones, 10+ yards down the field between the hashes. Rattler prefers to play out of shotgun with the field spread, and he likes to move around to give himself better vantage points to throw. This was not a good fit behind uSC’s poor offensive line.

Rattler remains frustratingly inconsistent due to his live-by-the-sword-die-by-the-sword aggression. On days he isn’t seeing the field well and he’s running cold, he can be rotten. On days he’s feeling it, watch out. All the talent that made him the first handpicked quarterback Lincoln Riley had ever recruited out of high school and started remain. But so are the inconsistencies that lost him the job and found him at South Carolina.

2024 Senior Bowl Running Back Preview

*Note: Tennessee’s Jaylen Wright will not be attending the event due to an injury. I’m told that Wright will be fully healthy for NFL Combine testing and that the former Feldman Freak Lister intends to “put on a show.”

Pre-Senior Bowl RB Rankings:

  1. Isaiah Davis
  2. Kimani Vidal
  3. MarShawn Lloyd
  4. Ray Davis
  5. Dylan Laube
  6. Cody Schrader
  7. Michael Wiley
  8. Rasheen Ali
  9. Daijun Edwards
  10. Emani Bailey
  11. Jawhar Jordan

Most to Prove: Kimani Vidal (Troy)

Vidal has a true bowling-ball build at 5’8/220. Battering-ram style, low to the ground and hard charging in a sawed-off frame. Shifty and bouncy in tight quarters, tough to square up. Very good contact balance – not affected by off-angle attempts. Vidal’s combination of agility and power led to 92 broken tackles in 2023, No. 2 in the nation. Tackle breaking machinations include a nasty stiff-arm.

Proved he can handle bellcow usage with over 300 touches last season. Managed to remain productive against loaded boxes. A tough, assignment-sound pass-blocker. He’s also a decent receiver who had either 22 catches or 200 receiving yards in all four years on campus. Vidal is an underrated back who could form a strong combo back to Jaylen Warren, a back he resembles.

Most to Gain: Isaiah Davis (South Dakota State)

Davis was the tone-setting bellcow for South Dakota State’s dominant 15-0 FCS championship in 2023. Ludicrously productive – 4,461 yards and 49 TD on 7.0 YPC over 45 games. Different sort of back than Pierre Strong, the last Jackrabbit back to get drafted. Davis is a big, strapping back with solid agility for his size to slalom around the line of scrimmage. Very good power. Smaller defenders slide off him like a cartoon. Broke 78 tackles last season and 73 in 2022. Davis evoke Le’Veon Bell‘s patient approach behind the line, and in his smooth movement for a big man between the tackles. Accelerates quickly to the second level. Exceptional contact balance. Davis lacks home run speed and won’t provide an explosive element, but he should provide plenty of efficiency at the next level. As a receiver, he’s improved, but that area of his game needs more work. Same could be said for pass-pro, an area SDSU didn’t ask much of him in college.

Mystery Man: Dylan Laube (New Hampshire)

Laube isn’t Christian McCaffrey. He’s not in the same realm athletically, and he’s not as gifted as a runner. But he’s better than Max Borghi, he’s going to be a valued receiving back at the next level. Laube is the inverse of several runners in this class: I doubt that he will ever be the best pure runner on his NFL roster. But he’ll always be the best receiver. As a runner, Laube lacks the power to break tackles, and at the next level his speed and burst will won’t be sufficient enough to make up for that. But man is he smooth as a receiver. He gets into his routes quickly and has a fluidness to him along his path. Snaps off the breaking routes clean and with little advanced warning, and will threaten down the sidelines with haste on wheel routes if you aren’t careful. One differentiator between him and many other collegiate backs is that Laube won’t break his momentum catching the ball if you lead him. He seems to accelerate through the catch process.

2023 Senior Bowl Wide Receiver Preview

Pre-Senior Bowl WR Rankings

  1. Javon Baker
  2. Ladd McConkey
  3. Xavier Legette
  4. Jacob Cowing
  5. Johnny Wilson (as TE)
  6. Roman Wilson
  7. Luke McCaffrey
  8. Tez Walker
  9. Jamari Thrash
  10. Malachi Corley
  11. Ricky Pearsall
  12. Ainias Smith
  13. Brenden Rice
  14. Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint
  15. Ryan Flournoy
  16. Jha’Quan Jackson
  17. Jordan Whittington

Most to Prove: Luke McCaffrey (Rice) and Malachi Corley (WKU)

I’m higher on McCraffrey and lower on Corley than most. Both ripped up Conference USA.

