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Senior Bowl notebook, Day 1: Montez Sweat rising into top 10

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  • By Chase Goodbread and Lance Zierlein NFL.com
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MOBILE, Ala. -- With the Reese's Senior Bowl getting into full swing on Tuesday, 100-plus prospects for the 2019 NFL Draft are in the midst of a crucial job interview this week. NFL.com's Lance Zierlein and Chase Goodbread provide a look at standouts from Day 1 of practice, as well as notes from the player media day held earlier on Tuesday.

Five stars from Day 1 of practice

Montez Sweat, edge, Mississippi State: Sweat annihilated everyone he matched up against today during the South team practice. He's going to end up being picked in the top 10, and his performance on Tuesday demonstrates why he's going to be selected so early.

The former Mississippi State star showed that he has developed a few different moves with his hands, and he also showed some variety in how he rushed guys. The bottom line is he used his length to defeat blockers in pass protection on a consistent basis. He's 6-foot-6, 252 pounds with 35 5/8-inch arms. That's a big deal to NFL teams. Everyone knows he's going to grow into his frame like Danielle Hunter did coming out of LSU, and that's my player comp for him. Hunter wasn't a first-round pick -- he went in the third round -- but Sweat is going to be a first-rounder because teams are going to be quicker to recognize his talent than they were with Hunter.

Sweat was the most dominant guy out here on Day 1. If you had him as a late first-rounder, you need to go back and reassess your grade for him. I projected him for the late teens in Round 1 coming into this week, but that might be too low for him. -- Lance Zierlein

Drew Lock, QB, Missouri: Lock threw with great zip on Tuesday. He was more accurate than the other quarterbacks on display. He's thrown the ball well. This event is made for him -- it's the ideal setup for him to show off his arm talent and velocity.

It's early, but I'm already hearing buzz about people liking what they're seeing from Lock in Mobile. He and Duke's Daniel Jones are throwing next to each other on the North squad. I don't think it's a stretch to say that those two guys could be competing to be the first or second quarterback off the board this year. -- Lance Zierlein

Terry McLaurin, WR, Ohio State: He was toasting people vertically and sharp out of his breaks. I thought he gave all the cornerbacks a tough time. He was a late add to the roster here, and he really looked good.

We weren't hearing any buzz about him coming into today, but with his speed and ability to separate, he's definitely on my radar now. At 6-foot and 205 pounds, he has good size and it looks like he has really good speed. I'm going to go back to the hotel and study more of his tape of tonight. That's how much he popped for me. -- Lance Zierlein

Daylon Mack, DT, Texas A&M: He dominated the competition last week at the East-West Shrine Game and he wore everyone out in one-on-one drills today. He's gone from having two subpar years in college to putting together some good tape during the 2018 season, to having a good showing last week and now doing the same thing this week. It's going to make him a draftable player. He's 6-foot-1 and won't be a fit for every scheme because he lacks length, but he doesn't lack girth.

We've seen this before. D.J. Reader did it last year. He crushed it at the Senior Bowl and ended up going in the fifth round to the Texans. He's turned into a good player for Houston. We could see a similar path for Mack. -- Lance Zierlein

Lonnie Johnson Jr., CB, Kentucky: Now that the chief evaluators are here -- the guys who make the draft picks -- they're going to be impressed by Johnson. He's 6-2, 210 pounds with long arms (32 1/4 inches). He looks the part. He made money just by showing up, getting measured this morning and then walking out here in his uniform. That might sound silly, but that's how it works in the NFL. Guys want players with certain traits and he's got them. On top of that, he played fairly well today. A lack of ball production in college (one interception) is the knock on him, but NFL teams always think they can coach that up.

Based on his tape, I thought he was a Day 3 (Rounds 4-7) player. But based on the traits, it wouldn't shock me to start to hear people talking about him as a top-50 player. -- Lance Zierlein

MEDIA DAY NOTES: What we learned from Jon Gruden, Drew Lock and more

Lock fesses up: Missouri QB Drew Lock learned exactly how deeply NFL clubs conduct background research in interviews with clubs at the beginning of Senior Bowl week.

