What a day it was in Houston on January 31, 2023.
It's a day that'll go down in history with the hiring of one of the great young leaders/men in the game of football - DeMeco Ryans - as head coach.
I, on the other hand, was in Mobile, Alabama, for the 10th straight year, checking out the talent on its way to the NFL. So, with no further ado, here are my Day One observations from the Senior Bowl on Tuesday.
I don't typically start with dudes' bodies, but, well, it is #DraftSzn. Man, the length, size and build of this entire class are so dadgum impressive. I sat down on the east side of the stadium down where the defensive linemen congregated for pre-practice. Each guy that came out...
Keion White, Georgia Tech. Wow. I mean, arms for days, built like he's 240 yet he's nearly 6-5 and 280 lb.
Notre Dame edge Isaiah Foskey walked in beside White at 6-5, 262 lb.
Wisconsin DT Keanu Benton, trunk and thighs like Roy Lopez Jr.
Those were just three that stood out, especially amongst a defensive line group that was so physically well put together.I'm going to start with one guy that you couldn't miss seeing from Dauphin Island - Ohio State OT Dawand Jones. I didn't know his measurements until after practice, but I didn't need them to know that dude is HUGE. After the first practice, he walked by me as I was talking to someone on the field. I just looked at my friend, with my eyes wide, and went "DAMN!" Jones might be the biggest football player I've ever seen in person. Throughout the 2022 season, I wasn't totally sold on Jones as I knew there was more in his game than perhaps I had been seeing. Well, fast forward to Tuesday in Mobile. On the first play of run blocking one-on-ones, he faced Top-50 edge rusher Andre Carter, II of Army. Have you ever played baseball, or golf, and hit one so perfectly on the screws? You don't even feel it because you hit it SOOO well? That's how Jones hit Carter. He took Carter right off the field and almost into the first row of the Hancock Whitney Stadium stands. It was almost "Blind Side"-like...and it wasn't Hollywood like the "Blind Side". It was funny to watch successive edge players NOT want to tangle with Jones at all! They did it, but it was clear that they didn't want to mess with him in the run game AT ALL. Suffice to say, Jones had an extremely strong day in both the run and pass games. Oh, by the way, he measured in at 6-8 ¼, 375 lb!! He was not only A definite winner on day one, he was THE winner on day one.This 2023 Senior Bowl might have the best collection of cover cornerbacks I've seen in Mobile and it's not even close. One guy I hadn't seen a ton of really showed it off at the corner position: USC's Mekhi Blackmon. At a shade under 5-11, he's pushing the height minimum of a perimeter cornerback. But after watching him throw clamps on receivers at all levels on the field, I'm convinced that his smooth, yet competitive, style can translate at the next level. One of my favorite moments was about halfway through the practice, the National team took a scheduled water break. As the break was nearing its end, the WR and DB groups grabbed their helmets to prepare for one-on-ones, yet there was one guy all ready to roll: Blackmon. He was standing on the field, helmet strapped up, ready for the first rep against whichever receiver wanted to face him one-on-one. Then, he jumped all over the first receiver to force an incompletion. Quick feet. Patience. Not handsy nor overly physical. Blackmon really impressed me all day long.If you like cornerbacks, hold on, there are a few more. Kansas State's Julius Brents is 6-3, 202 lb. and that's just not how cornerbacks are built. Those sized guys go to receiver, eventually, but Brents stayed at cornerback and was brilliant on day one for the American squad. Three straight reps in one-on-ones, he shut them ALL down - a dig route, a deep go route and an over route. He was step for step with all three receivers, even picking off one pass after he was shoved by the intended receiver (Virginia WR Dontayvion Wicks) to prevent the pick. Brents' length and height are problematic for receivers but he moves better than it may seem at first glance. He battled my top ranked WR TCU Quentin Johnston in the Big 12 Championship game. The immediate comparison is to Seahawks Tariq Woolen, who starred last year at this very same event. I think teams rue the fact that they missed on Woolen last year, so Brents will be HUGELY attractive to those teams, and others as well.Two years ago, I loved watching #11 as a multi-use linebacker for Nevada. From the edge, he was a disruptive edge rusher at times, a smart/focused stack backer at others. When watching Nevada