Many top 2023 NFL draft prospects and potential risers stood out during three days of Senior Bowl practices this week, and a few of our reporters and analysts were on hand in Mobile, Alabama, to see the action. In addition to a close-up look at some of the top upperclassmen entering the draft, however, they also had the chance to talk to people from around the NFL and college football. Every NFL team had representatives in attendance, including coaches, front-office executives and scouts, and many college coaches were in town for the event, as well. Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy noted that a record 1,100 total credentials were granted to media for the week of practices and the game on Saturday.

So what was the buzz around the University of South Alabama’s facilities? NFL draft analyst Todd McShay, NFL reporter Jeremy Fowler and college football reporter Pete Thamel break down what they heard and saw at the Senior Bowl, including nuggets on top prospects, teams to watch and more from execs, coaches and scouts around the football world. Let’s get into all of it. (And don’t miss the Senior Bowl game on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET on NFL Network.)

Jump to:
Bears at No. 1 | Rodgers’ next move
Jackson’s status | Top midtier QBs
Biggest risers at Senior Bowl

What will Chicago do with the No. 1 pick?

Fowler: The Chicago Bears brought the cavalry to Mobile, with general manager Ryan Poles, coach Matt Eberflus and assistant general manager Ian Cunningham all in attendance. (Chicago offensive coordinator Luke Getsy is one of the Senior Bowl coaches.) Teams are keeping close tabs on the Bears, who own the No. 1 pick in April’s draft, and the prevailing theme is Poles is very high on value. Despite in-season trades of linebacker Roquan Smith and edge rusher Robert Quinn, Chicago has just eight picks in the draft and only one in the top 50. Poles will most likely aim to change that.

“They still have so many needs, and a trade back — even if only one spot or a few spots — would help them,” an NFC exec said. Having Justin Fields helps Chicago pass on the quarterbacks if it chooses, as the majority believe Chicago will build around Fields in Year 3. But those who expect the Bears to at least consider an alternative over the next two months punctuate this point, via an NFC scout: “Fields proved he’s a weapon but has a ways to go as a quarterback. The Bears must figure out if they can marry those two.”

McShay: I’ve heard similar in talking to scouts and execs this week about Chicago’s situation. Yes, the Bears have to figure out internally if Fields is their guy. But the opportunity they have, with all those QB-needy teams sitting in the top 10 and wanting to trade up, is tremendous. The bigger question becomes how far down the board can the Bears move and still land a top defensive prospect. Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. and Georgia’s Jalen Carter would still be there if Chicago drops one spot to No. 2, and at least one of them will likely be there at No. 4 if Chicago swaps picks with Indianapolis. But beyond No. 4, who are you getting?

Who is the No. 5 QB in the 2023 class?

Thamel: The order of the top four quarterbacks in this draft can be parsed in several ways, but few will argue with the names in the top group. There’s an overriding expectation that the top four, in some order, will be Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Kentucky’s Will Levis and Florida’s Anthony Richardson. That leaves the most intriguing question at football’s most vexing evaluation position: Who will be No. 5? There’s no shortage of candidates, and this week at the Senior Bowl offered little clarity.

If Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker were healthy, he’d certainly lead that conversation. But his recovery from ACL surgery layers his draft status in ambiguity. He’s still expected to go on Day 2, but his slot is projected with significant potential variance.

One of the odd quirks of an underwhelming crop of Senior Bowl quarterbacks — we’re a long way from the likes of Josh Allen and Justin Herbert in recent years — is that it amplifies the case for Purdue’s Aidan O’Connell. His strong practices at the East-West Shrine Game have only helped his cause, and he could get a boost from a good showing in Thursday’s game. He’s an interesting prospect, as he has sudden delivery and pinpoint accuracy. But those are counterbalanced by modest physical traits that led, in part, to him walking on at Purdue. O’Connell ended up earning a scholarship and finishing his career with 9,219 yards and a 66.7% completion rate while leading the Boilermakers to the Big Ten title game this season.

One veteran scout said O’Connell is “distinctly better” than the crop of quarterbacks throwing this week at the Senior Bowl, which includes Houston’s Clayton Tune, Shepherd’s Tyson Bagent, TCU’s Max Duggan, Louisville’s Malik Cunningham, Fresno State’s Jake Haener and BYU’s Jaren Hall. Another disagreed, saying O’Connell was better than most but not all.



Aidan O’connell airs it out for 60-yard TD

Aidan O’connell airs it out for 60-yard TD

A survey of a few scouts had O’Connell as a fringe top-100 prospect with a fourth-round floor. He’s in the conversation for No. 5 along with Hooker, Haener, Hall and Tune, which means one could slip into the late second round. A big game on Saturday by any of the quarterbacks in Mobile might help usher them to the forefront of that conversation with the traditional Senior Bowl bump.

