The South team’s second practice of the 2020 Senior Bowl is in the books. The top upperclassmen across the country, coached by the Cincinnati Bengals, get one last chance to put the pads before the NFL draft, and several players showcased their talent Wednesday.
Most of the splash plays came on the offensive side of the ball, and I was easily drawn to the one-on-one matchups featuring the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and the offensive line. I highlighted two players from each of those position groups that stood out the most, and why I believe their performance could be a sign of things to come.
Best player: Justin Herbert, Oregon
For the second practice in a row, it was clear that Justin Herbert was the best quarterback on the field. This kind of event is designed for him to succeed as it accentuates his arm talent and flashes of pinpoint accuracy at all three levels of the field. He was able to throw the ball into tight windows in the seven-on-seven period as well as drop passes into the bucket in the one-on-one drills. Herbert has done what he’s supposed to do here this week: check all of the boxes.
Flash reps: Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma
It was definitely an up-and-down day for Jalen Hurts, but there were moments where he had much-improved ball placement from Tuesday’s practice. His deep ball accuracy is still erratic and inconsistent, but he did find a lot of success in the seven-on-seven period and team drills with throws in the short to intermediate game. Hurts isn’t a natural pocket passer, which is why we have seen him struggle the past two days, but he continues to show flashes of how in the right system he could be a productive option.
Best player: Eno Benjamin, Arizona State
Eno Benjamin had a couple of drops in Wednesday’s practice, but he was consistently getting open and creating separation in the one-on-one drills against linebackers — something he didn’t show much on his tape. Benjamin also fared well in pass protection, showing good balance and a solid anchor in the mock blitz pickup drill. His bread and butter is inside zone, and he easily looked like the most natural ball carrier out of the backfield through the first two practices. There is an argument to be made that Benjamin is the best running back in Mobile, Alabama, and he has checked all the boxes he’s needed to.
Flash reps: Antonio Gibson Jr., Memphis
Antonio Gibson Jr. was an offensive flex player who played both wide receiver and running back at Memphis and has really showcased his versatile skill set through two practices in Mobile. He’s consistently been the most dynamic pass catcher in the one-on-one drills against linebackers. Additionally, he’s looked solid in pass protection. He is still raw as an overall runner out of the backfield due to his inexperience, but his juice and explosiveness are evident in his sharp cuts. With a continuously increasing emphasis on passing game value at the running back position, Gibson could be a player who rises on many boards this spring.
Best player: Collin Johnson, Texas
We knew coming into this game that Collin Johnson was a Herculean-sized wide receiver prospect, but after watching the first two South team practices, I realized I did not give him enough credit for his fluidity and nuanced route-running skills. His combination of play strength and technically-advanced release package at the line of scrimmage made it difficult for cornerbacks to stay attached to his hip pocket in press man coverage Wednesday. Johnson has done exactly what he’s needed to do this week, and that’s to show he could separate consistently against man coverage.
Flash Reps: Josiah Deguara, Cincinnati
Out of all the tight ends, the best one in practice so far has been Josiah Deguara. At 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, Deguara has a rocked-up frame with the most nuanced route-running skills of the group. The safeties have had their way with the tight end group this week in practice, but Deguara has been the exception, especially on Wednesday. He looked incredibly fluid in and out of his breaks — showing no wasted motion and secured the ball each time with strong hands outside of his body. He also looks like the most comfortable in-line blocker of the group. So if you’re looking for a sleeper tight end to rise in this relatively shallow class, check out Deguara.
Best player: Lloyd Cushenberry, LSU
No interior offensive lineman has helped their draft stock more this week than LSU center Lloyd Cushenberry III. In a center class that lacks a consensus top prospect, Cushenberry has made a strong case to be that player with back-to-back strong performances in Mobile. He is the only interior offensive lineman so far to have defeated South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw in a one-on-one rep. When you add what he’s done throughout practice this week with his balance and play strength as a blocker to his terrific 2019 tape, don’t be surprised if his name starts populating at the end of first-round mock drafts.
Flash reps: Damien Lewis, LSU
The other offensive lineman that stood out Wednesday was Cushenberry’s LSU teammate: guard Damien Lewis. He absolutely mauled the South team’s interior defensive linemen in both pass protection and run blocking reps in the one-on-one period. What stands out the most about Lewis is his power and heavy hands as a finisher. He plays with great leverage and can match strength for strength with any defensive tackle in Mobile. All of those traits were showcased in Wednesday’s practice, and I think he could become a solid mid-round selection at guard in April.