2023 Senior Bowl Primer


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2023 Senior Bowl Primer

Senior Bowl week is here, which means draft season is officially here!

I will be doing my usual player evaluations and using my numeric scoring system to take each prospect through a grading process. My scoring method creates a weighted score for each player that takes into account everything from classical traits, to production, and intangibles.

This will be my seventh season implementing my scoring system, with a goal of 175 prospects scored before the draft. Senior Bowl week is a big part of the process for just about everyone in the business and can be an extraordinary tool for evaluating the next group of incoming rookies.

It is a great way for us to get an additional look at over 100 of the nation's top senior players who are looking to make the jump to the NFL. More importantly, we get to see those players outside of their comfort zone. Players will be thrown to the wolves in just about every way imaginable with new teammates, new coaching staffs, and new playbooks, plus in an unfamiliar venue — with the added pressure of knowing all 32 teams will be scrutinizing their every move. For most of these guys, this is their biggest opportunity to shine in the draft process.

For me, maximizing the effectiveness of Senior Bowl week and how it plays into my evaluations comes down to understanding what the purpose of these practices are — it’s an “additional look.” We are looking to add context, to add information, or to further tell each player's story. Remember, each player deals with a unique set of circumstances that could hinder or enhance our view of them. So using this week to get a better feel for what we think we know is a must.

What we cannot do is use this week to rewrite history or replace what we have seen (or have not seen) from each guy over the course of their collegiate careers. This cannot be stressed enough. We cannot throw out four years of bad tape over a couple of outstanding reps during practice, or vice versa.

A small anecdote, if you’ll indulge me: Terry McLaurin was a participant in the 2019 Senior Bowl. McLaurin had a moderately productive senior season at Ohio State, notching more than 700 yards and 11 touchdowns in a super high-powered offense. However, most of his production that year came on simple crossing routes, go-balls, and schemed throws. He was rarely pressed and didn’t put a ton on tape that suggested he had any refined WR skills other than outstanding athletic ability.

And then… he shows up to Mobile and absolutely owns the week. He demolished his defensive back counterparts, routinely separating and getting off the line of scrimmage with wild efficiency, demonstrating remarkably crisp route running with an NFL-caliber release package.

Furthermore, when he wasn’t winning at the LOS he was winning at the catch point. The man couldn’t be stopped. Senior Bowl week helped paint a more clear picture of what McLaurin would be bringing NFL teams. We learned something about him that week and it didn’t replace “bad tape” — it filled the gaps for the things he wasn’t able to demonstrate while at Ohio State. I’ll be on the lookout for similar revelations this year.

Below are my skill player rankings heading into Senior Bowl week. This is not a ranking of all draft-eligible prospects, but merely those whom I will get to see in Mobile. I will also be providing daily updates and write-ups after each practice this week.


RankPlayerSchoolStock Day 1Stock Day 2Stock Day 3
1Hendon HookerTennesseeN/AN/AN/A
2Jake HaenerFresno StateNEUTRALUPUP
7Malik CunninghamLouisvilleN/ANEUTRALUP
Running Back
RankPlayerSchoolStock Day 1Stock Day 2Stock Day 3
1Roschon JohnsonTexasUPN/AN/A
2Chase BrownIllinoisUPNEUTRALDOWN
3Tyjae SpearsTulaneDOWNUPUP
7Chris Rodriguez JrKentuckyNEUTRALDOWNNEUTRAL
Wide Receiver
RankPlayerSchoolStock Day 1Stock Day 2Stock Day 3
1Nathaniel DellHoustonDOWNUPUP
3Puka NacuaBYUUPN/AN/A
4Trey PalmerNebraskaDOWNUPNEUTRAL
5Xavier HutchinsonIowa StateUPUPNEUTRAL
6Charlie JonesPurdueN/AN/AN/A
9Elijah HigginsStanfordNEUTRALDOWNDOWN
10Jon MingoOle MissNEUTRALUPUP
11Dontayvion WicksVirginiaDOWNUPNEUTRAL
13Michael WilsonStanfordUPUPUP
15Andrei IosivasPrincetonUPNEUTRALDOWN
16Tre TuckerCincinnatiUPNEUTRALNEUTRAL
Tight End
RankPlayerSchoolStock Day 1Stock Day 2Stock Day 3
1Luke MusgraveOregon StUPUPUP
2Will MalloryMiamiUPUPNEUTRAL
3Josh WyhleCincinnatiDOWNNEUTRALUP
5Davis AllenClemsonUPUPNEUTRAL
6Brayden WillisOklahomaNEUTRALUPNEUTRAL
7Payne DurhamPurdueNEUTRALDOWNUP

Practice Notes

Day 1

NOTE: Check out my podcast with Chris Wecht live from Mobile, breaking down the first day of Senior Bowl practices!

