As always, the Senior Bowl week offered great insight into a number of eligible prospects for the upcoming draft. Here at Nothing But Niners, we previewed the offensive and defensive players the 49ers might be interested in before the Senior Bowl began. Now we bring you players who we think helped or hindered their draft stock over the course of the week.
RUNNING BACKS – Mike Caufield
Many scouts question if Ballage is versatile enough to make it as a three down back at the next level. Ballage took a huge step forward into diffusing those theories as he ran the ball very effectively with quickness and power. He also was able to display his receiving skills as he routinely beat coverage in most of the passing drills this week. His max speed was clocked in at 19.42 mph which was second among all running backs and if you add that with his size; he will be a very intriguing mid round pick and could be a option for the 49ers. Ballage runs upright which is concern but he has such quick feet and is able to get past the line so quickly. His draft stock is rising and he will look to improve on that even more if he can perform well at the Combine.
Penny had the opportunity in Mobile to solidify himself as one of the top backs in this years class. He went relatively quiet during the week of practice which almost led him to the losers list but he bounced back quite nicely during the game (78.4 pff grade) and showcased his next level play making ability. Penny ran for 64 yards on nine carries and also added electrifying touchdown reception netting 73 yards, he was named the South teams co-mvp. Even though he would fit very nicely with the 49ers, he seems to be locked in for a 2nd round selection which might be too high for the team to draft him. He will look to continue improving his draft stock in Indy, showing improved pass protecting could go along way with when and where he is selected.
The undersized running back was decent at times during practice but he really struggled in the pass protection drills and doesn’t seem to be a natural pass catcher. This does not bold well for him at the next level as if he’ll most likely be used as a third down back and he will certainly have to improve on his blocking as well to get any playing time. Even though he didn’t have a terrible week, his inconsistencies may have stalled his draft stock from climbing higher. He may be too much of a reliability in pass protection to be considered by the 49ers. He ran for 38 yards on eight carries in the game but he also had a bad drop that bounced right off of his chest.
WIDE RECEIVER – Mike Caufield
Gallup looked very refined while running his routes, he showcased that he has good hands, acceleration and the ability to attack the ball nicely while in the air. Gallup consistently beat the defenders in practice and showed the ability to gain separation on most of his routes. He made a strong case to be considered as a top 20 selection and his one of this years top risers so he may be out of the discussion for the 49ers but the must have some interest as they met with him during the week. Gallup will look to build on his draft stock with a strong performance at the Combine and at his pro day.
After having a mainly pedestrian career at LSU, Chark needs to show that his potential can greatly outdo his production in college. He has started his offseason excellent, during practice he was routinely getting separation and even if he didn’t he displayed the ability to battle for the contested passes. His great size and big play ability will be extremely tantalizing to the 49ers as he would be able to stretch the field for them along with giving them a viable red zone target. Chark broke out for a career day(85.6 pff grade) as he hauled in 5 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown earning him the South teams co-mvp honors.
Many scouts had worries of Washington as they based a lot of his success off of the scheme at Oklahoma State. Despite measuring just under 5-11, his 210-pound frame and 34-inch arms are a huge positives. He has consistent hands, tremendous speed and the route running ability to create consistent separation. Even though he didn’t have a big game, his performance during the week of practice (Named top WR), he caught 10 out of 12 receptions in 1 on 1 drills which was most among all others at the position. Washington has certainly raised his draft stock and he could go much earlier than what was previously expected.
Hamilton had a consistent week at practice in Mobile building off a nice showing at the Shrine Game. He is not the type of player that will blow you away and will need to catch more with his hands but he is a excellent route runner who has the ability to get open regularly. Hamilton missed out on an opportunity to make a impact during the game but if he can continue to show that he can get consistent separation and erase any concerns on his overall speed, he will continue to rise up boards and could be a solid under the radar selection by the 49ers.
Big bodied out of had a lot of buzz coming into this week after a solid final season season at Oklahoma St. There is concern that he may not be able to create separation at the next level and minus a few nice catches in practice and his touchdown in the game, he was relatively quiet. Ateman should still be selected in the mid rounds as he should be still viewed as a top red zone option at the position and the 49ers may be interested in him if he’s still available in the 3rd round or later. His draft status will ultimately come down to how well he tests at the Combine.
