Week 1 of College Football is finally here! Hussam Patel gives his top three game previews and games that you need to watch.
Week 1 of the 2022 college football season is finally here. Here are the top three Week 1 college football games you need to watch, and a preview of each.
Arkansas vs. Cincinnati preview
#23 Cincinnati Bearcats v #19 Arkansas Razorbacks. 3:30 P.M. EST, ESPN
Line: Arkansas -7, o/u: 52
Cincinnati Week 1 College Football Preview
There might be big talent losses in several areas, but the offensive front is loaded with all-stars and veterans, and it should be among the best in the nation at keeping defenses out of the backfield
Coach Luke Fickell’s comments raise some alarms heading into the Razorbacks stadium. He admitted that the Bearcats are not suited to play against a loud SEC home crowd.
Cincinnati lost a talented quarterback in Desmond Ridder, can they replace his production week 1 against the Razorbacks?
The biggest key in winning this top 25 matchup in week 1 for the Bearcats is containing Arkansas quarterback K.J. Jefferson.
Arkansas Week 1 College Football Preview
Razorbacks quarterback K.J. Jefferson was good last year; however can he be special against a good defense in the Cincinnati Bearcats in week 1?
Without a doubt, Jefferson will be the key for the Razorbacks. Furthermore, their running game should help him out. The team led the SEC in rushing.
The passing efficiency should be there against a revamped Cincinnati secondary that lost a slew of NFL talents. With the loss of Treylon Burks to the NFL, coach Pittman wants to see how good receiver Drew Sanders can be.
Utah vs. Florida preview
#7 Utah Utes v Florida Gators. 7 P.M. EST, ESPN
Line: Utah -2.5, o/u: 53.5
Utah Week 1 College Football Preview
Linebacker Devin Lloyd might be gone, but former Gator Mohamoud Diabate is a good one to try helping the cause.
The defensive front will once again be a killer in the backfield, and the tackles are massive human beings who’ll gum up the works.
Head coach Kyle Whittingham brings a veteran, disciplined team against the Gators in Week 1. The Utes are led by standout QB Cam Rising, who threw for 2,493 yards and 20 touchdowns to five interceptions, along with 74 rushes for 499 yards and six touchdowns.
Florida Week 1 College Football Preview
Gainesville’s own Anthony Richardson, with his superb athleticism and arm, is the face of the team as its quarterback. Richardson’s supporting cast is full of returning players.
Head coach Billy Napier squares off against a top-10 team in Week 1 as his first game as the Gators coach. Napier brings along a few of the good parts from Ragin’ Cajun days; the offensive line really will be a strength, and the running back situation is about as deep as any in the SEC.
The Gators will have to rely on a good rotation on the defensive front and return top NFL draft prospects in Brenton Cox Jr., Gervon Dextor, and Jason Marshall Jr.
Florida’s run defense has to prove it can be night-and-day better than it was last season, as Patrick Toney is in charge of the defense this season.
Notre Dame vs. Ohio State preview
#5 Notre Dame at #2 Ohio State. 7:30 P.M. EST, ABC
Line: Ohio State -16.5, o/u: 58.5
Notre Dame Week 1 College Football Preview
New head coach Marcus Freeman’s biggest test is right out of the gates Week 1 against last year’s college football finalist Ohio State. No pressure, Marcus.
It’s the debut of new quarterback Tyler Buchner. Notre Dame needs to establish a running game that is much more effective than that in order to support Buchner. Furthermore, stud tight end Michael Mayer will be targeted most of the game due to an injury sustained by wide receiver Avery Davis.
Al Golden is the new defensive coordinator for the Fighting Irish. Will he and his secondary hold up against a talented trio of another batch of Buckeye receivers in Jaxson Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison Jr., and Emeka Egbuka?
Notre Dame fills the loss of Kyle Hamilton with Northwestern transfer Brandon Joseph, and eyes will be on EDGE rusher Isaiah Foskey who has first round potential in this year’s draft cycle.
Ohio State Week 1 College Football Preview
Ryan Day’s squad returns Heisman hopeful quarterback C.J. Stroud against a top-5 team in Notre Dame in Week 1 of college football. No one boasts Ohio State’s skill position talent, and it may very well be the reason why they are heavily favored.
