2019 Senior Bowl week winners and losers: Sweat, Samuel, Lock improve stock; Grier among those to struggle
While it was a big week for some players, others failed to take advantage of a prime opportunity to impress
MOBILE, Ala. -- The practices are over, the general managers, scouts and coaches have left, and all that remains is Saturday's Senior Bowl game. And while the players here still have much to prove when the ball kicks off at 2:30 p.m. ET, the scouting departments of all 32 teams will pour over the hours of practice footage in the coming weeks as they formulate their draft boards.
With that in mind, here are some of the players that did the most to help themselves this week.
Players who improved their stock
Montez Sweat, DE, Mississippi State
It sounds like a broken record at this point in the proceedings but Sweat has been lights out from start to finish. He came into the week with gaudy college numbers -- he logged 22.5 sacks and 30 tackles for loss his last two seasons -- but the big question mark about Sweat's game was if he had the flexibility to consistently beat offensive tackles around the edge.
Well, he answered that question and plenty of others in Mobile.
We've had Sweat as a late first-round pick in our mock drafts dating back to October but if the next few months play out like Senior Bowl week, he'll be a top-15 selection. He's been that good.
Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina
We loved Samuel in 2017 when he got off to a red-hot start but a broken leg ended that season. He flashed some of that talent in 2018, when he played in 12 games but had just 62 receptions for 882 yards. Good numbers, for sure, but just not great. He can line up outside, in the slot, in the backfield, he can run the jet sweep, return kicks -- anything a coach could dream up. Samuel can run every route and he does it aggressively, but scouts have expressed concerns about his deep speed.
Samuel, for his part, isn't worried. "Today I was smoking," he told us after Tuesday's practice, regarding his ability to blow past defensive backs in one-on-one drills. And he wasn't joking. According to the Senior Bowl, he was one of the fastest players on the field that day, hitting 21.1 mph. As it stands, Samuel is a second-round pick, but if he continues to tear up the predraft circuit -- the combine, pro days and private workouts remain -- he could work his way into the first round.
Drew Lock, QB, Missouri
Lock may have had the smallest hands among all the quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl but it certainly didn't affect his ability to spin it better than anyone else here. The Tigers standout got off to a slow start to his senior season, going 0-3 at one point with one touchdown and five interceptions. But over the following seven games, he improved his completion percentage from 50 to 67, and threw 16 touchdowns and just two picks. He attributed the turnaround, in part, to better footwork, something that has caused him to struggle with consistency on shorter throws. In Mobile, we saw the arm talent and the physical skills that make him a possible first-round pick, but we also saw his leadership skills -- both on the field with his teammates and in interviews where he reportedly blew several teams away.
Still, Lock wasn't lights out this week, he was just better than his counterparts Daniel Jones, Ryan Finley and Will Grier. But with three months between now and the 2019 NFL Draft, he has plenty of time to keep making his case as one of the best quarterbacks in this class.
Penny Hart, WR, Georgia State
At 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds, the first thing you notice about Hart is his size. That changes the moment he steps on the field. Because his quickness of the line of scrimmage, his ability to shake defensive backs or straight-up beat them deep on downfield routes -- that became the overarching storyline once practice began. A wide receivers coach in Mobile this week raved to CBS Sports senior writer Pete Prisco about Hart's skill set.
That's Delaware's Nasir Adderley, a converted cornerback who could be one of the first safeties drafted in April. "Guys from small schools like [Keelan] Doss and Hart are really helping themselves," Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who is coaching the North team this week, said after Wednesday's practice. "And Isabella has got something, He is quick."
That would be Andy Isabella, who is also 5-foot-8. Isabella came to Mobile as a player to watch and several scouts think Hart had the better week.