Lazard had such a great end to his season and was looking to build upon that success with a solid start to his offseason. However, he struggled to get much separation from defenders and what was more concerning was the amount of drops that he had during practices. There was hope that he would rise above his issues in practice and perform in the game but he was quite lackluster in that as well. As a potential red zone threat for the 49ers he would be really intriguing but he will need to display more consistent hands. Lazard will not be a game breaker at the next level but should be a solid and reliable receiver that is able to move the chains effectively. He is viewed ad a 4th or later pick but could benefit extremely well with a fast time at the combine.
OFFENSIVE LINE – Zach Hernandez
The Georgia offensive lineman’s draft stock increased tremendously after a week of showcasing his skills in Mobile. Wynn proved to scouts and the national media that he is dominant in pass-protection. He was also the offensive lineman awarded with the OL Practice Award by the Senior Bowl’s coaches and staff. Once Wynn arrived at Mobile, the coaches asked him to make a positional change from tackle to guard. Well, that didn’t seem to bother the Georgia product one bit. On top of all of this, he was practicing with a torn labrum! Although, this injury ultimately kept Wynn from playing in the actual game on Saturday, he still cemented his case as one of the best offensive linemen in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Cappa was one of the most talked about names all week leading up to the Senior Bowl on Saturday. The Humboldt State product was dominating defensive linemen pretty much the entire week. Not to mention, many people fell in love with his long, blonde locks on Twitter. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said of Cappa:
“Every once in a while someone just jumps out at you (while watching tape). And this guy (Cappa) had the nastiest tape I’ve ever seen! He uses his hips and leverage to routinely throw defensive ends to the ground. I’ve never seen a D2 player with such a nasty demeanor!”
As nasty and physical as his tape is, reports state that Cappa is pretty much one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet! Eric Galko from Optimum Scouting had the Humboldt State lineman as one of his “Day 3 South ‘Winners.'” He went on to start at left guard for the South, and did pretty well for the most part on Saturday. Cappa’s stock will likely keep on rising until the Draft comes in April.
Gossett joined the aforementioned Alex Cappa in showcasing their skills by juggling three tennis balls while doing footwork drills in a video posted on Twitter. While it was certainly entertaining to watch, Gossett struggled where it mattered most — on the field, against speedy defensive linemen. Overall, the Appalachian State product looked to be no match when it came to their physicality. Alabama’s Da’Shawn Hand looked to be giving Gossett the business in practice. Although his stock wasn’t dramatically altered by the Senior Bowl, it didn’t appear to rise much either.
EDGE – Scott Geelan
Despite being slightly undersized for the LEO position in the 49ers’ defense, Okoronkwo more than makes up for that with long arms and a terrific first step. He showed good pass rush variety over the course of the week but looked at this best turning the corner and using his long arms to keep tackles off him. In the game, Okoronkwo got pressures on almost half of his pass rushing snaps (7 out of 15 per PFF), which is frankly ridiculous. Okoronkwo is likely to be taken off the board between the 49ers’ first and second round picks as things currently stand, but some draft day maneuvering could see the former Sooner become a more viable target.
Fitts was someone I didn’t know much about going into the week but he flashed a good first step and a nuanced plan as a pass rusher, particularly in practice. In the game he was slightly less effective than some of his peers, but showed the ability to win both inside and outside as a rusher. Fitts could be a sub-package rushing option available to the 49ers early on day 3.
Despite not living up to the top 15 hype for much of the week, Davenport was a big winner. He forced people (including myself) to temper expectations of him during a sobering opening few days, where the leap in competition clearly got to the former USTA man. But, he appeared to find his feet more on day three, and had something of a eureka moment on a televised pass rush rep, using power and gaining the praise of his coach who had clearly been encouraging Davenport to prioritize power as his opening salvo as a rusher. From that point on, Davenport was dominant. He needs to develop as a 3-point stance rusher, but his ability to take to coaching and his humbleness shone through. He can be a star and his ceiling is far higher than any other edge player in this class. Worth taking in the top 10 and an excellent fit as the LEO in the 49ers’ defense.
Landry didn’t even make it to the Senior Bowl as he continues his injury plagued year. If healthy, the former Boston College man could have started to revive his falling stock but he was unable to and now needs to focus on getting healthy for the Combine. An injury affected performance could be the dagger in the first round hopes of a man who when healthy, could be a legitimate LEO target for the 49ers in the top ten.
The Senior Bowl offered Hand a real opportunity to continue the momentum created by his outstanding performances in the CFB playoffs. Unfortunately, he was unable to do so. This may have been because he was generally used as an inside player, so from a 49ers’ perspective we didn’t get the chance to see Hand in the role that he’d likely fill in the Bay – a strong side defensive end. Hand certainly lost himself some money at the Senior Bowl though – he proved he was essentially a two down, run stopping player as he struggled as a rusher.