The Buckeyes feature three of the top 12 players in the Heisman odds with quarterback C.J. Stroud, running back TreVeyon Henderson, and receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
The Buckeyes defense was its major problem last season against top teams in Alabama, Michigan, and Oregon. Ryan Day brought in Jim Knowles from Oklahoma State to shore up the run defense.
The linebacker play from Steele Chambers and Tommy Eichenberg will come into focus to stop the Fighting Irish ground attack.
Quarterback is easily the most important position in football.
In 1915, acclaimed American poet Robert Frost wrote a poem. It was four stanzas, five lines a piece. This poem intended to mock his friend Edward Thomas, another acclaimed poet, for his indecisive nature on their walks. It turned out to be one of the most influential works of its time due to its trailblazing ideas. I am sure Frost had no intentions for his work to describe anything in the realm of American football. However, when you look at the Atlanta Falcons quarterbacks going into 2022, there are some glaring similarities to the wartime literature piece.
“Poetry is play. I’d even rather have you think of it as a sport. For instance, like football”
I want to give thanks to the Poetry Foundation and their in-depth analysis of Robert Frost’s work. Their detailed look at the piece helped shed even more light on my article.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
General manager Terry Fontenot and the rest of the front office were at a crossroads as they entered the 2022 off-season. Do they or do they not hit the reset button for the quarterbacks for the Atlanta Falcons? This would effectively end Matt Ryan’s tenure in Atlanta. An end to 14 years of stability at the quarterback position. Would they have liked to keep Matt and have him mentor the next quarterback of the future? Sure. Matt Ryan is the consummate professional. Over his tenure, he has seen tons of defenses, blitzes, coverages, schemes, and knowledge he could pass down to the next generation of Falcons quarterbacks. But given the current deplorable state of the team, it would not have been fair to keep him while also building towards the future. Ryan deserved to win now, even if it was not in Atlanta.
Day by day, the front office looked into the Ryan situation. They deliberated to the point of wondering if an extension of the aging quarterback was the correct decision. Give this new regime time to build a team around the long-time franchise centerpiece. But as they looked further, the front office realized they needed to look elsewhere. And just as the yellowing leaves of the alder trees in New England signified the beginnings of autumn, the pursuit of Deshaun Watson signified the end of the Matt Ryan era in Atlanta.
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
According to American literary critic William Pritchard, Frost showcased how decision-making was not a matter of meditation or choice. On the contrary; decision-making is usually a matter of impulse. And sometimes, as Frost did in the latter part of the stanza, you have to learn that that impulse may not have led to the best results.
Many in the court of public opinion would call the pursuit of Deshaun Watson an incredibly impulsive decision. As a highly controversial topic with legal implications, I will not go deeper into the subject. However, according to Ryan, this action marked the beginning of the end of his tenure as the quarterback in Atlanta.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
Frost examines his decision and realizes the finality of it. As such with all decisions, Frost decides to embrace it wholeheartedly. “Oh, I kept the first for another day!”, a declaration of decisiveness from Frost stating ‘yes, this is the decision I have chosen’ and “I doubted if I should ever come back”.
There was no coming back. Ryan was gone and shipped out to Indianapolis. Watson had chosen to be a Cleveland Brown. And the Falcons had a void at the quarterback position that they had not seen since the turbulent, roller-coaster season of 2007. They did not have the cap space to bring in one of the top names like Russell Wilson. Not to mention they were void of the talent necessary to attract any other big names in free agency. How would the Falcons decide to fill that void?
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The new era for the quarterbacks position for the Atlanta Falcons starts with yet another fork in the road. There is the veteran Marcus Mariota, the former number two overall pick that had underachieved his first go-round with Arthur Smith in Tennessee. Mariota has shown flashes of good quarterback play throughout his seven-year career but has never brought it all together as the franchise quarterback he was expected to be coming out of Oregon in 2014. He has a chance to give his career a resurgence just like Arthur Smith gave to his former teammate: Ryan Tannehill. He has the potential to be the answer in Atlanta. But his inconsistent play, coupled with an inclination for stinger-type injuries, left Atlanta with a sticky situation heading into the 2022 NFL Draft.
In the third round, at pick 74, the second road was paved for the Atlanta Falcons. Desmond Ridder, the former Cincinnati Bearcat, was drafted as the potential future at the position. As a third-round pick, it may seem that he was no more than a consolation prize in a draft full of mid-round talent. But I believe his lower draft stock is more attributed to Terry Fontenot playing the draft game. Fontenot did not allow his want for a prospect to overweigh the flow and momentum of the draft. But make no mistake, the Falcons loved Desmond Ridder. His intangibles have jumped out to the brass in Atlanta, even impressing head coach Arthur Smith enough to comment on it in a press conference *gasp*.
