Mobile, AL — Draft season is in full swing as the Senior Bowl is underway, with the American and National teams holding their first practices at Hancock Whitney Stadium on Tuesday.
In back-to-back two-hour sessions, Tuesday's practices offered an excellent snapshot into the 2024 NFL Draft in a very training camp-like environment. The goal for teams is to see these prospects compete and showcase their skills, so it's not as heavy on scheme and game-planning. Some elements are designed to prepare players for Saturday's game. But, overall, the idea is to allow scouts to evaluate the players against NFL-caliber competition rather than win a football game.
Before we get into the standouts, we also must mention that, in all likelihood, the third overall pick isn't at the Senior Bowl this week. Instead, we are discussing prospects likely to come off the board at the end of the first round through day three of this year's draft. That said, picks No. 34 and No. 68 could very well be in Mobile.
There's still plenty of valuable information to gather this week, and we'll continue to hammer home the three positions head coach Jerod Mayo is stressing are the Patriots biggest needs: quarterback, wide receiver, and offensive tackle.
Here are our biggest ups and downs from the opening practice at the Senior Bowl on Tuesday:
1. Lukewarm Days for Top Quarterbacks, but Some Sleeper Standouts in Mobile
The opening practice for the National squad featured two quarterback prospects in the round one discussion for many: Michael Penix, Jr. (Washington) and Bo Nix (Oregon). Although the two brand names didn't exactly "wow" anyone, it is worth noting that it's the first time they've ever thrown to these receivers in a patchwork offense. Plus, it was a light day in terms of quarterback reps/pass attempts, so nobody should've expected fireworks. With that said, here are notes on the quarterbacks:
"Bazooka" Joe Milton (Tennessee) - Milton's arm strength to drive the ball through the middle of the field and throw on the move stood out above the rest of his American squad teammates. Milton has a live arm with good arm elasticity to generate velocity from different angles and platforms. He made the best throw during a 7-on-7 session where he worked a seam route to K-State tight end Ben Sinnott and looked natural, throwing to different levels off bootleg actions. My comparison for Milton is day three Anthony Richardson. He's not as freakish with his mobility and arm talent, but it's a similar skill set as the Colts QB, who went fourth overall in 2023.
Michael Penix (Washington) - Penix was fine. He made the best downfield throw of the day in team drills for the National offense on a crossing route to Michigan's Roman Wilson, which showed off the zip he can put on the ball to beat a closing defender to the catch point. He took a couple of sacks on reps where he appeared to have few options. Overall, he didn't help himself, but he didn't hurt himself either. Penix will have to hope his tape holds up the rest of the way because there's buzz and anticipation amongst scouts about his medical evaluations over the next few months.
Michael Pratt (Tulane) - At first, Pratt looked a little overwhelmed by the play speed and wasn't testing windows downfield even in 7-on-7. His lack of aggressiveness was worrisome, but then he dropped a nice throw in the bucket on a deep corner route. Those touch intermediate shots to crossers/corners/sail routes are Pratt's bread and butter, so it was good to see that translate from his Tulane tape to the Senior Bowl practice field.
Spencer Rattler (South Carolina) - Rattler was on my "winners" list until he threw an interception at the very end of practice. The knock on Rattler was his timing and processing speed, and he did well to get through his reads, which caught the eye of scouts in attendance. However, he threw a bad interception late in the session where he lost track of the backside corner as a crossing route developed and threw the ball right to Fresno State CB Carlton Johnston — he just didn't see him. Overall, Rattler has some starting-caliber traits to work with, but he's an up-and-down player. He's also only a shade over 6-feet tall. His lack of height was noticeable.
Bo Nix - This was a rough practice for Nix, who struggled with accuracy on several missed throws. He sailed a pass wide on a bootleg crosser to Tez Walker and then threw a dirt ball to Roman Wilson on another in-breaker. Nix had first-round production this past season, but his accuracy/ball placement is very inconsistent on anything over ten air yards.
2. Michigan WR Roman Wilson is the Real Deal, and Other Winners and Losers at Wide Receiver
From this perspective, Michigan wide receiver Roman Wilson was the best player on the field for either session.
Wilson has all the attributes of a high-volume Z/slot receiver who can win from multiple alignments and at all three levels. The Michigan product has a knack for winning early in his routes and is crafty through the breakpoint to create vertical separation — a really impressive blend of route-running IQ, quickness, and burst. The pro comparison is Amon-Ra St. Brown. Here are other notes from the wide receivers on Tuesday:
Ladd McConkey (Georgia) - McConkey put on an absolute show during one-on-ones with his highly advanced route-running and quickness. However, it's worth noting he didn't have the same success in team drills. As a quick, shifty slot/Z, you'd expect McConkey to be a 1v1 star. Still, he deserves his flowers for going out there and doing it. McConkey's ability to make angular cuts, pace his routes, and win leverage battles early in his route stems are extremely advanced – he looks like a man with a plan to get open. There's some Hunter Renfrow with a little mix of Adam Thielen to his game.
Brenden Rice (USC) - The son of NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, Brenden Rice is a different breed of receiver than his legendary father. Rice is a downfield ball winner who uses a 6-foot-2 frame to win as a vertical X receiver. His ability to finish through contact and make plays on the ball with strong hands impressed me. Rice is not a pure separator like dad but a physical outside receiver who can win down the field.
