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Senior Bowl Practice Report: Day one produces some head turners

(Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)

My “All-Star Road Trip” continues, as I’ve traveled to Alabama for the 2020 Reese’s Senior Bowl. This game features the best senior prospects in the country and there is most always some big-time talent at this game.

I’ve seen players like Von Miller, Aaron Donald, Baker Mayfield and others at this game, players who go on to become household names in the NFL. This year’s group of players at the Senior Bowl might have more than a few players who blossom into stars in the NFL.

Everyone who is anyone is here at the Senior Bowl. The Broncos sent a few scouts to the Shrine Bowl last week, but this week at the Senior Bowl, everyone from John Elway on down is here. Not only could the Broncos find their top pick here, there is talent through the first few rounds of the draft that are being featured in this game.

The first day of practice at the Senior Bowl is always a bit cramped as the day is incredibly full. Players begin at the weigh-in, where they are on stage in front of a room of scouts and media in their underwear getting their height and weight measured. After that, it is media day, where they are interviewed by the flurry of reporters that has made the trek to Alabama. After that, the players finally get to practice.

Here is my day one practice report at the 2020 Reese’s Senior Bowl.


A Closer Look

The Bengals have their coaching staff here in Mobile and are coaching the South team. The best quarterback here at the 2020 Senior Bowl is easily Oregon’s Justin Herbert. In fact, Herbert could end up being the No. 1 overall pick to the Bengals if he impresses this week.

As I reported in my “Mile High Monday” blog earlier this week, the Bengals are not locked in on LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the first pick. In fact, Herbert may be more of a fit for what their head coach Zac Taylor wants at the position.

Like other teams that have coached at the Senior Bowl, the Bengals are getting a firsthand look at Herbert and that could go a long way to aiding their decision. Burrow is a lock for anyone doing a mock draft right now, but as we get closer to the draft, that may change.

It all depends on what Herbert does here in Alabama.


Talking Smack

It’s fun during these practices to see which players stand out and which players shy away from the attention. Jauan Jennings, a wide receiver from Tennessee, instantly became one of my favorite players one day one.

First of all, Jennings is an amazing receiver who knows how to use his large frame to shield defenders away from the ball. He’s getting comparisons to former Broncos receiver Brandon Marshall from some in the scouting community and I get that comparison. Jennings has a large frame and a great “my ball” mentality when a pass is in the air.

On Tuesday, Jennings made some incredible catches in one-on-one drills. However, it was the catches he didn’t make that happened to be more entertaining – because of his smack talk.

Jennings was getting interfered with on a couple of deep passes, but there were no officials to throw a flag. When the ball hit the turf instead of his hands, Jennings was not shy about letting his feelings being known to the defender tasked with covering him.

His language was NSFW, but the young receiver was right on with his assessment that nobody could guard him without drawing a penalty. I’m looking forward to seeing him perform the rest of the week.


Kindle the Fire

Small-school prospects can make big-time plays at games like the Senior Bowl. Georgia Southern cornerback Kindle Vildor is a small-school prospect that scouts are excited about. A good week of practice at the Senior Bowl could rocket him up draft boards. Even though these All-Star games are roughly only five percent of a player’s overall grade, it is important to see how small-school prospects match up against competition from larger schools.

On film, Vildor stands out against top competition. When playing against Clemson, Vildor was able to cover future first-round receiver Tee Higgins with ease. Vildor was comfortable and confident against a receiver that scouts consider to be one of the best in this draft class – which is largely considered to be the best wide receiver class in NFL history.

Some may not know Vildor, but that could change with a big week. He is certainly a player the Broncos should be keeping an eye on. Vildor has the upside to be a starter and a Pro Bowl player at the pro level.


The North Remembers

It’s always interesting to see how these NFL teams coach the players in practice and how their practice flows compared to each other. The South practice, led by the Bengals, had a good pace and I wrote more than two pages of notes for their practice. I was excited to see what the afternoon had in store after such an invigorating first practice.

Then, the North practice happened.

The North team, led by the Lions and head coach Matt Patricia, didn’t do much of anything to be noteworthy on Tuesday. The most important drills at these All-Star practices usually happen when it’s team versus team. Players can do some one-on-one work and that’s great, but putting it all together with a full team is the best way to extract information from what we’re seeing.

It would be nice if Patricia and the Lions did a better job of giving us stuff to write about on Wednesday. Hopefully, we get to see some team drills and get a better idea of how these players stack up against the competition.


Misc. Notes

Colorado quarterback Steven Montez is here at the Senior Bowl. I loved when the Buffaloes picked him up as a recruit out of El Paso, Texas, and was excited to see his college career develop. He never really played up to his potential in my opinion, but Montez has always had pro tools.

Unfortunately for him, Montez is practicing on the same team as Herbert. Watching them go through drills one after the other, you can see a huge difference in skill set. Most I talk to in the NFL consider Montez a mid- to late-round pick because of his tools. He’s likely to be added by a team as a developmental prospect and could stick around as a practice squad player in 2020.

Leki Fotu, the Utah defensive tackle, was one of the “wow” players from the weigh-in on Tuesday morning. He checked in at a whopping 337 pounds, but did not look sloppy up on stage. Instead, Fotu looked well built for a man that size.

Not only is he a huge player, but Fotu is also more athletic than some would think. Fotu is a player to watch here at the Senior Bowl and teams appreciate that he is in good shape for measuring in at such a large weight.