PFW was in Mobile, Ala. last week observing Senior Bowl practices and connecting with our team and league sources to gather some of the earliest buzz regarding the 2018 NFL draft class.
Before we whittle down a pair of All-star rosters to create our All-Senior Bowl team, a couple friendly reminders: Many of the nation’s best seniors and qualifying underclassmen comprised the 110-plus players in Mobile, and although you’ve likely heard that this year’s faction didn’t have the talent of others — Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Wyoming’s Josh Allen notwithstanding — every year’s group yields a host of successful first-round picks, with this one no exception.
QB, Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma — The Heisman winner may have arrived late to the festivities, but the energy and dynamism he immediately brought to the North team’s first practice was unmistakable. Mayfield measured a hair over 6-0 — slightly taller than Russell Wilson and Drew Brees — and, despite coming from a shotgun spread offense, showed an ability to work through progressions, make sound decisions and throw with impressive velocity and anticipation.
RB, Kalen Ballage, Arizona State — Perhaps the David Johnson comparisons are a bit premature, as Ballage lacks Johnson’s polish and production as a receiver. Yet, at 6-2, 222, Ballage is slightly bigger and brings similar straight-line explosiveness in addition to surprising receiving skills and punishing strength.
WR, DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State — Hamilton was highly productive at Penn St., and yet his route-running mastery still opened eyes in Mobile. With quickness and keen awareness of how to set up his defenders, Hamilton consistently separated with ease and made plays across the formation.
WR, James Washington, Oklahoma State — The Bilitnekoff award winner was a downfield stick of dynamite in Mobile, compensating for atypical No. 1 wideout size (5107, 210) with lightning quickness and acceleration to defeat jams, and strong hands and tracking ability.
TE, Mike Gesicki, Penn State — South squad practice injuries on Tuesday opened the door for UCF’s Jordan Akins to garner honorable mention. But Gesicki — Penn State’s all-time leader in receiving yards and touchdowns by a tight end — consistently sliced the seams with superb length (6-5, 34” arms) and strong hands complementing quickness and instincts to separate.
OT, Brandon Parker, North Carolina A&T — This small-school product had the biggest wingspan in Mobile (85 ¼”). Parker (6-7, 303) also demonstrated dancing bear qualities while not looking out of place on the blind side, where he consistently won vs. perhaps the game’s best natural talent — UTSA’s Marcus Davenport.
OG, Isaiah Wynn, Georgia — Wynn played left tackle in his final season at Georgia but kicked inside and routinely dominated vs. a sneaky strong group of interior South rushers. Wynn was named practice player of the week among his Senior Bowl O-line peers, but it’s likely none of them battled through a torn labrum that will require surgery the way he did.
C, Mason Cole, Michigan — Another versatile blocker, Cole played left tackle and center in Ann Arbor, and he looked very comfortable locked in at the pivot as the week progressed. The 6-4, 303-pounder who made 50 consecutive starts for the Wolverines clearly benefited in Mobile from his pro-style experience.
OG, Will Hernandez, UTEP — Hernandez was one of the nastiest players at the Senior Bowl, consistently looking to bury defenders through the whistle. At 6-2, 340 pounds, he’s a big, strong brawler who showed in the game that he can also reach defenders and generate movement at the second level.
OT, Brian O’Neill, Pitt — Humboldt State’s Alex Cappa really opened eyes with his strength and toughness, but since we gave the nod to a fellow small-schooler in Parker, we’ll highlight O’Neill. A potential first-round pick who gets the job done even if it isn’t pretty, O’Neill is a converted tight end with impressive movement skills.
EDGE, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Oklahoma — Long levers (34 ½”) and a lightning-quick burst off the snap stand out more than Okoronkwo’s atypical EDGE/DE size (6013, 243). So too did his improvement throughout the week, which began with him getting too cute in one-on-one pass-rush drills and ended with him consistently blowing up the backfield, including for a pair of sacks Saturday.
DT, Andrew Brown, Virginia — The Cavaliers apparently had a racehorse and didn’t even know it, as Brown flashed superb ability to rush the passer from the inside in Mobile. He was used in a variety of ways in the ACC, but his athleticism to beat guards in the run and pass game stood out.
DT, B.J. Hill, North Carolina State — Perhaps no school other than Penn State was better represented than the Wolfpack. They had offensive weapon Jaylen Saunders and fellow interior defender Justin Jones impressing alongside Hill, the 6-3, 321-pound powerhouse who manhandled single blockers and showed surprising juice in the passing game.
EDGE, Kemoko Turay, Rutgers — The 6-4, 252-pound Guinea native only began playing football a few years ago, and yet no pass rusher in Mobile consistently flattened the edged and closed more frequently on quarterbacks. Turay more than held his own in one-on-ones vs. O’Neill and has the pure pass-rush ability NFL clubs drool over.
LB, Darius Leonard, South Carolina State — Leonard’s speed and range will remind some of Falcons’ 2016 second-rounder Deion Jones, and it showed up in Saturday’s game, when the former FCS standout tallied a game-high 14 tackles (five solos). That was after a nice week of practices in which Leonard used his length, wheels and physicality in coverage.
LB, Shaquem Griffin, Central Florida — The Knights’ one-handed phenom who had his left hand amputated at the age of four due to a birth defect was more than the week’s most inspiring story. He was among its most versatile defenders, lining up at all three levels defensively in addition to playing special teams, and clearly showing his Mobile invite and practice player of the week award weren’t merely tokens.
CB, Christian Campbell, Penn State — Tall, long and fast, Campbell got his hands on plenty of balls during the week and showed the type of physicality and transition skills every press-coverage team covets. Clearly a man specialist, Campbell also fared decently when playing off.
CB, Isaac Yiadom, Boston College — Like Campbell, Yiadom has size working in his favor, and it’s clear he favors an aggressive and physical play style. After entering the week with a strong run-support rep, Yiadom did his best work staying in the hip pocket of wideouts all the way downfield and making plays on the ball.
S, Armani Watts, Texas A&M — He wasn’t the biggest safety in Mobile, but Watts (5104, 191), was arguably the most well rounded. He showed up all over the field, from in the box to the deep third, and flashed as a run defender and in centerfield.
S, Trayvon Henderson, Hawaii — Henderson showed some unique man-cover skills vs. a talented group of Senior Bowl tight ends, and his tackling was notable in the game Saturday, when he led the North with 10 takedowns (five solos), plus a pass breakup.
RS, Rashaad Penny, San Diego State — He had some ball security issues in practice, but the big and explosive Penny showed game-changing ability Saturday (34-yard run, 71-yard catch-and-run TD) and boasts triple-threat home-run ability.