First things first: This was a seminal game in Senior Bowl history. This is the game where the Senior Bowl saw the future...and the future is ‘not good’. It’s been brewing for a few years now, and rightfully so, and the issue is -- the top prospects attending the week are all practicing for 1-2-3 days and then bailing on the game (and some the remaining practices) itself.
And it’s exactly what I would advise any top prospect who has a good draft stock going into the week and especially if they had a good practice or two or three in Mobile...don’t put yourself at risk by playing in this disjointed, convoluted, meaningless game. And that’s just what about 75%+ of the top names of the week did...they pulled out of the game the day before and a few pulled out kinda last second.
Michael Penix ‘won’ the starting job for the National Team and was set to start in this game and was told as such – but he bailed on the game Saturday and that left his team with only two QBs and that pushed Bo Nix to start in his place...and then Nix wasn’t gonna play for long, rightfully so, so the national Team’s 3rd-string QB Sam Hartman ended up playing most of the game. That’s a real ticket seller!
The Senior Bowl will either need to invite more players, of which they’ll be lesser names and not guys that will draw live or televised attendance, and who will then take reps away from the top names during the week...OR they could consider canceling the game and doing a skills competition or something, instead. Kinda like the Pro Bowl. They’ll need to do something or they’re soon going to be the equivalent of the East-West Shrine game, at the actual game, in talent playing.
It’s getting to be that ‘leaving is cool’...the good prospects leave. So, conversely, unspoken but implied, only the scrubs stay behind and play in the meaningless game/risk their body. It’s gonna get worse every year if the Senior Bowl doesn’t think of something.
So, keep this in mind when evaluating or taking anything away from what happened in this particular game – this was probably the worst collection of talent to play in this game in my 10+ years scouting the event, because most all the top players bailed. It’s going to be difficult to read too much into any performance when the ‘B’ and ‘C’ teams are going at it with 3rd-string QB types.
I don’t mean to pour cold water on this report right off the bat, but my job is to report reality and evaluate properly...this game evaluation has to be considered with all the missing talent in mind. Still, there are things to discuss for NFL Draft and Dynasty Rookie Draft/Fantasy Football implications...but we can’t get too crazy on ‘good’ performances this game, but ‘bad’ performances, in this environment, have to really be deemed ‘not good’/even worse than normal.
With all that, let’s get to my game notes/report...
*And many of these players will have, or already have, deeper scouting studies/reports filed on them over the entire draft season/offseason, pre-and-post-draft, as we get ready for Dynasty Rookie Drafts and Fantasy seasons upcoming, as well as prop betting the NFL Draft and NFL offseason bets to stake claim to.
**We did a brief preview scouting session on the Senior Bowl attendees and graded/ranked them going into Mobile. We’ll be re-grading them post-event all next week+.
-- I want to begin my notes talking about this ludicrous situation with the media/fans and Spencer Rattler’s performance.
I didn’t watch the game live. It’s a waste of time to do so. Easier to watch the tape after and skip around and rewind, etc., for scouting. So, Saturday afternoon I’m out at a family function and I see these football site alerts that Rattler led a quick scoring drive and looked great...then I started to see all the social media commentary pouring in on how great Rattler is, and he’s a super sleeper, and he might be better than ____ 2024 top QB prospect, yada-yada. All within the first 20 minutes of live kickoff! I was confused and intrigued at what happened to create such a stir.
Two things I want to note about this Rattler event, after watching the game/this very first scoring drive:
1) All the frothy hype is total bull$#!%.
I thought I was gonna see Rattler as a magician that might make my recently published Rattler scouting study look stupid. The way people were going on and on about Rattler from this game, I was baffled and couldn’t wait to watch Rattler’s work.
Then I watched his opening drive... What a letdown! I saw a simple screen pass, some decent yardage running plays, another simple screen, another RB run -- and then a 29-yard TD toss. A TD throw where Rattler knew where he was going to throw before the snap...his usual one-read/preplanned throwing self...he threw a pass at a completely covered WR at the time of launch, but as the pass headed to the back of the end zone, the FCS corner starting/covering (likely because some top CBs bailed on the game) turned the wrong way and lost the WR last second in the end zone...enough of a separation for the WR to make the nice catch for a score. There was absolutely nothing magical about this throw...or this drive as a whole, for Rattler. It was one throw, a questionable read/decision, a CB error, and a nice WR catch.
BUT the general public response to it was off the chain...
