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January 27, 2017

Senior Bowl practice notes: Day 3

Eagles NFL

The 2017 Senior Bowl week of practices is in the books, at least from my perspective, with only the game left to play this Saturday. Here's what we saw on Day 3.

• Earlier in the week I tweeted that Cooper Kupp does not have good speed.

I'll unpack that assertion here. To begin, Kupp catches everything. If you got the ball near him this week in Mobile, there was a good chance he was going to get it, even without much in the way of separation. He runs very good routes, and has great hands. There were no shortage of impressive catches all week long. So to be clear, I certainly don't want to sound like I'm killing the kid.

That said, he's not fast. On the eye test, he appeared to be one of the slower receivers in the group here this year. For example, on one play, he ran a "sluggo," or "slant-and-go." It's a double move in which you fake a slant route, and run deep. Kupp toasted the corner on the fake slant, but the corner was able to easily catch Kupp from behind and eat up the initial separation Kupp created with his excellent route.

The stopwatch test backed up the eye test. At one point, the Bears' staff had the receivers running 18-yard dig routes. The receivers lined up, sprinted for 15 yards, and then made their break inside. But you got to see them really bust it for 15 yards off the line, one at a time. In a sense, my buddy Tommy Lawlor and I had our own personal Combine event right in front of us. I timed each player from the moment they started running until the 15 yard mark, and Kupp was the slowest of the group, by a fairly significant margin. While I'm not a track coach, it seemed pretty clear that Kupp does not have top end speed, or anything close to it.

And then the Senior Bowl tweeted this:

Ugh. That is a useless measure of football speed. I remember one week earlier this season in which Josh Huff was clocked at 21.21 MPH.

As you all know, Huff was not a burner. He ran a 4.51 at the Combine. And yet, he still had the highest speed of the week when the Eagles played the Vikings. Why? Because as you can see in the picture, he got an opportunity to get to full speed with a lot of open field to work with on a kick return TD. His high MPH was more about the opportunity to get into full sprint mode over 30 or 40 yards than it was about actual "football speed." If faster players got the same opportunity with an open field, I'm sure their MPH time would be more impressive.

As luck would have it, Kupp was returning kicks this week. My guess would be that he reached that "maximum velocity" during one of his practice reps when he was trying to bust it as hard as he could over a significant distance without having to look back for the football, an opportunity that nobody else would have had.

Tommy compared him to Jason Avant. I think that's a good comparison, although I think he's certainly faster than Avant was. I'd call him a faster version of Jason Avant, which is a very good thing.

• In addition to adding cornerbacks who can play on the outside, the Eagles would be wise to put more of a premium on the slot corner position than other teams. The Eagles wasted Malcolm Jenkins' playmaking ability to some degree when he was forced to play in the slot this season due to injury. He's at his best on the back end, where he can use his instincts to diagnose plays and put himself in a position to make game-changing plays. Having more depth at slot corner would allow that.

But also, playing in the NFC East, the Eagles' divisional rivals have outstanding slot receivers. The Cowboys have Cole Beasley (75-833-5 in 2016), the Giants have Sterling Shepard (65-683-8 as a rookie in 2016), the Redskins have Jamison Crowder (67-847-7).

Additionally, the Giants and Cowboys will often take star receivers like Odell Beckham and Dez Bryant and move them into the slot to try to exploit mismatches against opposing slot corners. The Eagles better have some guys in the slot who can stop them. I wonder if a player like Michigan's Jourdan Lewis could be of interest as high as the second round, even with his very small stature at 5'10, 188.

• In 2016, East Carolina WR Zay Jones had ridiculous numbers, catching 158 passes for 1746 yards and 8 TDs. Those numbers always felt massively inflated due to East Carolina's pass-happy spread offense, as ECU attempted 554 passes this season, seventh-most in the country. 

This was not the first time an ECU receiver put up huge numbers. For example, in 2014 Justin Hardy caught 121 passes for 1494 yards and 10 TDs. The Falcons ended up taking him in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

After watching Jones play this week in Mobile, I am no longer concerned with whether or not he can play. (He most certainly can). I was surprised by how good of a route runner he was, which is not always the case with receivers coming from spread offenses in college. On one play, Jones dusted Iowa CB Desmond King on a corner route. I think King's jock strap is still laying on the field on that one.

• I'll also note here that I thought King had a rough week.

• One Iowa player who did not have a rough week was DT Jaleel Johnson. My focus was on the receivers and corner, so I didn't see a lot of what was going on in the trenches, but Johnson kept standing out, meeting ball carriers in the backfield for losses.

• Another DT who stood out in a similar way to Johnson was Michigan DT Ryan Glasgow. The Eagles spoke with Glasgow after practice.

• One corner who I like a little more after this week is Rasul Douglas of West Virginia. Douglas led the nation with eight interceptions in 2016. In Mobile, he was physical in coverage, and showed the willingness to take chances jumping routes. I think Jim Schwartz will like his confidence. Additionally, Douglas didn't shut up when he was on the sidelines, barking at his defensive back teammates on the field to make plays.

• For obvious reasons, I didn't pay much attention to the quarterbacks this year, but I thought the best of a bad group was Pitt's Nathan Peterman.

• Temple standout Haason Reddick had an outstanding week of practice. At the Senior Bowl, he played a wide variety of spots, and looked good at all of them. At Temple, he was an edge rusher, but at 6'1, 237, he's not playing DE in a 4-3 in the pros. No way. From the Eagles' perspective, I don't know where you put him.  He could probably play linebacker in the Eagles' scheme, but his skill set would probably be wasted. For example, the best thing that Mychal Kendrick does is blitz the quarterback, and he only got the rush the passer nine times this season.

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