Five stars from Day 2 of Senior Bowl practice
Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon. I came into this week thinking Herbert was the best quarterback here in Mobile, and he's only solidified that belief with his performance through his first couple Senior Bowl practices. He looks confident out there and he's not making many mistakes with his decisions. And this is a crucial week for him. Where he ends up going in the draft will be determined more by how he fares this week than his showing at the NFL Scouting Combine. Everyone knows he has the talent of a first-round, franchise QB, but the big question for him at this event is how does he lead his teammates? How does he step up and perform consistently? The Senior Bowl gives him a better stage to display his abilities in those areas than the combine, and he's been up to the challenge to this point. I've been very impressed with his intermediate tosses across the field. Those are throws not everyone can make, but he made it look kind of easy.
Van Jefferson, WR, Florida. On tape, right off the bat, you can see Jefferson's a coach's son based on how he competes (his father, Shawn, is a former NFL receiver who currently serves as the New York Jets' WRs coach). Van's production with the Gators wasn't great, but when you ask around about that issue, the fact that UF's QB play has been inconsistent pops up quite a bit. I know this much: His routes are impeccable. His ability to get open underneath and disguise his breaks is really fun to watch. He made tight-window catches against some pretty good corners on Wednesday. If he's able to break a 4.5-second 40-yard dash at the combine, he's going to get pushed up the draft board. Wherever he goes, he has a chance to outperform his draft position.
Josh Jones, OT, Houston. Jones had some ups and downs during Tuesday's practice -- it's not uncommon for offensive linemen to start off a little slower than defensive linemen at the Senior Bowl -- but on Wednesday, he was impressive. He got into Wisconsin LB Zack Baun -- one of the top performers on Tuesday -- and moved him down the field. In pass pro, he was shutting people down. I talked to some personnel people here who shared my enthusiasm for his performance. He looks better than Tytus Howard did here last year. I think Jones is a second-round tackle, but it won't be a surprise if he gets pushed up the board, just like Howard, who went to the Texans in Round 1 last year, did. He's a physical specimen and a lock to go in the top 40. He's just too long, too athletic, and has too much potential at left tackle to last long in the draft.
Terrell Burgess, DB, Utah. Burgess' versatility is standing out in practice. He played safety and nickelback for the Utes, but I think he'll play nickel in the NFL. He's really instinctive, twitchy and anticipates well. When there's a catch to be made, he's going to be in there trying to break it up. He did it as a matchup corner on Wednesday, and then he did it as a safety, when he was lining up against tight ends and running backs during drills. He'll also support the run, which is something you have to have from your nickel corner. He has the ball skills and athletic ability to be a Day 2 (Rounds 2-3) pick.
Troy Pride Jr., CB, Notre Dame. I knew coming into the week that Pride had the speed and athleticism teams look for at corner. I just didn't see him making a lot of plays when I watched his tape. But out here, that wasn't an issue for him. He was making plenty of plays. In fact, it seemed like he was in on every play. He was up against a bunch of receivers with good size -- USC's Michael Pittman, Baylor's Denzel Mims, Liberty's Antonio Gandy-Golden -- and I thought Pride did a really nice job, especially on Pittman. He made it very difficult for those guys to make catches, and might have made himself some money in the process.
