Full 2023 Senior Bowl Practice Recap
By: PFF Analyst, Trevor Sikkema
• Stanford WR Michael Wilson: The 6-foot-2, 210-pound receiver played in just 14 games over the past three seasons due to injury but flashed his top-class understanding and execution of route running throughout the week.
• Iowa State EDGE Will McDonald IV: At 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, he’s a lighter edge rusher whose strength is his speed, which he showed throughout the week during one-on-ones and team drills.
• Tulane RB Tyjae Spears: Although it's difficult for running backs to truly showcase their skill sets in the All-Star game practices, Spears stands out above the rest.
The Reese’s Senior Bowl is here, and if you’re all in on their slogan, you’ve heard the draft begins in Mobile. Senior Bowl is a great time to evaluate some of the best upperclassmen from around the country in the current draft class. It’s a unique way of seeing how players perform outside of their systems and coaching staffs they’ve gotten so familiar with over the years. Being able to stand out early is a good indicator of natural ability, and a good sign of a draft prospect's stock improving.
Here are PFF’s standout performers from each day of practice:
Wright came into Senior Bowl week as one of the notable names. As a top-50 player on PFF’s big board, Wright had a fringe chance to be a consistent first-round player in our projections. After a fantastic first practice, it feels the first round for him is much more likely than not.
Wright was one of the top right tackles in college football last season, and what stood out Tuesday was his strength and mentality. He loves contact and dictating reps. If you need an offensive tackle in the back of the first round, he can be your guy.
Benton seems to be a riser in this draft class as draft media compares his reps to those of the other interior defensive linemen. At Wisconsin, he was lined up at nose tackle quite a bit, which naturally brings an assumption that he’s just a run-stuffer. He can certainly do that, but as you see in the clip below, he boasts quick hands and some pass-rush potential that looked unblockable for most of the first practice.
All bad puns aside, the 6-foot-8, 370-pound right tackle from Ohio State stood out among his peers Tuesday. In the clip below, you can see one of his wins in the run-blocking drill, but there were plenty of other wins for him in pass protection, too.
As you would expect for a player of his size, footwork can sometimes be an issue, but that size and length (almost a 90-inch wingspan) was too much for every defender he faced. He impressed a lot of people on Day 1 (including Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin).
Wilson was likely not high on many media and fan radars going into the week, but on Tuesday he showed that’s not due to a lack of talent and ability.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound receiver played in just 14 games over the past three seasons due to injury. At Senior Bowl practice, he flashed his top-class understanding and execution of route running. He absolutely turned some heads, especially with the route shown above. Look for him to be one of the biggest risers all week.
OTHER NOTES FROM DAY 1
• It was a warmup day for the quarterbacks throwing to new receivers with new plays to execute, but TCU’s Max Duggan did seem to be the best of the bunch, making some nice throws deeper down the field during the latter portions of practice.
• It wasn’t the best day for Florida guard O’Cyrus Torrence on the practice field (it certainly wasn’t bad, just ups and down), but he looks to be in great shape. He carried a lot of weight at Florida to play on the interior and seems to have shaped up his body with potentially better mobility and even more strength.
• Kansas State cornerback Julius Brents was another big winner from Day 1 of practice. He measured in at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds and looked like one of the top cover cornerbacks out there. It’s a deep cornerback class, but he could be another riser.
• Tyrique Stevenson from Miami was a big winner on the day. His aggressive style of play (in a good way) had him blanketing receivers for most of the session. He is another cornerback who strengthens this class with physical play and press coverage ability.
• North Dakota State offensive lineman Cody Mauch had a good first day of practice. The former tight end who gained almost 70 pounds to play tackle at NDSU was playing inside at guard on Day 1. Despite being lighter in size than most interior offensive linemen, Mauch held up well with good feet and a good ability to work his hands in order to anchor. It was a great sign that he could be a starting-caliber player in the NFL when he puts on more weight and strength.
