The Senior Bowl is an event that holds many purposes for the prospects who accept their invites.
From an information-gathering perspective, they will be meeting NFL teams face-to-face for the first time. These are their first impressions that could go a long way towards their overall draft selection. It's also a time where the national media gets to ask questions of them for the first time.
But of course, there's also the "padded" portion of their Mobile interview — the work on the practice field.
The purpose of these practices is less about training to win a game and more about getting to the bottom of what each of these players are capable of and finding out where they thrive the most. Sometimes that comes in the form of players manning different positions.
With the NFL and its coaches becoming more and more flexible with changes in the game, we're seeing positional prototypes being implemented and broken down simultaneously. Part of that process includes trying players out at different spots.
Once called "position-less," here are a handful of "tweeners" whose skills became more solidified in Mobile, Alabama.
Josh Uche, Michigan
Josh Uche was late to Michigan’s pass rush party over the last few years. But as he has been given an increased role, the Wolverines a good return on investment for more playing time. In 2019, he saw career highs in both tackles for loss (10.5) and sacks (8 1/2) and much of that can be attributed to the rare speed and burst he has off the line.
Though he weighed in at just 6-foot-1, 241 pounds, the coaches still put him primarily on the edge, hoping to see those successful pass rush reps despite the lighter frame. That's exactly what they saw. Uche has been as speed demon off the edge and has proved this week that his position is rushing the passer. The speed and flexibility he displayed when attacking the outside shoulder of offensive tackles were at another level. There were very few reps where his speed rush could be contained.
Zack Baun, Wisconsin
Entering the Senior Bowl, we weren't sure exactly where we were going to see Zaun Baun play. After finishing the 2019 season with 19.5 tackles for loss, 12 1/2 sacks, and a lot of good reps coming off the edge (when asked to) at Wisconsin, many thought that Baun's best place in the NFL may be as a situational pass rusher. But after coming in at 6-foot, 240 pounds, he would be one of the smaller edge rushers in the league.
Instead, he got more reps as an off-ball linebacker during the week. It was something Baun did well. He wasn't asked to drop too far back into coverage, but on shorter and more shallow zone responsibilities, he performed. What Baun was very good at was running downhill, getting into his run fits, and of course, shooting gaps and making things difficult for quarterbacks in the backfield.
Baun passed his off-ball test this week. He's just a good football player.
Kyle Dugger, Lenoir-Rhyne
When it comes to weigh-in winners, you have to start that conversation with Kyle Dugger. The small school safety from Lenoir-Rhyne at a rocked up 6 feet, 217 pounds. That size is pretty big for a safety and going into the season people weren't really sure where Dugger's best spot would be.
He started the week at safety, and he's been playing at that spot since. He has stayed there because he’s been playing well. In one-on-one drills, Dugger has been out-leveraged and out of position a bit, but as it pertains to athleticism, he is standing out in a big way. There's been talk of Dugger's best position being at linebacker at the next level, but he's even more of a tweener there — 217 pounds would be one of the lighter LB. For now, he'll stay at safety as his good reps this week have earned.
Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illinois
Jeremy Chinn came into the week in a similar boat to Dugger. He was an over-sized safety who had the potential to play linebacker, but those questions had yet to be answered. Where Dugger's 6-foot, 217-pound frame seemed nearly maxed out, Chinn's 6-foot-3 frame looks like you can pack 10-15 pounds on his already 219-pound weigh-in with ease. Now we're talking about a potential LB convert who can bring a lot of plus athletic ability to the position.
At cornerback and safety, Chinn struggled due to lack of technique and just overall comfortability with what he needed to do in one-on-ones. But his athleticism in recovery was clear, even in reps where he fell short when it came to the overall results. That, to me, says that maybe he is a guy who could make the move to linebacker. As offensive coordinators around the league are getting more and more creative with their slot players, Chinn could be that perfect linebacker/safety hybrid to neutralize that chess piece.
Harrison Bryant, FAU
Harrison Bryant had a productive career as a "big slot" tight end player at FAU. Bryant's production increased steadily each season until 2019 where it really took off. As a focal point of the Owl's passing offense, Bryant racked up over 1,000 yards receiving and seven touchdowns.
Bryant weighed in at 6-foot-4, 241 pounds Monday, and though 6-foot-4 checks the height box, his weight is on the lower end. The number isn't the problem. It's when it shows up in a negative way on the field. That's the case for many who don't have the smooth athleticism to make up for it.
But Bryant does. He may not be a traditional in-line tight end who you want playing on run downs, but in terms of how he can affect the game, he does that plenty. As a big slot player, Bryant is very comfortable working off close coverage and creating space by stretching the middle of the field up the seam. He requires a defense to put their fastest linebacker on him, which could open up space for other receivers. Whatever position you want to call him, Bryant's home is in the slot.