Reese’s Senior Bowl Practice Winners 

With the Reese’s Senior Bowl practice festivities wrapped up, there is a lot to take away from this week down in Mobile, Alabama. There’s a saying that nobody’s draft stock is ever truly negatively affected during the week of the Senior Bowl, and although that statement can be true, players can certainly positively impact their draft stock during the week’s events. 

Every year the Senior Bowl goes through a week of practices, media events, and interviews followed by a finale in the biggest college football all-star game in the country. Players from every division of college football are invited to come down to one event to show off their skills, impress coaches, front offices, and scouts to prove that they are worthy of a draft selection. Every year there are always a handful of prospects that stand head and shoulders above the rest. In 2020, it was former Oregon and current Los Angeles Chargers QB Justin Herbert that stood out, catapulting him to a top ten selection. In 2021, the emergence of offensive lineman Quinn Meinerz from Wisconsin-Whitewater took Mobile by storm and pushed him into Day 2. You never know who is going to show up and dominate the week. 

After three days of crazy practices, including a severely wet and rainy one, and countless hours of watching and breaking down the film from the event, here are some of the prospects that I believe stood out and improved their stocks in the 2022 Senior Bowl week practices.

Calvin Austin III, WR, Memphis

Austin was one of a few receivers that separated themselves from the rest of the pack this week. With the withdrawal of Penn State pass catcher and potential first round pick Jahan Dotson earlier in the week, everybody in Mobile had the opportunity to showcase why they were the best receiver at this year’s event. Calvin Austin was one of two pass catchers that really stood head and shoulders above others throughout practices and 1v1 drills. 

Everybody in Mobile knew Austin was quick and had good straight line speed when he got into the open space, but what set Austin apart throughout the entire week was his route running and ability to create separation with his quick feet and ability to change direction both laterally and vertically, and not just with his natural speed. 

A lot of receivers had some issues with drops this week, partially due to the inclement weather on day two of practice. Austin was much more consistent than the majority of the group at minimizing those drops, and while much was made about Austin’s 5’7″, 173 lbs size coming into the Senior Bowl, you couldn’t notice his small frame in his style of play throughout the week. Austin was attacking corners directly in his route tree all week long and wasn’t scared of competition that was bigger and stronger than he was. Was he the most physical at the catch point or at winning through contact? No, but Austin not standing down from competition is something that was really impressive to see from someone his size all three days of practice. Overall he was one of the most well rounded and consistent offensive players on either team throughout this week.

Christian Watson, WR, North Dakota State

Watson was the other of two receivers that separated themselves with a good week. The 6’4” receiver from North Dakota State wowed both NFL teams and the media throughout all three days of practice and made those unfamiliar with him dive directly into the film catalog. Watson showed this week that he isn’t your stereotypical 6’4” contested catch receiver. 

From the start of the first practice, Watson was putting every defensive back on ice skates with his twitchy feet and quick release off the line. His ability to get to the second level off the line of scrimmage was incredibly impressive, especially for someone of his size. Watson also showcased an incredibly diverse route catalog and was able to break free from defenders from any angle. Watson showcased a great combination of quick feet off the line, precise body control in and out of breaks, and soft hands on all three days of practice. There were very rarely any matchups that Watson didn’t come out on top of. 

With the majority of the receivers not doing much of anything to improve their draft stock this week, or at least separate themselves from the rest of the bunch, Watson was one of the lone bright spots at the position all week. Talking to fellow media members down in Mobile, they were also very impressed with Watson’s size and speed combination off the line of scrimmage and his ability to maintain long speed on intermediate and long routes. 

Watson also impressed many with his expanded catch radius and adjustment to the ball. With the majority of the QBs struggling this week, especially in the wet conditions, receivers were asked to make a lot of quick adjustments to the football, and Watson was the best at doing that in Mobile.

Jermaine Johnson II, EDGE, Florida State

It would be a disservice to write an article on the best performances of the week and not include Florida State pass rusher Jermaine Johnson. Johnson was already someone that was getting late first round buzz going into this week and he did everything he could to solidify that status. Johnson absolutely dominated opposing tackles with his snap reaction time and near-perfect instincts. His burst right off the line of scrimmage and ability to initiate first contact with the offensive lineman before they were set was the best in Mobile. 

Johnson showed the ability to win with both speed and power consistently all week long. He initiated contact first on the majority of his reps, which allowed him to leverage himself into favorable positions to win battles easily. Johnson also showed the ability to win in a variety of ways all week long. If it wasn’t through contact, he would win with his pure athleticism and speed to blow by the opposing offensive lineman. 

One thing that Johnson did exceptionally well all week was convert his speed to power. While his speed was enough to simply run past the guy in front of him on occasion, Johnson also converted that momentum into explosion through linemen well all week. His lower leg drive and motor was always going, and the competitive firepower was something that caught a lot of people’s eye this week. There was not a better player in Mobile this week than the Seminoles pass rusher.

Boye Mafe, EDGE, Minnesota

A lot was made about the defensive line group in this Senior Bowl class, and for good reason. The pass rushers dominated the offensive lineman all week long, and there was not a player that made themselves more money this week than Minnesota pass rusher Boye Mafe. Mafe put on a clinic all week long against the opposing tackles, showing incredible burst off the line, and using his hands to break off from contact and win the rep. 

Mafe was able to win on both outside moves with his speed and ability to bend around opposing tackles, but also showed ability to win by attacking the inside using power moves and his lower body to fight through contact. What impressed me the most about Mafe was his ability to counter move and create when getting stopped originally. Mafe showed a diverse set of moves including some spin moves and effective high to low rushes that allowed him to continuously win reps. 

Everybody knew Boye Mafe was an athletic specimen going into the week and he did everything to continue to prove that narrative correct. His speed off the snap was some of the best of the week, and Mafe showed a variety of moves at the line winning with leverage, speed, and effective hand usage. A lot of players helped put their name on the map this week and earned themselves some money; Mafe arguably gave his stock the biggest boost out of any prospect this week down in Mobile. I would not be shocked if he was a top 50 pick when April comes around.

Perrion Winfrey, IDL, Oklahoma

Yet another defensive lineman listed as a winner from this week’s festivities, this time in the form of Oklahoma Sooner mauler Perrion Winfrey. There was not a player that put on a bigger show in the trenches than the 300 pound monster, who was dominant throughout the week showcasing a high motor, high effort, and an explosive first step that converted into power when contact was initiated. 

Winfrey’s effort this week was some of the best, if not the best, all week long. It did not matter what offensive lineman was put in front of him: he would continue to drive them back into the pocket with ease. Winfrey’s motor was impressive all week and he showcased his movement ability at his big frame being quick off the line and attacking with a purpose and with a plan of attack to win the rep. 

NFL teams are going to look at Winfrey’s week in Mobile and fall in love. Pair his traits with his high motor and consistent high level effort play in and play out and it should come as little surprise if Winfrey makes an NFL team very happy.

There were so many other players that had themselves some great weeks in Mobile, and helped answer some questions from many around the league and in media circles. So here are a few notable winners from the Senior Bowl:

Cole Strange, IOL, Chattanooga 

DeAngelo Malone, EDGE, Western Kentucky

Travis Jones, IDL, UConn

Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn

Coby Bryant, CB, Cincinnati

Follow Josh on Twitter @JoshBerg0611.

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