2017 Senior Bowl Day 2 takeaways: Intriguing WR prospects emerge
Day 2 of Senior Bowl practices here in Mobile, Alabama featured some standout performances — in both positive and negative directions. PFF was there to evaluate their play and place it in the context of how each player graded during the 2016 season.
Here are the players worth noting, organized by position:
Pitt’s Peterman stands out among underwhelming group of QBs
Coming into the week, the list of quarterbacks attending did not inspire confidence, and the first couple days of practice can lead to some ugly reps as they get a feel a new system and a new group of pass-catchers. So while there’s been some adjusting, Pitt’s Nathan Peterman is the South quarterback garnering the headlines so far through two practices.
Peterman is coming out of a quirky system at Pitt that had him rolling out on 19.2 percent of his snaps (fourth-highest in the FBS) while mixing in a healthy dose of shovel passes, and that made it difficult to demonstrate the “NFL throws” you’d like to see from a college quarterback. However, Peterman did have the highest percentage of big-time throws among the quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl, and he’s shown good accuracy outside the numbers during the practices. After one day of action, Peterman had the highest grade in PFF’s play-by-play grading of the Senior Bowl practices, and he continued with a strong showing in the second day of practice.
Colorado QB Sefo Liufau struggled with his ball placement during the practice and had too many overthrows to his receivers. That was also true of all three South quarterbacks: Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs, Tiffin’s Antonio Pipkin and Cal’s Davis Webb. Webb is an intriguing prospect who began the year on an absolute tear, but his play and production dropped considerably following a thumb injury mid-season. Webb’s work ethic and passion for the game are highly regarded, and he is a player whom coaches will fall in love with in interviews and because of that could rise late in the draft process.
Toledo RB Hunt is a sleeper in a loaded RB class
Toledo’s Kareem Hunt has been a PFF favorite for a while now, having earned the highest grade among all running backs in 2016, and he has impressed thus far in Mobile. Hunt was very effective as a pass-catcher in the North practice, making difficult catches look routine and making the case that he can stay on the field on third downs in the NFL. Hunt also showed off his elusiveness which helped him force 98 missed tackles during the season by making Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis miss in the open field on a toss play. Michigan running back De’Veon Smith made some nice plays catching passes out of the backfield, as well.
Eastern Washington’s Kupp leads an intriguing group of WRs in Mobile
Wide receivers stole the show during the North team practices, and Eastern Washington’s Cooper Kupp was the star. He looked very smooth running routes and getting in and out of his breaks, and gave Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis — who allowed an extremely low passer rating of 47.1 into his coverage this year, and for the most part performed well on Wednesday — a few problems in team drills. Kupp graded extremely well in the small sample of Eastern Washington games PFF has covered (we grade every player on every game involving at least one FBS opponent), and averaged a ridiculous 4.68 yards per route run against Washington State in the season opener.
Air Force wide receiver Jalen Robinette had a school commitment that he had to attend and so he did not make it onto the field until Wednesday. Robinette isn’t a speedster but rather a player who wins with superior body control and position. Robinette led all FBS wide receivers with a 5.48 yards per route run average in the Falcons’ run-heavy system. He showed off his impressive vertical leaping ability on one rep and looked smooth in drills. Michigan wide receiver Amara Darboh looked fast running his routes against air early in the practice. Darboh more than held his own going up against the defensive backs in one-on-one portions of drills, including a nice catch in the corner of the end zone.
North Carolina’s Ryan Switzer continues to look very explosive and sudden in everything he does, even as he works through a slight foot injury. He ranked 10th in slot catch rate in 2016. Clemson’s Artavis Scott had a good showing during the second practice. Scott looked very fluid and natural in his routes, and repeatedly showed the ability to fight through contact at the top of his route stem. Scott showed the physicality to beat press coverage and the body control to make toe-tapping sideline catches. Grambling wide receiver Chad Williams was a standout during the South practice on Wednesday, showing quick feet when he made breaks in his routes and beating plenty of defensive backs from bigger schools.
Bama TE Howard continues to attract attention
We already noted that Alabama TE O.J. Howard stole the show on Day 1, as his size and speed combination wowed scouts and coaches, and it’s clear that Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson was giving him a little extra attention on Day 2. He was in Howard’s ear after he dropped his second pass in two days, this one against air, perhaps trying to get the talented tight end to improve his concentration in order to live up to his potential. Howard had only six drops on 106 catchable passes the last three years, so this shouldn’t be a long-term issue, but inconsistency has been creeping up in practice.
Ole Miss TE Evan Engram continues to be a mismatch weapon in practices. As a 235-pound tight end, Engram is a player for whom NFL teams will need to have a distinct role in mind. He graded below-average in pass protection and in run-blocking, but was a weapon as a pass-catcher. On Wednesday, Engram was able to repeatedly get open against defenders and an ability to run double-move routes well.
Up-and-down performances from the O-linemen
Temple offensive lineman Dion Dawkins received some extra attention during Wednesday’s practice for some technique issues, but in one-on-one drills, he was excellent, going three-for-three with a very good ability to slide and mirror in pass protection. He is listed as a guard here in Mobile, but as the Owls’ left tackle last season, he finished 12th nationally in pass-blocking efficiency, having allowed just two sacks, two hits and five hurries all season.
LSU C Ethan Pocic was the most impressive offensive linemen on the field Wednesday. He was our ninth-highest-graded center in 2016, and saw time at both guard and center in practice. Although he was beaten swiftly on an inside move by Villanova’s Tanoh Kpassagnon (more on him later), he won his other two one-on-one reps and also performed well on double-team drills. His combination of power and foot quickness was on display in team drills as well, skills that led to have not giving up a hit or a sack this season.