Don’t be surprised if Hooker ends up rising, as he can continue to show teams he’s recovering from his torn ACL. He said this week he is on track to be ready for summer training camp after getting surgery to repair his torn ACL on Dec. 13. The coaches he faced the past two years are bullish on him as a value.

“In the new-age NFL, I think he has the opportunity to be a really good player,” said a college head coach. “He could absolutely be a value. Look at what Dak Prescott did as a fourth-rounder. If you take Hooker in the third round, you could end up with a quality starter.”

Who’s the top quarterback in Mobile?

McShay: I was really impressed all week with Fresno State’s Haener, and multiple evaluators I spoke to said he was clearly the best quarterback at the Senior Bowl. Entering the week, a lot of teams had Haener and BYU’s Hall neck and neck, but Haener really stood out. He was in control, and despite being undersized at 6-foot and 208 pounds, he showed no fear. He anticipates and moves well, and his confidence was noticeable.

After the week of practices, Haener is my QB6 and a Day 2 prospect behind Tennessee’s Hooker. And frankly, I don’t know that there is another Day 2 quarterback in this group.

Fowler: With a weak Senior Bowl quarterback class, teams I’ve spoken to were intrigued by Houston’s Tune, as well. They noted that his decision-making was solid all week. Hall bounced back after a rough first day, and I’m told he is dealing with a high ankle sprain but has toughed it out.

Will Jackson return to Baltimore?

Fowler: Quarterback Lamar Jackson‘s future was a convenient talking point in Mobile, and most are in the same spot that they were six months ago. Most believe the Baltimore Ravens should place the exclusive franchise tag on Jackson and try to work out a long-term deal, knowing he’s secured for one more year. And if it becomes clear that reaching a new contract is next to impossible, the Ravens can entertain trade offers closer to the draft.

“And it could become a standoff, because I wouldn’t expect him to sign the tag for a while,” an AFC exec said. “And they will be so far apart in the guaranteed money.”

Yes, Baltimore and Jackson could possibly be $100 million apart there, a massive gap to bridge. Those trade calls are coming. I don’t get the sense that that process has heated up, in part because teams are assuming Jackson will be tagged. It’s still very early on this one.

Elsewhere, the Ravens typically don’t take big swings at wide receiver in free agency, but I talked to a few coaches in Mobile who think Baltimore should add a pass-catcher, in large part because its top two wideouts — Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay — are coming off injury. The Ravens need fresh legs, and a do-it-all receiver like Allen Lazard would be a fit.

Is a Rodgers trade really possible?

Fowler: Aaron Rodgers‘ year-to-year approach to playing could complicate trade talks for the Green Bay Packers, several execs say, because it’s hard to trade hefty capital for just one year of Rodgers. Teams would prefer at least two seasons with him. One NFC exec floated a solution: Green Bay could make the draft picks conditional, with a sliding scale based on how long Rodgers plays. For example, a second-round pick turns into a first-rounder if Rodgers doesn’t retire after one year. It would take out some of the guesswork.

What’s becoming clear is a trade feels more possible than ever. Backup QB Jordan Love is ready to play after three seasons in the shadows, and the Packers are comfortable with his development. The New York Jets come up a lot when talking with teams about the pursuit of Rodgers, and the feeling is that New York will at least try to make something happen. But the Las Vegas Raiders have the Davante Adams connection to pitch.

“[Rodgers] was his QB for eight years, they were close when it counted, and money talks — Nevada is a tax-free state,” a source close to Adams said.



Schefter: ‘Real possibility’ Packers trade Aaron Rodgers

Adam Schefter reports on the latest regarding Aaron Rodgers and his future with the Green Bay Packers.

What is Atlanta’s plan under center?

Fowler: As the Atlanta Falcons evaluate their options at quarterback, a few themes have emerged:

  • They liked Desmond Ridder‘s four-game stretch. His numbers were modest, with 708 yards and two touchdown passes to zero interceptions. But that last statistic is significant. He’s definitely an option to consider.

  • Lamar Jackson to the Falcons would be a great story, but someone with the team pointed out to me that Atlanta spent three years getting out of salary-cap purgatory and now sits on an estimated $56 million in space. Not that the Falcons couldn’t use that on a high-profile QB, but giving up multiple first-round picks for the right to spend $200-plus million isn’t something Atlanta will be overly eager to do unless absolutely needed.

  • One league personnel evaluator had a good suggested fit for Atlanta: Jimmy Garoppolo. A bridge starter with QB1 upside, Garoppolo would get shades of the Niners’ Kyle Shanahan offense with the Falcons, thanks to Arthur Smith’s lean on the run and play-action. And Garoppolo would come at a reasonable financial clip.