The beauty of this poem is that the last stanza is not inherently positive. Frost started the stanza by saying that he is “telling this with a sigh”, can that be assumed to be a positive statement? What type of sigh is it? A deep sigh of relief that everything is going to be okay? An exasperated sigh of frustration that the decision has not panned out? Will Mariota be able to keep the job outright? Will Ridder be ready if his name is called week one? Nobody outside of the building in Flowery Branch can say for sure. But one thing is for sure. Somewhere far down the road, wherever this decision takes us, whatever direction these quarterbacks for these Atlanta Falcons takes. Falcons fans will look on this off-season and state that this one decision “has made all the difference”.
The 2022 NFL Draft is behind us, and it reveals a modern scouting trend at the league’s most important position.
The NFL draft has come and gone, and there were plenty of surprises, notably at the quarterback position. Among them, not a single quarterback was picked in the second round.
After Kenny Pickett was drafted by the Steelers at 20, the next QB didn’t go until 54 picks later, even though there were several who analysts believed were capable of going in round two.
There’s just one small problem: second round quarterbacks don’t exist.
I know it sounds like an odd — or maybe blatantly false — statement, but there is a case to be made. The success rate on round two signal-callers is pretty horrendous, and it all seems to lead to this one conclusion.
In order to come to that conclusion, however, there are a variety of different criteria. First, the types of quarterbacks and draftable skills. Second, the structure, and third, the history of these picks. Those three, when looked at together, bring a pretty shocking revelation that made me conjure up that statement above.
Drafting a Quarterback
Teams who find themselves drafting quarterbacks highly may be in a variety of spots, but there are three that are the most typical:
One of the league’s worst teams, holding a high draft pick.
Middling franchise, looking to make a change.
Top of the league, finding the protégé for an older (on the verge of retirement) leader.
When teams find themselves in any of these positions, they must find the traits they value in a quarterback. Among those are arm talent, rushing ability, composure, ability to read the field, and more. However, there are two categories that those fall into, which, for the sake of the argument are production and potential.
To put it simply, teams judge what a quarterback is right now versus what he could be in a few years.
The top guys usually have a combination of both. Trevor Lawrence, who went number one to the Jaguars last year, combined national championships and Heisman ballot appearances with a 6’6″ frame and a cannon of an arm. Thus, he went to a team that I would place in the first set of criteria. The Jaguars were easily one of the worst teams in the NFL, and thus received a generational talent.
Those with one of the two traits, however, have a wide range of options. For a team that’s just good enough to be picking outside of the quarterback window, they might be willing to take a chance on a potentially huge swing in their franchises history. Kenny Pickett is a prime example of this. While he doesn’t have the strongest arm or the highest ceiling, his production last season was hard to ignore. The Pittsburgh Steelers, who were 9-7-1 last year, decided that he was worth it at 20.
Following that pick, there were other quarterbacks on the board, who, like Pickett, possessed one of the two main traits. Malik Willis, who some suspected may go as high as number two overall, had one of the highest ceilings in the draft, however, if he wasn’t going to go in the first, it seemed he wasn’t getting drafted until later on day 2.
Teams that fall in the third category (such as the Packers in 2020) have a tough decision. While they could take their chances on a high-potential pick like Jordan Love, it makes the most sense to maximize their championship window. Green Bay took that chance in 2020, and passed up elite talent because of it. Now, teams have learned from that mistake, while quarterbacks brunt the blow to their draft position.
Thus, Malik Willis, Matt Corral, Desmond Ridder, and all of the quarterbacks who many expected to go in round one, are now available in the dreaded first half of day two.
The Structure of the Second Round
On the typical draft boards, teams have a wide range of grades on prospects. It’s common to see someone who’s viewed as a top prospect by one team be a day two pick for someone else. Due to this disparity, many “first round talents” fall into the beginning of day two.
If a team would have believed in someone enough to draft them with those first eight picks, it’s unlikely he would have slipped to begin with. Teams rarely risk the opportunity of missing out their guy. This is why it’s common to see teams move up to 32. They guarantee themselves the player they want with an extra year of team control.
