The 2021 Senior Bowl, like so many other things in life today, was different. For the first time in six years I did not make the trip down to Mobile to take in the festivities, but thanks to Jim Nagy and the rest of the team running the event I was still able to see all of the practices on film. With that in mind, I have some observations about each of the quarterbacks who were down in Mobile, what you should watch for during the game itself, and whether the New York Giants should consider drafting them, and when.
Feleipe Franks, Arkansas
Arkansas quarterback Feleipe Franks was one of three quarterbacks from the SEC to make the trip to Mobile (four if you count Jamie Newman, given his transfer to Georgia) and this week he had the chance to flash developmental traits that teams would covet sometime in the later rounds. What jumps out first about him is his size. Franks measured in at 6-foot-6⅜”, and teams that are looking for some height at the position will like to see that.
Early in the week, Franks was the most aggressive of the three passers on the National roster, willing to push the ball downfield in the passing game and attack windows that both Ian Book and Sam Ehlinger shied away from. Accuracy was a question with Franks, as he missed on a number of throws to all levels of the field, and at times would force his targets to make awkward adjustments to the ball.
One of the things to monitor during Senior Bowl week is how players improve - or regress - from day-to-day. The first day is something of a “baseline” day and you want to see how they take to coaching and if they improve their play. Franks did show that, as his passes and reads were better as the week went on, and that is a good sign.
Saturday, see if Franks is faster with his reads and decisions in the pocket. During practice, whether in team drills or even in seven-on-seven sessions, Franks was very hesitant with his decision-making. I’ll be watching to see if that is sped up when the game kicks off.
For the Giants, if they are satisfied with the top two in their quarterback room, Franks is a developmental project worth a pick on the third day.
Ian Book, Notre Dame
Notre Dame passer Ian Book had a tremendous opportunity in front of him this week, to try and carve out a spot in the second-tier of passers and make a play for a pick on day two. With practice week in the books and the game all that is remaining, it is unclear if he did enough to make that case.
Some may get hung up on the measurables, as Book came in at 6-feet, but I’m more concerned about the conservative nature of his play. As previously mentioned Book started the week checking the ball down, and that continued throughout the three days of practice. Book had opportunities to attack in the vertical passing game and take some of the ‘hole shots” against Cover-2 looks, but in those situations he was far too willing to just check the ball down. While sometimes that is the right play, there are times as a passer you need to challenge those windows, especially if you want to hear your name called early in the draft. I’ll be very curious to see how he handles those opportunities on Saturday.
Still, Book has athleticism and does display accuracy in the short- and intermediate-areas of the field. Those traits also matter at the position. Teams looking for that developmental prospect that could bloom into a long-term backup would be wise to consider him on the third day, including the Giants.
Sam Ehlinger, Texas
The Texas product entered Senior Bowl week with perhaps one huge task: Clean up his mechanics. As someone who is a champion of the phrase “mechanics don’t matter until they matter,” Sam Ehlinger is perhaps the poster-child for the part of that phrase where they “matter.” His delivery at times during his career has been far too loose and deliberate, and it has led to missed opportunities in the passing game. When mechanics are the reason for that, they matter.
In fact, Ehlinger drew comparisons to Tim Tebow during his Texas career, and while many viewed that as an insult, the qusrterback should view it as an opportunity. Clean up the mechanics and the delivery, and you can carve out an NFL career.
This week, you could tell that process was underway. Ehlinger’s throwing motion was more compact at times, and at other times the muscle memory kicked in and the deliberate nature crept back into play. Then there was the conservative nature to his play. Like Book, Ehlinger was often willing to just check the ball down rather than attack in the tighter throwing windows. What to watch for Saturday? Does he challenge those windows, what do his mechanics look like when he does, and what are the results?
Ehlinger does have some athleticism and escapism to his game, and that matters in the modern NFL. Teams that draft him on the third day are going to trust in their ability to develop him, or at the least trust in his ability to do the work to improve himself in the off-season. He might be more of a lottery-ticket kind of selection, but if things break right that ticket could pan out.
Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
I had some optimism regarding Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond heading into Senior Bowl week, and with the practices in the books I think some optimism is still warranted, but there are still issues with his game that require a bit of caution.