Rashee Rice (WR, SMU) — While he measured in smaller than SMU listed him in 2022, everything you saw on tape with Rice manifested quickly again today as he dusted multiple CBs deep with a great display of release package and finely tuned route running. Unfortunately, the mediocre group of QBs here in Mobile couldn’t deliver him an accurate/on-time ball in many of these situations. Tape confirmation equals “stock up” for me though.

Puka Nacua (WR, BYU) — Nacua is quickly becoming one of “my guys.” He won a variety of ways today but most impressively showed some acrobatics and body control to haul in multiple poorly thrown balls along the sideline. I tend to avoid using elite players to compare someone to but I can't help but notice Nacua wins a lot of the same ways Justin Jefferson does. They are almost identical in size also.

Jayden Reed (WR, Michigan State) — I can easily see a world in which a team falls in love with Reed’s downfield ability. Great deep speed and plus hands at the catch point, both of which were on display today.

Nathaniel Dell (WR, Houston) — Unfortunately, my biggest fears with Dell were realized today when his official measurements of 5’8” and 163 pounds were released, both numbers significantly smaller than his listed height and weight at Houston (which were already dangerously small). While you can’t throw out the baby with the bath water I just can’t see a world where Dell is ever a WR1 or WR2 for an NFL team. His likely best career arc ranges from Kalif Raymond and Isaiah McKenzie.

Luke Musgrave (TE, Oregon State) — This guy is an absolute unit, standing over 6’5” and 260 pounds. His presence alone is staggering, but even more so is his ability to move the way he does for a guy that size. Musgrave easily controls the middle of the field against man or zone but also has the frame and athleticism to be an option downfield as well.

Roschon Johnson (RB, Texas) — Johnson is definitely a “my guy.” He was already one heading into the week, and getting close exposure to him today just reaffirmed my feelings about him. He is an absolute monster of a running back with enough fleet of foot to be more than viable in the modern game. Today he displayed great lateral quickness running routes in the 1v1 drills vs linebackers, which led to some very easy wins for the 225-pounder.

Quarterbacks — Overall, today was not a great day for any of the quarterbacks here. From dropped snaps, poor execution, to a litany of outright misses across the board, there was a lot left to be desired on the QB front. This isn’t too out of the norm for Day 1 of Senior Bowl week though, as QBs easily have the most variables working against them, i.e. new pass catchers, new center, new playbook, new alignments, etc. I expect them to clean things up tomorrow.

Day 2

Want more in-depth analysis from Senior Bowl Day 2? Chris Wecht and I delivered yet another episode of Take Talk.

Rashee Rice (WR, SMU) — I’m still loving what I am seeing from Rice in aggregate but some small concerns have manifested. When Rice has a CB getting physical with him at the line of scrimmage, he has struggled to disengage and get himself in position to catch the ball. While I am being nitpicky here, this is very worth pointing out as he rarely saw press in college.

Trey Palmer (WR, Nebraska) — Palmer followed up yesterday’s uneventful performance with a much better day today, where he showed off his elite separation skills. Palmer looks both fast and quick.

Xavier Hutchinson (WR, Iowa State) — Coming into the week, I was sort of feeling Hutchinson as mostly a slot guy with limited ability to beat man coverage or get off the line of scrimmage against press. Well, today, Hutchinson did just about everything he could to prove me wrong. His team has been almost exclusively using him as an “X” receiver lined up against press coverage and he answered the bell on almost every single rep during team drills, targeted or not. In college, Hutchinson likely saw true press when lined up outside on less than 10% of his routes run so we really didn’t get a good look at his skill set there. This is a perfect example of filling in the gaps on a player and getting a more complete view of his skill summary. The last note on Hutchinson was his top-end speed far exceeded expectations — so far he has been the 2nd fastest player in Mobile via the Zebra Technology tracking system. Impressive stuff for a guy looking to solidify himself in yet another relatively deep WR class.

Tyjae Spears (RB, Tulane) — With Roschon Johnson missing the rest of the week with a broken hand, the door has officially opened for another running back to step in and steal the show and today, Spears did just that. These types of practice scenarios make it very difficult to get a feel for running backs considering the overall lack of contact, but Spears made up for that by demonstrating his superior burst/acceleration and ability to string multiple cuts together quickly. During team drills, every time he touched the ball in the pass game, his physical tools just popped.

Michael Wilson (WR, Stanford) — Considering how low my expectations for Wilson were coming into the week, he has easily been the most impressive player here. I have been so overwhelmed by his performance I am struggling not to completely overreact to what we have seen. This presents a great challenge for me as an analyst and an interesting growth opportunity. In summary, Wilson is big, strong, physical, quick, fast, and in control of his body. He displays this total package on nearly every single rep. It's been a site to behold.

Jake Haener (QB, Fresno State) — In general, the quarterbacks had a much better day today than they did yesterday. With that said, Haener really established himself as the best thrower of the football here and it's not particularly close. He had a stretch of 4-5 eye-popping throws today and he clearly started feeling himself afterward as he remained sizzling hot for the rest of practice. For a smaller guy, he can really sling the ball.

Day 3

Chris and I wrapped up Day 3 with our final podcast from Mobile. Check it out!

Payne Durham (TE, Purdue) — With both teams doing red zone and goal line periods today, we finally got to see Durham in his element on Day 3 of practices. While I am higher on most of the tight ends here, seeing Durham thrive in the most important part of the field proves just how deep this tight end class is, and even more impressive is how Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy managed to get seven good tight end prospects here this week. That aside, Durham's ability to generate late separation in close quarters and be physical at the catch point allows evaluators to clearly see a valuable role for Durham in the pass game. His red zone prowess, along with his massive frame and ability on special teams, will likely have many teams interested in him early on day 3.

Jon Mingo (WR, Ole Miss) — Mingo had a very solid first couple of days, but Day 3 was where Mingo was able to really shine. Down in the red zone 1v1s, Mingo ran one of the most impressive routes of the week in which he completely shook South Carolina CB Darius Rush out of his cleats to generate massive separations and haul in an easy touchdown. Rush was largely considered the best cornerback in Mobile this year and while this is just one rep, the traits Mingo was able to demonstrate on one rep for a guy who is nearly 6’2” and 225 pounds was a sight to behold. Mingo displayed very good speed and acceleration, with fluid cuts in and out of his breaks all week, which again — for a guy of his size — was pretty impressive.

Tyjae Spears (RB, Tulane) — I know we have already talked a good bit about Spears but it's worth noting that he continues to impress. On Day 3 of practice he had the ”moment of the week” in which he won a 1v1 rep against a linebacker on a route that looked like it was designed by Marvel Comic Books. Spears initially sells his route outside in what was seemingly well covered only to then plant his foot in the ground, then sinking his hips to perform a duck-under move, then exploding back towards the inside, leaving the defender in coverage completely puzzled — like Thanos using the space stone to teleport across the room. The media-heavy crowd let out a collective cheer afterward, which is quite the feat given the rarity of everyone catching the exciting moments together. Spears has done major work this week, likely leapfrogging over a good bit of the backs in this draft class.

Dontavyion Wicks (WR, Virginia) — Wicks is such an intriguing prospect to me. While I have serious doubts about his hands at the next level (he dropped over 20% of his targets in 2022), he was easily the most consistent receiver here this week and it should be recognized. Without actually charting each individual rep, I would say the eye test suggests he probably won the highest percentage of his reps in 1v1s, 7-on-7s, and team drills. His ability to routinely separate was on full display, and scouts were noticing. One scout told me on the sideline, “of all the WRs here, this kid has the most gain.” Currently, I have no idea where he is going to be selected in this draft but his ability to separate is a skill every team desires. If he can sell teams on his hands not being a major issue, then perhaps he will go higher than we think.

Elijah Higgins (WR, Stanford) — Higgins is another perplexing case study. My one takeaway from this week regarding him is he just doesn’t seem to fit as a wide receiver in the NFL. He does clearly have a defined skill set, though, and I would be very interested to try him as a move tight end in the NFL, similar to the way the Saints use Juwan Johnson. Apparently, the coaches of the National Team agreed with me, as he ended up getting reps at tight end on Day 3, which could be a big win for him down the road.

Brett Whitefield is an experienced professional in football analytics, with more than a decade in the business. He has held several key positions with some of the top companies in the industry, including as a process manager at Pro Football Focus (PFF), where he spent more than seven years. Brett has also worked with and consulted for multiple NFL teams and Power-5 NCAA football programs.