Senior Bowl panel discussion: Dawand Jones and others who stood out on Day 1

MOBILE, Ala. – Despite the Shrine Game’s growing setback, the Senior Bowl remains the premier All-Star Game for NFL draft hopefuls. While this year’s version of the event kicked off on Tuesday, Athleticism drafting experts Dane Brugler and Nick Baumgardner recorded their first impressions.

Which draft hopefuls made the biggest first impressions and which need to bounce back the rest of the week?

1. Dawand Jones’ measurements were ridiculous, as expected. You both had him in round two of your most recent sims, but could he be a big lifter?

Danish Brugler: Jones made impressive progress during his senior season at Ohio State and allowed no sacks. He also threw a shutout on the first day of Senior Bowl practices, using his rare height and width to gobble up rushers. He doesn’t have long feet, but with an 89 1/2 inch wingspan, he compensates well and uses his aggressive hands to snatch, trap and bury his opponents.

At the start of the week, Jones was the No. 1 prospect I was looking forward to seeing in person, and I can’t wait to see how the passers adapt to him throughout the week. While he might not be an ideal candidate for every program (some teams have fourth-round marks on him), he could be a lifter on a few boards. He’s played with improved patience, balance and shot timing over the past year, and that was clear on Tuesday.

Nick Baumgardner: If he’s this consistent the rest of the week, I don’t see how he slips at all. Does he get up? It’s a little difficult.

I didn’t see Jones drop a single one-on-one rep in individual periods on Tuesday morning. I also didn’t see him get beaten cleanly during team times later in the day. His first match in running drills was against Army’s Andre Carter II (who was just over 6-foot-6) and Jones obliterated him completely with his frame, using fast play. Despite being huge, Carter had absolutely no chance.

Jones also showed solid foot speed and agility in running drills, as was seen on film at Ohio State. He’s quick enough even at 6-8, 375 to corner some edge defenders – the key word being ‘some’. Which brings us to the second part of this conversation, and that is whether the test Jones is getting from defensive linemen this week will be enough for scouts to knock him down.


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There is a stiffness in Jones’ game. It is massive, which means it will tire more easily. Sometimes it will bend at the waist. Will its length be effective against the NFL’s most explosive cornering ends? That’s still a question for Jones, and it probably will be after this week as well. That said, however, he looked terrific on Tuesday.

2. It’s always a bit awkward for quarterbacks (and Malik Cunningham didn’t practice due to illness). Did anyone stand out from this group on Day 1?

Brugger: I learned a lot of lessons in my twelve years at Mobile. One of them is overlooking the quarterback’s performance on the first day of practice, and Tuesday reminded us why. All five quarterbacks struggled with new coaches and new receivers. Most of them, especially TCU’s Max Duggan, struggled to get on the pitches. Shepherd’s Tyson Bagent struggled to find his rhythm and get on the same page with his receivers.

All was not bad, however. I thought Bagent threw the ball really well in midfield, and Houston’s Clayton Tune showed his impressive placement. But evaluators hope to see progress from this group throughout the week.

Senior Bowl panel discussion: Dawand Jones and others who stood out on Day 1

Clayton Tune finished his five-year career in Houston with 104 passing touchdowns and nearly 12,000 yards. (Vasha Hunt / USA Today)

Baumgardner: As Dane said, day one tends to be adventurous. Desmond Ridder ended up having a strong performance last year, but barely seemed able to tie his shoes up without falling during opening practice. It happens.

I thought Duggan had settled in and made some solid throws later in the team period (as did Tune), which is really where Duggan is going to have to impress to move. He had a nice throw off the platform, after dodging the pressure, to an open target. Later, he stood in the pocket and delivered a cover strike against a heavy rush. He can make his mark by being a confident QB in the pocket that doesn’t fade or bail. However, he has a long way to go.

Also: Be sure to read Dane’s story about Bagent and his father, who is a world-class arm wrestler. Surprising.