If a team wasn’t willing to take that chance, it’s unlikely they viewed them very highly. That idea is exactly what makes the second round the worst for the quarterback. Would a team take a player who, at the most important position in the sport, they aren’t fully invested in or comfortable with — especially when there is still high-end talent on the board?
The last 24
Once you find your way out of those first eight picks, it becomes time for teams to ask themselves that question. As this draft has shown, the answer has been a resounding “no.” The later picks, which are usually the teams competing for playoff spots, would rather choose someone who can contribute right away. Bubble teams are always looking for their next big acquisition, and their philosophy is that is can come then.
Quarterbacks, as a result, usually fall by the wayside. However, there are some instances where they are picked. The results of which are rather interesting.
Modern History of the Second Round Quarterback
Over the last 20 years, there have been 20 quarterbacks selected in the second round. 20 different times, teams have weighed the ideas of production and potential, and in the last two decades, have determined it’s time to take a quarterback who likely only had one of those traits.
Of those, the results are typically a failure of epic proportions. Kellen Clemens, Deshone Kizer, Drew Stanton, Chad Henne, Brian Brohm, John Beck, Jimmy Clausen, and Geno Smith all have more career interceptions than touchdowns, while Christian Hackenberg and Kyle Trask (who’s only in his second season) never played a recorded snap.
The other options aren’t great either. Tavaris Jackson, Brock Osweiler, and Kevin Kolb all showed some flashes, but never lived up to their selection.
Five of the remaining six are polarizing. Jalen Hurts has shown flashes, but fell apart in the playoffs. Drew Lock is still young, but was just traded by the Broncos and has been shaky. Jimmy Garoppolo was able to succeed in the Kyle Shanahan offense, but was just replaced and hasn’t shown an ability to transcend the system. Andy Dalton is a similar story, having rough stints in limited playoff appearances. Lastly, Colin Kaepernick led the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance, but has been out of the league for the better half of the last decade.
This leaves Derek Carr, who, while having only one playoff appearance and zero playoff wins, has safely cemented a spot as the Raiders quarterback for eight years. He has made three Pro Bowls, and has continued to improve. Thus making him the only second round quarterback selected in the last 20 years who can safely be called a hit.
The Bottom Line on the Second Round Quarterback
The 2022 NFL Draft was a prime example of a philosophy at work. After a quarterback goes in the first round, teams have learned from mistakes of the past. Rather than picking signal callers with clear holes in their game in the following round, they’ve gone for contributors at other positions.
Several teams would love to have the next Derek Carr, but with that comes the chance of Brian Brohm or Deshone Kizer. Just like every other selection, the second round has it’s fair share of bust potential. However, it seems that the combination of quarterback traits, draft tendencies, and a simple history lesson will tell you that it simply isn’t the same.
General managers across the league will continue to take swings on quarterbacks, but when doing so, it’s important to look at the most glaring fact:
The top quarterbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft have now completed their journey to Mobile. With the Senior Bowl over, they now turn their eye to the NFL Scouting Combine. Before diving into that, however, let’s see where the class stands. Six of the top seven quarterbacks played in the Senior Bowl. We’ll check in with what their temperature is as a prospect before moving onto the next stage of the NFL Draft process.
Malik Willis, Liberty
Of all the 2022 NFL Draft quarterbacks, Malik Willis probably had the most to gain or lose at the Senior Bowl. As was the case during most of his college career, Willis was somewhat inconsistent during his time in Mobile. But his flashes were so explosive that it got some people (perhaps too) excited.
Willis undeniably possesses the best physical gifts in this draft class in terms of his athletic/running ability and arm talent. He also looked the most energetic and engaged with his teammates during practices, especially during the torrential downpour on Wednesday.
But Willis also has a long developmental road ahead of him with regards to his lower body mechanics, accuracy, and mental processing. He put all these facets of his game on display during the Senior Bowl process. Willis frequently made electric plays with his feet, along with some truly unique throws. But he also missed several easy passes due to his poor footwork.
Nevertheless, Willis probably flashed enough during the week to convince several teams they can fix him and turn him into the next Mahomes or Allen. Because of his elite traits, many are going to be willing to bet on him as the best quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Temperature Check: Hot, slowly approaching Fever
Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
Kenny Pickett arrived in Mobile with arguably his biggest flaw at the forefront of the discourse: his hand size. Pickett did not measure his hands due to his thumbs being double-jointed, leading to a misleading number. Nevertheless, the rumor is that his hands are only 8 ¼” across, the smallest for any quarterback in the modern era. However, Pickett apparently soared above the other 2022 NFL draft quarterbacks in Mobile, as he was the clear winner during the interview process with NFL teams.
