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Senior Bowl Day 1 Practice Recap: Risers, Fallers & Takeaways (2024)

Senior Bowl Day 1 Practice Recap: Risers, Fallers & Takeaways (2024)

Day 1 of Senior Bowl practices is in the books, and several players are already standing out for one reason or another. These drills, especially the 1-on-1 passing drills, favor the offense, and that’s important perspective to keep in mind when evaluating these practices. Here are the top takeaways from Thor Nystrom, Derek Brown, and Eric Froton after Day 1.

2024 NFL Draft Guide

Senior Bowl Day 1 Practice Recap

Quarterbacks

It was a rough day for the quarterbacks in general. Bo Nix spent most of the morning session checking-down. Nix struggled in the rare instances he’d throw downfield, with several errant throws. Similarly, concerns we already had about Michael Penix Jr.’s game cropped their head during Tuesday’s morning session. When pressured quickly, Penix struggled to both make a quick-decision and then evade the first rusher. In college, you beat Penix by moving him off his spot. He looked like the exact same guy on Tuesday.

Here were my scouting reports on each heading into the week:

Michael 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 him 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.”
Bo 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. 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.”

– Thor Nystrom

FALLER: Bo Nix (Oregon)

Nix didn’t do anything to help himself on Day 1. He had shoddy ball placement on any throw that was over 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. In a collegiate offense that catered to quick passing while asking very little of Nix as a downfield thrower or creator outside of structure, Nix didn’t help his NFL Draft stock. Once he misfired a few times, Nix stuck to check-downs for much of the rest of the afternoon. Currently, any of the first-round NFL Draft buzz he has received is not deserved.
Derek Brown

Bo Nix owned the highest completion rate in the nation with the most touchdown passes and the second lowest sack rate, showing his command of the QB position at Oregon. He only took 2.44 seconds on average to get the ball out of his hands (4th fastest in FBS) and owned the best PFF passing grade under pressure in the country at a scorching 91.2. While Nix had OU’s quick-read offense on lock, he only threw downfield 11% of the time which was the lowest deep rate in the country. I have questions about his ability to throw receivers open downfield and layer his passes, and his showing on Day 1 of the Senior Bowl did little to alleviate those concerns. In team drills, he had WR Devontez Walker wide open on a 15-yard crossing route that he airmailed over Walker’s head. Three plays later they ran the exact same concept, only this time with Roman Wilson instead of Walker as the receiver, with Nix short-hopping the ball to a wide-open Wilson. I will be intently watching Nix’s downfield passing acumen over the next two days.
Eric Froton

FALLER: Joe Milton (Tennessee)

Milton was a human shotgun on Day 1, spraying scattershot bee bees all over the yard. Milton has a cannon for an arm, but no clue where the ball will end up once it leaves his hand. He also looked a step slow today, which I can give him a pass for working with new teammates, but it was already a question I had on his eval as he is a step slow on the trigger on plenty of his film reps. If you are a Milton believer and had hopes that he could climb into the second-round conversation of the NFL Draft, this day didn’t help to reaffirm that hope.
Derek Brown

The quarterback play wasn’t much better in the afternoon. Tennessee QB Joe Milton, in particular, struggled. His big arm was once again rendered useless, as Milton’s accuracy beyond 10 yards was all over the place. Concerns I had about accuracy, pocket presence, and decision-making were not answered. Milton instead became conservative on Tuesday, perhaps sagely deciding not to risk displaying his arm strength for fear that he didn’t know where the ball would wind up. As I wrote in my pre-Senior Bowl notes: “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.”
– Thor Nystrom

FALLER: Sam Hartman (Notre Dame)

The third quarterback of the morning group, Notre Dame’s Sam Hartman, failed to seize an opportunity with Penix and Nix struggling. The lack of zip in Hartman’s arm stands out even more when throwing beside Penix and Nix. Hartman needs to impress with his accuracy and decision-making this week. The accuracy wasn’t great on Tuesday, and Hartman fumbled multiple snaps.