2) Rattler was getting all kinds of social media fanboy support for his greatness and the TV analysts went wild...and then he won the damn MVP of the game because of it (based on this one play). Afterwards, I’m seeing the requisite ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ articles all over...and everyone is cooing over Rattler as a big ‘winner’...and that it’s time to take a 2nd-look and maybe he was that ‘next Mahomes’ after all?
After one freaking preplanned throw into coverage that landed...Rattler is now 1st-round material? Are you insane? Yes, by-and-large football analysts and fans are insane.
Rattler played two series, had one scoring drive, completed 4-of-4 passes total...two RB screens, one RB flare/checkdown, and the fortuitous bomb. And all that garnered the MVP for this game...and people claiming him as a great sleeper QB in the draft. Unreal.
The mainstream has been so wrong about Rattler since his high school days that they are aching for this to be ‘right’ for them. It’s not gonna be.
Rattler winning the MVP for this game was a total joke...and more mainstream hope/bias/wishes. However, I saw the rest of the QBs play in this game too...Rattler may have been MVP worthy for actually completing a pass over 20+ yards in the air...just one, but like the only one. The rest of the 20+ yard passes in this game were to the opposing cornerbacks. It was not a great game watch...
If you see any reports of hype uber-enthusiasm on Rattler from this game – then you simply cannot trust the judgment of said reporting/reporter with a ridiculous fanboy reaction with no context. You can love Rattler for the NFL Draft all you want, but this Senior Bowl moment is not part of the arsenal for your argument/scouting.
-- Making matters worse, on the criminal Rattler push/focus from Saturday’s game...
Bo Nix was the opposing starter to Rattler, because Michael Penix (voted top QB of the week by his peers) bailed on the game at the last second. Nix came in and instantly started firing the ball all over the field. His opening pass was a flea flicker bomb he put on the money in stride to UNC WR prospect Tez Walker, and it hit Walker in the hand, which it would’ve been nice if he tried to use both hands, but I don’t wanna nitpick on how to play WR, and the ball clanged off Walker’s hand due to his staggering body trying to track the sure fire big play, but Walker misjudged the on-the-money deep ball and missed out on a big moment for both players involved.
Had a million other WRs not bailed on the game...maybe it would’ve been a bomb to a legit/starting/top WR who could catch on the other end of that throw? The missing WRs further hurt Nix’s Senior Bowl week perception...a lost opportunity here.
That aside, Nix looked like a real QB in this game...the only QB in the game who did. Nix had some ‘off’ moments in practice, but maybe all us observers/reporters had such high expectations that we made too much of ‘seeing’ an off-base throw in the early practices...so that when he made the normal/routine ones, we didn’t celebrate. Regardless of what happened in non-contact throwing in practices...when the pads went on Day 3 of practices, Nix had his best practice. And in this game, he was CLEARLY the best QB...the only real high-level NFL prospect. Get the hell outta here with Spencer Rattler, in comparison to Nix. You could see in their two drives in this game...hell, you could see within two throws – Nix is NFL legit (how legit/valuable/upside is up for study and debate) and Rattler was ‘incomplete’ at best here.
Nix and Rattler played for two series each and then were gone. They played to a 7-7 draw, with Nix getting a TD pass in as well. Once they left the game...it was all downhill from there with the QBs/the game. No more TDs would be seen from here.
Let’s continue talking about QBs, then we’ll get into the other positions and players...
-- Tennessee QB Joe Milton took over for Rattler, and did what Milton does...totally erratic throws...one bad, then one good, then one horrid, then one decent, etc., etc.
Milton had the best arm and size of any QB at the Senior Bowl...and, potentially, best in this draft.
Milton is also the most erratic and least graceful/instinctual QB at the Senior Bowl...and one of the most erratic QBs in this draft.
He’s still worth drafting at a certain point because those tools just stand out and beg to be groomed...but the NFL isn’t great at grooming tool-sy projects like this. They want guys who are already polished/stable, ready-to-go more than they desire/have the patience (or time) for taking wild horses that need to be ‘broken’. But some head coach will take the shot on those tools...higher in the draft than people think, I bet.
-- Notre Dame’s Sam Hartman came in for Nix and had to play the rest of the game from the last 1st-quarter on...and he was not good. He’s totally wasting his time trying to make it in the NFL...unless he is hoping to draw some practice squad time/experience and become a coach someday. He doesn’t have the arm or talent for this.