this year, I didn't see him, but when I saw Washington State LB Daiyan Henley early in the season, I found out why. The Nevada transfer took his talents to Pullman and his game went to a different level. Like he did at Nevada, Henley played inside and out with equal impact and was an All-Pac-12 honoree. I started to write "During one-on-one pass protection..." then I realized that Henley was outstanding in EVERY facet of practice. During one-on-one pass pro, he beat RBs repeatedly - one with a bull rush, one with a quick side step and one other with a quick arm over. He then registered a TFL during a team period, blasting through a gap and making a clinic-teaching one-on-one tackle. He's a complete stack backer with blitz/pass rush abilities and was another winner on day one for the National team.Houston WR Tank Dell weighed in at a whopping 163 pounds, which I say in jest, of course, but there is NO joking about Dell's explosiveness on the field. The scouts/coaches standing around me "OOOOHHH'd" and "AHHHHH'd" every time Dell got the ball in his hands. I talked with former Texans RB coach Charles London, who is now the Falcons QB coach and the OC for the American team, and he was truly impressed with Dell's juice. Dell's ability to stop on a dime, ask for change and then make a clean, crisp cut is without peer, perhaps in this entire draft class. He does EVERYTHING at a much different rate of speed and acceleration than anyone on the field. Rams WR Tutu Atwell found his footing a bit in LA in 2022 and that's Dell's comp. During one-on-ones, Dell spun around Oregon State DB Rejzohn Wright on a deep comeback for an easy catch. Furthermore, watching Dell work routes on air, I was impressed with his hands, catching the ball away from his body and adjusting to make those catches, high or low. He did have some concentration drops throughout the season, but that's one tough dude with the makeup...and speed...to hear his name on day twoGoing back to the cornerbacks, Iowa CB Riley Moss looks like he has no body fat at all and, man, what a smooth, yet explosive, mover he is. His ability to match and mirror on all kinds of routes was on display throughout the day. Moss decided to go back to Iowa for 2022 after a strong 2021 season and he's finishing his career with a flourish in Mobile. As I wrote this observation, I kept flashing back in my mind, watching him strap up receivers consistently. What's so much more important is that he's doing so trusting his feet, speed and acceleration, not grabbing and clutching.I won't spend a ton of time on Florida State S Jammie Robinson because I'm going to write his scouting report later this week, but man, what an impressive dual threat safety. The physical, run support Robinson wasn't as much in focus on day one, but the Robinson with speed and burst to, and through, the ball in the passing game were. He may very well end up being my number one safety in this draft class. He's chiseled out of marble and hits like a mack truck.I mentioned Wicks earlier and he was one of my crushes last summer as I watched his 2021 tape. I remarked to a friend of mine on the field that he needed to go back and watch Wicks' 2021 to get a real feel for the 6-1 ⅝, 212 lb. former Virginia star. Just as I said that, Wicks ran a wicked double move on one of the American team's cornerbacks and just LEFT him in the dust. That certainly had everyone's attention at Hancock Whitney.Another player who flashed with his route running, opening a whole new box, so to speak, was Kentucky RB Chris Rodriguez Jr. At Kentucky, he was the repetitive hammer, running inside time after time after time. But what he didn't do was be a true factor in the passing game. So, on one of his first routes against the linebackers in one-on-ones, he threw a sick hesitation move on a linebacker to get WIDE open. I was stunned because that's a club I didn't think Rodriguez had in his proverbial bag but he showed he had that for sure.Michigan State WR Jayden Reed posted the fastest time in the early practice at 20.04 mph on the GPS, but it was his ability to change speeds and get to full speed after a hesitation or double move that caught truly my attention. He spent the entire day running past press coverage and shaking off coverage with his releases and sick change of direction. He's going to be heard from a ton this week for sure.The player with, seemingly, the most buzz in Mobile is Oregon State TE Luke Musgrave. He only played a couple of games in 2022, but I fell deep in lust with one of the most athletic TEs I've seen in a while last spring. I was tipped off in May to Musgrave and dove right into his film. Oh lawdy. He moves SOOO smoothly at nearly 6-5 and 255 lb. He ran a seam route right in front of me today during a team drill and I just hit my buddy as if to say "DID YOU SEE THAT?!?" That kicked off a debate on the sideline - rank the TEs in this draft class. The top three were clear to us, but the order of Michael Mayer (Notre Dame), Musgrave and Dalton Kincaid (Utah) was unique to each one of us. Then, there's massive/athletic Darnell Washington from Georgia who should always be the first one off every bus. This TE class? WOW and Musgrave is seemingly representing for all four studs this week.Florida G O'Cyrus Torrence was a bit of a frustrating watch for me, in some sense, in 2022. So many people hyped him as a first round pick and I just hadn't seen it. But, today, I heard it. Now, I still think he's a top 70 pick, 2nd/3rd round prospect, but seeing him live made more of an impression on me, for certain. On every single rep, I could close my eyes and know that it was a Torrence rep. He's a heavy, HEAVY handed interior line prospect and I actually closed my eyes and tested my theory during one-on-ones and I'll be damned, it was 100% true. There are going to be deficiencies in his game and he's not incredibly athletic, but the game is violent and that's Torrence's sweet spot.Back in my summer Harris 100, I comped Minnesota center John Michael-Schmitz to Titans/former Texans center Ben Jones. Seeing him in person for the first time, I don't think I'm wrong. Schmitz seems to hold his anchor a little better and showed that in one-on-one pass rush drills against some serious fire hydrant type, stout interior defensive linemen. But, the one play that stood out was a screen during a team period, in which Schmitz was 20-22 yards downfield making a key block on Pitt LB Sirvocea Dennis. Schmitz, then, ran Dennis right out of the way for the running back who picked up a big gain. Schmitz is my clear #1 at center but I didn't need today to know that for certain.When South Carolina DT Zacch Pickens WANTS to be a dominant player, he can take over a drill and a game. He's got long arms, for an interior defender, and he's thick as a redwood. He just has to be consistent with his technique and approach on every play. I have written in my notebook "Pickens - wow" and then the next one "Pickens - FINISH!"TCU QB Max Duggan chimed in with two consecutive throws during team drills to Ole Miss WR Jonathan Mingo. He hit Mingo first on a bootleg and then on a dig route where Duggan navigated up in the pocket before delivering to the Ole Miss star.I can't get enough of the corners in this Senior Bowl class. Maryland CB Jakorian Bennett is really intriguing and the way that he locked up Michigan's Ronnie Bell early in one-on-one was highly impressive.Cincinnati WR Tre Tucker is lightning quick, LIGHTNING QUICK! His change of direction is on par with Tank Dell, but Tucker has a few more pounds on the Houston Cougar star.It was hard to know who liked BYU WR Puka Nacua more - his BYU QB teammate Jaren Hall or Fresno State QB Jake Haener. I didn't keep track of how many catches Nacua made in team periods, but it was clearly more than any other National team receiver. Nacua was Hall's favorite receiver at BYU, but Haener clearly found synergy with the Cougar receiver early in practice. Nacua's quick out of his cuts and has more than adequate size. He's...okay, here's my word - INTRIGUING at 6-1 ¼, 206 lb.Northwestern RB Evan Hull struggled mightily in pass protection, but that dude is a jump cut ready to happen. He was hopping all over during team drills, around the National team defenders throughout practice. He has some burst out of those cuts for certain too.Stanford has a pair of receivers in Mobile and RB Michael Wilson has been the more impressive of the two. Elijah Higgins struggled a little bit finding his footing, but Wilson ran crisp routes, made a ton of catches after gaining separation and had an overall great start to the Senior Bowl week.Texas RB Roschon Johnson showed early in practice why he's gotten Top 100 pick love. His first two reps of one-on-one pass protection were flat out awesome. I've been a fan of his for a while and consistent work like that will garner even more attention.North Dakota OL Cody Mauch could play either tackle or guard at the next level, but the main thing is to just get him on the field to let him play, guard OR tackle. He can maul all day long and his violence, like O'Cyrus Torrence noted above, can be heard.
Alright, that's going to empty out some of the notebook. Whatever I've missed, I'll catch up on Day Two at the Senior Bowl...Day Two of the DeMeco Ryans era in Houston.
I'm really happy about both those things.