— Josh Liskiewitz (@PFF_Josh) January 25, 2017
Michigan guard Kyle Kalis struggled with his balance and couldn’t sustain blocks consistently in team drills. Troy OT Antonio Garcia had some struggles, most noticeably in one-on-ones. He lost three individual reps today, all against edge rushes, and a big part of his issue was his propensity to grab his man outside his pads, which allowed his defenders to initiate contact and establish leverage. Garcia graded extremely well on pass blocks this season (he gave up no sacks, one hit and six hurries), but did not perform up to his best against today’s competition.
Villanova edge rusher is talented, but needs to improve technique
Tanoh Kpassagnon had an impressive one-on-one session, but it’s worth pointing out some of his struggles on double-team drills. Seeing him have difficulty in that drill wasn’t a huge surprise, as not only is the step up in competition level from Villanova likely an issue, but the fact that he is nearly 6-feet-7 makes his frame an easy target for offensive linemen. Going forward he needs to focus on maintaining a lower pad level and use his natural length and strength to prevent blockers from locking onto him.
Interior D-linemen to watch: Notre Dame’s Rochell and USC’s Tu’ikolovatu
Notre Dame’s Isaac Rochell had the best all-around day for an interior D-lineman during Wednesday’s practices. He had one bull rush where he completely walked Michigan guard Kyle Kalis back. In general, he performed better as a run defender than a pass-rusher for the Fighting Irish, but it’s worth noting that he still ranked 12th nationally among 3-4 defensive ends in pass-rush productivity last season, despite recording just one sack — and he showed Wednesday more fluidity and athleticism as a pass-rusher than you might expect from a player with a reputation for being a run-stuffer. USC D-tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu had a practice showing that reflected his performance on the field this season. On any plays that required him to show a range of motion, he struggled. This was particularly true as a pass-rusher. But he was able to handle anything that came into his zone, and he was tough to move on any interior run plays. He helped blow up the offense’s run play on this goal-line stand:
— Josh Liskiewitz (@PFF_Josh) January 25, 2017
In 2016, Tu’ikolovatu earned the third-best run-stop percentage in the nation among interior defenders, but graded below-average as a pass-rusher.
Florida LB Anzalone gets a chance to impress
It was a frustrating career for Anzalone at Florida, as he came in as a highly-touted recruit, but battled injury and played only 577 snaps over the last season, including 423 last season. He showed his talent in flashes, making plays in the run game despite missing too many tackles (seven misses on only 51 attempts), and he found his way to the quarterback with 16 hurries on only 46 rushes. At practice, Anzalone has been hitting hard in the run game, and he ran with San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey on one downfield route. With a smaller sample size than most on the field, this is a great chance for Anzalone to show what he can do this week in Mobile.
The 2017 Senior Bowl features a loaded group of defensive backs
The defensive backs at this year’s Senior Bowl make up an impressive group that is filled with future NFL contributors. Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis had a sound day in coverage that backed up his stats this season, and his play in 2015 when he was the No. 1 cornerback in PFF grades. Lewis had a particularly impressive repetition against Air Force wide receiver Jalen Robinette. Lewis jammed Robinette off the line and didn’t allow him to get inside, and then Lewis was able to break the pass up after re-directing Robinette to the outside of the end zone.
Nebraska safety Nate Gerry has shown good movement ability and range on the back-end for a player who has already shown NFL-caliber instincts and tackling ability when he is in the box. He earned one of the top coverage grades in the nation among safeties. Connecticut safety Obi Melifonwu showed very good short-area burst to fly up and make a “tackle” (Wednesday’s practices did not feature many players hitting the ground) near the end zone. Melifonwu also showed impressive deep speed covering kickoffs, after a season in which he graded better in run defense than in coverage.
PFF analyst Bobby Slowik, a former NFL assistant coach with the Washington Redskins, was immediately drawn to Tennessee CB Cameron Sutton on Day 1 after Sutton showed incredible change of direction when staying on top of a slant-and-go against Western Kentucky wide receiver Taywan Taylor. One play does not a player make, but it showed off Sutton’s athleticism and backed up his strong on-field play that saw him grade out as one of the nation’s top corners in 2014. After a down 2015, he was on his way to a strong 2016 before injury slowed him down and limited him to 438 snaps. Perhaps most important for his value, Sutton has been lining up all over the field, taking some snaps in the slot and even at safety and he hung with O.J. Howard on one route, forcing an incompletion. In a deep cornerback class, Sutton could become an excellent value pick, especially if he shows well at multiple positions this week.
Another head-turner was the play of San Diego State cornerback Damontae Kazee. Kazee was playing with his normal feisty and aggressive style on Wednesday, constantly being physical and trying to re-route wide receivers. He takes a very “hands on” approach to coverage and was flagged twice for being too physical. That physicality was also apparent during some press-coverage reps where he stuffed wide receivers at the line of scrimmage, taking them out of the play. Kazee is a ball-hawk who likes to go after the ball and made a couple of nice plays undercutting in-routes, but also gave up some catches on out-breaking routes.
LSU cornerback Tre’Davious White left the field with what appeared to be an injury right near the end of practice, after making an outstanding play to break up a pass on a slant route. White, who was tied for the highest coverage grade in the FBS last year, looked frustrated as he left the field.