The Senior Bowl is finally here, which marks the official start of draft season for most non-full time scouts and draft enjoyers. We’ve got three days of practices coming up in Mobile, giving us our first chance to lay eyes on some of the top prospects entering the 2024 NFL Draft.
This class is a noticeable step up in talent from the 2023 event, in large part due to the extra season of eligibility from COVID and a stronger crop of quarterbacks attending. Given the Atlanta Falcons needs, I’ll be keeping a particularly close eye on those quarterbacks, along with the wide receivers, edge rushers, defensive tackles, cornerbacks, and safeties.
Today marked the first day of practice, and traditionally, things get off to a bit of a slow start. Both the National (morning) and American (practices) gave us plenty of 1-on-1 and team drills to evaluate, and for that I say “thank you!”
I’ll be going live at 7 PM ET to discuss my takeaways from the day, which you can watch below.
Read on for my biggest takeaways from Tuesday’s opening practice.
Wide receivers shine
The National practice featured the best quarterbacks, with strong opening days from both Oregon’s Bo Nix and Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. Sam Hartman is clearly a tier behind those two, but largely had a solid day as well. That led to a lot of highlight reel throws and catches and more opportunity for the receivers to showcase themselves.
Michigan’s Roman Wilson was a consistent performer throughout practice, with good routes, high-end deep speed, and excellent hands on display.
USC’s Brenden Rice didn’t create as much separation (and was also held quite a bit), but made a lot of plays and showed off his contested catch ability.
Western Kentucky’s Malachi Corley was all over the field, showing his run-after-catch acumen but also good hands and routes. He was targeted at various levels of the field and looked comfortable. Florida’s Ricky Pearsall, who wasn’t quite as heralded as the first three I mentioned, had a very strong day as well. He showed off some impressive deep speed and created a lot of separation with his routes. North Carolina’s Devontez Walker was probably the most disappointing today, as he had a lot of drops early in practice and seemed off throughout. He did finish strong with a nice route against Kalen King in the final 1-on-1 session of practice.
The quality of quarterback play dipped in consistency at the American practice, but that didn’t stop Louisville’s Jamari Thrash from stealing the show. He was dominant all day long, showing off his speed, route running, and hands.
Georgia’s Ladd McConkey also dominated the 1-on-1 period, as you’d expect from a wide receiver with his skillset. He’s likely to solidify himself as the top slot receiver in the draft this week.
South Carolina’s Xavier Legette had a number of dominant reps, but the quarterbacks just couldn’t seem to get him an accurate ball. That limited his opportunities for highlight reel catches, but there’s no question the talent is there. I’m hoping he gets better throws over the next few days, and also is able to better take advantage when the ball does come his way.
Defensive linemen pop
I know you’re all here to know how the edge rushers looked, and I’m happy to report some nice things from Day 1. The headliner of the week is undoubtedly going to be UCLA’s Laiatu Latu, and he had a strong day culminating in one of the most dominant 1-on-1s of practice against BYU’s Kingsley Suamataia.
We got a strong day from Penn State’s Adisa Isaac and Western Michigan’s Marshawn Kneeland. Both looked disruptive and won more than their fair share of reps throughout the day. The player I was most pleasantly surprised by was Kansas’ Austin Booker, who was active throughout the day and had an impressive sack on Penix.
From the American group, two edge rushers in particular stood out: Missouri’s Darius Robinson and Alabama’s Chris Braswell. Robinson was arguably the most consistently disruptive of any pass rusher on the day and won from a variety of alignments. Braswell showed off his strength and had a lot of success in the 1-on-1 period.
This is a good group of interior defensive line prospects—stronger than the edge rushers—and they gave the opposing offensive line fits all day long. Duke’s DeWayne Carter had a nice first day with a sack and a few other disruptive plays.
Ohio State’s Michael Hall hit a wicked spin move in 1-on-1s for an instant win, and looked good throughout. I was most surprised by Baylor’s Gabe Hall in the first National practice, as he wasn’t someone I had seen much of prior. He was an absolute handful and measured in at a ridiculous 6’6, 290 and with over 34” arms. Hall is definitely someone to monitor as the week progresses.
The American side featured a lot of the big names—although we got the sad news that Texas’ Byron Murphy II had to pull out due to injury. Teammate T’Vondre Sweat carried the torch for Texas, as he was nearly unblockable in 1-on-1s and showed off why he’s one of the most interesting prospects here. Texas A&M’s McKinnley Jackson looked explosive and disrupted a number of plays throughout practice. FSU’s Braden Fiske showed off a wicked first step and really nice lateral mobility, ending up in the backfield and blowing up several plays in the team drills.
Defensive backs fight back
The biggest winner of today’s National practice might be Toledo cornerback Quinyon Mitchell. Mitchell has good tape, but questions abound about his ability to match up with better competition. He answered that question emphatically today, locking down everyone he went up against and notching multiple PBUs throughout practice. I’d say his draft stock is firmly in the first round range.
Another winner was Oregon’s Khyree Jackson, who had a relatively quiet day of practice (which isn’t bad for a cornerback) but won the weigh-ins by measuring in at 6’3.5, 203 and with 32” arms. That’s elite size, and we know NFL teams will covet it.
Penn State’s Kalen King did get beat by Tez Walker to end 1-on-1s, but I thought he had a good day of practice otherwise. He’s definitely on the small side for an outside corner, but I love his energy.
On the American side, I thought the Auburn trio had a great day. Cornerback DJ James was one of the most consistent performers of the day, Nehemiah Pritchett had his share of good reps, and safety Jaylin Simpson notched a pick during the team session.
Fresno State cornerback Carlton Johnson also notched one of the most impressive interceptions of the day off quarterback Spencer Rattler and deserves a shout-out.
Other standout players
RB Dylan Laube, New Hampshire
RB Daijun Edwards, Georgia
LB Nathaniel Watson, Mississippi State
LB Payton Wilson, North Carolina State