Postseason all-star games are the starting point of the marathon known as the NFL pre-draft process.
We've seen a lot of outcomes in past years where the pre-draft process can derail or uplift the stock of some prospects. Seeing some of them go out and compete is one thing, but it's the mannerism and practice habits that scouts play close attention to.
For example, a note I made after every Senior Bowl practice is that former UCLA nickel cornerback Darnay Holmes was among the first players out each day. He also stayed after to discuss what former Ohio State receiver Austin Mack looked for when matched up against a defensive back. The little tidbits like that aren't factors that can be seen on film, but only through word of mouth from coaches and others around the facility. Hearing it is one thing, but actually going out and executing it is another.
With so many different opinions, I didn't seek how each scout felt about a certain prospect. Instead, I wanted to know which one caught their eye the most.
Scout No. 1:
"The Dayton kid, [Adam Trautman],” one scout said. “He's a carbon copy of [Dallas] Goedert coming out of South Dakota State but he runs looser and is just as talented as a pass catcher. Blocking needs work, but the effort and technique are easily there and improvable."
Trautman generated a ton of buzz in Mobile, Alabama, this past week. In what was initially seen as a lowly tight end class, there seems to be a lack of front line talent, but plenty of depth starting on Day 2. However, Trautman first began to impress off the field and at the microphone.
Looking back to his final collegiate campaign, his best game came against Jacksonville where he caught four touchdowns. He also became the new record holder for career catches (110) in program history. There's a wide belief his stock is trending toward being an early-to-mid-second-round selection.
Scout No. 2:
"Josh Jones,” another scout mentioned. “The left tackle from Houston. He's looked great here so far. Didn't know what he'd weigh in at because he looked a little thin on film in his lower half, but 311 is a great weight for him."
The offensive tackle play was a bit scarce throughout the Senior Bowl, but one bright spot was Jones. Tabbed as the most athletic blocker coming into the event, he did everything to live up to the hype and more. Jones helped himself enter the first-round discussion. Teams are anxiously awaiting to see how well he tests at the combine in order to see just how athletic he really is.
On the field, he passed the test with flying colors as he showed light feet, strong hands and balance. Jones showed the functional strength necessary to eventually be counted upon as a blindside protector while stymying rushers consistently.
From Kolton Miller in 2018 to Andre Dillard a year ago, we see teams fall in love with athletic offensive tackles. There are even some instances where franchises will reach for them a round too early because of their upside. Pass protection is an area that's extremely hard for coaches to instill into players, but on the opposite end of the spectrum, it's easier to teach an offensive lineman how to become a consistent run blocker. Teams are now comfortable with reaching on highly talented pass protectors because of how the league has trended towards a pass-heavy approach.
Scout No. 3:
"[Javon] Kinlaw was everything we thought he'd be, but [Josh] Uche was an absolute star this week,” a scout said. “I don't quite know where to play him yet, but he'll be a great addition to a defensive room somewhere."
Coming into the week, Uche was a player I had a red dot beside because of the plethora of questions that I needed to be answered. How big was he? Is he as fluid in person as he was on film? What's his true position? During the weigh-in, he measured at 6-foot-1 and 241 pounds, which were solid numbers for him. He also went out during the week of practice and looked as athletic as he did on tape. The most surprising part was how natural he was in coverage.
Playing primarily off of the edge during his time in Ann Arbor, there were small glimpses of him as WILL linebacker. Those plays were so scattered that it was hard to catch the tendencies. Uche's fluidity in coverage was excellent, and he was able to mirror tight ends and running backs all week long. Being seen as an early Day 3 talent coming into the week, there are some that believe he improved his stock a "Round 1 or 2." That's how improved he was in Mobile.
Scout No. 4:
"It feels kind of lame saying [Justin] Herbert, right? But I thought he did exactly what he needed to do,” another scout said. “It was an environment set up for him to dominate and he did it beautifully."
Herbert capped off his week with Senior Bowl practice and game MVP honors, just a snapshot of how dominant he was throughout the week. I love that the Senior Bowl placed Jordan Love and the former Oregon quarterback on the same team because it was great to see them both compete over the three-day duration of practice. After a strong first day, Herbert continued to look impressive. A windy first couple of practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium had a minimal effect on his ball placement or decision making. Herbert showed everything that you wanted to see in a top-ranked signal-caller. The most notable part was hearing him open up about his demeanor and why him being so reserved has been blown out of proportion.
Scout No. 5:
"I didn't get a chance to see him live, but [Kyle] Dugger blew me away with how well put together his body was and then to go out there and perform like that,” a scout said. “That was really, really impressive. He's like Keanu Neal-lite. That's my best comparison for him."
With small-school prospects, it's always interesting to monitor how quickly they adjust to the speed of the game — if they sink or swim. Dugger swam and kept swimming, showing that he belonged despite the increased competition. Playing him primarily on the roof of the defense during the first practice session, most of his success came on the second and third day the closer he was to the line. Dugger quickly became the talk of practice after having an impressive interception during the one-on-one portion of practice. While guarding former Vanderbilt tight end Jared Pinkney, he cut underneath his route in order to haul in the turnover.
While many are still waiting to see how he stacks up at the combine, top-50 chatter has become a realistic possibility for the Division II standout. Dugger showed off his versatility as a free and strong safety as well as a blitzing threat off of the edge and made many teams believers after seeing that his skills translated to his upper-echelon counterparts.