The first two days of the 2017 Senior Bowl have come and gone, and now there's only one day left of practice for teams to scout some of the top college seniors in the nation in a hands-on setting. Wednesday's practice, unlike the one on Tuesday, featured a fully padded practice -- making it all the more important for the players on the field.
With it being such an important day, I wanted to pass along some of the observations I made during the day of work -- specifically keeping the draft needs of the Buffalo Bills in mind. Really, there are five major need areas for the Bills.
In no particular order, the team could use youth and/or starters at quarterback, wide receiver, right tackle, linebacker, and safety. Keeping the Bills in mind, here are some of the takeaways from the day of practice.
[For highlights of the players listed below, watch the videos at the top of the page]
1) North WRs stand out
- It was certainly a better day for the North wide receivers than the ones on the South roster. The day opened up with the North team being the first on the practice field, and they set a precedent for the day. First, Eastern Washington wide receiver Cooper Kupp was simply the best wide receiver on the field. He was setting defensive backs up with his routes, breaking them off, and gaining tons of separation during one-on-one drills. Kupp was an incredibly productive player at EWU and showed that he belongs with the bigger school players after the performance he put on Wednesday. The North squad also had a couple of standout catches, with both Amara Darboh of Michigan and Jamari Staples making highlight-reel, toe-tapping grabs in the back of the end zone that made the scouts and GMs in attendance go, "Ooh!" As for Syracuse wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawo, he struggled a little bit more on Wednesday than he did on Tuesday just with the technical side of running routes and looking back for the ball, but he was in constant communication with the coaching staff to help fix the problem areas. He was also a popular man, I caught him chatting with representatives of both the Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers after practice. It was tough to get a gauge on the South wide receivers because of the quarterback play, but two quick little notes... First, Ryan Switzer of North Carolina is one hell of a route runner but needs to show to be a little more sure-handed than he was on Wednesday. Second, Texas A&M's Josh Reynolds is tall and gets separation, but fights the ball at times and it prevents him from making big plays. It's been an issue for him both days of practice. Still, there is a lot to like from this wide receiver group.
2) Anzalone a clear as day standout LB on South Team
- There are a few different reasons why Florida linebacker Alex Anzalone stands out from the pack on defense. He's got long flowing blonde hair coming out the back of his helmet, much in the mold of Clay Matthews. He also wears perhaps the shortest pair of football pants imaginable, not even pretending to wear knee pads. Third, and most important, he is a linebacker that naturally diagnoses plays and has the size and speed to make the required plays. Anzalone really stood out in team drills against the run, side-stepping blockers on the way to wrapping up the ball carrier. He's been impressive both days of the Senior Bowl, and if the Bills are looking for another linebacker to add to their roster, Anzalone is an enticing second-day prospect.
3) Compelling safeties on North roster
- With due respect to the South squad -- I'll be keeping a close eye on them on Thursday -- I wanted to see what the safety group from the North roster was all about. Really, there are three guys that are quite intriguing -- two of which standing out from an athletic perspective. The top safety on Wednesday, at least in my eyes, was Boston College's John Johnson. He showed a natural athleticism to his game, flipping his hips with ease in drills that required him to do so, and effortlessly rising up to high point the ball like an offensive player would. Of the safety group, he looked the most natural fielding the ball. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 205-pounds, I'm really looking forward to seeing how he performs again on Thursday. A little smaller, but similarly athletic... Lorenzo Jerome out of St. Francis (PA) showed well on Wednesday. He's more compactly built than Johnson but showed natural movement abilities on the field. The biggest project on the field, which also makes him an intriguing possible mid-round selection, was Connecticut's Obi Melifonwu. At 6-foot-4 and nearly 220-pounds, Melifonwu represents the new breed of safety in the NFL. He'll need to get bigger and is rough around the edges in certain areas of his game (ball skills, hip movement), but the length on a player like him for someone will be too intriguing to ignore.
4) South QBs have a tough day
- While there was some flash plays and throws from the likes of Pittsburgh's Nate Peterman and Iowa's C.J. Beathard during the North squad's practice, the South team really struggled all day long. Whether it was Davis Webb from Cal, Tiffin's Antonio Pipkin, or Josh Dobbs from Tennessee... all three players just seemed a bit off on Wednesday. There were a lot of inaccurate passes thrown, and even when they did get a great pass thrown to their man, there were issues with receivers in catching the ball. All in all, it was a day to forget, but I wouldn't write them off by any means. Pipkin in particular really stood out on Tuesday, while Webb is still considered a mid-round draft pick and is trying to get used to life in a 'pro style' system. Thursday is a big day for both of those guys.
5) 1-on-1s yielded good results for a pair of North OTs
- After the season that Jordan Mills had for the Bills, even if he wasn't an unrestricted free agent, the team would still likely look to replace him with a young player in the draft at some point. Though there aren't any blue-chip prospects available at the position, a couple of offensive tackle players on the North squad did well during the all-important 1-on-1s. Western Michigan's Taylor Moton paired a couple of really good reps together where he withstood the initial bull-rush of the oncoming defender, sat his butt down and anchored, keeping the pass rusher from getting to the quarterback. Moton was lining up at right tackle. Pittsburgh's Adam Bisnowaty, who lined up at left tackle during 1-on-1s, similarly had a solid rep where he rode the speed-rushing defender way into the backfield, rendering him useless to the cause of getting to the quarterback. A third name to keep an eye on for Thursday, just to the fact of his size, is USC's Zach Banner. Listed at 6-foot-9 and 360-pounds, Banner is head and shoulders above everyone else on the field. Predictably, he was a tad stiff in his movements, and likely projects as a right tackle only in the NFL. I want to see if he gets a little looser during Thursday's practice, especially against some speed rushers in the 1-on-1 drills.
Up Next: A fully padded practice, the final session of the week, for both the North and South squad on Thursday.