2017 Senior Bowl Day 1 takeaways: Tight ends stand out

Alabama's O.J. Howard and Toledo's Michael Roberts merit first-round consideration. Plus, more takeaways from Senior Bowl practices.

| 4 months ago
(Jamie Squire, Getty Images)

(Jamie Squire, Getty Images)

2017 Senior Bowl Day 1 takeaways: Tight ends stand out

Pro Football Focus was on the scene in Mobile, Ala. for Day 1 of Senior Bowl practices. Which of these 2017 NFL Draft prospects stood out the most on Tuesday? Let’s take a look:

Two tight ends show why they could be in the first-round mix

The expectation coming into this week was that Alabama tight end O.J. Howard was going to wow everyone, and at the weight in and opening practice, he didn’t disappoint. Coming in at 6-feet-5 and 249 pounds, he is every bit the prototype when it comes to size for an NFL tight end.

On the field he looked smooth, and was arguably the best athlete on the field. He had one drop, but recovered with several nice grabs, including one in double coverage that drew the ire of Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Greg Williams. Howard was underused in the passing game at Alabama in 2016, but still made plays when given the opportunity — and he dominated as a blocker, finishing the year as PFF’s highest-graded run-blocker.

The other tight end who made some waves today was Toledo’s Michael Roberts. After scoring 16 touchdowns in 2016, he came to Mobile this week looking to impress against improved opposition. He had several nice grabs today, showing off good burst to get away from linebackers and safeties in space.

Three cornerbacks to keep an eye on this week

The 2017 NFL Draft cornerback class is deep on paper, giving NFL teams a number of strong options whether they’re looking for length, athleticism, or players capable of playing both man or zone. There are three guys in particular at this week’s Senior Bowl worth watching. LSU’s Tre’Davious White posted the nation’s top grade among FBS corners in 2016, and those skills were on display Tuesday, with him showing good change-of-direction and deep speed in coverage.

Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis also showed the same feisty man coverage skills that saw him allow only 31.7 percent completions into his coverage last season (second-best in the FBS). Perhaps his biggest win was coming in at 5-foot-10 in the weigh-in, one of the few players whose listed height from college matched reality — that should keep help him in the evaluation process.

West Virginia’s Rasul Douglas came in at 6-foot-2, an eye-opener for teams in need of a long, press man corner. However, he was only in press coverage on 15.0 percent of his snaps in 2016, below the FBS average of 19.4 percent. He struggled in press at practice, particularly on one rep in which he nearly tackled East Carolina’s Zay Jones at the line of scrimmage and still gave up a long reception. Douglas was the No. 8-graded CB in 2016 at 86.9, but his development as a press corner is something to watch this week.

Lamp gets reps at both guard and tackle

Western Kentucky’s Forrest Lamp played both his normal tackle position and inside at guard as well on Tuesday. NFL evaluators want to see how he could play inside, and he appeared to hold up better inside at guard than outside at tackle. Lamp looked good during the early team portions of practice, but struggled to win one-on-one pass rush repetitions.

Troy left tackle Antonio Garcia appeared to lose more than his share of the one-on-one pass rush battles in the first South practice. That is the best part of his game, so that was a little concerning. USC tackle Zach Banner played well in pass-rush one-on-one drills and was able to keep more than one pass-rusher from getting to the quarterback. The mammoth Banner was one of the best pass-protectors in the country as a junior but took a slight step back as a senior, so the practice reps he gets in Mobile will be highly valuable to his draft stock.

Two small-school defensive tackles flash big-time ability

Tulane defensive tackle Tanzel Smart was a very disruptive player during the season as both a run-defender and a pass-rusher, finishing the season as our No. 5-ranked interior defensive linemen with an 88.7 overall grade. During practices, he continued his disruptive ways by quickly penetrating into the backfield to stop run plays. Smart also won a good share of his one-on-one pass rush drills with his interior quickness.

Charlotte DT Larry Ogunjobi didn’t receive a ton of exposure this season, but he graded very well during the season. In the first practice, Ogunjobi was able to disrupt run plays with the same penetrating style that earned him a 14.2 run-stop percentage during the season (No. 2 among all FBS defensive tackles). However, Ogunjobi showed that he isn’t just a one-trick pony, as he was also very effective as an interior pass-rusher in the one-on-one drills.

Three more lesser-known players to watch

The Senior Bowl is often a great venue for small-school prospects to prove they can handle the step up in competition, and there were three non-FBS standouts on Tuesday. Eastern Washington WR Cooper Kupp impressed with his speed, as he flashed an extra gear to separate on downfield routes. He blew past Iowa CB Desmond King on a go route for a touchdown during 1-on-1 drills, and generally looked like one of the more athletic receivers on the North squad.

Measuring in at 6-feet-1, 205 pounds, Grambling WR Chad Williams looked stout at this morning’s weigh-in, and proved during practice he knows how to use his frame to catch contested balls. While he didn’t look particularly quick on his cuts, he was able to get free for a touchdown on a deep pass in one-on-one drills.

Villanova edge defender Tanoh Kpassagnon had a strong first day in Mobile. Kpassagnon’s long and lean build made him one of the clear “winners” of the weigh-in. Kpassagnon then went out onto the practice field and won most of his pass-rush repetitions, including a noticeable bad beat of highly-regarded Forrest Lamp of Western Kentucky.

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