On the field, Pickett performed like most of the other quarterbacks: inconsistent. He had some nice throws on the first day but also struggled to receive snaps (albeit from unfamiliar centers who were new to the position). On the second day, Pickett donned a glove on his throwing hand to deal with the pouring rain. However, he looked even worse this day, as he struggled to drive the ball with velocity through the rain.
But on the third day, he played arguably the best of any quarterback during the whole week. Granted, this practice took place indoors, but Pickett parleyed this performance into another solid one on game day. At the end of the week, Pickett most likely helped himself; but there are still legitimate concerns about his game that could scare teams off.
Temperature Check: Warm, slowly approaching Hot
Sam Howell, North Carolina
Of the quarterbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft, Sam Howell probably had the most consistently solid week in Mobile. Howell had some of the same issues as the other quarterbacks (snap exchange problems, drops, etc.). He made numerous good accurate throws to most levels of the field.
But Howell did not test the defense deep as much as quarterbacks like Willis and Strong. On one hand, it was frustrating not to see him take deep shots; on the other, he didn’t miss as badly as the other quarterbacks.
During the actual game, Howell was plagued by the same issue that gave him so much trouble this past season: poor offensive line play. Even though the offensive lines at the Senior Bowl were much better than Howell’s at UNC, the opposing defensive lines were unstoppable. At this point in the process, he represents somewhat of a middle ground between Pickett and Willis.
The problem is that more teams want to bet on elite traits, even if that player has major issues. Howell doesn’t have any elite traits, but he also doesn’t have any major flaws. For these reasons, I think he could fall in the draft but it might land him in a better situation where he can succeed immediately.
Temperature Check: Lukewarm but Comfortable
Carson Strong, Nevada
Carson Strong might have had the most to gain among the quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl. However, in my opinion, he failed to fully take advantage of this opportunity. Over the course of the past year, Strong became the darling sleeper of many draft analysts. His big arm and accuracy from the pocket were unique, especially for a Group of Five quarterback.
Strong played quite well again this past year, but concerns about his mobility (or lack thereof) and the long-term health of his knee flared. Going to Mobile, Strong had a chance to seize the mantle of QB1 if he could continue to wow with his arm talent and show he could move around the pocket.
During his time in Mobile, Strong accomplished about one-and-a-half of those goals. He did not wear a knee brace during practice and showed on multiple occasions he could get outside the pocket and even scramble for a few yards. He also displayed the raw power of his arm, launching passes 50 or 60 yards downfield.
Unfortunately, many of these passes completely missed the receiver, as Strong struggled to properly locate passes, especially intermediate and deep. While he didn’t have a bad week by any means, Strong failed to make a significant change to his stock — especially after the first day. If anything, Strong’s chances of being drafted in the first round decreased after this week.
Temperature Check: Warm but lower than anticipated
Matt Corral, Mississippi
Matt Corral did not attend the Senior Bowl, but the performance of the other 2022 NFL Draft quarterbacks affects his stock as well. Some said Matt Corral was the biggest winner in Mobile because the rest of the quarterbacks were so inconsistent/bad.
Corral runs a very similar offense to that of Sam Howell and Malik Willis, and arguably ran it the best this season, leading Ole Miss to a 9-3 season. But I am still wary of Corral; he presents a lot of the same issues that plague Willis and Howell, but lacks the size, arm strength, rushing ability, or toughness.
Furthermore, Corral could have been eligible to attend the Senior Bowl. Since Jim Nagy took over, the game has been much more open to accepting fourth-year juniors that have graduated. They even took Sam Howell, who graduated from North Carolina in only three years.
Conversely, Corral failed to graduate from Ole Miss in four years (one of which was a redshirt year) as a multidisciplinary studies major. Obviously, there have been great quarterbacks with less than stellar academic records who succeeded in the past. But this falls in line with Corral’s history of immaturity and lack of focus, dating back to his time in high school. Therefore, with all these elements combined, I would say Corral has not moved very much in recent weeks.
