Our trip to the 2018 Senior Bowl has concluded, and it was an interesting mix of talent on display down in Mobile, Ala.
It might not have been the most impressive group that has been there in recent years — a lot of top players backed out late — but there were some multi-tool talents on display.
Here are some of the most versatile players we saw during the practice sessions:
Shaquem Griffin, Central Florida
By now you probably have heard about the feel-good story of this year’s game, as the one-handed Griffin is attempting to do what perhaps no other NFL player has done and that’s overcome a serious physical limitation that many personnel people with years of experience have never come across.
Griffin did absolutely nothing to hurt his stock and might even have opened some eyes with how he performed in the practices. What caught our eye was that the 6-foot, 223-pounder spent time working at rush end, linebacker and even deep safety, as the Houston Texans’ coaching staff found different ways to employ him.
[Check out the PFW Podcast: Sizing up Senior Bowl week]
“We're trying to move him around,” Texans head coach Bill O’Brien said. “I think that's what the NFL wants to see, so we're trying to do things so everybody can get a look at him at safety, at linebacker, and maybe even as a DPR [designated pass rusher] and on special teams."
Griffin could be a medical red-flag candidate for some teams who don’t think he’ll be able to shed blocks and make plays on the ball with regularity without the use of a second hand. But other teams had to come away impressed at how he performed — and we feel he still has a great shot to be drafted this spring, even though Griffin has not yet received an invitation to the NFL scouting combine.
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Oklahoma
A college defensive end, Okoronkwo flashed enough lateral quickness to envision him playing off the ball in some form — perhaps as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Although his size (6-1, 243 pounds) might be limiting in some scouts’ eyes, Okoronkwo backed up a strong season of work for the Sooners with a week of work in Mobile that seemed to get better by the day.
One thing working in his favor: 34 1/2-inch arms, which he used to disengage from blockers in one-on-one drills. He even flashed a strong rip move and the requisite quickness to be considered a pass-rush candidate in the NFL with a little more refinement in his technique.
The co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year had eight sacks and 17 tackles for a loss in 13 games this season as a defensive end, and in 2016 when the Sooners had him standing up in a LB role, Okoronkwo had nine sacks and 12 tackles for loss.
Jaylen Samuels, North Carolina State
What position does he play? We’re not sure, but we think that’s a good thing. And after watching him in practice, it’s clear that Samuels needs to be unleashed in some form as a pass catcher. He has extremely quick feet and moved like a receiver or H-back in the receiving drills, to the point where a creative offensive coordinator really can have fun with him. Call him an "offensive weapon," if you will.
The 5-11, 223-pound Samuels lined up at running back (where he looked surprisingly sudden) and slot receiver, and we could see him used in an offset or hybrid role (some might call him an “F-back”) in the right scheme. He looked to us like a more gifted Jacob Hester or a more thickly built Bilal Powell. Perhaps Samuels isn’t quite the explosive athlete that smaller tight ends such as Dorin Dickerson, Jordan Reed or Dustin Keller were coming out, but there’s a role for him.
Samuels was first-Team All-ACC for a reason. He had a career-high 69 receptions for 551 yards and career-high 383 rushing yards with 15 total touchdowns in 2017. Maybe Josh McDaniels could use someone like that with the Indianapolis Colts, who didn’t get enough from their backs in the passing game last season.
Austin Corbett, Nevada
This was a player we didn’t know much about entering the week but came away impressed by more and more. He took snaps at all five offensive line positions during practice, which instantly gets you notice, and Corbett fared well at all of them. We think he’s best inside, but having the ability to play tackle in a pinch is a terrific luxury for NFL teams that might keep only seven blockers active on game day.
Corbett was effective on combo blocks as a guard in drills, he walked back LSU DT Greg Gilmore on one impressive rep, beat Texas DT Poona Ford twice while playing center and then moved to tackle to toss highly touted UTSA pass rusher Marcus Davenport aside.
It was a showcase week for the 6-4, 310-pound Corbett, who went from being a walk-on to becoming a four-year starter at left tackle for the Wolf Pack. Most teams might view him at guard or center, but that kind of versatility could make him a Senio Kelemete-like prospect.
Duke Dawson, Florida
Strep throat kept Dawson out of Tuesday’s practice and had him off to a slow start at the beginning of practice on Wednesday. But the cornerback kept showing up as time went on, able to mirror quick receivers and also play the ball in the air against the bigger pass catchers in Mobile.
Dawson showed the ability to play inside and outside and got his hands on a fair number of passes. His size (5-10) might limit him to nickel duty, and he wasn’t as effective battling the bigs down in the red zone. But Dawson also can play safety and comes from a Gators program that has just churned out the DB talent in recent years.
M.J. Stewart, North Carolina
Like Dawson, Stewart doesn’t have exceptional size (5-11, 198 pounds), but he put together a strong week as perhaps the best man corner — at least in terms of the reps we saw in practice. He held his own in one-on-one drills, which tend to favor the receivers.
How fast Stewart runs might determine if he’ll be tried as an outside corner, and his arm length (31 1/2 inches) isn’t bad but could restrict him a bit to certain schemes. But at the very least he can be a quality nickel. And what separates him is his fantastic kick-return ability.
Jeremy Reaves, South Alabama
The Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year actually got off to a tough start to the week when measured with some of the smallest hands at the event in recent years: a paltry 7 3/4 inches. But he did some nice things at practice, playing both corner and safety, and showed he was not out of place.
Some have him pegged strictly for a slot CB role in a press system. But others at least might be willing to view him as a versatile defensive back worth trying in a few different roles. The 5-11, 204-pounder showed his ability to play downhill last season (he led the Jags with 104 tackles and added seven tackles for loss and three forced fumbles) and chased down a few ballcarriers from behind. There’s no tackling in the practices, but Reaves made it clear he’s not afraid to hit. We see him as a quality fifth or sixth DB who can contribute on special teams — a Day 3 pick.
Kyzir White, West Virginia
We wrote about White, the brother of Chicago Bears receiver Kevin White, earlier in the week and you can read more about him here. But his ability to cover tight ends was on full display in the sessions, and this was as good a TE class in Mobile as there has been in recent years.
Entering the week, White had been pegged as a box safety after playing the “Spur” position in the Mountaineers’ defense. Forget all that. He might be the new breed of fast linebacker who also can play on the back end and be a tone setter in whatever spot he’s tried.
Teams that struggled to contain tight ends last season included the New York Giants, Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders, and we could see White as a fit with any of them.
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