Hartman more or less looked like the guy I thought he was heading into the week. Here were my notes on him: “Small pocket-passer with oodles of experience — took 4,116 snaps in college over six seasons. Hartman has a middling arm, and he isn’t much of an athlete. When kept clean, he’s a solid rhythm thrower who can move an offense by attacking the intermediate sector of the field. Hartman proved this season, in transitioning from Wake Forest to Notre Dame, that he wasn’t strictly a product of Wake’s slow-mesh ‘Clawfense.’ However, he emphatically did not prove that he has solved his issues with pressure. In 2022, his clean pocket PFF grade of 93.1 dropped off a shelf to 49.8 under pressure. In 2023, in his new digs, similar story, with a clean pocket grade of 92.7 plummeting to 35.4 under pressure. Hartman tends to make throw-the-remote-at-the-TV boneheaded decisions under pressure, whether that is glitching and standing still and becoming a sitting duck, or whether that’s simply chucking it to the guy he was looking at, covered or not. Hartman is not physically gifted enough to struggle this badly under pressure. In the NFL, they will dial it up even more.”
Thor Nystrom

Running Backs

RISER: MarShawn Lloyd (USC)

Lloyd looked explosive while running mean. Day 1 had some surprising contact during team drills, which allowed the running backs to flash some of their physical attributes on runs, which is a Lloyd calling card. Where Lloyd opened some eyes big time was in the receiving game. Lloyd ran a wheel route to conclude practice, where he earned separation down the sideline against a defender and capped it with a nice basket catch. Lloyd’s rushing ability should not be questioned at all, but his receiving upside was fair game.
– Derek Brown

USC RB MarShawn Lloyd showed off his slashing ability in running drills. And, encouragingly, he looked smooth as a receiver.

Lloyd has a tantalizing combination of make-you-miss and power, which led to easily the highest elusive rating amongst Senior Bowl backs last season. He shows adequate patience approaching the line of scrimmage, and is emphatic once he makes a decision. Lloyd has a good sense for cutback lanes. Thick lower body is a loaded-spring that snaps arm tackle attempts. Good balance — ricochets away from off-angle attempts and keeps trucking. Very tough kid who doesn’t quit on a run until you have him dead to rights. He’s not a burner, but speed is adequate. As a pure runner, he’s NFL starting-caliber. Where Lloyd needs to improve is on passing downs. His collegiate offenses didn’t feature RBs in the passing game, and this area of his development hasn’t progressed as far as others. He did, however, show notable improvement in 2023. He also wasn’t asked to pass-block much in college — less than 100 reps over three seasons — and was very hit-and-miss in the small sample.
Thor Nystrom

I was encouraged to see Marshawn Lloyd check in at a swole 217 pounds considering the burst he shows when hitting the hole on tape, and power that he taps into when it’s time to lower his shoulder and thump someone. With a 41% broken tackle rate, 4.35 YAC average and sky-high 177.1 PFF elusiveness rating, it’s pretty well established that Lloyd can be an asset between the tackles. However Lloyd hit the defense with a scintillating wheel route during the team scrimmage period that brought the crowd to their feet before ending the entire practice session with a bang by toasting an opposing linebacker for a deep completion in the final 1-on-1’s. He came into the Senior Bowl on the periphery of the Top-5, but Lloyd is likely entrenched now that I’ve seen him excel in the one area of his game I was concerned about.
Eric Froton

RISER: Rasheen Ali (Marshall)

Marshall RB Rasheen Ali looked a little bouncier on the practice field after a disappointing 2023.

Ali didn’t look like the same player after missing most of the 2022 season to tend to a mental health issue. He didn’t have the same bounce or burst on 2023 film. Over the past two seasons at Marshall, he’s been a station-to-station back who gets what’s blocked for him but not much more. Ali has never been much of a pass-blocker, and he’s a mediocre receiver. I was down on him coming into the event after he fumbled five times and ran with less oomph in 2023. But today was a step in the right direction.
Thor Nystrom

FALLER: Emani Bailey (TCU)

With Bailey being on the slighter side of the running back weight scale, for him to garner some hype or hope at the next level, he needed to look explosive in Mobile, but after one day of practice, that wasn’t the case. Bailey looked more like the back who has ranked 40th or lower in breakaway percentage over the last two collegiate seasons (per PFF). He wasn’t eye-popping in any of the 1-on-1 drills or the agility drills. This day could be considered a push for him by many as he didn’t get crushed in any one facet, but as a guy who needed to make some noise on Day 1, he walked away from it with a quiet outing.
Derek Brown