On one hand, Desmond Ridder did exactly what people expected of him at the Senior Bowl. Unfortunately, on the other, he did exactly what was expected. Ridder is an extremely polished, developed quarterback — especially relative to the other 2022 NFL Draft quarterbacks. However, that is part of the problem.
Despite starting for several seasons, Ridder still struggles to maintain consistent accuracy and ball placement, especially when throwing deep. He also doesn’t have the strongest arm; it’s not bad, but is about NFL average in terms of both velocity and distance.
In Mobile, Ridder struggled with a lot of these same issues. Granted, the offensive line, receivers, and offense we all new. But he still made more mistakes and bad plays than most of the other quarterbacks there. Most people see Ridder as a step below the previously discussed quarterbacks, due to his lack of elite (or perhaps even very good) traits. He did nothing to dissuade these notions in Mobile. At this point, it’s hard to plot a path for Ridder to re-elevate his stock to that of a first-round pick.
Temperature Check: Room-Temperature and Dropping
Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky
Even though the rest of the 2022 NFL Draft quarterback group in Mobile struggled throughout the week, Bailey Zappe was clearly a tier below the rest. While Zappe is very accurate in short and intermediate areas of the field, he lacks the arm talent to consistently threaten the entire field. He would need an elite team around him, along with a domed stadium, to be a successful NFL starting QB.
While one might point at Drew Brees as a possible model for Zappe, I would gesture towards the scores of undersized, noodle-armed quarterbacks who barely lasted one contract.
Temperature Check: Cold
Of the quarterbacks at the East-West Shrine Game in Las Vegas, Jack Coan stood out the most to me. Coan flashed at various points in his career, both at Wisconsin and Notre Dame. He probably doesn’t have the consistency or the physical tools to develop into a full-time starter, but he’s extremely smart with an NFL-caliber arm and some athletic ability. He could carve out a niche for himself as a long-time backup in the league. At this point, I’d rather spend an early-Day 3 pick on Coan than Zappe.
Another lower-tier quarterback that played well at a lower-level all-star game is Chase Garbers. The California quarterback was fantastic in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl; he displayed good zip on accurate throws, along with surprising athletic ability. He is proto-typically built (6’2”, 218 lbs) and looks like the type that could be a solid backup and competent spot starter. If I had to burn a sixth or seventh-round pick on a quarterback to be an NFL backup for the next decade, I would spend it on Garbers.
The Three FCS Musketeers
This quarterback class is notoriously thin, which is driving scouts to the FCS ranks to look for hidden gems. The three names that have come up the most are Alabama A&M’s Aqeel Glass, Brown’s EJ Perry, and Southeastern Louisiana’s Cole Kelley.
Glass is the most prototypical of the three, as he plays like Strong. While he’s extremely accurate, he’s an underwhelming athlete and does not push the ball vertically very much.
Perry is probably the hottest name right now, as he’s coming off several tremendous seasons in the Ivy League after transferring from Boston College. Unfortunately, he’s small and probably doesn’t have an NFL-caliber arm.
My favorite of the bunch is Cole Kelley. Formerly of Arkansas, the 6’6”, 250 lbs behemoth might be the most unique QB in this class. While his arm is not as strong as one would expect of someone with his size and build, Kelley probably has the most NFL tools of any of the FCS quarterbacks. Again, if NFL teams are going to bet on physical tools, Kelley is the smartest man to wager on.
The Senior Bowl continued today in Mobile, AL, as both teams wrapped up their week of practice from the comfort of the indoor practice field. Around the Block sent multiple scouts to Mobile this week to check out the prospects. For their recaps of Wednesday’s practices, check out their standouts from the American and National teams. In this article, Mitchell Wolfe highlights his Senior Bowl winners and losers from Thursday’s indoor practice.
All three quarterbacks on the National team played much better today inside South Alabama’s indoor facility. However, the one who probably improved the most across the course of the week, along with finally surpassing his expectations, was Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder. Ridder struggled throughout the week with his placement, frequently putting the ball out of his receivers’ reach; additionally, the weather on Wednesday did not do him any favors.
But he looked much more poised and patient on Thursday, hitting his receivers in stride with some great strikes. If he can carry this performance over into the game on Saturday, that could help his stock immensely. It was good to see him put it all together today, earning him the distinction of leading the group of Senior Bowl winners and losers.