Khalen Saunders, DT, Western Illinois
Our colleague in Mobile, Chris Trapasso, watched Saunders closely this week and came away impressed. The small-school standout regularly beat some of the best offensive linemen at the Senior Bowl, including Wisconsin's Beau Benzschawel and Michael Deiter. More from Trapasso:
Saunders repeatedly won with an explosive first step to move into the backfield on run plays [during Wednesday's practice], and he finished with a would-be sack of Penn State's Trace McSorley on a quick move to the inside in team drills. For Saunders to be as dynamic of a mover off the snap as he is at 320 pounds is impressive. For him to be comfortable utilizing his hands to beat offensive linemen when his acceleration can't is what could get him drafted in the second round.
Players who raised more questions than they answered
Will Grier, QB, West Virginia
We mentioned that Lock stood out about all other quarterbacks and it wasn't really that close. Grier, who came into the week eager to improve his current Day 2 draft projection, did just the opposite.
While he showed good footwork during drills all week, he struggled with accuracy at every level. It's a curious development because Grier was one of the most efficient passers in college football last season; according to Sports Info Solutions' data, he was among the top five quarterbacks in the country with on-target throws on both short and deep balls. You just wouldn't have known it to watch him this week.
There's still a long way to go, of course, and he can begin to change minds starting Saturday afternoon, but it's hard to think Grier's done much to help his draft stock thus far.
Trace McSorley, QB, Penn State
McSorley might be the toughest player at the Senior Bowl; he battled through injuries in 2018 and was the heart and soul of the Nittany Lions' offense. But he's also 6-foot and struggled with accuracy all week, even if he showed off one of the strongest arms. There's a case to be made that height is no longer an impediment to playing NFL quarterback -- Russell Wilson, Baker Mayfield, even Patrick Mahomes are all "smallish" by conventional quarterback standards -- but those players do a lot of other things well.
McSorley is a prototypical gamer, but he'll need to be more consistent in every way to improve his draft stock. He currently looks like a Day 3 selection.
Amani Oruwariye, CB, Penn State
Long and physical, Oruwariye looks like an NFL cornerback. The questions coming into this week were whether he could run with fast receivers and if he could flip his hips while covering shifty wideouts. He had issues with both and based on three practices looks best suited for a zone scheme.
If there's an NFL team that specializes in Cover 3 looks, Oruwariye makes sense. But if a team needs him to play press coverage late in a close game, they should be nervous about that prospect. Other big cornerbacks had better weeks -- Kentucky's Lonnie Johnson, Houston's Isaiah Johnson and Temple's Rock Ya-Sin come to mind -- but it's hard to overlook Oruwariye's physical attributes. He checks all the boxes of what teams look for, he just needs to play with more consistency.
Players who turned down Senior Bowl invites
Look, there was no reason for Josh Allen to be here. The Kentucky standout is a top-five pick, and his decision to skip the Senior Bowl was an easy one. But for Alabama running back Damien Harris, he would have been better served by showing up in Mobile.
"Obviously, I totally wanted Damien Harris here. He's a really good back, and he's an Alabama guy, and people down here would've loved him," Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy told the Montgomery Advertiser on Monday. "So, going into the fall, I wanted Damien Harris, I wanted Jarrett Stidham, those would've been big gets for us. (So) it was a disappointment. But if he doesn't see the value in it, then he doesn't see the value in it. I think if you're not the clear-cut No. 1 guy at your position, you need to be in Mobile."
In related news: Auburn's Jarrett Stidham, who had a down 2018 season, was the second-best quarterback in Mobile behind Drew Lock.
Nagy continued: "Damien turned us down and that was it. Jonah (Williams) was eligible to come, Deionte (Thompson) was eligible to come, and they just decided not to."
Both teammates of Harris at Alabama, Jonah Williams is the top left tackle in this class and Deionte Thompson is one of the best safeties. As it stands, Harris isn't even the best draft-eligible running back on his team. That honor goes to Josh Jacobs, the junior who declared earlier this month.
This doesn't mean that Harris has already ruined his NFL career, just that it makes sense to take advantage of every opportunity afforded to you. As scouts and coaches have repeated throughout the week: This is a job interview, and you should to treat it as such.
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