2018 Reese's Senior Bowl
Shaquem Griffin was the star of the show during the first day of the 2018 Reese’s Senior Bowl (Gregg Pachkowski/gregg@pnj.com)

The 2018 Reese’s Senior Bowl is a great place for NFL coaches, scouts, and general managers to find their next batch of young talent. The best Seniors around the country fly into Mobile Alabama for three days of practice including a collegiate All-Star Game. Teams get an up close and personal look at some of the fascinating prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft class. Great players have played in this game in the past including Carson Wentz, Von Miller, and Kareem Hunt are just some of the recent examples.

The first day of the practices overall tries to get the players acclimated to the plays and formations that will be called on Saturday. Throughout the day there was a number of fumbled quarterback-center exchange messes that needed to be cleaned up. Later, it was more of up-tempo practice getting in a bunch of reps in the latter half of the practices. There’s still a number of questions that need to be answered! Luckily we have two more practices to find out more. Who stood out on the first day of the 2018 Reese’s Senior Bowl practices?

Quarterbacks:

The North team has all of the top name quarterbacks because they are coached by the Denver Broncos staff. The Houston Texans got stuck with a bunch of options that they could consider as backups to Deshaun Watson. Kurt Benkert from Virginia was the stand out of this group. Benkert was a transfer from East Carolina who struggles a bit with his footwork and accuracy but throws a nice ball. His footwork absolutely needs work but he can rip it with an above-average arm. The rest of the group was pretty ugly which included Mike White (Western Kentucky), Kyle Lauletta (Richmond), Brandon Silvers (Troy). Mason Rudolph of Oklahoma State would have been in this group but will miss the week because of a hurt ankle.

Running Backs:

Still unclear at the moment as we didn’t see a ton of footage from the running backs. From what I’ve seen in college, Rashaad Penny from San Diego State is the guy to watch. Penny’s numbers in college were just flat out absurd rushing 289 times for 2,248 yards, 7.8 per attempt. At 5-foot-11, 225, Penny can play on all three downs. Ito Smith of Southern Miss and Darrel Williams from LSU will make up the rest of the group during the week.

Wide Receivers:

The Okie State wide receivers are the story here. James Washington is built like a running back at 5-foot-11, 210. When you watch him, you’re confused how this guy is a receiver but his arm length of 34 inches explains how he is able to track the ball the way he does. He has great hands and wins a ton of 50/50 balls. We’re going to find out how limited his route tree is this week coming from a video game offense. Marcell Ateman, his college teammate, looks more like the prototypical receiver at 6-foot-4, 216. I thought he showed great hands but I want to see him separate from defensive backs more.

Tight Ends:

Hyped up prospect Dallas Goedert was unable to practice because of an injury. Still waiting to see if another shines in his place.

Offensive Line:

I thought Isaiah Wynn completely stole the show. Wynn was Georgia’s left tackle this past season but will now shift to guard because of his shorter than average wingspan for the position. Wynn was great at guard immediately day one at practice with a great base and powerful stance. He also has some violent hands on him and won a big rep knocking Alabama’s Da’Shawn Hand to the ground. Austin Corbett was another guard who stood out who is taking a similar route to Wynn. Nevada has produced a big-time guard in the past Joel Bitonio who has turned into a stud. Center from Alabama Bradley Bozeman also did an excellent job hand fighting at center. He stood out as the top center I’ve seen in the early stages.

The tackles struggled a lot more than the guards. Brandon Parker from North Carolina A&T came in with intrigue who looks like a house at over 6-foot-7. The problem is he was way too high in his stance and got beat with speed. He also let defenders beat him inside despite his arm length. I was not encouraged by what I saw. The other was a division II player from Humbolt State, Alex Cappa. You can tell he has some hand fight with him but he needs a lot of work with his feet. There obviously is a clear adjustment period coming for a lower level of competition.

Defensive Line:

Marcus Davenport was a player I was curious to watch coming into the week. For one, because I obviously wasn’t gearing up to watch UTSA games this year. The coaches had an interesting strategy during the one on one drill. They kicked him inside at defensive tackle despite being a 6-foot-6, 260-pound edge rusher. For a guy that size, I was really impressed how he dropped his pad level and got drove the offensive lineman back to the quarterback.

Da’Shawn had his ups and downs but that wasn’t anything we haven’t seen at Alabama. This is a guy who was the number one recruit in the country. He massively underachieved notching just two sacks but physically he is everything you want out of a three-technique. Hand beat up on some of the lesser offensive tackles but couldn’t take down the big boys like Wynn.

Poona Ford also had a nice day after a great East-West showing.

Linebackers:

Did anyone have a better day than Shaquem Griffin? Griffin was the defensive player of the year in the American Conference. He was also the MVP of the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Auburn. Did I mention he also only has one hand? No hand, no problem; Shaquem Griffin is a nightmare for opposing offenses. He beat defenders all afternoon with his pure speed off the edge. Take a look at him beat up on Brandon Parker. Shaquem also notched a sack in the intrasquad drills. In fact, you could probably say Griffin made his opponents look like chumps the entire afternoon. Griffin is going to have to be a linebacker in the NFL but he showed he can be a situational pass rusher on third down with a great bend around the corner.

Also, have to give a shoutout to Tre Williams from Auburn. He had the hit of the day with this shot on Rashaad Penny, forcing a fumble and having the smarts to fall on it for the people watching.

Defensive Backs:

Most of the attention was spent watching the interior line battles. Tomorrow I will give my insight on the defensive backs. I’m expecting Levi Wallace and M.J. Stewart to separate from the pack.