Making money: 12 NFL draft prospects who boosted their stock most at the Senior Bowl

The Senior Bowl is a valuable stage for NFL draft prospects whose stocks are volatile. Play well, and their stock can rise. Play poorly and ... 

“There are always exceptions,” a veteran talent evaluator explained, “but I don’t think players who don’t perform as well there get hurt as much as I do [think] players who have big weeks can help themselves.

“The ones who don’t belong on that stage, well, they typically didn’t belong in the first place.”

Meaning, the Senior Bowl is more for stocks rising than it is for stocks dropping.

So let’s not worry as much about the players who didn’t help their causes. You can read a few I mentioned throughout last week in my practice reports from Tuesday’s practices, Wednesday’s practices and Thursday’s practices.

With that in mind, here are the 12 players — seven on offense, five on defense — who helped themselves the most last week in Mobile, Alabama.

Utah State QB Jordan Love

First, a note on Oregon QB Justin Herbert, who was probably the highest-rated prospect at the event: He played consistently well in practice all three days and was named the game’s offensive MVP. But how much did he gain in the eyes of talent evaluators? 

Herbert merely solidified his already strong grade. Herbert won’t be for everyone, but that’s not the point. Teams that felt good about him coming into the week still likely felt just as great. He’ll go high, but I don’t believe Herbert is overtaking a healthy Tua Tagovailoa, even with the talk that the Cincinnati Bengals are seriously considering Herbert at No. 1 overall.

Now to Love: He was mostly good this past week. Love was even more aggressive than Herbert. But Love also misfired on a few balls in Tuesday’s practice and underthrew a pick on Thursday.

Overall, though? Love is a winner. This past week answered questions about just how volatile Lock’s stock is, and the feeling I got talking to NFL people was that he showcased his very good skills enough to put him firmly in that first-round discussion. That’s a very good start to his pre-draft journey.

Washington State QB Anthony Gordon

After a rough Tuesday practice, Gordon improved each day. He capped it by stealing the show in the game, completing eight of 12 passes for 69 yards and two TDs. Gordon isn’t going to be for everyone, and his physical skills and size are limited, but he has some creative genius to him.

Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon started slowly but improved throughout the week at the 2020 Senior Bowl. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Former NFL QB Sage Rosenfels, who worked with Gordon on his footwork the week prior to the Senior Bowl (drops from center, run-game footwork, different angles to everything), said Gordon was a “very quick study” and “really sharp at picking up new concepts.”

I heard similar things from NFL people who watched Gordon and spoke to him down in Mobile. Don’t be stunned to see the Detroit Lions, who coached Gordon this past week, take interest in him in the middle rounds. Other teams will be on him, too, as Gordon gave some better-in-games-than-in-practice vibes after digesting his week.

UCLA RB Joshua Kelley

The RB crop was pretty good last week. Better than I assumed. No one looked out of place, and the Senior Bowl often feels like an event where running backs often go overlooked. That wasn’t the case this year.

Of the group, Kelley helped himself the most. He had some eye-opening moments this season on a sub-par Bruins team, but he also looked like a man who was slowed by the preseason knee injury that caused him to miss the opener and clearly lingered through the season.

But Kelley’s hard running carried him through, and a month-plus worth of rest paid huge dividends. The 5-10 5/8, 214-pound back found creases all week and flashed quickness that was hard to find on tape this past season. In the game, he ran 15 times for 105 yards. With only two other backs on the North Team roster, it allowed Kelley to showcase his ability more readily.

This was a young man who helped his cause in a big way and projects to be an early-to-mid Day 3 selection now. 

Florida Atlantic TE Harrison Bryant

There was fascination with Dayton TE Adam Trautman, a clear standout in Mobile who projects to be a top-100 (or even top-75) pick.

Also in that same range is Bryant, who quietly had a very productive week. He has come almost as far — signing with Samford out of high school as a 225-pound defensive end and zero-star recruit — as Trautman has to rise to this point.

Bryant measured in at 6-4 3/4 and 242 pounds, with shorter arms (31 3/8 inches). He belied that by consistently separating and doing damage against safeties and linebackers in practice. A nice week that likely cemented a later Day 2 landing spot for the Owls tight end, who looks like a Chris Cooley-ish weapon.

LSU TE/WR Stephen Sullivan

Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy received a few virtual shrugs when his staff showed some zeal in their invitation for Sullivan, a big but underused specimen for the national champs. Sullivan caught only 12 passes for 130 yards and no TDs in 15 games this past season. Wilder still: In his final eight games this season he caught only one pass for 9 yards and was used mostly as a run blocker.

In Mobile, the 6-5, 245-pound Sullivan — who has 35 1/8-inch arms and 10 3/8-inch hands — caught the ball smoothly and moved exceptionally well for his dimensions. He reminded me a bit of a longer-armed Julius Thomas, who scored 36 TDs in a 62-game span.

Sullivan also run-blocked well during the week. It’s unclear what he’ll become in the league, but he’s absolutely draftable and should be a fascinating project for an NFL team.

Ohio State WR K.J. Hill

The Terry McLaurin comparisons flew last week, that had as much to do with the school association (and the fine work of Buckeyes WR coach Brian Hartline) as anything. I’ll be surprised if Hill ends up working out as well at the NFL scouting combine as McLaurin did.

