While the focus, from a Denver Broncos perspective, was the performances of the two big-name quarterbacks on Vance Joseph’s North team, there were several other prospects worth noting in the first day of practice at the Senior Bowl.
Of course, it’s only day one, which means this is far from a definitive take on any of these guys, who have two more practice days and the game to change their perceptions. However, much like in real life, first impressions count in the scouting community, and there were certainly some who stood out while others hurt themselves in Tuesday's opening practice.
Ito Smith, RB, Southern Mississippi
Southern Mississippi’s undersized back—5-foot-9 and 201 pounds—brings plenty of “juice” to the field and it showed Tuesday as he was impossible for linebackers to cover in 1-on-1 passing drills. Smith is quick and elusive, and he caught the ball well despite his diminutive size. Small-school runners seemingly always emerge in Mobile just about every year—Kareem Hunt just a year ago—and Smith was very impressive as a scatback with game-breaking skills.
Iowa’s Akrum Wadley did a similarly impressive job for the north side as a receiving back. Both would look nice in Denver as change of pace runners who could create miss matches in the passing game similar to the Washington Redskins Chris Thompson.
James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State
The Cowboys had one of the most prolific passing offenses in the country the past two years, so while we aren’t able to see quarterback Mason Rudolph in action this week due to a foot injury, his two star receivers showed some promising signs. First was James Washington, the speedy receiver who measured in at 5-foot-10, which was smaller than expected.
Washington makes up for that lack of height with long 33 inch arms and great hands, which were on full display on day one of practice as he caught just about everything thrown his way. He also posses the right speed-and-quickness combination to create separation, on top of a knack for tracking balls in the air. He was the most efficient and impressive receiver we saw Tuesday on either team and has a bit of toughness to his game as well, allowing him to make tough contested grabs with his compact 210-pound build.
Soft-spoken and mild-mannered, Washington told us he’s being projected to go anywhere from the top-15 to the bottom of the second round. If he’s able to build off of Tuesday’s performance, he’s bound to go on the high end of that projection.
Marcell Ateman, WR, Oklahoma State
Ateman hasn’t had the star-studded production of Washington, but he’s big at 6-foot-4 which allowed him to have a breakout season in 2017. His ability to high point the ball and attack passes in the air was easy to see early on. More impressive, though, was that he looked quicker at the top of his routes than anticipated, though he did struggle to create separation on deep routes against the crop of corners in Mobile.
Iowa State’s Allen Lazard was the North’s 6-foot-4 equivalent and made quite a few tough grabs. Both were Big 12 standouts who impressed during the weigh-in and will be names to follow the rest of the week.
Brian O’Neil, OT, Pittsburgh
O’Neil came off as well-spoken in interviews with a good grasp of what he needs to improve in his game; including better technique to create more consistent push and playing with better leverage. However, his natural movement skills were easy to see as he’s a dancing bear with lots of upside.
Playing right tackle in the first practice—he’s had experience playing both tackle spots in his college career—he stood out for how smooth he is, as he's a different class of athlete from just about any other offensive lineman here in Mobile.
With the Pitt OT on the North squad, the Broncos will get a good long look at O’Neil, who’s starting to get significant first-round buzz. The buzz should only increase if he’s able to keep showing the flashes we saw Tuesday.
Jalyn Holmes, DE, Ohio State
Holmes was a big winner of the weigh-in, measuring in at 6-foot-4 and 279-pounds with 34 and 3/4 inch arms and bear-claw sized 10-inch hands to go with them. The Broncos staff lined him up inside some in drills, rushing from the B-gap, where he terrorized the offensive line, creating constant penetration and simply appearing to be unblockable.
Buried in a deep rotation of talented defensive lineman at Ohio State, Holmes has flown a bit under the radar so far, that won’t last long if he keeps on dominating the way he did on day one.
Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State
After Josh Allen and maybe O’Neil, there might not be a prospect here in Mobile with a higher ceiling than Ballage, which he showed in brief spurts with the Sun Devils but never put it all together. That wasn’t the case in Mobile where his feet looked electric at 6-foot-2 and 222 pounds, and he unleashed a couple different big runs.
Based on his physical traits alone, the Colorado product looks like a first-round talent, which he isn’t due to his lackluster career in the Pac-12. If he keeps this up, he might be one of the unheralded gems of the class and could be a big riser in the process if he parlays his day one performance into a dominant Senior Bowl outing.
While we talk about local boys, Alabama punter and Mullen High’s very own J.K. Scott just has a different type of leg. He was incredibly impressive in drills with a booming foot that’s different from others as he can go for distance, direction and hang time. The two highly recruited talents who went out of state made their home state proud on Tuesday, that’s for sure.
Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State
Penny was an absolute stud in college, dominating his opponents to the tune of 2,248 rushing yards this past season with 23 touchdowns to boot. He also measured in at a stout 5-foot-11 and 224 pounds. In drills, though, he disappointed a bit in areas outside of running—where he still looked good.
To be considered one of the top backs in a loaded RB class, Penny must show that he’s a complete player, and his struggles blocking in pass protection added to a few drops in the passing game only raised those doubts. Hopefully, he’ll redeem himself as the week progress as he’s one of the best pure talents out here.
Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA
Davenport came into the week as one of the most highly touted prospects of the entire group with endless upside, though his showing Tuesday was far from spectacular. That’s the thing about the Road Runner, he has endless potential with good size—though not the elite measurables people thought coming in as he’s “only” 6-foot-5 and 259 pounds. He also showed that he can get in the opposing backfield with ease, even against the Senior Bowl competition, though he just doesn’t seem to have a nose for the ball or make nearly enough plays for how often he can get in the backfield.
Given expectations coming in and the hype surrounding him as a potential high first rounder, he was one of the more disappointing performers of the entire day.
Levi Wallace, CB, Alabama
Wallace was one of Alabama’s MVPs in their two playoff wins, as he played great coverage while showing nice ball skills—getting three pass deflections in the two games. On Tuesday, the sticky coverage was there, but it was Wallace’s lack of physicality when asked to press up on receivers that disappointed.
The Alabama cornerback is really tall and long—he stands at 6-foot flat with 33 and 3/8 inch arms—making him a perfect fit in a press scheme. His slight 176-pound frame, though, saw him struggle against the South rosters’ best wideouts, who were able to outmuscle him to the ball. That’ll have to change if he’s to challenge other top cornerbacks for a top-50 selection in April.