With Reese's Senior Bowl week winding down, 100-plus prospects for the 2021 NFL Draft are in the midst of a crucial job interview. NFL.com's Chase Goodbread provides news and notes from Thursday's practices.
Tune in for one-hour 2021 Senior Bowl Practice recap shows Tuesday, Jan. 26-Thursday, Jan. 28 at 8 p.m. ET on NFL Network and watch the Senior Bowl game live on NFL Network at 2:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, Jan. 30.
MOBILE, ALA. -- Two days before Deshaun Watson's request for a trade became public, the Houston Texans met with the top-performing quarterback at the Senior Bowl on Tuesday night -- Alabama's Mac Jones.
Just weeks after completing an undefeated season and winning the national championship, Jones confirmed on Thursday that he met with the Texans among his rounds of Senior Bowl interviews, although the level of interest on the Texans' part can't be inferred, as each club meets with dozens of players at the annual all-star game each year. Still, clubs likely had to be a bit more selective on whom to interview this week, as the NFL restricted clubs to no more than 10 representatives at the Senior Bowl due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jones (6-foot-3, 217 pounds) has been the most impressive among six quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl, according to an area scout for an AFC team.
Jones, for his part, referenced Watson only in passing.
"They were a good group of scouts. It's a big football state and I grew up watching a lot of Jags-Texans games," Jones, a Jacksonville native, said of the meeting. "It's a good organization with a really good quarterback. ... It was fun to see how different tables act. (Clubs at) some tables, people ask a lot of hard questions, and some don't."
The Texans have no selections in the first or second round of this year's draft. They sent those picks to the Miami Dolphins in the trade to acquire offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and WR Kenny Stills. Jones is projected as a borderline first-round talent, ranking No. 33 overall in NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah's initial top 50 rankings. However, if the Texans were to move their star quarterback in a deal, they would undoubtedly acquire the draft capital to select Jones or one of the other top quarterback prospects available in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Meanwhile, the team that is coaching Jones in the Senior Bowl, the Carolina Panthers, intends to aggressively pursue a deal for Watson, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.
Jones said the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints were among his other interviews at the Senior Bowl this week. After passing for 4,500 yards and posting a 41:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 13 games, Jones saw competing in the Senior Bowl as more of an opportunity than a proving ground.
"I don't think I need to prove anything," Jones said. "The tape is the tape and I did what I did."
Thursday's practice might be the last look NFL clubs get of Jones this week, as a left ankle injury ended his practice early and left him uncertain about whether he'll play in Saturday's all-star game.
"I rolled my ankle a little bit. At first I was a little worried about my right leg and now my left leg is a little hurt," Jones said. "I didn't get to finish (practice) but I don't want to risk it at this point. We'll just kind of figure out treatment and see how I feel. I'm not going to go out there if I'm not 100 percent."
Receivers dominate: The Senior Bowl game is shaping up to be a quarterback's dream, if only the Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers coaching staffs choose to let the passing attacks fly. Wide receivers have frustrated defensive backs throughout the practice week with a variety of styles and skill sets. The pass catchers have shown to be the deepest and most talented position group on hand, according to an area scout for an AFC team. That, combined with a group of offensive linemen who have more than held their own in pass rush drills, suggests the quarterbacks will have every advantage on Saturday. Quarterbacks aren't tackled in the game by rule, but can be tagged for sacks.
Oklahoma State wide receiver Tylan Wallace has been especially impressive.
"He's a smooth route runner and he's out there catching everything," the scout said. "And (Western Michigan's) D'Wayne Eskridge is so explosive. He can make (subtle) cuts on the move, and he's shown he can really catch the ball outside of his frame, which is important for a smaller guy like him."
Frustration for defensive backs flashed at Tuesday's practice when Wallace, in one-on-one drills, broke off an in-breaking route that created massive separation from Washington CB Keith Taylor Jr. It's a drill that already places defensive backs at every disadvantage, with no pass rush, and when Wallace made an uncontested catch, Taylor delivered a game-intensity hit from behind, to which Wallace took brief exception.
"You'd have to ask (Taylor) what made him mad, but it happens. Guys get frustrated and it's part of the game," Wallace said. "But it stays on the field. (As teammates), you just don't take it off the field."
Jeremiah named four wide receivers among his top performers for Tuesday and Wednesday's practices, two on each day. Louisville's Dez Fitzpatrick has been a favorite target of Notre Dame QB Ian Book's through the practice week, and South Dakota State's Cade Johnson has been getting open with relative ease.
Small schools, big weeks: Middle Tennessee State OL Robert Jones was impressive in practice this week, particularly in pass rush drills. A Day 3 (Rounds 4-7) prospect, according to two area scouts, Jones helped himself in holding his own against top defensive linemen from bigger programs.
"When things get on his edges, that's when (Smith will) have trouble, but you won't run through the guy," one scout said, "and in the run game, if he gets his hands on you first, it's over."
East Carolina tackle D'Ante Smith had much the same success in the one-on-one drills, showing the quickness to stay with more explosive rushers and the technique to stay in front of the interior D-linemen, who typically bull rush.