Still, the 6-foot, 192-pound Hill was a route ninja and a ball vacuum. He made fools out of a few of the DBs getting away from coverage and then snagging almost every single pass thrown his way. I didn’t see him drop a single ball all week.

Ohio State WR K.J. Hill had a very strong week at the Senior Bowl. (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Total conspiracy theory here, but Hill playing as little as he did in the game itself (a North Team-low 14 snaps; one catch for 1 yard) makes me think the Lions really liked him and didn’t want to showcase him. I’ll go out on a limb and say he would be an excellent target for Detroit with either its third- or fourth-round pick as a Danny Amendola replacement in the slot, which is where Hill ran about 95 percent of his routes in college.

Baylor WR Denzel Mims

Don’t want to go overboard here, as I extolled the virtues of Mims in my Wednesday practice report. But his performance was consistently very good to excellent all week.

Coming into the week, the 6-2 3/4, 206-pound Mims was earning fourth-round grades from a few teams we spoke with. One evaluator immediately after the weigh-in also remarked to me he thought Mims’ frame looked “maxed out.”

But with his ability to glide to separation and with each contested catch downfield, Mims helped his cause — zero doubt about it. Even in a crowded WR field, he looks every bit of a top-100 pick.

St. John’s (Minn.) OT Ben Bartch

It was almost comical to watch Bartch on tape (yes, it exists) against D-III players who will never sniff the NFL. Oftentimes, opponents of the Johnnies would put their worst rusher — some 215-pounder who will be selling insurance this time next year — against the massive Bartch.

I mentioned this to Bartch this week that I watched a few of his games. He wanted to know which ones. When I said the St. Olaf game, he asked rhetorically with a smirk, “You mean the game where I just did this?” 

Bartch was simply holding his hands out in front of him and not moving. We both laughed.

Rest assured, these weren’t Olaf-caliber rushers in Mobile last week. In fact, Bartch didn’t back down from anyone he faced off against in practice or in the game. He lost a few one-on-one battles, but overall it was an impressive week for him. Bartch’s aggressive mentality befit a man who had a lot to prove and much to gain.

Mission accomplished. A scouting director put it into perspective: “Those are the players who really need to prove himself. His tape just showed his traits. We had no idea what to expect, because you never do. He did well. He’s a guard on our board. Don’t have a final grade on him, but he looks very draftable.”

Bartch could be drafted somewhere in the first 100 or 125 picks. He played left tackle, left guard and right tackle during the week and came out a big winner. 

Ohio State DT Davon Hamilton

We promise this is not a pro-Buckeyes account here. But Hamilton was a one-man disruptor all week in Mobile. Coming in, we were quite fond of him; we had him landing somewhere in the third- or fourth-round range, and that’s no slouch.

Hamilton is a clear riser after several reps where he frustrated North offensive linemen, both in one-on-ones and in team sessions. Well-built (6-3 3/4, 327, nearly 33-inch arms), quick and stout, Hamilton appears to have worked himself into a possible second- or early third-round selection.

Wyoming LB Logan Wilson

Another riser is Wilson, who possesses average dimensions (6-2, 241 pounds) and might not test through the roof at the combine, although he said after Wednesday’s practice with a smile, “Some of you might be surprised at some of my testing numbers. Just wait and see.”

Even if he doesn’t blow the roof off Lucas Oil Stadium, Wilson did plenty last week to show he belonged. He gave up a seam pass for a TD in practice but otherwise showed excellent recognition in pass coverage and looked like a young Kiko Alonso in some ways.

Is Wilson a third-round pick now? That’s about where I’d peg him. His smarts and versatility will win over a team.

Notre Dame CB Troy Pride Jr. stood out in coverage at the 2020 Senior Bowl. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Notre Dame CB Troy Pride Jr.

Pride was one of the best cover men in the secondary at the Senior Bowl, along with Pitt CB Dane Jackson and UCLA CB Darnay Holmes, throughout the week. 

There has never been any question about Pride’s athleticism. He runs for Notre Dame track, logging the team’s best times in the 60- and 200-meter dashes at the ACC championship, and should be a big performer at the combine.

Of course, Pride has less-than-ideal size (5-11, 193 pounds, with shorter arms and small hands) and was just OK on tape this season. But this past week, he took on all comers with sticky coverage in man and nice instincts and positioning in zone coverage. 

Pride also showed more of an edge this past week than I had seen previously, and don’t think evaluators overlooked that aspect. With his makeup speed, Pride could be drafted as a man corner, which isn’t something he was asked to play a lot with the Irish. He might crack the third round now after entering the week with mostly fourth- and fifth-round projections.

Lenoir-Rhyne S Kyle Dugger

After flubbing a few early punt returns in Tuesday’s practice, it was all up from there for the small-school wonder. The 6-2, 220-pound Dugger looked the part of a big safety. He reminded me a bit of Jaquiski Tartt, the 46th overall pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2015 who will be a key part of the Super Bowl team’s plans in stopping the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

Add in Dugger’s punt return ability to his ability against the pass and run and you suddenly have a fascinating prospect. Could he crack the second round? Maybe. He has huge hands, long arms and did not look out of place in this setting, outshining several big-school safeties.

It was a theme that stood out all week: The majority of the smaller-school prospects (and underused ones, such as Sullivan) really looked like they belonged at the all-star event. You love to see it.

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