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February 02, 2022

Senior Bowl practice notes, Day 1

Ranking the quarterbacks after the first practice, plus a look at some other players who stood out in Mobile

Eagles NFL
010222MalikWillis Vasha Hunt/USA TODAY Sports

Liberty QB Malik Willis

Senior Bowl practices kicked off on Tuesday, with Howie Roseman, Nick Sirianni, and a gaggle of other key Eagles front office and coaching staff personnel in attendance. Because the Birds have 10 picks in this year's draft, this year's Senior Bowl is of particular interest. Let's get to the notes.

• To begin, it should be noted that the Eagles drafted five players in 2021 who participated in the 2021 Senior Bowl, including their top two picks. They were DeVonta Smith, Landon Dickerson, Tarron Jackson, Marlon Tuipulotu, and JaCoby Stevens. Smith and Dickerson were hits in their rookie seasons, obviously. Jalen Hurts also competed at the 2020 Senior Bowl.

• Most of the top quarterbacks in this year's class are here in Mobile for the week. They are Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett, Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder, Nevada's Carson Strong, Liberty's Malik Willis, North Carolina's Sam Howell, and Western Kentucky's Bailey Zappe.

If the Eagles are going to select a quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft, my belief is that they must show that they have traits that are obviously superior to Hurts'. It was just one day of practice, and these guys were throwing an NFL ball in a competitive setting for the first time, but my initial group-wide takeaway was... meh. I'd rank them like so:

  1. Kenny Pickett, Pitt: Pickett made the fewest mistakes of the quarterbacks today. Generally speaking, he threw on time and with accuracy, but there's very little wow factor here. I remember watching Carson Wentz in 2016 or Justin Herbert in 2020 and being immediately impressed by their arm talent. They easily stood out from the rest of the quarterbacks those years, and went from question marks to a likely very high picks. Pickett was solid, but I don't see him wowing anyone with his physical skills. He basically hit a safe 3-iron down the fairway on Day 1.
  2. Malik Willis, Liberty: Willis has the best arm of any quarterback in attendance, and he also has the best running ability. He had a number of passes get away from him on Tuesday, but you can see the obvious physical ability. He actually reminds me a little of, well, Jalen Hurts, but with a better arm.
  3. Sam Howell, UNC: Howell made some nice throws down the field, and I thought he looked comfortable enough taking snaps from under center, something he didn't do much of at North Carolina.
  4. Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati: Ridder racked up a boatload of wins at Cincinnati, which will appeal to some teams. I thought he sprayed the ball a bit too much on Tuesday. Just casually watching his games this season, I don't believe that Ridder is a substantial upgrade on Hurts in the accuracy department.
  5. Carson Strong, Nevada: Strong's arm strength is there, but he missed badly on some shot plays down the field. He also has some pretty serious injury concerns
  6. Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky: Zappe put up video game numbers at WKU, but he's physically unimpressive from a size, mobility, and arm strength perspective. He also had a couple of Donovan McNabb-style worm burners.

• The most impressive receiver on the day was South Alabama's Jalen Tolbert. He caught a deep ball down the left sideline for a TD in 1-on-1's, and he went up high for a contested catch in 7-on-7's.

I thought North Dakota State's Christian Watson also had a nice day consistently catching the football.

• A no-name running back who had a nice day was Florida International's D'Vonte Price. On consecutive plays, he laid a nice pop on a blitzer in pass pro, and then had a huge gain running through the left side of the line with some burst. His numbers aren't impressive, but he made a good impression. 

• Tight end is sort of an underrated need for the Eagles this offseason. Dallas Goedert is a stud, but current TE2 Jack Stoll caught four passes in 2021. If the Eagles are going to run their fair share of 2-TE sets, they could use a tight end with some more receiving chops. 

I thought that the tight end who had the best day was Colorado State's Trey McBride. He caught passes all over the field. That's something he also did at CSU, just not in the end zone. He had 90 catches for 1121 yards and 1 TD in 2021.

• I only got to see OL-DL 1-on-1's for one of the two practice sessions on Tuesday. In the session I watched the defensive linemen absolutely destroyed the offensive linemen. Some of the standouts:

  1. Myjai Sanders showed his speed. He dusted 6'9, 387-pound Daniel Faalele around the edge. Nobody is running through Faalele, but he could be susceptible to speed rushers.
  2. Oklahoma DT Perrion Winfrey won his 1-on-1's with ease. Interesting player. Late bloomer.
  3. Travis Jones (6'4, 333) of UConn is pure power. I like him in, sayyyy, Round 3, a lot more than I like Georgia's Jordan Davis in Round 1.
  4. And last but not least, the biggest standout among defensive linemen on the day was UCLA's Otito Ogbonnia. Here's what he did to poor Nick Zakelj of Fordham:

Yikes. Ogbonnia also smoked Boston College's Zion Johnson on the interior. Johnson is thought of as one of the top OL prospects here. Ogbonnia is a 6'4, 320-pound nose tackle who only had 4.5 sacks in four years at UCLA. I don't know if Chip was making this guy 2-gap there, but he showed that he has some pass rush ability.

• We profiled WKU's DeAngelo Malone as a SAM linebacker candidate in Jonathan Gannon's defense earlier this year. He had 94 tackles, 9 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, and 4 pass breakups in 2021. He had a strong day, and has more upside than Patrick Johnson, in my opinion.

• Nebraska's Cam Taylor-Britt made our mock draft 2.0 on Monday, as a cornerback/safety. He mostly played safety on Tuesday, and I think that's where his home will be in the NFL. Very active player, with good instincts, he had some extra competitive juice on Day 1.

I like him a lot. Jalen Pitre of Baylor did some nice things at safety but had a few obvious holds in the secondary.


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