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2021 Senior Bowl: Who stood out in Wednesday’s American Team practice?

Notes from Wednesday’s late practice

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

The 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl kept rolling Wednesday afternoon with the Matt Rhule coached American squad.

Rhule himself was one of the focal points of practice, seemingly everywhere on the field and repeatedly coaching individual players at any position. It was also apparent from the opening moments of the practice that Rhule brought a high level of energy to the field.

The American squad features several highly-touted prospects, like Alabama’s Mac Jones and Alex Leatherwood, as well as Florida receiver Kadarius Toney and Wake Forest quarterback Jamie Newman. It also features a number of prospects from smaller schools or who have labored under the national radar this season. One of the purposes of the Senior Bowl is to give those unheralded prospects exposure and the chance to compete against the top seniors from the football factories.

Let’s take a look at several of the players who stood out the most Wednesday afternoon.

Offensive players

Quarterbacks

  • Mac Jones (QB, Alabama) - One of the stars of the practice, Mac Jones earned consistent and constant praise from the announce crew. Jones showed great mental processing in team period, quickly deciphering the coverage and finding the open receiver. He doesn’t have great arm strength, but he looked decisive, made smart decisions, and is an accurate passer.

Wide receivers

  • Kadarius Toney (WR, Florida) - Toney was the receiver to watch on the American squad. He has a reputation as an electric playmaker and showed obvious twitch on all his routes. He tracked the ball through the air well and his speed let him create separation even when DBs are able to stay with him through his breaks. all in the air. If there was a fault to his performance, it was that he let the ball hit the ground just a little too often, dropping some catchable passes.
  • Amari Rodgers (WR, Clemson) - Rodgers was a surprise performer in today’s practices. He came in below the radar, despite Clemson’s track record of putting receivers in the NFL. Rodgers looked both quick and fast in his routes, with a high stride frequency letting him break sharply at any moment. He was able to create separation with his route running, runaway from defenders, and adjusted well to the ball.
  • Austin Watkins Jr. (WR, UAB) - Watkins Jr. established himself as a sleeper to watch on the final day of practice and in the game. He is a bigger receiver who uses his size well against smaller corners but is also a very smooth and fluid player. Watkins Jr. is a fluid mover with smooth routes and deceptive athleticism in space.

Running backs

  • Chris Evans (RB, Michigan) - This Chris Evans might not be Captain America, but he looked like the best running back on the American squad. He showed quick feet and sharp cutting ability in individual drills as well as in the team periods. He also showed a very good jump cut, which allowed him to find daylight on a few occasions. Evans also stood out for his receiving ability in the team period, showing soft, natural hands catching the ball in space.
  • Elijah Mitchell (RB, Louisiana) - Mitchell ran hard all practice long. He isn’t the biggest, strongest, fastest, or quickest runner, but he showed good vision, solid contact balance, and a strong burst through the hole. He is a tough runner that could catch coaches’ eyes.

Offensive line

  • Trey Smith (IOL, Tennesee) - Smith was one of the players who shined during one-on-one drills with numerous strong reps. He won a number of reps because of his consistent technique and lower body strength. Smith is a highly projected interior lineman for a reason, and he reminded viewers of his talent.
  • D’Ante Smith (OT, East Carolina) - The other Smith in Mobile isn’t as highly talked about, but he is such a fun player to watch in one-on-one drills because of his length and fluidity. Smith might not be as developed as other tackle prospects, but he does move really well for a player of his size. On multiple reps, he flashed the advantage his long arms provide by stymieing pass rushers. Smith is a really good name to follow this week as an eventual mid-round developmental tackle, similar to Matt Peart last year.

Defensive players

  • Ifaetu Melifonwu (DB, Syracuse) - Melifonwu was one of the winners of weigh-ins and he looked good in practice as well. He might be just a bit too big to play corner in the NFL, but he could be great athlete for the safety position. Melifonwu struggled a bit to stay with quicker receivers through their routes, but showed good awareness and a great closing burst in off coverage.
  • Quincey Roche (EDGE, Miami) - Roche might have been the most disruptive EDGE player on the field this practice. He played with consistently good pad level, a strong burst off the line of scrimmage, and active hands to disengage from blockers. He had pass rush wins to the outside with speed and bend, as well as wins to the inside with power, quickness, and technique. Roche also held up well in run support, bench pressing blockers to set a firm edge.
  • Marvin Wilson (iDL, FSU) - While not exactly a disruptive force inside, Wilson had several good plays in both individual and team drills. He played with good power to create penetration inside, as well as leverage to hold up and discard blockers in run defense.
  • Jabril Cox (LB, LSU) - Despite being a leaner linebacker, Cox looked very comfortable playing inside at the second level. He flashed his fluidity and athleticism as a linebacker while tracking the football very effectively. He was also asked to play along the line of scrimmage as a stand-up backer.