2024 NFL Draft Guide

Wide Receivers

RISER: Luke McCaffrey (Rice)

McCaffrey’s easy separation skills on short and intermediate routes showed up on Day 1 of Senior Bowl practice. McCaffrey did have problems when he was asked to stretch the field on a go ball, but that’s not his strong suit, which was easily evident from his film. McCaffrey proved on Day 1 today that he can be a trusted underneath asset for an NFL passing attack.
Derek Brown

RISER: Roman Wilson (Michigan)

Wilson got open at will with his quick first step and fluid hips. He easily won each of his 1-on-1 reps, consistently dusting corners with a combination of easy speed and route nuance. I was surprised by his physicality through his routes. That was an area I dinged him on coming into the Senior Bowl. Wilson was THE winner from Day 1 as he looked uncoverable.
– Derek Brown

Michigan WR Roman Wilson was one of the biggest winners from Tuesday’s practice sessions. Nobody could cover him. Wilson consistently separated in drills, providing the quarterbacks with easy completions. He looked both explosive and smooth, a hallmark of his film.

A sleek, fluid athlete, Wilson has all the speed and quicks you’d want out of the slot. Assignment-minded player who Michigan’s NFL staff greatly trusted. His lack of size and strength will relegate him mostly to slot duties in the NFL. He’s going to be a good one. Squirty, bursty route-runner who is tough to stay with one-on-one. Capable of making plays downfield. Finds open spots against zone and squats for quarterback quickly. A gnat of a blocker — won’t overpower anyone, but doesn’t shirk any assignment, and forces you to go through him. Very reliable hands — only one drop, and zero fumbles during Michigan’s 2024 title run (two and zero, respectively, in 2023). Doesn’t break many tackles and isn’t a huge YAC threat. Not great in contested situations, but has the concentration and hands to make tough catches in congested quarters.
Thor Nystrom

RISER: Ricky Pearsall (Florida)

Florida WR Ricky Pearsall’s route-running polish stood out Tuesday morning. Especially compared to some of the raw route-runners we saw at the WR position, Pearsall looked like an old pro. He wasn’t perfect, slipping on a few routes, but overall he had a strong day.

Pearsall is a mediocre athlete with exceptional hands (86.8 PFF hands grade in 2023). He spears balls outside frame on the move with regularity. Multiple one-handed highlight catches on campus. Extremely reliable with anything inside his frame. Shows cleverness on routes. Understands coverage designs and will modify path to get himself into open grass against zone concepts. Keeps working on extended plays to freelance himself open. Not the most sudden feet, but uses head/shoulder fakes with a hard-cut to coax false steps out of opponents at the top of routes and separate. Shows good spacial awareness and body control near sidelines. Exemplary concentration — will take a shot across the middle to complete a catch. Showed collegiate versatility to swap interchangeably between the slot and boundary. Likely an NFL slot due to lack of juice. But toughness and hands should play in slot at next level.
Thor Nystrom

RISER: Ladd McConkey (Georgia)

WR Ladd McConkey was easily the most impressive receiver on the American team during the afternoon practice session. He was gaining separation at will during one-on-ones and during the team session. So much so that we observed defensive backs, at the end of one-on-ones, begin to play off him, freely ceding short completions so Ladd wouldn’t dust them intermediate or deep.

McConkey is going to be a very good chain-moving NFL slot receiver — immediately. He played three-quarters of his snaps on the boundary the last two years, but that was a function of UGA’s 2-TE system. McConkey drives off the line and gets up the field quickly. Capable of threatening the seam and making plays downfield. He’s extremely sudden into and out of route breaks, probably his best trait. Consistently finds himself open. Was 93rd percentile in separation percentage. That’s good, because McConkey is mediocre in contested situations. Devilishly clever against zone coverage. The agility plays with the ball in his hands — he’ll make you miss in the open field. Runs very hard with good vision. And while McConkey doesn’t have a huge catch radius, he’s a contortionist at the catch point, someone who will drop to his knees for poorly thrown balls, or grab balls outside his frame on the move.
Thor Nystrom

