The South team finished its first practice of the 2020 Senior Bowl on Tuesday when the top upperclassmen performed under the Cincinnati Bengals coaching staff.
Each gets one last chance to put the pads before the NFL draft, and several offensive players showcased their talent in Mobile, Alabama. I highlighted one player from each of those positional groups that stood out, and why their performance could be a sign of things to come.
Best player: Justin Herbert, Oregon
When projected first-round players commit to the Senior Bowl, it’s always interesting to see if they stand out during the three days of practice. Last year, we saw multiple first-round prospects along the offensive line, but it was Montez Sweat who stole the show and eventually wound up as the 26th-overall pick by the Washington Redskins.
Justin Herbert is in similar position as he entered Mobile as arguably the highest-ranked prospect at the event. During the first day of practice, he showed exactly why so many are excited about his future regardless of the mixed opinions surrounding his draft stock. Despite it being a windy afternoon at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, his velocity and accuracy never wavered.
Herbert’s best throw of the day came during the 7-on-7 portion of the practice where there were lots of concepts and patterns installed during the first session. After taking a smooth three-step drop, he fired a beautiful vertical throw down the sideline to Austin Mack just past the outstretched arms of A.J. Green.
The former Ohio State receiver never had to break his stride and the ball lofted and landed perfectly into his arms. That throw, along with many, were just a few of the impressive tosses that the former Oregon leader threw Tuesday.
Best player: Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Vanderbilt
Running back is without question the hardest position to evaluate at a postseason all-star event. The biggest reason is the offensive lineman play timid because of the foreign playbook and unfamiliar counterparts by their side. You don’t begin to see chemistry formed between the core five until the final stages of practices and into the game. As a result, it’s hard to get a fair gauge on rushers and just how well-rounded they may be. It’s much easier to evaluate them as pass catchers because of the one-on-one drills that they perform against linebackers and safeties.
Ke'Shawn Vaughn’s best plays came during the 11-on-11 portions where he was able to show a slow to fast approach. He was able to successfully adjust to the speed of the game and show some nifty moves after planting his foot in the ground and progressing forward.
Best player: Harrison Bryant, Florida Atlantic
The reigning winner of the John Mackey Award (given to the best tight end in the nation), Harrison Bryant entered the Senior Bowl with plenty of hype. Measuring nearly 6-foot-5 and weighing 242 pounds, those measurements were seen as a big win for him. Many wondered just how much does he weigh, but despite that and play strength concerns, he managed to piece together a successful first practice.
Bryant was matched up against former Lenoir-Rhyne safety Kyle Dugger and ran a seam pattern that checked a lot of the boxes. He was forced to fight with his hands through contact on his way down the seam and managed to avoid a collision with the former Division II standout by showing off his ability to execute a swim move to make a routine catch from Herbert.
Best Player: Lloyd Cushenberry III, LSU
Outside of quarterback Joe Burrow, the heartbeat of the record-setting LSU offense was Lloyd Cushenberry III. When I asked about wearing No. 18 in practice and what that meant to him, he mentioned that “it was an honor, especially being the first offensive lineman to wear it.”
“Just knowing all the guys that came before me that were all great leaders and players, it was an honor for coach [Ed Orgeron] to reward me with that number,” he continued. “It was an honor and I hope I did my due diligence.”
The one-on-one portion of the practice is where Cushenberry shined the most. He was matched up against Javon Kinlaw and was able to stymie his hands and sink his hips in order to impede the process of the bigger Gamecock interior defender. The former LSU center passed the first day of practice with flying colors. Cushenberry stock continues to rise and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the leader of the unit that was received the Joe Moore Award (given to the nation’s best offensive line) enter the discussions as a top-40 selection.
Best player: Ben Bartch, St. John’s (MN)
Although Ben Bartch is among the lowest level of competition at the Senior Bowl, he isn’t allowing the bump in competition to steer him from impressing. I asked him about his journey and what it means to be here as a highly interesting prospect. There’s no sense of being star-struck with him as he put together a consistent first day of practice.
Outside of one loss against Tulsa edge rusher Trevis Gipson, the former Division III product held his own. Stonewalling both Alabama defenders in Anfernee Jennings and Terrell Lewis, he proved he belongs among the distinct group of prospects in Mobile. Bartch is already drawing comparison to Buccaneers guard Ali Marpet and showed plenty of signs that he has the recipe to be successful against the nation’s best.