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Senior Bowl Day 1 practice report: Players who impressed on first day of practice

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Which Senior Bowl prospects stood out in the first practices?

College Football Playoff National Championship - Clemson v LSU Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

This is my fourth year attending the Reese’s Senior Bowl, and it is my privilege to provide an unbiased look at how the nation’s top Seniors performed at the event. The Senior Bowl has been a particularly important event for the New York Giants; Big Blue has drafted the last three Senior Bowl MVPs (Davis Webb, Kyle Lauletta, Daniel Jones), and general Manager Dave Gettleman has our importance on drafting players that have significant starting experience, something that a lot of seniors may have under their belt. Over the last two drafts, Gettleman has selected Will Hernandez, BJ Hill, Kyle Lauletta, Daniel Jones, Oshane Ximines, and Corey Ballentine from the Senior Bowl, so it seems the Giants put a precedent on the event.

I am currently thawing out and reflecting on Tuesday, January 21st’s, practices from the South Team, led by the Cincinnati Bengals coaching staff, and the North Team led by the Detroit Lions coaching staff. Without further ado, here are some prospects that stood out to me today; prospects that I feel the Giants could explore (ranked from who impressed me the most):

Offense

Lloyd Cushenberry, Center, LSU

Ht: 6-foot-3 2⁄3, WT: 312, Hands: 10 4/8”, Arms: 34 ⅝”

Cushenberry was by far the best lineman on the South squad on Tuesday, winning most of his reps in 1-on-1 run and all of his reps in 1-on-1 pass. He showed impressive anchor and an ability to adjust to counter moves against Ole Miss’s Josiah Coatney. Cushenberry routinely kept his hands inside, didn’t overset, and would utilize a low center of gravity to ensure good form against the interior defensive line. His footwork seemed effortless as he would glide and mirror well on the inside. I expect him to build on an impressive first day here in Mobile.

Van Jefferson, WR, Florida

Ht: 6-1 1/4, WT: 197, Hands: 9 1/8”, Arm: 33 1/8”

Jefferson did an excellent job finding soft spots in zone coverage during team drills, displaying a high ability to see the field and adjust to a defense. He showed strong hands at the catch point and would pluck the ball out of the cold air. There were a few reps in team drills where he worked his way back to the quarterback and adjusted his body well to throws that were slightly behind and throws that were high. Jefferson had success in 1-on-1 drills as well and looked smooth running routes and exploding off his stem. He is an intriguing prospect who showed up well in his inaugural Senior Bowl practice.

Ben Bartch, OL, Saint John’s

Ht: 6-5, WT: 308, Hands: 9 1/8”, Arms: 33”

The Division III prospect had a solid first day and most certainly played with a chip on his shoulder. He finished every rep with the last shove and played with incredible physicality, even though it’s the first day. He only lost one of his reps in pass rushing 1-on-1, and that was when he was put t right tackle, which isn’t a position he is accustomed to playing. He lost the rep to Alabama’s Edge Terrell Lewis, who had a very solid day and is incredibly impressive looking in pads. Bartch didn’t make a habit of over-setting, which a lot of other linemen did, and he did well executing inside hand placement and playing with leverage. A few years back, Ali Marpet came to the Senior Bowl from Hobart and played his way into being a Day 2 pick. Bartch has a long way to go to get there, but he had a solid start.

Chase Claypool, WR, Notre Dame

Ht: 6-4, WT: 229, Hands: 10”, Arms: 33 1/8”

Claypool utilized his big frame to out jump North defenders. Like Jefferson, he displayed strong hands on some plays and an ability to adjust, while showing solid movement skills for a man of his frame. I find him interesting for the Giants because he’s half a biscuit away from playing tight end, and while his athletic ability is not comparable to Evan Engram, he is still a solid athlete and that could be used by the Giants offense under Jason Garrett if something were to happen to Engram. His testing at the combine will be huge for him, but he had a solid first day here at the Senior Bowl, and it piqued my interest.

