Senior Bowl Takeaways: Which players boosted their Broncos draft stock

North quarterback Drew Lock of Missouri (3) passing against the South during the first quarter at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
Jan 26, 2019; Mobile, AL, United States; North quarterback Drew Lock of Missouri (3) passing against the South during the first quarter at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

In a week full of draft evaluation in Mobile, Ala., the North team capped it off with a 34-24 victory over the South squad to close out the Senior Bowl.

The game itself does not mean as much as the practices do throughout the week, but it did provide scouts a chance to evaluate players in a “game-like” situation. What Saturday’s game can provide scouts is a sense of whether a player is a “gamer” or not. Some players excel well in practices, while others perform when the lights are on.

Let’s dive into who stole the show this week in Mobile, rising their draft stock, and whose stock fell.

Deebo Samuel had a tremendous week

No one “won” Senior Bowl week more than former South Carolina wide receiver, Deebo Samuel. After suffering two different types of leg injuries (broken leg, sprained foot) during his junior year, Samuel returned to South Carolina looking to improve his draft stock. He did just that — with 62 receptions, 882 yards and 11 touchdowns — as he scored the second-most touchdowns (Jerry Jeudy, 14) in the SEC this season.

Following a solid year, Samuel was invited to the Senior Bowl where he came into the event as arguably a top-10 receiver in this class. With his play this week, there is no argument anymore as Samuel might have worked his way into the top-5. The greatest trait Samuel showcased this week was a route-running ability that is unmatched in his position group.

The way Samuel sets up defenders is practically unarguable as he matches tremendous footwork with a burst that leaves DBs in the dust. Samuel’s mix of athleticism to go along with his high football IQ is what separates him from most receivers in this class. Guys like D.K. Metcalf, Kelvin Harmon, Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and N’Keal Harry are Samuel’s greatest competition at wide receiver. But, Samuel has something over all of those players, which is his performance in Mobile this past week.

Between his play and accessibility to teams in Mobile, Samuel might have secured himself a spot as a first or second-round pick come draft time in April.

Quarterbacks struggled all week, but Lock separated himself from his competitors

Arguably the biggest discussion coming into Mobile surrounded around which quarterback prospect would separate himself from the pack. Drew Lock and Daniel Jones were the big names of the group, while guys like Will Grier, Tyree Jackson and Ryan Fiinley had to show teams what they could do.

However, the week for quarterbacks can be described in one word: Inconsistent.

Lock separated himself from the group as he showcased an arm strength that could easily make him a top-10 pick on draft night. Concerns with Lock mostly had to do with his footwork, which seems to have gotten better from college to now. The improved footwork by Lock is encouraging, and its something he seems to be moving in the right direction with.

Plays like that are what make Lock so special, which is something none of the other quarterbacks showed this week. Jones, Grier, Jackson and Finlay had as many bad plays as good plays, while Trace McSorely, Gardner Minshew and Jarett Stidham did not do anything to wow scouts either. Jones wound up winning MVP for the game, but the game is just part of the evaluation. After leaving to many throws on the field, it will be difficult for Jones or any of these quarterbacks (excluding Lock) to crack the first round.

A number of offensive lineman made themselves a lot of money 

From tackles Andre Dillard, Dalton Risner and Chuma Edoga to interior lineman Garrett Bradbury and Chris Lindstrom, the guys in the trenches set the tone for the week. Whether it was in one-on-ones or in the game, it seemed like the offensive line group was constantly winning battles and setting good pockets for the quarterback.

Risner had the best week of them all, coming into Mobile with something to prove. After playing everywhere on the offensive line in his four years at Kansas State, Risner wanted to show everyone he is a starting tackle in the NFL. A Wiggins, Colo. native, Risner held his own playing right tackle all week long. Projected top-15 Montez Sweat was the highest rated player in Mobile, and Risner had no problems against him during one-on-ones. The tackle may have played himself into the first round.

Like Risner, Dillard also had a good week, but on the opposite side of the line at left tackle. The Washington State product was great in pass protection and will likely be a top-three offensive lineman selected on draft night. Edoga, Bradbury and Lindstrom all dominated this week as well, showcasing their abilities to not just work in pass protection, but block in the run game as well. Those three should also hear their names called in the first two days of the draft as they all could be Day One starters in the NFL.

Wide receivers had a very good week

The Senior Bowl is a week that gives receivers a chance to thrive. With the number of one-on-one drills they do during the week, it allows receivers to show what they can do when put on an island. Can they get off press-man? How great is their separation? How solid his their catch radius? And most importantly, do they have what it takes to a be a productive receiver at the next level?

Tons of players took advantage of their opportunity this week. Hunter Renfrow from Clemson had a huge week, while smaller school guys Tyree Brady (Marshall), Andy Isabella (UMASS), and Keelen Doss (UC Davis) flashed as well. But, for the sake of this takeaway, we are going to headline two receivers that had the best weeks of the group,  and that is Terry McLaurin and Penny Hart.

We will start with McLaurin, who came into the week with some question marks as to whether he could play in an offense outside of the one at Ohio State. After a solid senior season where he had 35 receptions for 701 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns, McLaurin put all those questions to bed and rose his draft stock in the process.

Now onto Hart, who’s another small-school player (Georgia State) that received a late invite to the Senior Bowl. Hart certainly made his presence known as he flashed an assured amount of speed and footwork all week during one-on-one drills. It’s hard to watch Hart and not get Taylor Gabriel vibes as this small school slot receiver proved he has a chance to be a productive NFL receiver.

Montez Sweat proved what he put on tape and more

When Kentucky pass-rusher Josh Allen dropped out of the Senior Bowl last week, Sweat became the highest rated prospect at the event. Sweat set the tone with his play on Day One as he put a hesitation-bull rush move on a left tackle that should be illegal in all 50 states.

What Sweat did in Mobile easily puts him in the discussion as a top-10 pick, but most importantly, it solidified him as a first-round selection. The only question mark on Sweat is his hip flexibility and whether he will be able to generate enough bend at the next level. One thing Sweat does to overcome that though is his ability to pass rush with a plan. What this means is Sweat already knows what he is going to do before the play, which allows him to not have to read and react after the ball is snapped.

Sweat’s football IQ and ability to have a sense of what he is doing pre-snap sets him apart from other pass-rushers in this group. There is no debate on what kind of player Sweat can be after the show he put on in Mobile as he should be one of the top pass-rushers selected come April.

From Drew Lock to Dalton Risner to Terry McLaurin, there were a ton of players who performed well at the Senior Bowl who likely garnered the attention of the Denver Broncos front office. Quarterback, right tackle and wide receiver are three key holes the team must fill immediately if they want to get back to the playoffs.

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