3. Did anyone else – either side of the ball – really hit the ground on Tuesday? Were there any big surprises?

Baumgardner: Iowa State’s Will McDonald IV weighed in at 241 pounds this week. On the pitch, he looked weird (to no one’s surprise) from the edge. He is full of gas and shakes the ball. When he wins with his punch, he can make guys 75 pounds heavier than him look like idiots. But is this weight enough? Are we going to see him make any coverage drops or is that something that can be added to his game? If so, he could be a monster in a few years. He is an outstanding athlete.

Maryland OT Jaelyn Duncan had a great day for Team USA one-on-one. He was able to pull off an impressive win over Notre Dame’s Isaiah Foskey (who responded by trucking Michigan OT Ryan Hayes a few reps later) and seemed to hold up to the left tackle quite well. Chattanooga’s McClendon Curtis also had some good times early on. And Michigan center Olu Oluwatimi was able to win a lot with inside power in the pro pass, although he had some speed issues. It will be interesting to see if Oluwatimi works at guard this week. He’s mostly seen as a central-only prospect, but some versatility could help his stock.

Cincinnati TE Josh Whyle is all in as a blocker. He had some truly impressive moments during individual exercises and was pure intensity in every shot. He still has work to do as a wide receiver, so scouts will have to see more.

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Brugger: Wisconsin’s Keeanu Benton entered the week as the clear No. 1 senior defensive tackle, and he backed it up. A nose tackle in the Badgers scheme, Benton is a solid running defender, but his potential as a pass thrower is intriguing. Using both speed and power, he consistently won his one-on-one reps and showed why he landed in round two of my last mock draft.

Michigan State’s Jayden Reed is one of the fastest players in this year’s Senior Bowl and that was clear in practice Tuesday. He won several times on vertical lanes and created a late separation by following the football. He recorded a GPS time of 20.03mph during training – the only national team player to exceed 20mph – and also handled punt return duties. At the start of the week, Reed was looking to cement his status as a second-day prospect and is off to a strong start.

Several of the running backs looked great. Tulane’s Tyjae Spears caught the ball very well and was tough coverage for the linebackers. Eric Gray of Oklahoma did an outstanding job of running low to the ground and using the tempo to hit the holeshot. And Roschon Johnson from Texas did it all right. All three players are examples of the depth of this class of running backs.

4. Whether it’s the coaching staff or the prospects, what do you expect to see in training on Wednesday and Thursday?

Baumgardner: BYU offensive tackle Blake Freeland can be a frustrating watch at times. He’s such a good athlete and so light on his feet at 6-8, 305, but the consistency of play – whether it’s strength of play or just overall technique from snap to snap other – leaves far too much to be desired. If you took all the offensive linemen here and had them perform agility drills, Freeland would impress. When they line up and play, however, hiccups occur. Freeland could really, really use stability near the week, especially when contact resumes.

Foskey is the player here who I think has the best chance of changing his mind. As Dane noted, he has top-50 potential, maybe even top-30 if the right defensive coach falls in love with him. He’s one of the weirdest guys here: 6-5, 266, can gain edge with his hand in the dirt or play up and cover. I think Foskey could hang in the pile athletically as a linebacker, if a coaching staff taught him.

There are Micah Parsons traits there, but we have to see him show them all the time.

Brugger: I’m interested to see Cody Mauch continue to work at guard, after basically being a tackle-only player in college (and a tight, defensive end in high school). Everything happens much faster inside, and this reality sometimes caused him to lose his balance during the first tries. But his athleticism and instinct also kicked in and helped him recover during team and individual rehearsals. Mauch is the type of competitor who will have his nose in the playbook all night to build up his confidence guarding the rest of the week.

Speaking of non-FBS prospects, I want to see how Princeton’s Andrei Iosivas continues to adjust to better competition. He did a good job catching the ball, but the cornerbacks gave him problems when they got in his face and pushed him off the line. His playing strength and his release packages are the two areas where Iosivas needs to improve.

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I’m also looking forward to seeing more from the smugglers. I thought it was a relatively quiet day from a group that is considered perhaps the deepest on the Senior Bowl roster. McDonald’s, Foskey and a few others have a shot at making the top 50 picks, and I hope to see more positive flashes as the week progresses.

(Photo: Vasha Hunt/USA Today)


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