Senior Bowl players to watch: Offense
Senior Bowl week has become the perfect buffer for the NFL between the Conference Championship games and the Super Bowl. Much of the league travels to Mobile, Ala., to get one last glimpse of game action for the nation’s top seniors before the workout portion of the draft process commences. At Pro Football Focus, we are once again proud to be heavily involved in the Senior Bowl’s evaluation process, also adding the same layer of detail to every practice rep that we apply to every play during the FBS season.
Here’s a look at the top offensive players to watch during Senior Bowl week.
It may be an uninspiring group of quarterbacks on paper, but all of the participants have a prime opportunity to turn heads with a strong week of practice and good showing during game action. Pittsburgh QB Nate Peterman has some fans in the scouting community, but he’ll have to answer questions about Pitt’s offense, which was more about trickery rather than allowing Peterman to pick apart opposing defenses. His high percentage of big-time throws (6.9 percent) and turnover-worthy throws (4.6 percent) make for an intriguing boom-or-bust combination. Colorado’s Sefo Liufau has the best intermediate and deep accuracy numbers of the Senior Bowl quarterbacks, though he has some questions to answer about his work in the short game. Iowa’s C.J. Beathard took good care of the ball for the most part, and flashed strong downfield touch, but he had his struggles when facing pressure. Cal’s Davis Webb’s year was essentially split into two parts after he came out strong, but a hand injury contributed to an inconsistent effort in the second half. He has the arm to make special throws, it’s just a matter of tying up some decision-making issues. Josh Dobbs’ inconsistency was maddening for Tennessee fans, but he did an exceptional job this season making big plays under pressure, tying for the national lead with 12 touchdowns and ranking fourth with a passer rating of 105.4 when pressured. For Dobbs, it’s all about improving his accuracy at the short and intermediate levels, though he made strides in both areas this season.
Toledo running back Kareem Hunt had the nation’s highest grade among running backs at 94.5 overall, using his quick-cutting ability and balance to force 76 missed tackles on the ground, second-highest in the nation. San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey broke former Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne’s all-time rushing record with his slippery style at 5-foot-9, 180-pounds. Pumphrey is out to prove that he’s more than just a change-of-pace back at the next level after forcing 73 missed tackles and averaging 3.5 yards after contact per rush. BYU’s Jamaal Williams broke out early in 2016, showing a good combination of speed and power and averaging 3.4 yards after contact per rush before an ankle injury slowed him down in the second half of the year.
All eyes will be on Eastern Washington’s Cooper Kupp, who dominated FCS competition and was similarly productive when playing FBS teams. He put up 206 yards and three scores to go with a gaudy 4.1 yards per route against Washington State early in the season. It was a breakout season for Syracuse WR Amba Etta-Tawo who took advantage of his transfer from Maryland to become a big-play threat in Syracuse’s vertical passing attack. He showed impressive downfield speed and ball skills, and he’s out to prove that he’s more than a one-year wonder. East Carolina’s Zay Jones put up a video-game like 160 catches and 1,805 yards, though seeing 46 more targets than any other receiver in the country certainly helped his cause. Two receivers with a chance to show off their downfield ball skills are Amara Darboh from Michigan and Josh Reynolds from Texas A&M, while Louisiana Tech’s Trent Taylor and North Carolina’s Ryan Switzer will show off their route-running that made both receivers so productive.
Tight end is one of the deepest positions in the draft, with Alabama’s O.J. Howard the headliner. He earned the nation’s top run-blocking grade, and Alabama fans have been begging to see more involvement from Howard in the passing game due to his good speed and receiving skills, which will be on display all week. Evan Engram of Ole Miss and Gerald Everett of South Alabama are both good receiving threats, perhaps better suited for work in the slot or on the move in H-back roles. Michael Roberts of Toledo is a big-bodied tight end who knows how to use it in the passing game; led the nation’s tight ends with his 16 touchdowns.
The 2017 offensive tackle class lacks headline names this cycle, but Western Kentucky’s Forrest Lamp has been a headliner at PFF for three years. He’s ranked among the top tackles in the nation every year since 2014, capping his career with a monster season that saw him allow only four total QB pressures while holding up better than any offensive tackle in the nation against Alabama’s defensive front. USC’s Zach Banner had his struggles early on, particularly against Alabama, but he settled down nicely to once again grade among the best right tackles in the country. Antonio Garcia of Troy is the other hot name to keep an eye on at tackle, and he backed up the hype in pass protection with only nine QB pressures allowed; however, Garcia had the worst ratio of positive to negative blocks in the run game among tackles at the Senior Bowl.
On the interior, Indiana’s Dan Feeney has produced three years of strong work in pass protection, allowing only 24 QB pressures on 1,217 attempts, which includes some time at right tackle. The center class is intriguing, as LSU’s Ethan Pocic can make the key blocks necessary in a zone-blocking scheme, while West Virginia’s Tyler Orlosky rarely loses in the run game.