RISER: Ryan Flournoy (Southeast Missouri State)

A 6’1/200-pound wideout from relatively unknown Southeast Missouri State, Ryan Flournoy was the heartbeat of the SE Mizzou St. wide receiver corps, reeling in 59-of-96 targets for 825 yards and seven touchdowns in just nine games this season. Despite being unheralded, Flournoy proved he belonged by bringing in an array of contested catches and clean routes that led to him having a major impact on the American Team’s offense. He logged 85% of his career snaps on the outside and broke an astounding 24 tackles on just 58 receptions this season, showing off his advanced YAC-ability. If Flournoy continues to excel over the next two days, expect to see his name called on Day 3 of the NFL Draft.
Eric Froton

FALLER: Jacob Cowing (Arizona)

If you had any questions about Cowing’s ability to play the perimeter and win against physical coverage, Day 1 of Senior Bowl practice confirmed your priors. If you sat more on the fence with that idea or believed (like me) that Cowing’s size was less of a concern and he could defeat press or tough coverage with footwork and speed, you’re now questioning your evaluation. Cowing had a quiet first day of practice as he was jammed up near the line or mid-route on multiple reps where corners maintained inside leverage on him. He has to bounce back starting Day 2, or his draft stock could plummet.
Derek Brown

FALLER: Xavier Legette (South Carolina)

Legette is my biggest Day 1 loser. He looks slow and clunky in and out of his breaks. He had corners draped all over him for much of the day. Legette did earn late separation on some vertical routes with physicality at the catch point, but the rest of the day was a big L. I entered this process lower than many on Legette, and he did nothing to move the needle for me on Tuesday.
Derek Brown

FALLER: Ainias Smith (Texas A&M)

WR Ainias Smith had a rough day. His quickness wasn’t enough to free him during one-on-one routes. He got bullied off the line on multiple routes. Smith did little to dissuade from the notion that he’s a manufactured-touch slot.

Here’s what I wrote about him coming into the week: “Smith was an extremely versatile player who A&M used as an RB, WR, and returner. Profiles as NFL slot. Can be shifted around and handle some rushing load in a creative offense, along with his special teams utility. Smith is a whirling dervish with the ball in his hands. In 2023, he had 20 broken tackles on 53 receptions. Only one drop last season. Not a deep threat. Will do damage after the catch with real estate to work with. His hair-on-fire style leads to injuries, and he was often nicked-up in college. Had an arrest on DWI and weapon charges in July 2022.
Thor Nystrom

JURY STILL OUT: Johnny Wilson (Florida State)

Wilson was a love list guy for me coming into the Senior Bowl. He totally didn’t snuff out my love candle for him, but the flame in encountering a small breeze of doubt. Wilson’s film is littered with special movement skills for his size. Those moments didn’t show up on Day 1, but I won’t toss my entire eval into the trash after one day of practice. He had some good moments earning separation with his usual combination of size and athleticism, but he also looked shaky with some easy drops, which were a worry entering Mobile. In 2022, among 280 qualifying wide receivers, he ranked 41st in drops (per PFF).
– Derek Brown

Tight Ends

RISER: Theo Johnson (Penn State)

The Nittany Lions co-starter alongside fellow TE Tyler Warren, Johnson wasn’t afforded a large volume of targets but was productive when given the opportunity. Not a field stretcher, Johnson caught 2-of-5 downfield targets for a total of 46 yards and 1.26 yards per route run. Johnson made multiple high degree of difficulty receptions on Day 1 of Senior Bowl practices, with a couple of them coming with defenders draped all over him downfield. His exceptional hands in traffic is a continuation of a trend he exhibited on the collegiate gridiron, catching six-of-nine contested targets (67% catch rate) during his PSU tenure while earning a rock solid 139.9 NFL passer rating when targeted. Johnson was able to stretch the field vertically and also absorb a shot over the middle on a 10-yard square-in. With Johnson clearly positioned as the TE1 for the National team, expect his profile to continue to rise coming out of Senior Bowl practices.
– Eric Froton

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