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What we learned from Senior Bowl: Zay Jones boosts draft stock

A lot of players left a strong impression on NFL scouts during the practice week leading up to Saturday's Reese's Senior Bowl, but not as many can pair that with a similarly impressive performance in the game.

Count Zay Jones as one who did both.

The former East Carolina wide receiver caught six passes for 68 yards and a touchdown for the North squad, which lost 16-15. But it was perhaps two plays Jones didn't make that scouts will remember most. Along with his touchdown, which came on a slant route in the red zone late in the fourth quarter, Jones also had two would-be touchdowns taken away -- one on a boundary ruling and the other on a penalty. Nevertheless, the ex-Pirates star left a strong impression on the Chicago Bears coaching staff, which handled the North squad.

"Those two have had a really impressive week," Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said, during the NFL Network broadcast, of Jones and fellow North receiver Cooper Kupp. "They're really football-smart guys and they've shown up (on game day) and showed up all week. It wasn't a surprise to us that they've played the way they have."

Jones, who led the FBS with 158 receptions in 2016, was among 10 players who made money during the Senior Bowl practice week, per NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock.

"I think (Temple LB Haason) Reddick and Zay Jones, in what they did during the week and then watching them (in the game), helped themselves more than anybody," NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said.

Here are seven other things we learned Saturday from the 2017 Reese's Senior Bowl.

2. More from Mayock. Who else besides Jones made money this week by improving their NFL draft stock? Mayock's list included five players from each squad. On the South team, he said Alabama TE O.J. Howard, Ole Miss TE Evan Engram, LSU CB Tre'Davious White, San Diego State CB Damontae Kazee and Clemson DT Carlos Watkins helped themselves. White missed the game due to an ankle injury. Howard caught four passes for 39 yards in the first half before coming out of the game to give way to other South tight ends. Mayock projected him as a top-20 pick, and compared him to one of the NFL's best tight ends. On the North squad, Mayock identified Jones, Temple LB Haason Reddick, Eastern Washington WR Cooper Kupp, West Virginia CB Rasul Douglas and UConn S Obi Melifonwu

3. Webb takes MVP honor.Cal QB Davis Webb was selected the Senior Bowl's Most Valuable Player after completing 11 of 16 passes for a game-high 165 yards and a touchdown. Last year's Senior Bowl Most Outstanding Player was none other than Dak Prescott, who went on to instant stardom with the Dallas Cowboys. This year, the North's Most Outstanding player was Toledo RB Kareem Hunt (15 carries, 118 yards), while the South's MOP was Kansas State DE Jordan Willis.*

4. NFL comp for Pitt QB. Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi likens Senior Bowl QB Nathan Peterman to Washington Redskins QB Kirk Cousins as a draft prospect, per Mayock. Narduzzi coached Cousins at Michigan State before taking the Pitt job. After seeing minimal action at Tennessee early in his college career, Peterman started for two years for the Panthers under Narduzzi.

5. Melifonwu on the rise. One of the highest compliments Mayock paid during the Senior Bowl broadcast was to Melifonwu. Mayock believes his draft trajectory, depending on his performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, could be similar to that of a former Dallas Cowboys first-round pick.

"Melifonwu, if he runs as well at the combine as I think he does, he might have a meteoric (draft) rise like Byron Jones, another UConn player," Mayock said.

6. Kpassagnon comp. Mayock provided an interesting comparison for Tanoh Kpassagnon in pre-game remarks, likening the Villanova defensive end to Carlos Dunlap of the Cincinnati Bengals. Mayock named Kpassagnon as one of his star performers on Tuesday. It's certainly an apt comparison from a size standpoint: Dunlap is listed at 6-foot-6, 280 pounds, while Kpassagnon measured 6-6 7/8, 280 at the official weigh-in on Tuesday.

7. Pumphrey gets his return shot. San Diego State RB Donnel Pumphrey told College Football 24/7 at the beginning of the week that he hoped to return punts Saturday. The diminutive Pumphrey (5-8, 169) didn't return kicks in college, but is well aware that the return game might be his only ticket into the NFL because of his size. On Saturday, he broke a 24-yard punt return and finished with four returns for 44 yards and an impressive 11-yard average.

8. Red Flash flashes. St. Francis S Lorenzo Jerome came up with three big plays on defense for the North squad, with a pair of interceptions and a forced fumble. One of those interceptions couldn't have been easier, as South QB Antonio Pipkin threw into double coverage and lofted the ball so high, it was easy for Jerome to get into position. On the other, QB Josh Dobbs was hit upon release and the disrupted throw fell right into Jerome's hands.

*Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter **@ChaseGoodbread*.

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