The Senior Bowl can mean everything or nothing. For some, the week of practice and subsequent game in Mobile is a chance to burst onto the NFL Draft scene and make a name for themselves. For others, it’s just another event on the way to a first-round pick.
In the grand scheme of things, it sits only behind the NFL Combine in terms of overall importance to what happens at the Draft itself.
Like any other year, we’re leaving the Senior Bowl with our views having changed on a host of prospects — some for better, some for worse. Here are the winners and losers of the 2018 Senior Bowl.
Winner: Players who sat out
The Senior Bowl is a vital event for some players who need to make a splash prior to the Combine. For many others, however, it’s unnecessary — something they can afford to miss. Given the injury risk, it’s probably something more players should miss. Michigan defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, Boston College defensive end Harold Landry, Ohio State center Billy Price, Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, and Georgia running back Nick Chubb are all on the list of players who skipped out on the event. And none of them will suffer for it.
If you’re a first-round prospect, there just isn’t much incentive to play in Mobile. You can do all the same drills and underwear Olympics in Indianapolis with everyone else and playing in a game is only another way to get hurt. That isn’t the case for everyone — Memphis wideout Anthony Miller, for example, probably could have used the reps. But if your stock is past a certain point, there’s just no need to bother with the Senior Bowl.
Loser: Baker Mayfield, quarterback, Oklahoma
Mayfield didn’t play badly in Mobile by any means. He displayed good arm strength and ability in the pocket with so-so accuracy. However, he didn’t do much to quell the doubters either.
On seven throws, Mayfield was the same player we saw at Oklahoma. If you liked him before Saturday, you probably saw nothing to change your opinion. Ditto for the reverse. In some circles of NFL scouting ridiculousness, Mayfield will be hit for arriving a day late as well.
After watching him, it’s hard to figure out why he came at all. There just didn’t seem to be much point in his being there for all of seven shoulder-shrug throws. His stock won’t slide down as a result of the Senior Bowl, but it won’t go up either.
Winner: Mike White, quarterback, Western Kentucky
A fairly unknown commodity heading into the Senior Bowl, White immediately impressed. On the game’s second drive, he connected on an impressive third down throw to J’Mon Moore, showing ability to move defenders with his eyes as well as strong accuracy. After Rashad Penny set the South up in the red zone, White found Tre’Quan Smith for a touchdown with a nicely thrown slant.
He followed that up by hitting LSU’s D.J. Chark for a 63-yard gain on the very first throw of the next drive. It was a perfect throw on a go route, displaying uncanny touch.
When the South had less than a minute to work with at the end of the first quarter, White hit a couple quick out routes with precision to set up a 53-yard field goal, displaying good accuracy and impressive composure.
White is probably still a Day 3 guy, but a poor performance in Mobile could have taken him out of the draft entirely. He’ll leave the Senior Bowl fairly certain that an NFL team will take a chance on him.
Loser: Brian O’Neill, tackle, Pittsburgh
O’Neill’s deficiencies were immediately evident. His strength — a concern coming in — was taken advantage of right away by Marcus Davenport, who bull rushed him for a sack on the North’s first drive.
Next time up, O’Neill whiffed on a screen block, failing to create a hole for Allen Lazard, who was swallowed up immediately.
This following a poor week in general, in which O’Neill struggled badly during individual drills. He comes out of this week as a clear loser. Barring a great combine, expect his stock to slide to the end of Day 2, or even Day 3.
Winner: Marcus Davenport, edge rusher, UTSA
Davenport is one of the most intriguing prospects in the draft, a small-school stud who racked up 8.5 sacks and 17.5 TFLs in Conference-USA last season. He added to that total right off the bat, sacking Mayfield on the game’s first drive.
He displayed strong ability with his hands and consistently won the matchup against O’Neill.
Davenport felt like a near-constant presence in the backfield,. Even when he wasn’t notching sacks, he was in the backfield getting pressure. At one point, he got downhill and forced Josh Allen to step up in the pocket. Allen was swallowed up by two other players, but that sack was Davenport’s doing.
Any team hesitating to take him because of the poor competition he dominated last season will have to reckon with this performance. A poor Senior Bowl performance might have undone Davenport, but a game like this proves he’s for real.
Loser: Daniel Carlson, kicker, Auburn
It’s not easy for a kicker to be good enough to get drafted. After the Senior Bowl, Carlson’s prospects have dwindled significantly.
After hitting 74.2 percent of his field goals at Auburn — down significantly from his junior year — Carlson came out and missed his first attempt at the Senior Bowl. Even worse, it was from 33 yards. In other words, the length of an extra point.
