The Senior Bowl continued today in Mobile, AL, as both teams practiced through torrential downpours for the majority of the afternoon. Around the Block sent multiple scouts to Mobile this week to check out the prospects. For their recaps of Tuesday’s practices, check out their standouts from the American and National teams. In this article, Mitchell Wolfe highlights his Senior Bowl practice stars from Wednesday’s rain-soaked practice.
Malik Willis is the first quarterback to make our Senior Bowl practice stars list. Despite the heavy rain throughout most of practice, Willis relied on his incredible arm strength to continue pushing the ball downfield. He hit on some big deep throws and showed off his ability to run. But what stuck out the most was his energy and leadership.
While most players seemed to slow down with the rain falling, Willis continued dancing between reps and hyping up the other guys on his team, including the other quarterbacks. Moments like these are important and unique in that they show viewers something that goes beyond the film or the stats.
Willis has arguably been the player with the highest energy at the Senior Bowl, regardless of position or team. Along with his incredible physical gifts, that earns him a spot among our Senior Bowl practice stars.
As was the case during his college career, Dameon Pierce was not the most heralded player among the running back group this year. But he deserves a spot as a Senior Bowl practice star after two impressive days. Pierce is an exceptionally tough runner between the tackles, displaying a consistent ability to get skinny in the hole and burst through into the second level. He is a compact runner, keeping his pads low and the ball high and tight. This helps him run through contact with ease.
Additionally, Pierce has been an asset as a pass protector, something that will make him exceptionally valuable as a third-down back. He finished off the day by winning a 1-on-1 blocking drill against another Senior Bowl practice star to be mentioned later. Pierce is making a name for himself down in Mobile this week.
Speaking of people making names for themselves, there has been no better player on the field than Jermaine Johnson. The reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year has been utterly unstoppable through two days of practice. In yesterday’s recap, we mentioned his name as he led the elite American defensive line unit. But he continued his reign of terror against the offensive line and quarterbacks today.
This Senior Bowl practice star regularly beat offensive linemen, in team drills and 1-on-1s, with various pass rush moves using speed, power, and finesse. To be frank, Johnson has nothing left to prove this week and could go home with his status solidified as a first-round pick.
While Johnson has been wrecking shop off the edge, Devonte Wyatt has been demolishing the interior of the offensive line. Wyatt also stood out yesterday and continued to bully his opponents throughout practice.
He somewhat flew under the radar on his own team, as the massive and terrifying Jordan Davis got most of the spotlight. But Wyatt is an excellent player in his own right and proved so today and yesterday. He consistently maintains excellent pad level and leverage to win his battles and push his opponent backward.
Our final ‘winner’ among our Senior Bowl standouts is a smaller school guy, D’Marco Jackson, a linebacker from Appalachian State. Jackson had an excellent career with the Mountaineers, recording over 200 tackles the last two seasons of his career. Down in Mobile, he has been one of the primary leaders of the defense, filling in as the Mike linebacker that communicates the plays and signals to the rest of the defense.
On a team littered with four- and five-star recruits from major Power Five programs, it is very impressive that Jackson stepped up into that role despite coming from a smaller school. He’s also been nearly impossible to shake in coverage, routinely locking down running backs and tight ends. Jackson is a player that I am very excited to watch more film on in the coming weeks.
To be quite honest, I don’t love labeling players as “losers”. Players can have bad days, and on ones with conditions like today, it’s certainly forgivable. But there is clearly a gap between Bailey Zappe and the rest of the quarterbacks here.
Firstly, Zappe does not look like he physically belongs on the field compared to his teammates. Secondly, the rain and the wind emphasized his lack of arm strength, as balls regularly fell short of their intended target. Where most of the other quarterbacks could drive the ball through the falling rain, Zappe could not.
Hopefully, he’ll look better during indoor practice tomorrow, like he did with this throw yesterday. But Bailey Zappe earned a spot among the Senior Bowl standouts, not necessarily for the right reasons.
Velus Jones Jr.
Velus Jones Jr. is another tough addition to this list. He made some really nice plays and is undoubtedly one of the fastest players on the field. However, Jones probably had more drops than any other receiver on the field today. Drops have been a problem for most of the receivers here through the first two days, even when it wasn’t raining. But Jones struggled to reel in some catches yesterday, and the problem worsened in the elements today.
Some of the receivers that stood out positively had drops early but rectified the issues as practice continued. That was not the case for Jones, who let multiple balls clang off his hands throughout practice. Like Zappe, hopefully, Jones can get this corrected during indoor practice tomorrow.
Truthfully, it was tough to come up with a third loser to close this Senior Bowl standouts list. Putting those of us who stood out in the rain for five hours to watch practice seems like a cop-out. Therefore, I will bring up Daniel Bellinger out of San Diego State.
Bellinger was a bit of a surprise addition to this roster, as few people knew of him during the pre-draft process. While Bellinger has not looked out of place or anything, it’s clear the other tight ends on his team are much better athletes than him. All of them look significantly more fluid running routes and after the catch.
Furthermore, while Bellinger is billed as more of a traditional, in-line, blocking tight end, he has been victimized by some of the elite edge rushers here — namely Jermaine Johnson and Kingsley Enagbare, as shown in the clip below. Again, putting Bellinger on this list of Senior Bowl standouts might be a bit harsh; but he has not elevated his game to significantly improve his draft stock thus far.