Josh Jones, OT, Houston

Ht: 6-5 1/8, WT: 311, Hands: 10 1/8”, Arms: 33 ⅝”

Jones’ first rep in 1-on-1s was atrocious and he got tossed to the side by an inside move from the defender. To his credit, he was able to battle back in his ensuing reps and show resiliency and an ability to hold up at the point of attack.

Defense

(Javon Kinlaw from South Carolina is a beast and that’s all you need to know. This article is mostly about people the Giants could draft, and Kinlaw will be in the top 15, more than likely not donning that a Giants uniform).

Marlon Davidson, EDGE/DL, Auburn

Ht: 6-3 2⁄3, WT: 297, Hands: 9 4/8”, Arms: 32 7/8”

Davidson was physically imposing on shells today. His build is incredibly thick and he showed that intimidation in the way he played as well. In bag drills alone he was super physical and then showed the same physicality in 1-on-1s winning at the point of attack and showing impressive bend for a man of his size. He strung multiple moves together and used quick hands to defeat the offensive linemen high, while dipping his shoulder and cornering around the edge. He also won with bullrushing ability and really just had a fantastic first day. I don’t know how realistic Davidson is for the Giants, given the strength of the Giants defense being bigger lineman, but we know Gettleman loves players like Davidson, so I had to mention him given the day that he had.

Jason Strowbridge, DL/EDGE, UNC

Ht: 6-4 2/3, WT: 267, Hands: 9 7/8”, Arms: 327/8”

Strowbridge opened up a lot of people’s eyes in the North practices 1v1. He dominated almost every rep with speed and quickness at the point of attack. Strowbridge won with spin moves, strength from bull rushing combined with subtle pulls and rips, as well as multiple moves that are maximized by his strength. He maintained a low center of gravity and his hands packed a violent punch that stunned the North’s offensive line. He had a lot of people talking about him at practice and it what very apparent why.

Akeem Davis-Gaither, LB/DS, Appalachian State

Ht: 6-1 1/4, WT: 219, Hands: 9”, Arms; 31 3/8”

Davis-Gaither displayed impressive movement skills in space, while showing an aggressive ability to fill his run fits during the team portion. It’s always hard to judge a linebacker when contact is limited but I had to mention this player because he has this hybrid type of style that potential first round selection of the Giants, Isiah Simmons, possesses. Obviously, Simmons is a much bigger, better, and much more polished prospect, but they both have a ability to play multiple positions on defense. I feel Davis Gaither could be an interesting chess piece type of player for Patrick Graham’s defense; a player that brings physicality in the rushing portion, while possessing range on the back end. Still has more to prove in the coming days, for he’s a smaller school kid, but I like what I saw in day one.

Jabari Zuniga, EDGE, Florida

Ht: 6-3 1/8, WT: 253, Hands: 10”, Arms: 33 1/8”

Zuniga combined a quick first three steps, with good bend in his lower half, to defeat the offensive tackles around the edge. He used solid chop arm/overs, and chop pulls, along with a dip of the inside shoulder to swivel his hips and corner to the pocket. His quickness off the snap caught my eye. I’m not a fan of comparisons, but from this first practice, he reminded me a bit of Oshane Ximines. Look for him to challenge the sets of offensive tackles of the Senior Bowl on Saturday.

Darnay Holmes, DB, UCLA

Ht: 5-10, WT: 192, Hands: 9 1/8”, Arms: 30 ⅝”

Measurables aren’t impressive, but he stood out during 7 on 7s by breaking up passes at the catchpoint and providing some physicality in that area. One play, in zone, he recognized the sail concept and jumped the 7 to force an incompletion, showing high football IQ. Another defensive back that did really well in 7-on-7’s was Notre Dame’s Troy Pride Jr. Pride is also undersized but handled inside slants very well on several occasions against different receivers, while getting his hands into the catch point and forcing incompletions.