What we learned from NFL scouts, Nick Saban and more
From the scouts. Multiple scouts have been impressed with OT Ben Bartch, a rare Division-III invite to the Senior Bowl from Saint John's. Bartch, on the South squad, has largely held his own in practice reps against a strong group of pass rushers who are vastly more physical than the competition he faced at St. John's. An area scout for an NFC team said Bartch shares some similar traits to the Senior Bowl's last D-III success story on the offensive line, Ali Marpet of Hobart College, although Marpet played guard rather than tackle. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Marpet in the second round in 2018. ... South Carolina State OL Alex Taylor, whose length is like no other prospect in Mobile at 6-foot-8 with arms of 36-plus inches, has struggled with some of the South's top defensive linemen. According to an area scout for an AFC team, Taylor lacks the necessary anchor strength in pass protection, but is more of a project as a draft prospect, one who could develop nicely in a year or two but wouldn't likely be a ready-made NFL starter. ... A scout for an AFC team noted Lenoir-Rhyne's Kyle Dugger struggled to catch punts on Tuesday in windy conditions, looking rusty in that role after missing the latter half of the season with an injury. Dugger looked more comfortable catching punts on Wednesday in dealing with several offerings of 50-plus yards from South Carolina's Joseph Charlton. ... Texas Tech OT Terence Steele, on the South squad, has struggled with the quickness the South pass rushers have displayed this week, according to a personnel executive for an AFC team. Alabama's Terrell Lewis, who is working with defensive linemen in Mobile, beat Steele for a strip of Colorado QB Steven Montez late in Wednesday's team drills.
Bears eyeing in-demand TE. North squad TE Adam Trautman of Dayton has been in high demand this week for interviews with clubs.
"Literally, I had a guy reach around and grab me by the stomach and was like 'Hey, I need to talk to you,' " Trautman said, recounting one encounter from a busy hotel lobby here in Mobile.
Dayton head coach Rick Chamberlin has been in town this week to support the Flyers team captain, who set career bests in 2019 in receptions (70), yards (916) and touchdowns (14). Trautman said the Chicago Bears have shown strong early interest.
"They're interested in me," said Trautman. "They tell me they like what they see."
Davis' decision. NFL scouts didn't get a chance to see Alabama defensive lineman Raekwon Davis this week after the Crimson Tide senior was a late withdrawal due to an ankle injury. It was apparently a decision Davis wrestled with, as UA coach Nick Saban said Davis reached out to him over the weekend for advice just a day before players reported to Mobile.
"Raekwon called me on Saturday and said 'I'm still a little injured -- my ankle's still bothering me,' and I said 'Look, it's a simple decision. If you can go create value for yourself because you're healthy (enough), you need to go play because it's a great opportunity for you. If you don't feel like you can do that, don't play, but make sure you let them know so they can get somebody else."
Davis (6-foot-7, 312 pounds) was thought to be a strong candidate for early draft entry in 2019, but drop-off in his play compelled him to return for his senior season. He recorded just half a sack in doing so, which made the Senior Bowl an ideal opportunity to show NFL scouts that his potential is greater than his production.
Humble Herbert. There's never a shortage of draft prospects willing to make their case as the No. 1 pick of the NFL draft, no matter how slight the likelihood. Oregon QB Justin Herbert has no shortage of confidence, either, but he wasn't biting on Wednesday when asked if his performance at the Senior Bowl could open the door to him being the top selection, which is held by the Cincinnati Bengals -- the team coaching his South squad this week.
"I don't know, that's for (teams) to decide. I'm here to compete, have fun, it's an experience that not too many people get to come play football out here," Herbert said. Herbert is arguably the top draft prospect in Mobile and, as my notebook partner Lance Zierlein mentioned earlier in this piece, threw effectively on Wednesday as bitter cold and windy conditions in Mobile early in the week gave way to milder temperatures.
Injury update. Auburn DE Marlon Davidson, one of the Senior Bowl's top draft prospects, will miss the remainder of the practice week with an ankle injury. Davidson attended South squad practice on Wednesday in a walking boot. Also out for the week with an injury is Vanderbilt RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn, according to Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy. Like Davidson, Vaughn attended the South practice and is expected to remain in town for evening interviews with NFL club personnel.
Quotable. "I think you have to ask him that. Look, I get it when players make those choices and decisions and that's their prerogative to do that and we're supportive of what they do, but I think you need to ask him that." -- Alabama coach Nick Saban on his thoughts about edge rusher Terrell Lewis skipping Alabama's bowl game but competing at the Senior Bowl.