In contrast to the two passers we just discussed, Mond was willing to challenge some of the tighter throwing windows in the downfield passing game during this week. The problem? Sometimes that did not go his way. For example, on a throw during Wednesday’s team session Mond tried to attack the “turkey hole” in a Cover-2 scheme, and the throw he lofted in that direction was easily intercepted by the half-field safety. That brings into question his arm talent, and his approach to that read and throw.
Perhaps more concerning to me is what happened after that play. On the next snap Mond was working through reads on a verticals concept out of a 3x1 formation against the same coverage and despite the fact that both the “bender” and the seam were open behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties, Mond immediately checked it down. I would have loved to see him get right back on that horse and be aggressive in that moment. I really want to see him face that kind of situation Saturday, to gauge what he has learned - or not learned - from the week.
Still, there are flashes to his game both on tape and throughout practice. He can make some throws, he moves well in the pocket and is a threat with his legs. The lack of consistency is the biggest question from his film. If you trust in your ability to develop a QB, Mond is worth taking a shot on in the later rounds.
Jamie Newman, Wake Forest/Georgia
Out of all six of these passers, Jamie Newman was the one I was the most excited to see.
After a strong career at Wake Forest, Newman decided to transfer to Georgia to take on the SEC. A solid season for the Bulldogs would have put him squarely in first-round territory. But Newman opted-out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns, so this was his first true action after the long layoff.
During the week, you could see the reasons why he was in that early-round discussion prior to opting-out. His arm jumps off the film, and that enables him to challenge all levels of the field in the passing game. Newman also displays athleticism in the pocket, as a runner and has the ability to extend plays that is critical in today’s NFL. After the first day, in my mind he was making a strong push to be declared the top quarterback down in Mobile.
Then two things happened. First, Mac Jones settled in. Second, Newman started making some mistakes. He threw a pair of interceptions at the end of Wednesday’s practice in the team session and both came on late throws over the middle, breaking a cardinal rule of quarterback play. The fact that the second came right after the first was rather concerning. Newman also started to be more hesitant with his reads and throws, even when moving outside the pocket on designed rollouts.
I’ll be watching to see if he is more decisive on Saturday.
Still, the raw talent is there and if I’m a team with an established starter, but who wants to perhaps upgrade at QB2 with eyes towards maybe even developing someone into a starting quarterback, I’m taking a shot at Newman, even at the end of Day 2. To be fair, lots of teams often convince themselves they can “coach a guy up,” but I’m much more willing to take that chance at the end of the third round than I am at the top of the draft.
Mac Jones, Alabama
Mac Jones entered Senior Bowl practice week pushing for inclusion in the top-tier of quarterbacks. Unless something disastrous happens in the game itself, Jones will leave Mobile having accomplished that task.
Jones really came on as the week wore on, and if you ascribe to the idea that the first day is a “baseline” day and what the players due over Wednesday and Thursday is what matters - as I do - then Jones was the surefire winner of the week. He truly settled into his role Wednesday and made a number of impressive reads and throws, most notably a crossing route to the tight end in the team session on Wednesday that showed his accuracy and willingness to attack tighter coverage.
I still have some reservations about Jones from his film, and they are two-fold. First, how he handles pressure. At times his mechanics and process fell apart in response to pressure - real or perceived - and you could see the impact on his throws. That was playing behind Alabama’s offensive line, what will happen in the NFL. Second, he had a pair of first-round talents at wide receiver to throw to, as well as a potential first-round pick at running back. View Jones in the Kirk Cousins mold, a quarterback that you can win with, and someone who can check the boxes, run the offense and take what the defense gives him.
When you watch him during the game on Saturday pay attention to these two things. First, how does he handle pressure in the pocket? Does he stay within himself or does his process, and mechanics, fall to pieces? Second, how aggressive will he be? Will he continue to challenge tighter windows, and what happens when he does? He took some chances this week, but there were other moments when he gave up on big-play opportunities far too early in the down and was willing to just take the check down. Sure, that’s okay, but sometimes “open” in the NFL is not what Jones is used to seeing playing for Alabama. Risk is part of the job description.
Still, a quarterback that checks the boxes and does not make brutal mistakes can lead a team to victories in the NFL. For teams that badly need a starter right now, that might be appealing.
I do not think the New York Giants fit that description, nor should they pay the price it would cost to draft him given the other needs on the roster. Jones likely locked down a first-round pick this week, and as such, he’s probably too expensive for the Giants given their other concerns at the moment.