McCraffrey has the DNA of NFL royalty coursing through his blood. But nobody is talking about him right now because he’s performed on the small stage after failing earlier in his career at quarterback. That ends this week.

At Rice, McCraffrey was a big slot who moonlighted on the boundary. Doesn’t need much space to make the catch – tape littered with catches where he caught the ball in congested quarters. Easily led this class in completed catches where his helmet flew off because of a hit. A street-fighter at the catch point – numerous plays on tape, he ripped a should-be interception away from a defender and turned it into a huge catch.

McCraffrey had a superb 17-for-28 in contested situations last year. Very strong hands. Only three drops despite being targeted 120 times in 2023. Quarterback’s best friend who will go up high and get it, or drop to the ground to fish it out. Tough kid who’ll take a hit to make the catch. Quarterback convert whose routes remain a work-in-progress – but he understands coverage concepts, and leverage. Was dangerous enough with ball in his hands that Rice would manufacture touches for him on end-arounds. Had 25 broken tackles the last two years with zero fumbles.

Corley is a manufactured-touch slot receiver coming out of an Air Raid offense where he got force-fed a high-percentage targets near the line of scrimmage. Can he show something in the route-running department in Mobile?

Corley has a thiccc build, and he’s a tank after the catch. Easily led this class with 40 broken tackles in 2022. Tremendous power and balance for a receiver as a runner – far more akin to a running back in the open field. Not a surprise, as he began his career at WKU as a RB (after initially signing as a CB). Will also give you real utility in the run game.

Corley’s ran a parred-down route tree – this area of his game needs work for him to develop into more than a gadget guy. He doesn’t show much nuance or tactical footwork along his route path when he was asked to go downfield, instead blurring where he was going and doing an unconvincing deek at the top of his stem.

Over the past two seasons, Corley had 89 catches behind the line of scrimmage — he led the nation in screen yards both times. Conversely, he caught just 15 balls 20+ yards downfield. Had a troubing 23.5% contested catch rate last year despite a 5.5 aDOT that ranked No. 495 in the FBS. Needs to be drafted by a team that will use him situationally early-on.

Most to Gain: Javon Baker (UCF)

Former five-star recruit who realized his potential after transferring to UCF. Very sudden mover who plays with unmistakable attitude. Press corners better bring their boxing gloves and their tap shoes. Varied release package with a matrix of footwork. Was a downfield killer – 17.1 aDOT – despite good-but-not-great speed, in large part because of his my-ball determination. Attacks the ball in the air and latches on, undeterred by contact.

He was unsurprisingly one of the class’ best contested catch receivers, despite the bloated aDOT, going 20-for-36 in those instances the past two years, mostly in downfield scenarios. A contortionist in the air when reeling in poorly thrown balls. Baker isn’t the most agile, but his overall routes are better than adequate, in part because he understands leverage and tempo, and in part because he can so quickly throttle into and out of route brakes.

He does a decent job stacking, but Baker’s lack of elite wheels can lead to more company at the catch point when he’s tailed from behind – this superpower of his will have to convert to the NFL to remain a downfield maven. Baker had a red-flag drop rate over 10% the past two seasons, something he needs to clean up – this is a concentration issue, as his reel of highlight grabs would attest.

Mystery Man: Devontez Walker (North Carolina)

Well-built field-stretcher. Not explosive, but has the straight-line build-up speed for downtown duties. Uses frame well and has solid ball skills, but could stand to clean up on concentration drops. Route-running is a work in progress. Played only 28 games of FBS football – only eight in the Power 5 – and did not get fully developed in systems that asked him to run parred-down route trees. Walker ran lots of go-routes and comebacks in college – fastballs and changeups – with some lazy drags near the LOS.

His routes lack pizazz and snap. Walker is going to have to hang his hat on his downfield prowess initially. And he’s got some skill in that area, including use of his fortified frame and a late-hand aptitude that delays the defensive backs’ play on the ball. He has a my-ball attitude and will fight for it. However, Walker got himself into more contested situations than he should have downfield in college because he doesn’t put the corner into conflict by splitting and then stacking him. Instead, he’d often telegraph his intention immediately and invite his man to footrace him. Walker really could have used another year in college to develop his game. As is, he’s a field-stretcher who isn’t a true burner – I see 4.5s speed on film.

2024 Senior Bowl Tight End Preview

*Note: Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy said on January 23 that Arizona’s Tanner McLachlan has been ruled out for the event after suffering an unspecified injury while training. “I obviously think it hurts him not being here because he’s not around NFL decision-makers for a week,” Nagy said. “Right now, he’s projected to be a late-round player so he certainly has a lot of room to move up in the draft. And if the injury holds him out of the process and he can’t do pro day or a workout before April, that hurts any player. Hopefully he can work through this thing and at least have a pro day.”