How will the Carr saga play out in Vegas?

Fowler: A league exec openly wondered this week whether the Raiders would cut Derek Carr before he participates in the Pro Bowl flag football game Sunday, since an injury there could trigger his $40.4 million guarantee early. The money, based on 2023-24 salary, officially locks in Feb. 15. Carr said Thursday night he wasn’t going to extend that trigger date to give Vegas more time.

Pro Bowl aside, I get the sense that some teams will want to rework his deal to facilitate a trade, possibly spreading out that guarantee over multiple years. The Raiders are trying to control the trade and haven’t given Carr (who has a no-trade clause) permission to shop his services.

Watch for the New Orleans Saints here. A Carr-Saints connection was buzzing a bit in Mobile, and they could be a suitor. New Orleans has a first- and second-round pick from the Sean Payton deal, and head coach Dennis Allen coached Carr during his rookie year in Oakland.

Who were the biggest risers of the week?

Thamel: About 200 yards up a hill from the Senior Bowl practices at Hancock-Whitney Stadium in Mobile lie the South Alabama football offices. As former Tulane star tailback Tyjae Spears sped through defenses in practice this week and showcased burst and suddenness, the Jaguars’ defensive staff issued deep exhales. South Alabama opens next season at Tulane on Sept. 2, a sneaky good game between two of the better Group of 5 teams in 2022. That means the South Alabama staff, coming off a 10-3 season, has been consuming plenty of film of Tulane (12-2), which won the AAC and outraced USC in the Cotton Bowl.

“Thank god Tyjae Spears isn’t playing for Tulane next year,” South Alabama coach Kane Wommack told ESPN with a laugh.

Spears shined throughout his career with the Wave, rushing for 2,910 yards over four years. He particularly dominated in his finishing kick, as he torched USC in the Cotton Bowl for 205 yards on 17 carries, including four touchdowns. In the AAC title game against UCF, he rushed for 199 yards on 22 carries. Wommack saw a runner whose edge and motor transcended his 5-foot-10, 204-pound frame.

“He’s got elite vision, a low center of gravity, and he has the trait where you see guys at the running back position that play with an expectation,” he said. “There’s this threshold of, are you above the line or below the line in terms of overall talent. But that can come in all sizes — big guys, small guys, fast guys, strong guys, whatever. But you just see a guy that plays with an expectation, and I think you see that in the USC game that he’s got that expectation. And I think that makes you a different-level back.”



Tulane’s Tyjae Spears puts a move on a defender during Senior Bowl practice

Tulane running back Tyjae Spears has the defender guessing on a sweet route during Senior Bowl practice.

McShay: I polled a bunch of execs, coaches and scouts over the course of the week on the biggest risers based off practices. The same names kept popping up, no matter who I talked to.

The Brown twins from Illinois received a lot of buzz. Running back Chase Brown is the better prospect and will be drafted higher, but safety Sydney Brown looked really good all week long. An AFC exec told me that they will both probably be underdrafted and we’ll look back at this class in three years and wonder why they weren’t picked higher. He said he’d absolutely want both of those guys on his team.

Two scouts called out Iowa cornerback Riley Moss, who looked smooth, fast and instinctive in coverage. Moss sees it, feels it and knows the angles to take, and he looks like a Round 2 pick. Georgia Tech edge rusher Keion White‘s professional approach impressed an exec, too. The exec said from the moment White showed up at the Senior Bowl, you could just tell he’s a pro and ready for the next level.

Some other names I consistently heard, in no particular order:

Fowler: The NFL found its next combine standout in Iowa State edge rusher Will McDonald IV. I talked to several scouts in Mobile who expect him to test very well in Indianapolis in a month. McDonald plays with a lot of explosion, though a chief concern is his thinner frame. He was listed at 6-foot-3 and 236 pounds in college, but many noticed he looked a little bigger this week. (McDonald did in fact weigh in at 241.)

The Pittsburgh Steelers appeared to be keeping close tabs on offensive linemen at the Senior Bowl. One name to watch is Tennessee offensive tackle Darnell Wright, who Pittsburgh could see as more of a guard.

Ohio State offensive tackle Dawand Jones is out for the rest of the Senior Bowl after reporting concussion-like symptoms early in the week, though the move is considered precautionary. Jones told trainers he had a headache, so he’s being held out to be safe but will stay with the team throughout the week. The massive 6-foot-8, 375-pound tackle had a good first practice, so he overall helped himself in Mobile. But teams wanted to see more.

Source by [author_name]

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *