One of the most important events of the offseason for NFL teams kicked off on Tuesday with the first practices of the Reese’s Senior Bowl. The New York Jets and Detroit Lions coaching staffs ran through a rigorous set of drills, run-throughs, and brief scrimmages to test each prospect’s skill set. Unsurprisingly, the test brought out the best and worst of many players in attendance. Here’s a list of Senior Bowl standouts, both good and bad, from the first day of practices here in Mobile, Alabama.
Felix: If I was forced to select one Senior Bowl standout from today’s practice sessions, it was Christian Watson. Measuring at an even 6-4 and 211 pounds, he played as if he was smaller, showing nice fluidity to make some great catches, good speed in and out of his breaks, and a varied release package that allowed him to burn several defensive backs that were present today.
I was particularly impressed with his dipping his hips to break his routes despite having such a long frame. He possesses soft hands and had some great concentration catches through contact, too. Overall, he’s my favorite receiver from today, which isn’t a surprise based on our watchlist heading into the week.
Mitch: Zion Johnson was probably the most impressive Senior Bowl standout among the offensive lineman in Mobile today. He took reps at both guard spots, along with playing some center. He was more inconsistent with that latter but had some good reps. Nevertheless, he was truly dominant when playing guard, displaying an excellent anchor with strong hands that lock up his opponent.
He also exhibited excellent movement skills when asked to execute Reach blocks during the team drills period. Johnson has a chance to solidify himself as the top offensive guard in this class and Tuesday’s practice put him on pace to achieve that goal.
Mitch: One player gave Zion Johnson trouble, especially at center: Travis Jones. The defensive tackle from UConn, measuring in at 6’4” and 326 pounds, used all of his strength to demolish his opponents, including Johnson. He moves remarkably well for a man of his size and possesses a relatively diverse arsenal of moves to get by blockers.
Jones could be a viable backup option for a team that misses out on a run-stuffing nose tackle like Jordan Davis. Despite his past level of competition, he showed he belonged with these players on the field today, earning him the distinction of being a Senior Bowl standout.
Felix: For someone that was billed to be long and lean, Myjai Sanders looked every bit chiseled for his frame and could potentially pack on more weight. But regardless of size, he flashed some excellent reps winning not only with burst and leverage, but demonstrated some great lean as well. He moved very smoothly and played with urgency, often blowing up running plays from the backside. I was also impressed with his active hands.
Sanders had several coaches eyeing him from what I saw, including New York Giants legend Jessie Armstead. Sanders was absolutely one of the Senior Bowl standouts.
Felix: Penn State defensive back Tariq Castro-Fields stood out on the field with his fluidity and build. He absolutely looks the part at 6-0 and a solid 194 pounds that he wears well. He demonstrated some good movement skills and was solid in his matchups in man coverage, never burnt outright and fought at the catch point. Overall, he put together a solid day, even coming up with a spectacular interception in the end zone on a deep ball that he stripped as they went to the ground.
Felix: Cole Strange flashed a few times in practice, so he could hang his hat on some solid tape, but he had some drastic mistakes. He was manhandled by UConn’s Travis Jones and blatantly whiffed a couple of times at center. His hand placement and footwork were inconsistent, and he struggled to maintain a solid base under him. His overall frame seemed small, so I have some concerns and will watch him over the next couple of practices.
Felix: One of the Senior Bowl standouts for the wrong reason, Gregory Junior is feisty, but almost too feisty. He was burnt a few times with a lack of speed on the top of routes to keep up, but more noticeable was how grabby he could get when fearing separation. I counted three times where he grabbed some jersey and/or pads. He’ll have to show more patience in contention with opposing receivers for the rest of this week. The fluidity is there, but the speed and hands concern me.
RBs catching the ball and TEs false starting
Mitch: Given that this was the first session of the first day of practice, mistakes were expected. Quarterback Carson Strong even admitted that he had some plays backward in his head. But the players that routinely experienced mental lapses were the running backs and tight ends. The backs gravely struggled to catch the ball out of the backfield, dropping very catchable balls that hit them in the hands.
Furthermore, the tight end group was very out of sorts with the snap counts. Every tight end on the field went early at least once during the first practice session. It’s not the biggest issue but if these problems aren’t corrected tomorrow, it could be cause for concern.