So, not ideal.
Carlson saved the day by hitting a 53-yarder to end the first quarter, but anything less than perfection for a kicker in this kind of setting makes it hard to justify spending a draft pick on one.
Winner: Rashad Penny, running back, San Diego State
By the time this game was three minutes into the second quarter, Penny hit the 100 all-purpose yard mark, most of it on a 73-yard touchdown catch (watch here).
Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert will get most of the kudos for that play, and rightly so. But Penny’s athleticism was on full display. He was near-impossible to take down with the ball in his hands, finding space and rocketing up the field.
Penny also did a nice job as a runner, hitting the hole for an early 34-yard gain and going from there. He didn’t play much after scoring, but we saw enough from Penny to give his stock a bump.
Loser: Josh Allen, quarterback, Wyoming
Admittedly, this has as much to do with the rest of the week than anything Allen did in the game. His performance on Saturday was fairly nondescript — Allen threw just five times for 14 yards in the first half, struggling against pressure in the same fashion he did all year at Wyoming.
That would have been a blip on the radar had Allen acquitted himself all week, but he was flatly bad in a lot of the drills. His accuracy struggles were on full display constantly.
The anonymous scout leaks around Allen were brutal as well. We heard quotes like, “media is higher on Allen than their teams,” and “project.”
Allen saved the day with an impressive drive to start the second half, enough to prevent things from completely cratering. His touchdown throw to Tyler Conklin featured deft touch, the type he doesn’t often show on tape (watch here). By the time he came out for good, Allen had a respectable 158 yards and two touchdowns. But that won’t be enough to save the overall week from being a disappointment for him.
Winner: TyQuan Lewis, edge rusher, Ohio State
Lewis acquitted himself right away, notching a highlight-reel run stuff early in the game and going from there. (This might have been the best play of the first half and the announcers didn’t make note of it because they were interviewing Romeo Crennnel at the time. Can we please end dumb sideline interviews where nobody says anything interesting and the game itself gets relegated to secondary conversation?)
Lewis racked up three tackles, two TFLs, and a sack in the first half alone. He won as a pass rusher consistently, using his hands well and displaying good technique.
Later on, Lewis flat-out murdered his man a bull rush, leading to a strip sack of Kyle Lauletta, though the defense failed to recover.
It was easy for Lewis to get lost in an Ohio State pass rush that included Sam Hubbard and Nick Bosa, two other future NFLers. But Lewis had a chance to shine at the Senior Bowl and took advantage.
Loser: Michael Gallup, wide receiver, Colorado State
Gallup didn’t do enough to impress. He failed to impact the game at all in the first half, as the trio of Mayfield, Allen, and Tanner Lee targeted him just two times.
The only time he managed to get free early on was late in the half, on a go route that could have easily went for a huge gain. The throw from Lee was on target and Gallup dropped it.
He recovered in the second half, getting open for a nice gain on an drive route for a big gain. Gallup ended up finishing with a respectable three catches for 60 yards, largely as a result of that play, but it felt like too little, too late.
Given that Gallup struggled toward the end of the year, notching just one 100-yard performance in his last four games, a good Senior Bowl might have dispelled some worries. Instead, he’ll leave Mobile with his stock heading down.
Winner: Mike McCray, linebacker, Michigan
McCray was all over the field on Saturday, consistently finding the ball and making plays in coverage.
Just look at what he does here on this early boot-action snap: McCray recognizes the play and jumps into pattern-match coverage, using lateral speed to get across the field. When the throw comes, he breaks it up.
Those types of plays just kept coming. McCray notched four tackles and another pass breakup in the first half alone. Expect him to get some well-deserved buzz heading into the combine.
Loser: James Washington, wide receiver, Oklahoma State
Washington’s poor statistical performance reflects as much on the South’s quarterbacks as it does on him.
However, he didn’t do much of anything on Saturday, going the entire first half without a reception. On his only target — a fade to the end zone — Washington was boxed out in the end zone and the ball was intercepted.
Had better players been throwing the ball, maybe the game would have gone differently for Washington. Nobody can say. But zero catches in the Senior Bowl doesn’t reflect well on the Biletnikoff Award winner.
Winner: JaMarcus King, cornerback, South Carolina
King wasn’t perfect in the Senior Bowl, but he made one of the game’s best defensive plays in breaking up that fade to Washington. For a polarizing player who needed a splash on Saturday, this was perfect.
