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2023 Senior Bowl: Biggest Takeaways From the Week

Jake Haener Senior Bowl

MOBILE, Ala. — The road to the 2023 NFL Draft is well underway with the Senior Bowl taking center stage this past week. Thoughts and opinions changed about many of the prospects who showcased their talents in front of NFL scouts and personnel for three practice days and in Saturday's game. 

The National team picked up a 27-10 victory over the American team in a game where both defenses shined. Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener was named the game's MVP after going 12-of-19 for 139 yards and a 44-yard touchdown pass to week-long standout Michael Wilson of Stanford for the National team.

Among the other biggest plays of the game, Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham finished off a drive with a 1-yard rushing touchdown, and Iowa State defensive back Anthony Johnson Jr. had a 37-yard pick-6 that gave the American Team its lone touchdown of the game. Wilson (four catches, 76 yards receiving) and Northwestern's Evan Hull (10 carries, 75 yards rushing) led the National offense, and Shepherd's Tyson Bagent (17-for22, 138 yards passing, one interception) led the American offense, with South Alabama's Jalen Wayne (eight catches, 50 yards) his top target.

On defense, Maryland's Jakorian Bennett also had an interception, Kansas' Lonnie Phelps Jr. forced a fumble and Cincinnati's Ivan Pace Jr. led all players with 10 tackles.

After watching the players compete in the game and taking some time to learn more about these players in practice, here are my takeaways for the week:

Game Takeaways

Offensive Lines Dominate

The National team’s offensive line featured multiple players in The 33rd Team's top 100, and all of them showed out in the Senior Bowl. During the week of practice, Minnesota's John Michael Schmitz performed at a high level, and he put it on display in the game Saturday. Darnell Wright from Tennessee was another lineman who graded highly during the week and lived up to the hype in the game.

Tight Ends Showed Out

Both sides had tight ends perform at a high level and showed in-game flashes that we saw during the week. Purdue's Payne Durham of the National team won deep on a corner route and high-pointed a ball leading to Cunningham's rushing score. On the American team, Miami's Will Mallory and Alabama's Cameron Latu combined for eight receptions and 76 yards.

Feb 4, 2023; Mobile, AL, USA; National wide receiver Michael Wilson of Stanford (4) grabs pass and runs it in to the end zone for a touchdown despite the effort of American defensive back Jammie Robinson of Florida State (5) during the second half of the Senior Bowl college football game at Hancock Whitney Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Big-Play Wilson

Stanford's Wilson made an excellent break to the ball on his deep touchdown grab for the game's longest play, which was a key part of Haener winning MVP. He played with size and control, which he used to make an acrobatic catch on a throw behind him earlier in the game.

Setting Defensive Pace

Pace played one of the best defensive games of the day. The unanimous first-team All-American in 2022 and the AAC Defensive Player of the Year was all over the field, making tackles just as he did at Cincinnati.

Hull a Complete Running Back

Besides his 74 yards on 10 carries, Hull also added two receptions for 11 yards. At Northwestern, he displayed the complete tree at the NFL position, and he displayed strength in the game.

Practice Takeaways

Spears Can Be Top-3 RB

The 2023 running back class is deep, and a prospect that put teams on notice is former Tulane RB Tyjae Spears. Spears shined as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, spinning linebackers around and showing off his explosiveness when finding the hole. According to Sports Info Solutions, he averaged 6.9 yards per carry and four yards after contact this past season. He reached a speed of 20.19 MPH during the week and is one of just 10 running backs to hit that number since 2018 at the Senior Bowl. With the show he put on, he could compete with Zach Charbonnet for RB3 behind Bijan Robinson and Jahmyr Gibbs.

Big Week After Down Year

Virginia wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks didn't play in Saturday's game but had a big week of practice. Since 2017, only four college football wide receivers have had more than 1,200 yards with fewer than 100 targets: CeeDee Lamb, Rashod Bateman, Jaylin Hyatt and Wicks. Wicks showed off his skills from the short area of the field to double moves down the field. Of his yards in 2021, 67% came from throws at least 15 air yards down the field. He was voted the Practice Wide Receiver of the Week for the American team.

Next Up as South Carolina's Shutdown CB

South Carolina has produced some good NFL cornerbacks in recent years, including Jaycee Horn, who has shown off his skills in Carolina, and Israel Mukuamu, who contributed down the stretch for the Dallas Cowboys. Now they have two intriguing 2023 draft prospects in Cam Smith and Darius Rush. Rush showed off his long speed in practice and was the third-fastest corner recorded at the Senior Bowl since 2018. He got his hands on several balls throughout the week and was voted the American Cornerback Practice Player of the Week.

Dell Plays Bigger than Size

Wide receiver Tank Dell showed the most flashes during Days 1-2 and was rarely covered in the 1-on-1 drills. He profiles as a slot wide receiver at the next level and has an impressive ability to attack the ball when it's in the air. During team drills, he won on almost every route. Dell led the country in receiving yards this past season at Houston, with more than 50% of that production coming from the slot. 

Musgrave Moves Better Than Expected

The only tight end to exceed 20 MPH during the week was Oregon State's Luke Musgrave, who was finding big plays during the week at practice. This tight end class is deep, but Musgrave's athleticism stands out in the crowd. 

Gray Flashes as Pass-Catcher

Oklahoma running back Eric Gray can be a contributor in the passing game at the NFL level. During media day, I talked with Gray and got his insights on how he's grown as a pass-catcher. He said he watches video of some of the best to ever do it, including Roger Craig and Alvin Kamara. So it was no surprise to see him perform well as a pass-catcher during the week and make people miss. 

DB Brown Shows Off Versatility

I didn't know much about Illinois defensive back Sydney Brown coming into the week, but after an excellent week of practice, he could make an immediate impact at the next level. Brown can play in the box, cover slot players in the short area, and make tackles against the run. Some teams are utilizing three safeties in their nickel packages, and I think those teams will have their eyes on Brown.

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