LINEBACKERS – Zach Hernandez
Leonard came into Senior Bowl week as my top-rated linebacker. Well, he did just about everything within his power to prove himself to the scouts and national media. Leonard had a punishing hit on running back Kalen Ballage that generated some buzz around Twitter. He put his fantastic size, athleticism and talent on full display, and we all took note! Leonard looks to be every part of a modern-day NFL linebacker. He was all over the field and proved he was able to cover RBs & TEs as well. There was one play in particular where Leonard chased down Mike Gesicki from behind as he was trying to pull away after the catch. A strong week of practices topped off with a strong performance at the Senior Bowl drove Leonard’s stock through the roof! Look for him to become somewhat of a household name over the next few months leading up to the NFL Draft — especially as a sleeper.
If I had to choose one linebacker that benefited the most from the Senior Bowl, it has to be Shaquem Griffin. A moment from the Mobile went just about viral when Griffin was being interviewed by NFL Network’s Stacy Flanagan (SP), and they realized he was up on special teams! The UCF linebacker quickly grabbed his helmet and tried to sprint onto the field before coaches told him someone else covered him. It was a hilarious moment you don’t see happen often during sideline interviews, if at all. Griffin was the recipient of the “Overall Practice Award,” by the coaches and staff. 49ers GM John Lynch even took notice of the linebacker, telling the Las Vegas Review Journal:
“I think he’s (Griffin) earned it (an invite to the Combine).”
However, Griffin definitely doesn’t let having only one hand get in his way, he plays like a man on fire. It’s a shame that he wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine, but after that showing in Mobile, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that change in the near future. Griffin said on NFL Network:
“I plan on making a phone call to the Combine and finding out if I’m invited. The first time I made a phone call, it wasn’t a yes but it wasn’t a no. I was considered under suggestion. So hopefully I did enough this week to solidify my spot, It’s going to be a nerve-wracking phone call but hopefully it works out for the best.”
Update: After writing this piece, Griffin revealed he did in fact receive an invite to the NFL Combine!
Michigan’s hybrid defender Mike McCray was able to successfully generate some buzz around his name last week in Mobile. Just like his time in Ann Arbor, McCray was all over the field on Saturday and always seemed to find himself around the ball each play. McCray was mainly used at the MIKE linebacker, and he showed his ability to not only quickly read and diagnose plays, but also react physically. McCray was able to chase down backs and receivers laterally. After the first half, he had already totaled 4 tackles and broken up 1 pass. Expect McCray’s stock to keep on rising from now until the Draft, unless something dramatic happens to alter that.
Burks was asked to step in for an injured Micah Kiser, and he played exceptionally well. The Vanderbilt linebacker finished the Senior Bowl with 6 tackles (4th most in game) and a game-high 2 tackles for loss. Burks played stout against the run and looked like an efficient tackler on the field. There’s one play in particular where he shows off his speed by chasing down RB Kalen Ballage and wrapping him up from behind. Surely, getting into the Senior Bowl in the first place had to have been the best thing for Burks’ draft stock.
Micah Kiser & Dorian O’Daniel
Needing to be removed from the Senior Bowl due to injuries definitely didn’t help the stocks of linebackers Micah Kiser and Dorian O’Daniel. As stated above, Kiser was replaced by Vanderbilt’s Oren Burks, who played pretty well in his place, and also stole away any buzz Kiser had started in the week leading up. O’Daniel was replaced by Florida State safety Nate Andrews. I was really looking forward to seeing the Clemson Tiger on the field Saturday, as there were plenty of reports from scouts onsite stating that O’Daniel was impressive in practice. He definitely still has some intriguing traits and skills that will likely help him rebound once teams are a little removed from the Senior Bowl.
The Citadel linebacker was another no-go due to an injury. Unfortunately. a sprained ankle caused Pierce to miss the Senior Bowl. I was really looking forward to seeing Pierce fly around the field Saturday, as he is one of my draft crushes, if we’re being honest here. At least he was able to get his measurements in and get some time with the media, as his personality seems to shine through the roof. I hope I’m wrong on this last one — but also, reports of Pierce already having a job offer at a top accounting firm emerged earlier this week, which I think is great. Players should always have a backup plan if professional football doesn’t become a reality, or doesn’t stay one for long. However, I really hope this doesn’t get spun around by certain members of the media into “You have to question the kid’s desire to play the game.”