-- Tulane’s Michael Pratt got in the game in relief of Milton, and it was so brief on his two series that it’s hard to really draw any conclusions. He does have a pretty live arm. At least he was stepping into his throws and hurling fastballs, not backfooted soft tosses to the heavens/to the ground/to the DBs.
-- South Alabama’s Carter Bradley came in 4th for the American Team...and I barely remember much about him besides a bad hitch in his mediocre arm speed throws...at least, that’s what it looked like in this game.
OK, now let’s rapid fire unload all my non-QB notes, in no particular order from this game...
-- Florida State DT Braden Fiske was actually ‘traded’ to the other team before the game...due to all the people who skipped out on the game, to balance out the depth of the teams...if you needed more evidence of the issues the Senior Bowl is facing...
That aside, Fiske was fantastic all week...and in this game as well. His ‘get off’ on the snap is stunning for a 295-pound DT. He will be a big riser in my post-event regrade/re-rankings.
-- The linebackers really stood out in this game...finally, this is where these guys can shine because the practice events are really not built for them to showcase what they can do.
The analysts kept making a big deal all week over Kentucky LB Travin Wallace, but I just never saw what they were seeing. I thought he was a little slower on the draw/reactions and didn’t have the build/muscle you’d hope for on a guy headed to Mobile and then the Combine and then to his Pro Days.
The two linebackers that stood out here, and all week, to me...
2) Nathaniel Watson, Mississippi State – Led the SEC in tackles, but 70%+ of them ‘assisted’, so a bit/a lot of the count was fraudulent. But he also had 13.0 sacks and 10.0 TFLs in the 2023 season. He’s maybe more of a 4-3 OLB who can do many things. He made a few nice, savvy plays in this game...in the run game and in coverage.
1) Cedric Gray, UNC – my top-rated LB going in, and very likely the top one going out. A pure, instinctual ILB. He has the best awareness/reactions of any of the OLB/ILBs that I saw in Mobile.
-- So many receivers bailed on this game PLUS the QB play was so rough that there’s not many WR/TE notes to discuss...
Georgia WR Ladd McConkey stayed/played, which was a huge mistake/risk with nothing to gain and everything to lose. He made it out unscathed but had no real opportunity to showcase his skills in this game...he already showed his wares during the week.
UNC WR Tez Walker had his hands on several passes, not easy catches...but ones you have to make the majority of at the next level – but he didn’t make any plays and was huge disappointment for those who backed him going into this week. I didn’t love his preview tape, and he had a so-so pre-grade from us...and that grade is gonna get whacked down even further on the post-event grading.
Rice WR Luke McCaffrey was kinda quiet, but OK, all week. He played in this game and had a nice catch and worked the punt returns solidly. He helped himself a bit, I guess.
The only TE that stayed/played that I made note of...Penn State TE Theo Johnson is a pretty ‘big boy’ TE (6’6”/257 with 10” hands and 81.25” wingspan) and all week and in this game QBs tried to get him the ball...and when they did, he looked good/imposing. He helped solidify his draft stock all week.
-- Not much to discuss from the RBs, especially once top RB here (by far) USC’s Marshawn Lloyd bailed on the week after a few practices and interesting Marshall RB Rasheen Ali tore his bicep in the 1st practice and is out 4-6 months.
Missouri’s Cody Schrader got a decent amount of time here, but just like with the entire week – my impressions have been... I don’t see any ‘it’ here. Great effort/hustle/desire but he’s very unagile and never jumps out with any of his work.
Troy’s Kimani Vidal is a 5’8”/215 bowling ball who looked solid here, and solid enough all week.
TCU’s Emani Bailey was very capable here, as he was all week. Nothing amazing, but useful.
All the RBs here, outside of Lloyd and Ali were pretty much of a ‘shoulder shrug’.
-- DT Gabe Hall, Baylor, had moments of ‘flash’ and moments where he was a ghost all week. He has size and reach (6’6”/290, 84” wingspan) and impressive quickness but he has speed moves but can get out powered by OLs too easily...just based off of seeing some of his work here. He needs further study. He’s intriguing for sure.
-- Louisville CB Jarvis Brownlee had an impressive week...he’s better than I thought he was going in. He also played well here with a nice INT and impressive movement skills on display running it back for 30+ yards. He helped himself immensely this week and with this game.
That’s it for the 2024 Senior Bowl game notes. Next up is the re-grades of the 2024 Senior Bowl prospects, position-by-position daily over the next week+ as we start getting ready to see many of them again at the NFL Combine.