• Houston wide receiver Tank Dell’s athleticism seemed unmatched from either wide receiver group. He measured in at 5-foot-8 and 163 pounds, so size will always be a talking point of his scouting report. But his stop-and-start ability looked uncoverable at times. He is so quick to get into his top speed, and maybe even more impressive was his ability to swiftly stop on a dime during his routes. He created constant separation all day, a theme that should continue throughout the week.
WR NATHANIEL “TANK” DELL, HOUSTON
It was the second day in a row that Dell’s athleticism stood out. He measured in at 5-foot-8 and 163 pounds, so you figure if defensive backs can get their hands on him, he won’t be able to handle the physicality. The problem is no defensive back has really been able to get their hands on him in that way, and he’s made them pay in both one-on-ones and the full-team scrimmages. With as much dynamic ability as he has, he feels like a player who is a Day 2 lock, and one whose stock is trending more and more toward being a second-round pick.
EDGE WILL MCDONALD IV, IOWA STATE
McDonald is another player stacking good days at the Senior Bowl. At 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, he’s a lighter edge rusher whose strength is his speed. In the clip below, he went up against Tennessee offensive tackle Darnell Wright, who has been one of the best offensive tackles at the event so far. But on that rep, and the one before it, McDonald got the better of him.
If you need a speed rusher in this class, McDonald should be on your list, and his success at the Senior Bowl might even raise his stock to the first round.
It’s tough for running backs to really show their skills during the practices of All-Star events. In games, they are allowed to fight through contact and really do their jobs to the fullest. But with limited contact in practices, it’s tough to really showcase what teams will want to see from you. Well, no one told Tyjae Spears that because he has still been turning heads all week. His one-cut ability is deadly for opposing defenses, often leaving tacklers in the dust, like in the play below. It’s a loaded running back class, but some NFL team is getting a good one in Spears.
We talked about Stanford’s Michael Wilson a lot in the Day 1 recap, but we had to give him another shoutout on Day 2 for likely bringing us the play of the day. Wilson was once again able to show such a great understanding of how to win at the position with successful separation in his release, the nuances of running a route in a way that gives you an advantage, and then the athletic ability to cut and gain speed. He was another winner on Day 2.
OTHER NOTES FROM DAY 2
• Minnesota center John Michael-Schmitz continues to impress. His mentality is welcomed, flashing good physicality and pride in the one-on-one portions of practice, and he’s also showing he can be a great blocker in space. He is solidifying his OC1 status in Mobile.
• It was good practice for Kentucky cornerback Keidron Smith. He measured in at over 6-foot-1 with a 76 3/4-inch wingspan. He used that length very well in the early portions of practice and looked comfortable being physical (but not too physical) with wide receivers during one-on-ones.
• Northwestern defensive lineman Adetomiwa Adebawore has been a standout for two days now. He was a “winner” in the measurements before even stepping on the field as a 6-foot-1 defensive lineman with an 82 1/2-inch wingspan. That unique build allows him to get low at the snap but then create separation and leverage with his arm length, something he’s been able to showcase with frequency in practice at the Senior Bowl.
• Michigan State wide receiver Jayden Reed’s speed has been a problem for defensive backs all week. His quickness off his release has been an instant success on many of his reps, and he’s also shown the long speed to pair with it to be one of the best vertical threats (and just overall route separators) at the event.
• Cincinnati linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. has been unblockable when they have asked him to pass rush, but that’s nothing new, as he earned a 92.7 pass-rushing grade this past season, which was the top number for off-ball linebackers.
• As if there weren’t enough cornerbacks to be intrigued about, South Carolina’s Darius Rush had a handful of great reps on Day 2. He had an interception on Day 1 and nearly grabbed another. No other player has as many forced incompletions on the week as Rush.
• Florida State safety Jammie Robinson has been using his physical play to his advantage. He’s been really impressive in some of the one-on-one reps against slot receivers, not just tight ends. He has definitely been a name that people have talked about as a winner of the week.