Xavier Legette (South Carolina) - In Legette's defense, light contact practices in shells aren't where he wins. He is a stocky, explosive athlete known for his long speed and burst to create as a ball carrier. However, he struggled, going 0-for-4 in one-on-one drills. Mainly because he couldn't finish plays in the final phase of the route. Legette stacked vertically a few times but couldn't pull away from the coverage and finish at the catch point, while all four of his 1v1 reps were go balls. I worry about his ability to run different routes and do more downfield other than contested catches with schemed YAC. He also only came in at 6-foot-1, 223 pounds, so he's not all that tall for a contested catch guy. Legette gives off Laviska Shenault vibes.
Tez Walker (UNC) - I was excited to see Walker this week because he has an explosive gear on film and would pair very nicely with UNC quarterback Drake Maye. Unfortunately, Walker struggled to separate in practice, consistently leading to battles at the catch point. Besides a few first-level slants where he slipped underneath the coverage, there wasn't much downfield separation here. Walker also had two drops. There were moments where he flashed good body control and hands to make catches outside his frame, though.
3. Oklahoma OT Tyler Guyton Headlines a Strong Offensive Tackle Group
The most impressive position on the Senior Bowl rosters is at offensive tackle. It's a good year for the Patriots to need OTs, especially in the top-40 picks, where many scouts anticipate roughly ten offensive tackles to fly off the board by early day two:
Tyler Guyton (Oklahoma) - Guyton isn't a finished product yet, with some lapses in technique that lead to quick losses. However, he's a converted tight end who is relatively new to the position and is a stellar athlete with tremendous size (6-7, 328, 34-inch arms). Guyton had an incredible run where he was dominant throughout both run-blocking and pass-blocking drills. He rode Alabama edge rusher Chris Braswell to the ground on one rep where Braswell tried to turn his corner. Guyton has an incredibly high ceiling, but quick losses to Houston's Nelson Ceasar on an inside spin move and another quick loss in an edge-setting drill show that he's green. Still, with those athletic traits and raw power, Guyton has immense potential.
Taliese Fuaga (Oregon State) - Overall, a strong showing from Fuaga, who started the practice off red hot. Fuaga's ability to reach his landmarks quickly to make rushers go through him to the quarterback was a challenge for the edge rushers on the National squad. He also has great foot speed and balance as a run blocker. However, Fuaga did cool off toward the end of practice, getting beat on a speed rush that would've been a holding call. It's worth monitoring on day two to see if endurance is an issue for Fuaga.
Patrick Paul (Houston) - Paul is a mauler with excellent size (6-7, 333, 36-inch arms) and has also been one of the standout athletic testers in Mobile. His height works against him sometimes against power rushers who can get underneath his pads on bull rushes, but he's going to move people and has the foot speed to mirror around the arc in pass pro. Paul is an intriguing day-two option for the Patriots, with plenty of developmental upside.
Kingsley Suamataia (BYU) - Suamataia is a blocky right tackle prospect with a wide body and a great anchor to slow down pass-rushers. Early on, he made it extremely difficult on guys by playing with good leverage to protect his corner. The BYU product also finished regularly in the run game with great power on outside zone. However, Suamataia had one close loss and a decisive loss to projected first-rounder Laiatu Latu (UCLA) in best-on-best work at the end of practice. Suamataia beat Latu initially on the first rep by knocking down a cross-chop move, but Latu was able to recover and corner late in the rep. Then, Latu beat him clean on an inside move. Overall, Suamataia is an intriguing prospect due to his stout frame and power. Still, he will face plenty of rushers of Latu's caliber at the next level.
Jordan Morgan (Arizona) - Although he has an athletic tackle build, Morgan measured in with under 33-inch arms and struggled with his hand placement and establishing first contact. He showed good timing up to the second level as a run blocker. Along with his arm length, his traits might be best suited at guard. It's not really a "down" because he had some good reps. Morgan just might project inside at the next level.
4. UNH RB Dylan Laube Among Tight Ends and Running Back Standouts
The Patriots offense has holes everywhere, including secondary needs at tight end and running back. This isn't the best class at either of those positions, but there might be some value on day three, precisely where the Pats should entertain a pick.
Starting at running back, UNH's Dylan Laube has some skills as a change-of-pace back. He reached a top speed of over 20 MPH when he broke through the defense on a rep of one-back power from shotgun, pressing inside behind his lead block before exploding outside. Laube has quick feet, good stop/start ability, and quickness in the pass game. As a projected mid-day-three pick, I'm intrigued by the fit in New England – like a bigger Danny Woodhead.
At tight end, Kansas State's Ben Sinnott and Penn State's Theo Johnson showed the ability to run away from coverage on seams and crossers. They have some juice in the passing game that's worth looking into as developmental options for the Patriots.
5. Defense Matters, Too: Four Defensive Players Making Money in Mobile
No, we aren't neglecting the defensive players in this draft or at the Senior Bowl because the Patriots have more pressing needs on offense. Here are the players who caught my eye:
CB Quinyon Mitchell (Toledo) - One of the best palyers on the field. Mitchell is in the conversation for the best cornerback in this class. He was incredibly strappy in coverage throughout practice and had two pass breakups in drills. Mitchell was excellent.
CB Cam Hart (Notre Dame) - Hart was competitive in one-on-one drills with suffocating coverage. He had a great rep against Tez Walker, where he ran the route for Walker and intercepted the pass. Hart also has good size (6-3, 204). He could be a perimeter corner the Patriots target early on day three, but Hart might play himself into day two in Mobile.
DT Braden Fiske (Florida State) - My goodness does this dude's motor run hot. Fiske is a monster in the middle with excellent play speed, power, and snap timing. He was wrecking run plays during team drills in National practice.
DT Gabe Hall (Baylor) - Twitched-up interior rusher with a really good arm-over/swim move and the ability to win with power. Hall is worth another look as a potential rotational interior rusher.