Senior Bowl Fantasy Risers and Fallers


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Senior Bowl Fantasy Risers and Fallers

Another incredible Senior Bowl week down in Mobile, Alabama is in the books! Enough cannot be said about the amazing job Executive Director Jim Nagy and his staff do. On top of the week coming off without a hitch logistically, Nagy and his scouting team brought in an extraordinary amount of talent for everyone to take in.

For those unaware, the Senior Bowl is a critical event for college football prospects looking to make their mark and impress NFL scouts ahead of the Draft. The week-long event provides a platform for senior players to showcase their skills, compete against each other, and prove their worth to the NFL. If you haven’t checked out my Senior Bowl Fantasy Primer yet, it is worth quickly reading the first section as a way to set an expectation for how to make our observations this week useful.

As an observer of the event, I had the opportunity to witness some of the top college football players in action during both the practice sessions and the actual game. In this article, I will share my observations and insights from both the practices and game, including standout performances, players who stood out, and those who may have struggled.

Biggest Standouts

Every year, there are a few players who stand out at the Senior Bowl and make a name for themselves by elevating their draft stock. These players, known as the “risers," are the ones who show up in a big way and prove to NFL scouts that they have what it takes to succeed at the next level.

Let's take a look at the biggest standouts of the 2023 Senior Bowl.

Nathaniel “Tank” Dell (WR, Houston)

It's hard to call a guy a riser who came into the week as my top-rated offensive skill player, but that's just how impressive Tank was. Dell was one of the standout performers of the week, showcasing his unique skill set and proving that he has what it takes to compete at the next level. He was basically uncoverable in every phase of the practices, whether one-on-ones, seven-on-sevens, or team drills.

Dell's short-area quickness is a specialty that allows him to separate from defenders in a flash and be a nuisance in the open field with the ball in his hands. Additionally, Dell possesses top-end speed that makes him a legitimate threat to take the top off the defense, stretching the field and keeping the opposing defense on their toes.

Another aspect that sets Dell apart from other small receivers is his ability to maximize his catch radius. He extends his arms and catches the ball away from his frame. Watching his game tape, you also see him comfortable doing this while airborne, which is a somewhat rare feat for a receiver of his size. This skill, along with his ability to separate, will be particularly valuable at the next level, where passes are not always perfect. In a way, he is able to offset some of the legitimate size concerns.

Dell's tiny 5'8”, 160-pound frame may still end up being an issue for some NFL teams, but for those willing to look past it, they will be getting a special player with a potentially enormous ceiling. With his impressive week in Mobile, Dell has certainly boosted his draft stock and will be an intriguing prospect for teams looking for someone to man the slot. If I were running a team, I would be comfortable spending a Day 2 pick on Dell.

Jake Haener (QB, Fresno State)

Haener was the MVP of the Senior Bowl game itself.

While Haener came into the week as my top quarterback in attendance, the separation from his peers as the week went on was more than enough to call him a “riser.” Haener impressed scouts and observers with his strong and accurate arm, showing that he has the skills to be a dangerous passer in the NFL with the ability to consistently make the easy throws but also fit the ball into tight windows downfield, most notably in the red zone. This was confirmation of what we see on tape.

His mobility and ability to make plays with his legs also caught the eye of those in attendance, showcasing his versatility and ability to create offense on the run. In addition to his impressive physical skills, Haener also demonstrated his leadership abilities and work ethic, further solidifying his status as a top quarterback prospect in Mobile.

These factors combined make Haener a clear "riser" from this year's Senior Bowl, and his stock is sure to have gone up in the eyes of NFL scouts. Expect to see Haener's name called early (likely Day 2), as he has established himself as a top quarterback prospect in the 2023 class.

Michael Wilson (WR, Stanford)

Wilson positioned himself as one of the top prospects at WR in this year’s Draft. After arguably the best week of practice among the skill players, he capped off an incredible week by grabbing 4 passes for over 70 yards and a score in the game.

Wilson's route running was on full display this week as he showed crisp footwork and the ability to accelerate out of his breaks with precision. He also demonstrated a good understanding of leverage, using his body to create and maintain separation from defenders. Wilson's release package was also impressive, showcasing the skills that are necessary for success at the NFL level.

Watching Wilson’s insane pre-practice routine every day was also very encouraging for me as an evaluator — this is a guy who understands what it takes to be great. He confirmed as much in this interview with Faraz Siddiqi.

In addition to his technical abilities, Wilson's big, strong frame sets him apart from other wide receiver prospects. He has the ability to win at the catch point, whether high-pointing the ball, absorbing contact, or controlling his body with full extension away from his frame. This week he confirmed what you see on tape in that regard.

His frame also makes him a tough tackle after the catch, making him a dangerous, multi-faceted weapon on the field. All of these factors combined make Wilson a clear "riser" from the 2023 Senior Bowl and a player who is sure to be highly coveted by NFL teams on draft day. Personally, I would be comfortable with a team spending a Day 2 pick on him.

Luke Musgrave (TE, Oregon State)

Musgrave established himself as a top prospect in what may be the best tight end class in over a decade.

Musgrave has an elite athletic profile — I expect him to put up eye-popping numbers at the NFL Combine. GPS tracking data from Zebra Technologies had Musgrave hitting an insane max speed of 20.05 MPH last week, which would have been faster than all but 4 of the 16 WRs in attendance, and faster than every safety in attendance.

Whether being covered by linebackers or safeties, Musgrave effortlessly ran past those assigned to cover him in practices. And When you put on the tape of game action, there are examples of either running right past safeties in single coverage or hitting clean enough breaks at the top of his stem to either separate from single coverage or, at worst, maintain positive leverage. While every tight end needs to be able to exploit holes in zone, and Musgrave does, the elite types know how to win against man.

Musgrave boasts a massive frame, standing over 6'5” and weighing 260 pounds, which provides obvious advantages in the pass game, but most importantly allows him to be a weapon in the run game and a force to be reckoned with in the trenches. We saw this clearly in run-blocking drills this past week, continuing a theme of his game tape, on which he easily displaces smaller defenders with his power while also being athletic enough to get to the second level and dig out safeties or operate as a functional blocker in space.

Although his tape may be limited, with just over 1000 snaps in four years of college, there are plenty of high-quality reps in both the pass game and as a run blocker from this past season. Musgrave was head and shoulders above the other tight ends (who were all legit prospects) in attendance this week, showing that he has the ability to be a dominant force at the next level. I don’t often compare players to future Hall of Famers, at least not in formal evaluations, but I can’t keep myself from pointing out that I got big-time Rob Gronkowski vibes any time I watched him this past week.

Musgrave should be yet another tight end to be considered with a late first to second-round pick joining counterparts Michael Mayer, Dalton Kincaid, and Darnell Washington.

Jayden Reed (WR, Michigan State)

In a WR class without many clear difference-makers, Reed took full advantage of his opportunity to improve his draft stock.

I would imagine few evaluators had questions about Reed’s deep speed coming into the week, but if they did, his top speed of 20.04 MPH in Mobile should quiet any noise on that front. This performance confirmed Reed's status as one of the fastest players in attendance, as well as someone who has plenty of juice to continue his downfield success at the next level. Sometimes one of the best ways to be a “riser” during draft season is to continue doing the things you are good at, and Reed was damn good at getting loose downfield at Michigan State.

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, Reed routinely demonstrated skill sets that he was rarely able to show in his time at Michigan State, adding much-needed context to his story, which is a fundamental purpose of Senior Bowl week.

Specifically, Reed got to be a bigger part of his team's short and intermediate pass game, as he ran routes almost exclusively from the slot. This materialized quickly in the actual game, where Reed converted a crucial third down for the national team while aligned in the slot, catching a deep crosser against LSU defensive back Jay Ward for 25 yards.

On that rep, Reed created big-time separation by once again showing off his quicks. Reed succeeding in a slot role in both practices and the game was huge for me, as I assume he will need to be able to win there at the next level at 5’11”, 195 pounds. While this was a small sample overall, it was a concentrated one and certainly promising in my eyes. Reed played in the slot on about only 20% of his college snaps, so that’s an important projection.

Lastly, Reed confirmed his special teams ability as a dangerous punt and kick returner, making him a valuable asset for any team looking for a versatile player. Special teams can greatly improve a player's draft stock, and there is no question Reed can be electric in that role.

