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Senior Bowl 2022: Day 3 practice recap

The final day of Senior Bowl practices was moved indoors, which made things a little more difficult to watch. Defensive lines continued to dominate, and we saw a very productive day from the receivers. Read on for our observations from Day 3!

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Practice Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

The third and final practice of the 2022 Senior Bowl is officially in the books. Things were a little difficult, as the practice was moved to an indoor facility due to inclement weather. Most of the media was not allowed to attend, instead watching a live video feed of the practice.

I didn’t have much of a choice on who to watch, so my observations were a little more scattershot. Read on for my biggest takeaways from the final day of practices in Mobile, and check out my live recap of Day 3 where I was joined by NBC Sports EDGE’s Tyler Forness.

Wide receivers stand out

Thursday’s practice featured the best day of the week from the quarterbacks and wide receivers. Most notably, two players had awesome days. From the National team, it was Boise State’s Khalil Shakir. From the American team—and this shouldn’t shock anyone who has been following everything—it was once again Memphis’ Calvin Austin III.

Shakir was dominant in all phases of the game. He won with his route running, he beat guys deep, and he showed off his hands on a series of contested catches in the red zone. Shakir was clearly the preferred target of all three National QBs and had a really strong day overall.

Austin continued his outstanding performance in Mobile with another productive outing on Thursday. As today featured more red zone work, Austin had an opportunity to show off his ability to create separation in the end zone. Whether it was through his route running or raw athleticism, Austin was very difficult to cover. As a smaller receiver, he’ll have to win with separation—and he’s shown he can do it consistently against a high level of competition.

Other notable standouts:

  • North Dakota State’s Christian Watson finished his week with a good performance. His most notable play was a very well-run comeback route for big yardage. It wasn’t quite as dominant a day as he had earlier in the week, but overall Watson was still arguably the most impressive receiver on the National team.
  • South Alabama’s Jalen Tolbert had an up-and-down day, but made a few nice plays.
  • Virginia Tech’s Tre Turner hasn’t received a ton of targets in team drills, but looked good in one-on-ones today.

QBs continue to improve, with Malik Willis stealing the show

As expected, the quarterbacks continued to improve over the course of the week. That culminated in the best day overall on Thursday from most of the passers, with Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder and Liberty’s Malik Willis having the best days overall. Ridder struggled early in the week but did finish things off with some impressive tight-window throws in the red zone. He’s still a high-variance player in terms of accuracy, but the ceiling was also on full displaya.

The questioned winner of the entire week and Thursday’s practice too was Malik Willis. He impressed everyone in attendance and was by far the best quarterback in Mobile. Everyone knows Willis is a great athlete—and he showed it off on scrambles at times—by he did most of his work from the pocket. Willis is a unique arm-talent with a lot of room to grow, but his sky-high ceiling and great week both on-field and off-field has almost certainly lifted him into QB1 consideration.

The other quarterbacks also had better days.

  • Pitt’s Kenny Pickett continued his solid week, but didn’t stand out in a big way.
  • Nevada’s Carson Strong was still a little inconsistent, but hit a few nice throws and showed off his ability to evade pressure with a nice scramble. Nobody will confuse him with Willis or Ridder in that regard, but he’s not a statue in the pocket either.
  • WKU’s Bailey Zappe showed he belonged with this group. I don’t think he challenged the top guys, but he’s absolutely NFL material and should be a high-end backup option. It’s possible he could sneak into late Day 2.
  • UNC’s Sam Howell also had a good day. It simply wasn’t as notable as the other guys. Overall, I think he helped his stock in Mobile.

A few different faces on the defensive line took charge

FSU’s Jermaine Johnson did not participate in Thursday’s practice. It’s unclear whether that was due to injury, or whether he simply backed out because he had nothing left to prove. With Johnson off the field, the clear beneficiary was Ole Miss EDGE Sam Williams. Williams had flashed at times, but got a lot more work with Johnson sidelined. He took full advantage and put on a dominant show as both a pass rusher and run defender.

Minnesota EDGE Boye Mafe had another good day, putting together and impressive two-day stretch after a quiet opening performance. Mafe is clearly an incredible athlete who reportedly will test out at an elite level, and even though he’s raw, I’d expect him to sneak into late-Day 2 consideration. Other guys who stood out:

  • Houston DL Logan Hall, UConn NT Travis Jones, and Oklahoma DT Perrion Winfrey were the clear winners of the day on the interior. They were consistently dominant and carried that over into Thursday.
  • South Carolina EDGE Kingsley Enagbare, Cincinnati EDGE Myjai Sanders, and WKU EDGE Deangelo Malone all had good days once again.

TEs, RBs, and LBs shine

It was a competitive, back-and-forth day from these three groups. Here are the biggest standouts:

  • Coastal Carolina TE Isaiah Likely had his best day by far, coming down with a couple of nice catches.
  • SDSU TE Daniel Bellinger and UCLA TE Greg Dulcich continued their strong work as both receivers and blockers.
  • Florida RB Dameon Pierce continued to look like the most complete back on the American team. I think he’s possibly lifted his stock into the late Day 2 range.
  • National RBs Rachaad White (Arizona State) and Tyler Badie (Missouri) both looked great. White showed off a different layer to his game in the red zone, winning with his vision and patience after dominating early with his athleticism. Badie was involved a lot as a receiver and also had some nice runs.
  • Miami (OH) LB Sterling Weatherford has been improving every day and capped off his week with his best performance. Weatherford has good size and was sticky in coverage against some tough competition.
  • Georgia LB Channing Tindall had a good day, with some nice reps in coverage and as a pass rusher. LSU LB Damone Clark continued to look like one of the most complete players at the position in Mobile.

DBs have a tough day, but a few players stood out

With the WRs and QBs clearly getting more comfortable, things got tougher for the DBs as a whole. However, there were still a few standout performances.

  • Baylor safety Jalen Pitre continued to look like the best safety in Mobile, nearly coming down with an interception and holding up well in coverage.
  • Texas A&M’s Leon O’Neal and Toledo’s Tycen Anderson both had strong final days at safety. O’Neal is definitely the most animated player on the defense and he was fun to watch. Anderson played the run well early in the week and has been doing well in one-on-one coverage drills, even against receivers.
  • Georgia CB Derion Kendrick had another strong day, with a great PBU in coverage.
  • Auburn CB Roger McCreary was still dominant, with another good day.
  • UTSA DB Tariq Woolen is an absurdly good athlete and held up well in one-on-one coverage against some good receivers on Thursday.

That’s all for the final practice recap! Thanks for your patience on this one, and look for my overall Senior Bowl takeaways early next week.