He stayed with Washington the whole way on the fade, prevented the receiver from turning around, then got a hand on the pass leading to a pick.
It wasn’t all roses for King, who coughed up a big gain early after D.J. Chark beat him with speed on a go route. However, he showed nice ability to win with physicality. An NFL team will no doubt sell itself on that.
Loser: Alex Cappa, tackle, Humboldt State
A Division II offensive lineman, this game was Cappa’s chance to prove he belonged. And, well, that didn’t happen.
Cappa got worked by everyone who lined up across from him. At one point, he coughed up three pressures — one turning into a sack — on one drive. Cappa had no answer for Ogbonnia Okorinkwo’s speed rush, let alone Lewis.
He looked like a Division II player, and that’s not a compliment. Though compliments were thrown his way during some of the practices earlier in the week, Cappa wasn’t good enough come game-time. Given this is the only tape we have of him going against Division I competition, it mattered a lot that Cappa play well in Mobile. He was flat-out bad for a lot of this game and it will be reflected come April.
Winner: D.J. Chark, wide receiver, LSU
Chark arguably had the best day of anybody at the Senior Bowl. He connected on two highlight plays — the aforementioned go route against King and a 75-yard touchdown on the same route in the second half.
His main weapon is speed and Chark used it to his full advantage on Saturday. He finished with 160 yards, the most of anyone in Mobile. Chark will be on every single highlight reel after this game.
That performance will make a whole lot of people wonder what Chark can do with an NFL quarterback getting him the ball.
Loser: Akrum Wadley, running back, Iowa
Wadley came into the Senior Bowl as a probable Day 2 pick. He leaves with that status a little less intact.
Wadley didn’t make much of an impact on the game at all. He carried it eight times for 38 yards, but 20 of those yards came on the North’s last drive, once the intensity was reeled back. It was an anonymous performance at best and a flat-out poor one at worst. Inconsistency was a problem for him in college — Wadley went from getting 30 yards on 17 carries against Michigan State one week to 115 on 23 carries against Illinois the next.
Unsurprisingly, how he played often correlated with the quality of the opposing defense (The long exception this year was Ohio State — a game where everything turned on its head). Against a team of draft prospects, Wadley struggled, a fact that will be duly noted.
Winner: Will Hernandez, guard, UTEP
Hernandez picked up an early highlight, springing Kalen Ballage off a pull block, and went from there. He was a force in run blocking and a solid presence in pass protection all game.
Players from small schools are always the ones with the most to prove at the Senior Bowl. You did it against Conference-USA cupcakes all year, now do it against NFL-caliber guys. Not everyone can handle the difference, but Hernandez did.
It’s hard not to think Hernandez cemented himself as a second-rounder this week, or better. He should be one of the first guards off the board in the draft.
Loser: Brett Toth, tackle, Army
Toth wasn’t having an especially notable game in either direction until late in the 3rd quarter. A fringe late-rounder, this game was a chance to prove he belonged and Toth was doing a solid, if uninspiring, job.
Then came Marquis Haynes. Haynes rushed by Toth with stunning ease, then strip-sacked Tanner Lee. Davenport picked up the ball and returned it for a touchdown, cementing Toth’s spot on the highlight reels, and not in a good way.
A strong performance might have earned Toth an invite to the Combine, but it’s hard to see that happening now. He could easily slip out of the draft as a result of Saturday.
Winner: Kalen Ballage, running back, Arizona State
For most of this game, Ballage was the only North running back doing anything. He consistently found holes and made good decisions with the ball in his hands, going for 57 yards on just 10 carries.
A fringe-at-best Day 3 pick heading into Mobile, Ballage leaves as a name draftniks will need to learn. Other than Penny, it’s hard to argue he wasn’t the best running back in this game period.
We’d love to see Ballage get an NFL Combine invite after what he did in Mobile. At minimum, he certainly proved he deserves to be drafted.
Loser: Tanner Lee, quarterback, Nebraska
In a game that featured six quarterbacks, only two of whom are expected to go in the first round, Lee was the worst.
He turned the ball over twice — a strip sack followed by an interception on the very next drive, putting on display the same problem that plagued him at Nebraska. If you saw Lee’s name on the roster and wondered why he was considered good enough to be in Mobile, this game didn’t give you an answer.
The biggest thing Lee needed to do in this game was not turn the ball over. He failed terribly and didn’t do enough other stuff to make up for it, failing to hit the 100 passing yard mark despite 19 attempts. It was already hard to see Lee as an effective NFL quarterback. Saturday made it even tougher.