Although Lock didn't disclose which club, he said one team asked him about a high school incident -- from his freshman year at Lee's Summit (Mo.) High -- in which he was caught cheating on a math test. The school's student-privacy policy prevented the club from learning all the details up front, but the team found generic record of a disciplinary issue from the ninth grade and asked him about it. Lock then disclosed details of the test, in geometry, and that he ended up with just a C in the class anyway.

"I had a big basketball game that night, too. I kind of freaked out," Lock said.

Speaking of hoops, Lock had basketball-scholarship offers, including one from Missouri, as a prep athlete, and he's a big believer that his time on the hardwood will help him in the NFL, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. -- Chase Goodbread

The Manning influence: Duke's Daniel Jones, the latest quarterback prospect to learn the position from Duke coach David Cutcliffe, has benefited in his development from various brushes with the Manning family. Cutcliffe coached both Peyton and Eli at the college level, and at times used clips of the brothers in installing plays for Jones. He also twice attended the Manning Passing Academy over the summer and got some hands-on training.

"Also the past couple years, Eli's brought his guys to Duke ... being around those guys and watching Eli work out, and go to meetings, it's really cool. Being able to watch those guys over the years has been special."

Learning firsthand from a Manning, and a coach who played a huge role in their development, is heady stuff for an NFL hopeful. Did it ever feel overwhelming?

"I can't remember a certain instance where that happened, but maybe there was a little bit of that," Jones said. "I always saw it as, just that it was cool to know and kind of have perspective on what Peyton or Eli was like when they were freshman in college. Or coach (Cutcliffe) would say 'Peyton would've done this.' I think that's just kind of cool to me and was kind of always a challenge to see if coach (Cutcliffe) can compare you to Peyton in a positive light."

North squad coach Jon Gruden, before even his first day coaching Jones in Mobile, minced no words about his assessment of the former Blue Devils star.

"Daniel Jones is going to be a first-round pick out of Duke," Gruden said. -- Chase Goodbread

Gruden's perspective: While the practice week and Saturday's game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium remains the place where Senior Bowl players are most closely scrutinized by NFL coaches and scouts, they're subject to being scratched as a prospect before they ever even put on a helmet. Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who will head the North squad, said the interview process -- which begins almost as soon as players arrive -- can by itself narrow a club's evaluation scope.

"You might eliminate four or five players from your thought process. Sometimes that's as valuable as moving four or five up on your board," Gruden said.

Fortunately for the vast majority of Senior Bowl players, they'll get another chance to make up for interview mistakes next month at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Gruden, for his part, finds the relationship-building element to coaching at the Senior Bowl to be a crucial evaluation step. The Raiders' second-year coach is more flexible, however, when it comes to measurables. -- Chase Goodbread

Family matters: Western Illinois DL Khalen Saunders had barely gotten to Mobile when he learned his fiancee, Ayanna Hall, was going into labor with the couple's first child, a daughter named Kambridge. As of Tuesday afternoon, he'd still not received word of birth, but said Ayanna was being induced at a hospital in Naperville, Ill. Saunders said leaving the Senior Bowl was not much of a consideration.

"Ultimately I wanted to stay here and she wanted me to stay here as well. That shows the type of support system I have at home," Saunders said. "My wife wants me to stay here and prove myself as much as I want to, if not more. I'm happy she's that way."

Saunders said that with a Jan. 31 due date, he was hopeful he could complete the week at the Senior Bowl and not miss the birth. The news came fast -- at first hearing only that his fiancee was feeling light-headed, their next communication was a SnapChat photo of Ayanna wearing hospital scrubs.

Suffice it to say Saunders will waste no time leaving town following Saturday's game. -- Chase Goodbread

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter @ChaseGoodbread.

Follow Lance Zierlein on Twitter @LanceZierlein.

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