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2021 Senior Bowl: What we learned from Wednesday’s National Team practice

Which players stood out?

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

The draft starts in Mobile, Ala., and the week has finally arrived - the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl. The nation’s top seniors all congregate for the All-Star event and, this year in particular, the event is even more important than usual. The traditional combine is not going to happen. Regional events and pro days are being planned, but this will be another peculiar year due to COVID-19.

Top seniors, who typically don’t always attend the event, opted into the event for the exposure to NFL franchises. Even the injured Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith (wrist injury) is at the event for exposure. There’s possible first round talents like Alabama running back Najee Harris, several highly esteemed 2020 opt out players like Wake Forest wide receiver Sage Surratt, Michigan wide receiver Nico Collins, Michigan cornerback Ambry Thomas, and Washington defensive lineman Levi Onwuzurike.

There are also small school players who either didn’t have an opportunity to play in 2020, or played one game: DIII’s Wisconsin-Whitewater’s offensive lineman Quinn Meinerz and North Dakota State OL Dillon Radunz falls into that category, as well as several others. The second day of practice is typically the best from an evaluation standpoint. There are several one on one periods and team periods to showcase the players in different situations when they’re completely out of their element with a playbook they received that week. Let’s dive into some of the players that stood out in the National Team’s second day of practice.

1-on-1 drills

Offensive line vs. defensive line

The defensive lineman that stood out in the first day of practice were both the Notre Dame pass rushers Adetokunbo Ogundeji and Daelin Hayes, as well as some flashes from UCLA’s Osa Odighizuwa (yes, the brother of Owa). Interior offensive lineman from Oklahoma Creed Humphrey and Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Quinn Meinerz had a solid Day 1 as well, and they both continued their strong start to the week on Day 2.

Meinerz beat Ogundeji twice in one on ones, showing very good anchor, positioning, and a mean nasty streak that reminds me of Ben Bartch, the St. John’s prospect from last year who was drafted in the fourth round by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Meinerz traded reps with Odighizuwa and continues making money for himself this week.

Defeating Ogundeji twice is great for Meinerz. However, Ogundeji has had better success on the edge. He has flashed a solid first few steps up the arc and does a good job dipping that inside shoulder around the edge and cornering into the pocket. He has crafty hands, a plan, and looks good in these practices.

Odighizuwa (6-foot-2, 280 pounds) was lining up inside and had a good rep against Humphry where he was able to establish the half man relationship and gain the edge he needed to win. Radunz struggled on Day 1, but seemed to stabilize a bit on Day 2. He flashed one win on an island and then defeated Penn State’s Shaka Toney, who looks small to be honest.

Cincinnati tackle James Hudson III is a converted EDGE prospect who looks lean and quick at tackle. Hudson’s feet, fluidity, and movement skills were apparent in drills and the fact that he’s raw, and learning, may lead some NFL teams to believe that there’s a lot to work with due to his athletic profile.

Pitt pass rusher Rashad Weaver flashed a really nice inside counter move where he sold the first step up the arc, sunk his hips, and spun inside to win cleanly. I want to see more from the following pass rushers in the game on Saturday, and in these drills: Penn State’s Shaka Toney, Pittsburgh’s Patrick Jones II, and Ohio State’s Jonathan Cooper.

Wide receivers vs. defensive backs

No one is making more money than Western Michigan wide receiver D’Wayne Eskridge. A smaller school prospect who is winning in so many different ways; it looks like he’s shot out of a cannon - lightning quickness. Eskridge had 33 catches for 768 yards and 8 touchdowns in 6 games this season. He is going to skyrocket up boards after looking this good against Power-5 opponents.

The other wide receiver of note would be Michigan’s Nico Collins, who opted out of the 2020 season. Collins is big and athletic, similar to former Wolverine and current Cleveland Brown Donovan Peoples-Jones. Collins had one very nice contested catch and a few good reps of him sinking his hips and exploding back to the football - something that is not a given for a 6-4, 215-pound, receiver.

Arizona State receiver Frank Darby had a really nice win at the line of scrimmage. Darby won, stacked the defensive back, tracked the ball well, and secured the catch over the shoulder. In both practices, South Dakota State wide receiver Cade Johnson showed his stop/start ability through routes. Had an impressive sidelines route and catch on day one and continued to torment defensive backs with his shiftiness on horizontal routes in day two.

Wide receiver Sage Surratt of Wake Forest hurt his ankle in the beginning of practice and played with a slight limp. He showed excellent competitive toughness by taping his ankles and playing through the injury. Surratt still showed solid route running.

Michigan’s Ambry Thomas looked very solid on both days. He’s patient at the line of scrimmage, disruptive at the catchpoint, and sticky in man coverage. Oregon cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. had a nice Day 1, but seemed to regress on Day 2. He was beaten really badly on a double move by Eskridge.

Oklahoma cornerback Tre Brown was pretty bad on Day 1, and didn’t look much better on Day 2 - but did come away with a nice interception at the catch point on a comeback route. UCLA RB Demetric Felton has been used in receiver drills and looks pretty natural. Chip Kelly used him in a versatile way and he could be a fun player at the NFL level due to his ability to play both positions effectively.

Cal CB Camryn Bynum had a nice rep on an in breaking route at 90 degrees against Surratt. Bynum fought through a long arm from Surratt and closed to the catchpoint to force a pass defended. Surratt made up for that rep by making a very impressive high point catch over Bynum on a nice throw from Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger. Washington CB Keith Taylor was another player who seemed to be in good position all day. Taylor is a longer cornerback and he seemed to use his length well.

Pass Blocking — linebackers vs. running backs

Running backs who stood out in pass protection were Virginia Tech’s Khalil Herbert and Oklahoma’s Rhamondre Stevenson. Both of these running backs were square, centered/balanced, knew how to punch/recoil/reset, and did a good job not over-lunging. Herbert lost his last rep against Ohio State’s Baron Browning who dominated the drill.

Michigan fullback Ben Mason seemed to struggle in these drills. His feet seemed stuck in mud and he lost one rep badly to Browning, which seemed to be a theme in the day for most backs. The defense generally has the edge in these types of drills, so Herbert and Stevenson performing well in pass protection is a great sign for both of them.

Also felt obligated to bring this up; the fact that Alabama running back Najee Harris is even participating speaks to the kid’s overall love for football. Harris is a possible first-round pick and has nothing to prove after a stellar career at Alabama.

Team drills

The players weren’t tackling or hitting the quarterback, but the defense was still dominant which isn’t a shock - defenses tend to be a bit more up to speed by this point. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger started under center and Miami had them running pro style personnel sets of 12. All the quarterbacks were sort of check down machines. I guess Notre Dame’s Ian Book was the best of the three - Arkansas’ Felipe Franks did not have a good period.

Franks sat in the pocket way too long and ended up getting strip sacked (in a non contact period) by Notre Dame’s Daelin Hayes who continued his good week. Book looked solid going through progressions, but missed an anticipation opportunity on a dig route (threw the ball a bit inside).

Eskridge continued his performance by creating separation in the flat vs Graham Jr. One of the two stud running backs from North Carolina, Michael Carter, is at the Senior Bowl. It’s apparent that he’s very explosive and has good vision. Humphrey paved a cut-back lane for Carter who exploded through the hole for a “big gain.” Carter did fumble at the mesh point, which is not great, but his athleticism is going to intrigue a lot of teams.