The bottom line for me on Reed is that he is a guy with a plus athletic profile that brings inside-out vertical ability on offense and an elite skill set as a punt returner. At worst, he should be an early Day 3 target for most NFL teams, with a chance to go late on Day 2.

Players I left concerned about

Unfortunately, not every player at the Senior Bowl has a strong showing, and some may even see their draft stock fall as a result.

Here, I'll take a closer look at the players who had the most disappointing performances and may have seen their draft stock drop as a result.

But just like with the “risers,” it is very important not to overreact to a week of practices when we have upwards of four seasons of tape on some of these guys.

Jaren Hall (QB, BYU)

Hall had a very challenging week, struggling to showcase his abilities as a top-tier prospect. This was a big bummer for me because I do think there is some talent in his arm.

From my vantage point, Hall showed a lack of consistency with his throwing mechanics which led to a high rate of inaccurate passes, putting a big damper on his performance. He missed a good amount of throws outright, while also being slightly off target on balls he was completing, limiting the result of those plays (yards after catch, for instance). I didn’t see NFL-level accuracy at any point during the week. This is incongruent with his college tape, however, so I do wonder if maybe having to learn a pro-style system completely different from what he ran in college was just too much to digest in the short week.

Additionally, Hall displayed some very poor decision-making at times, most notably on Day 1, when he threw into a tight window between the corner and safety against cover-2 at the beginning of practice, and then made the exact same mistake towards the end of practice. It's one thing to make a mistake; it's something a little more serious to repeat those mistakes, especially in this environment.

Between the accuracy issues and getting himself into turnover trouble a few times, Hall seemed to scale back what he was trying to do and developed a tendency of settling for his checkdown too often, failing to work through his progression appropriately. While we have to consider that maybe the coaches set him on this course, I would hope they rather him learn from his mistakes and put his arm and legs on display. Being coachable is definitely an important quarterback trait, though, so unless Hall tells us, we will likely never know why he went the ultra-conservative route.

The issues this week were significant and will require attention and improvement before Hall can be considered a viable option for NFL teams. While Hall's week at the Senior Bowl was disappointing, he still has the opportunity to prove himself and address these issues in the pre-draft process. We know his game tape is much better than what he showed this week.

The best case scenario? Hall cleans some of this stuff up in the next couple of months at the Combine, pro days, and team visits and gets himself drafted sometime on Day 3 as a developmental backup, likely competing for a roster spot.

Not all of these stories end poorly though — 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy found himself in a similar situation a year ago after the East-West Shrine Bowl.

Final Rankings

Here is a look at how I view this Senior Bowl class coming out of the practice week and game. Keep in mind, I haven’t done formal evaluations on most of these guys, and these ranks are based purely on a preliminary watch and everything I took in last week.

My final NFL Draft rankings will develop over the next couple of months — these are not a finished product by any stretch, and they include ONLY players who were in Mobile.

1Jake HaenerFresno State--
2Tyson BagentShepherd4
3Clayton TuneHouston--
4Malik CunninghamLouisville2
5Max DugganTCU--
6Jaren HallBYU-2
Running Back
1Tyjae SpearsTulane2
2Roschon JohnsonTexasN/A
3Kenny McIntoshGeorgia3
4Chase BrownIllinois-2
5Eric GrayOklahoma--
6Evan HullNorthwestern-2
7Chris Rodriguez JrKentucky--
8SaRodorick Thompson JrTexas TechN/A
9Cameron PeoplesApp St.-1
Wide Receiver
1Nathaniel "Tank" DellHouston--
2Puka NacuaBYU1
3Rashee RiceSMU-1
4Jayden ReedMichigan St.3
5Michael WilsonStanford8
6Jon MingoOle Miss4
7Xavier HutchinsonIowa State-2
8Trey PalmerNebraska-4
9Dontayvion WicksVirginia2
10Ronnie BellMichigan-2
11Grant DuboseCharlotteN/A
12Elijah HigginsStanford-3
13Tre TuckerCIncinnati3
14Derius DavisTCU-2
15Jalen WayneS. Alabama-1
16Andrei IosivasPrinceton-1
Tight End
1Luke MusgraveOregon State--
2Will MalloryMiami--
3Davis AllenClemson2
4Josh WyhleCincinnati-1
5Payne DurhamPurdue2
6Brayden WillisOklahoma-2
7Cameron LatuAlabama-3

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.