Pre-Senior Bowl TE Rankings:

  1. AJ Barner
  2. Ben Sinnott
  3. Theo Johnson
  4. Jaheim Bell
  5. Jared Wiley
  6. Brevyn Spann-Ford

Most to Prove: Ben Sinnott (Kansas State)

Can Sinnott prove he can hold up as an inline TE at the next level? Or at 245 pounds, will he prove to be seen as more of an H-back?

Sinnott is a high-effort combo TE with some ball skills and athletic fluidity. Sinnott got heavy snaps inline at KSU, but can also be comfortably be deployed in the slot, or offset. He’s an eager blocker who gets to work. This area of his game is already strong, and I think it will get stronger as his body matures and his technique improves. I saw a smattering of reps where Sinnott let his man run free because he lunged into the contact point, overcompensating for his lack of bulk by trying to bring more of a hammer into the collision.

But overall, Sinnott showed an aptitude for anchoring in pass-pro, picking off guys on the move, sometimes via cut blocks, and walling off his man in the run game with good ol’ fashioned grappling. Sinnott’s a solid route runner. He gets off the line quickly and shoots up the seam in the hurry. He doesn’t lose much momentum in transition on his route breaks, and shows particular utility on in-breaking stuff over the middle. Nearly half of his 2023 catches came between the hashes within 20 yards of the LOS.

Most to Gain: Johnny Wilson (Florida State)

Johnny Wilson has the most to gain this week at the tight end position – by shifting to tight end at Senior Bowl week! We saw Stanford’s Elijah Higgins do this last year for Day 3 on Thursday. It would be good for Wilson to similarly make this shift. As a big-slot move-TE, he could be the next Darren Waller. Things may not go as smoothly on the outside.

Wilson is an enormous target. He is taller and heavier than Mike Evans, Allen Lazard, and Equanimeous St. Brown. Wilson is one of the class’ best blockers – on reach and width alone, he’s exceedingly difficult to breach. Over the last two years, Wilson played nearly 90% of his snaps on the boundary. Hopefully the NFL will see him as a “big slot” hybrid. Wilson’s intimidating size can play against him on the boundary when, for instance, press corners can get under his pads and jar him towards the boundary off the line. It also very much plays against him along the route path when trying to create space, as those long legs labor to quickly change directions.

However, and it must be said — Wilson has skills you don’t see in players this big, including a dynamic release package that mostly freed him from press bullies. Wilson has strong north-south athleticism for a big man – you don’t have to squint to envision him being a nightmare down the seam, and when you play him off, you leave yourself susceptible to him screeching on the breaks and coming back to the ball, something he’s surprisingly good at for a tall oak.

Wilson was a productive collegiate receiver (2.52 YPRR) with obvious utility down the field, something his elevated yearly aDOT figures spoke to (14.4 career). But he continues to have issues with drops – his 12.8% career drop rate is a big red flag. I’m spooked by the profile if forced to play traditional WR at the next level. Wilson’s collegiate numbers were eerily similar to Hakeem Butler’s at Iowa State – Butler had a career 12.7% drop rate on 14.5 aDOT and 2.59 YPRR.

Mystery Man: Brevyn Spann-Ford (Minnesota)

In 2022, Spann-Ford had 42 catches and a 6.7% drop rate while posting an elite 90.0 PFF grade and 82.1 receiving grade. In 2023, Spann-Ford dropped nine balls – with a stupefying 26.5% drop rate – while catching only 25 balls. His overall PFF grade plummeted to 52.5, with an unsightly 45.9 receiving grade.

He’s a big, hulking inline tight end at 6’7/270. Spann-Ford is a true extension of the run game. He comes from an extremely run-heavy system at Minneota where his job, first and foremost, was to block. He’s really good at it, with mini-OT traits both latching and driving in the run game, and sitting back and anchoring in pass-pro.

In 2023, Spann-Ford unfortunately looked like a mini-OT out on his routes, too, lumbering around. He doesn’t have the same feel for the work that he does for blocking. On one rep I observed where Spann-Ford was asked to pick on a crossing concept, I saw charge at the crossing defender with his arms extended as though to block him. He indeed hit the defender, drawing an immediate flag, and jawing from the opponent. Spann-Ford didn’t gain a lick separation in 2023, a season in which his hands became a serious question mark. Can Spann-Ford bounce back in Mobile?

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