NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Practice

MOBILE, Ala. -- A year ago, it was all about the quarterbacks -- Kenny Pickett, Desmond Ridder and Malik Willis were all at the Senior Bowl trying to solidify their first-round bona fides. Twelve months later and the QBs include Jaren Hall, Jake Haener, Malik Cunningham, Clayton Tune, Max Duggan and Tyson Bagent. None are projected to go in Round 1, and the top 100 might be a stretch at this point.

But this isn't about the quarterbacks -- there will be plenty of time in the coming weeks and months to evaluate that position. Instead, we're going to focus on those players who had impressive performances on the first day of practice here at the Senior Bowl.

Tyjae Spears, RB, Tulane prospect ranking: No. 11 RB (159th overall)

Spears may have flown under the radar for much of the season at Tulane, but he stood out as one of the best players on the field here Tuesday. For the Green Wave, Spears was a workhorse back with low miles (he had 229 carries in 2022 compared to just 178 in the three previous years). He runs low to the ground and plays like a much bigger back (he weighed in at 5-foot-9, 204 pounds) who also happens to have home-run abilities because of his short-area quickness and top-end acceleration.

Added bonus: He's a legit threat in the passing game, which was on full display on Day 1, when he caught everything thrown his way.

We had a Day 2 grade on Spears coming into the week, and we've talked to several teams that expect him to get drafted Friday. The only question is how high he could end up going.

For more extensive draft content, check out our latest prospect rankings and mock drafts, as well as our new weekly podcast, "With the First Pick," featuring former Vikings general manager Rick Spielman.

Tre Tucker, WR, Cincinnati prospect ranking: Outside top 250

Tucker might have been one of the most exciting players to watch Tuesday. He's just a shade under 5-foot-9 and weighs 187 pounds, and those are legitimate concerns when it comes to playing in the NFL. But then you watch him and forget the measurables. He is electric with the ball in his hands, and his short-area quickness is elite. It explains why he's more dangerous as a returner; he primarily returned kicks in college (along with a handful of punt returns), but he fielded punts here on Day 1. The overarching takeaway, whether it was on special teams, or in the WR vs. CB drills, or in the team drills, is that Tucker's ability with the ball in his hands necessitates him being on the field as much as possible.

Dawand Jones, RT, Ohio State prospect ranking: No. 7 OT (34th overall)

Jones is a mammoth of a man, and he arrived in Mobile measuring 6-foot-8 and weighing 375 pounds with an arm length of a staggering 36 5/8 inches. The biggest concern with Jones was, not surprisingly, his size. And more specifically, would he be able to manage his weight, especially against NFL pass rushers. Well, he showed up to the Senior Bowl looking as svelte as one might at 375, and then he proceeded to dominate in one-on-one drills. Which, by the way, are notoriously slanted towards the pass rushers, in part because there is no quarterback, no offensive linemates helping out and no running backs or tight ends chipping on their way out into a route. Turns out, none of that mattered, because Jones and those nearly 37-inch arms were all that were needed to dispose, often quickly, of would-be pass rushers.

That's Army's Andre Carter II, one of the best players at the Senior Bowl, who didn't have a chance against Jones. To be fair, Carter needs to add weight and get stronger (and we all knew that coming into the week, but it was just reinforced here).

And here's Jones vs. Notre Dame's Isaiah Foskey, a strong, heavy-handed edge rusher who is all about power. He too didn't have a chance.

Zacch Pickens, DT, South Carolina prospect ranking: No. 12 DL (84th overall)

We really liked Pickens' tape during the fall, and we like him even more after Day 1. Consistently explosive from the interior defensive line, he uses a nice mix of twitchiness, good hands and power to win rep after rep after rep, both in the one-on-ones as well as in the team drills. During the season, he regularly faced double teams and regularly held his own at the point. And while he didn't have an array of pass-rush moves, he was persistent with good hand usage, and routinely collapsed the pocket.

Riley Moss, CB, Iowa prospect ranking: No. 12 DB (234th overall)

Moss might be one of the most instinctive players at the Senior Bowl, and that showed up during his Hawkeyes career, too. He finished with 11 interceptions (three pick-sixes) and 25 pass breakups. The biggest question we had about him was his game speed because at times he looked a half-step slow. As it happens, Moss was one of the fastest-timed players on the first day of practice, and his play matched his measurables, again and again.

He looked smooth in coverage, never panicked, showed the ability to flip his hips, was smooth in his change of direction and was in phase in his one-on-one matchups. And even when the receiver made the play, Moss was there to limit the yards after catch.

There wasn't much to report from the quarterbacks -- there were a fair share of mistakes, even for Day 1 at the Senior Bowl, but there are two more practices for someone in this group to separate themselves from the pack.