Rachaad White has flashed several times throughout this week. But even he might have saved his best for last on Thursday to become one of the final Senior Bowl winners. He continued to show great vision and burst, hitting cutback lanes for chunk runs. Once he plants his foot in the ground and gets upfield, he is tough to stop, frequently finishing off his runs with force and violence.
Additionally, White has consistently shown soft hands, quick feet, and fluid hips as a receiver out of the backfield. He still needs to work on his pass blocking, but given that he has fewer than 300 career touches at the FBS level, teams should be very interested in this versatile back with fresh tread on his tires.
Khalil Shakir was one of the players I was most excited to see going into this week. Unfortunately, he did not make as many of the highlight catches down in Mobile that made him famous at Boise State. He even sometimes struggled with drops, and more physical corners gave him trouble.
But on Thursday, Shakir finally realized his potential as one of the Senior Bowl winners. He was dominant in the red zone drills, regularly creating separation, finding holes in the coverage, and securing the ball for scores. He finally displayed his superb leaping ability and body control in the air. Shakir is exceptionally versatile, so expect him to get the ball in various ways (returns, end-arounds, reverses, etc.) during the game on Saturday.
Some — perhaps even myself — are not the biggest fans of Trevor Penning. His play style is violent, bordering on reckless. But, in this case, there is no such thing as bad press. Penning was the talk of the town on Thursday, as he routinely dominated his opponents. He also let them hear about it and frequently played through the whistle, delivering some (possibly questionable or even illegal) hits.
Penning has a propensity towards these types of penalties (38 total in his career, 16 in 2021). But given his pestering play style, he might be able to draw some retaliation penalties from opponents as well. He especially got under the skin of Tyreke Smith and Travis Jones, who both accosted him after sustaining late hits. The ESPN television crew remarked that it is much harder to coach aggression into a player instead of reeling them in and coaching them out of it.
At the end of practice, Penning responded to a question about facing opponents from higher-profile FBS schools: “Everyone bleeds red.” That quote alone puts him on the list of Senior Bowl winners.
Jalen Pitre has been one of the most consistently solid players throughout every day of practice in Mobile. Despite being relatively undersized for a safety (5’10”, 196 lbs), Pitre has played in the slot, in the box, and even some deep safety. He has excelled in basically every position he has been put in, consistently making plays around the ball.
Pitre is one of those players who you just need to ignore the numbers and put on the tape. His instincts are off the charts, and he just gets how to play football. If he’s too small for your scheme, find a new scheme.
Sadly, Nick Zakelj only needed two consecutive reps to end up on this list. Early in 1-on-1 drills with the offensive and defensive lines, Perrion Winfrey matched up against the Fordham lineman. Winfrey has earned significant praise the last two days, highlighted as one of the Senior Bowl standouts yesterday. On the first rep, he swam past Zakelj with relative ease; Zakelj got to him a little at the end, pushing Winfrey a little deeper past the pocket.
As mentioned earlier, the defensive line got chippy with their opponents, primarily because of Trevor Penning. Even though Winfrey clearly beat Zakelj, he wasn’t satisfied. He pointed at Zakelj once the play was over and challenged him to run it back. They lined up again, and Winfrey promptly bull-rushed Zakelj right into the lap of the quarterback. I know Alabama might be more open to corporal punishment, but what Winfrey did to Zakelj was unquestionably cruel and unusual.
The linebacker from Cincinnati was someone I was very excited to get eyes on this week. Darrian Beavers was a crucial piece for the Bearcats’ defense this year that led them to the College Football Playoff. He’s a huge player, coming in at 6’4” and 252 pounds. Therefore, checking in on his coverage abilities became a primary priority.
Unfortunately, Beavers has struggled in coverage this week, especially today. Multiple running backs on the National team roster cooked him on routes out of the backfield. This did not help dispel the notion that Beavers can only be a two-down run-stuffing off-ball linebacker sometimes can rush the passer. Hopefully, Beavers does not diminish his stock further with poor testing at the Combine next month.
Whereas Nick Zakelj had one (or two) isolated incident(s), another small-school offensive lineman had many more issues. Ja’Tyre Carter from Southern University has had a very difficult week: his wins in the 1-on-1 periods have been very few and far between. Most of the interior defensive linemen have walked him back with ease. He has not been able to set and maintain his leverage correctly. Travis Jones and Logan Hall have had their way with him multiple times.
With that being said, like some of the other offensive lineman, Carter has looked better in team drills than 1-on-1s, which are more important.