After three practices and the game itself, Senior Bowl week for 2018 is officially in the books. It culminated with the South team dominating the North 45-16 on Saturday afternoon at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, AL. The game gave NFL scouts, coaches, and front office executives an ever-improving picture as to which prospects are ideal fits when it comes to filling their off-season needs.
This week’s festivities in Mobile are just one of many steps in the journey that ends in Dallas with the NFL Draft. The next big event takes place in early March as many of these same prospects will meet in Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine. With that in mind, who enhanced their draft stock on Saturday and put themselves in position to do so even further as the evaluation process continues between now and the draft?
Five Standouts From the 2018 Senior Bowl
Josh Allen, quarterback, Wyoming
Saturday’s Senior Bowl didn’t exactly get off to an ideal start for Josh Allen. The Wyoming product managed just 14 yards passing in the first half for the North team who trailed 18-3 at halftime.
But Allen turned it around big time in the second stanza. On the North’s first possession, he led the team on an 11-play, 81-yard touchdown drive that ended with him finding Central Michigan tight end Tyler Conklin in the end zone. After the defense forced a punt, he came onto the field and made two picture-perfect passes to Michael Gallup and Durham Smythe respectively. The latter to the Notre Dame tight end resulted in a touchdown that cut the South’s lead to two.
Though the two-point conversion to tie failed and his team got shut out the rest of the way, Allen has nothing to hang his head about. He finished the game completing nine of 13 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns. Though his cannon for an arm is well-known, what stood out on Saturday was his ability to make touch throws over the top of the secondary. That skill set was apparent on both touchdown tosses. And it has Allen in good shape regarding his draft stock, especially if he impresses in Indy.
Kyle Lauletta, quarterback, Richmond
Heading into Saturday’s game, Allen and Baker Mayfield were the quarterbacks garnering all the hype. In Mayfield’s case, that certainly didn’t come as a surprise considering he took home the Heisman Trophy. But throughout this game, two quarterbacks overshadowed those two with their play. Early on, it was Western Kentucky’s Mike White who completed 72.7 percent of his passes for 128 yards and a touchdown in the first half. And down the stretch, Kyle Lauletta did his part in turning this game into a rout.
The reigning Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year got started with a 75-yard strike to D.J. Chark one play after Allen got the North to within two. On his team’s ensuing two possessions, he showcased his ability to lead sustained drives which result in scores. Not only that, but he made a wide range of throws in the process. Whether it was connecting with tight ends on seam routes, finding wide receivers underneath, or threading the needle in tight coverage, Lauletta did it all. It’s no wonder then that he took home Senior Bowl Most Outstanding Player honors for his efforts.
Marcus Davenport, edge rusher, Texas-San Antonio
Heading into this week’s practices, perhaps no other player on defense was generating as much hype as Marcus Davenport. The edge rusher out of UTSA won Conference USA defensive player of the year in 2017 after a season which saw him set single-season school records with 17.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. His exploits had many observers comparing him to NFL pass rushing mainstays such as DeMarcus Ware and Ezekiel Ansah.
But Davenport dealt with some quiet spells during the practice sessions. It included getting bottled up consistently in one-on-one drills between the offensive and defensive lines. That wasn’t the case in the game as he gave opposing tackles fits early and often. His ability to win with athleticism and violent hands around the edge in addition to doing so with power on bull rushes was on full display. Given the importance of generating terror on the perimeter in today’s NFL, a solid Combine could all but ensure he goes in the top 10.
Rashaad Penny, running back, San Diego State
It’s hard to believe that Rashaad Penny didn’t garner an invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony at the very least. Though it’s unlikely he’d have beaten Mayfield out for the award, his body of work in 2017 certainly deserved an appearance in New York City. Penny led the nation with 2,248 rushing yards and was one of just two running backs to eclipse the 2,000-yard mark (Stanford’s Bryce Love was the other). And only Florida Atlantic’s Devin Singletary finished with more total touchdowns than his 25.
The biggest question mark surrounding Penny’s game surrounded his pass-catching acumen. He managed an average of 14 receptions over his final three seasons with the Aztecs. With NFL teams asking more out of their running backs when it comes to contributing to the passing game, that kind of versatility is in high demand. And though Penny hauled in just a single pass on Saturday, it went for 73 yards and resulted in his lone score of the game.
All in all, Penny ended the game with 152 all-purpose yards (64 rushing, 73 receiving, 15 kick return). It ranked as the second-best total among all wide receivers and running backs in this year’s Senior Bowl. If you’re looking for middle round gem who can make an immediate impact a la Kareem Hunt in 2017, Penny seems to fit that mold.
D.J. Chark, wide receiver, LSU
When you think of big-time NFL wideouts who played collegiately at LSU, the first person who comes to mind is almost certainly Odell Beckham. Jarvis Landry probably ranks second on that list. The next former Tiger looking to follow in those footsteps is D.J. Chark. And if his performance throughout this week is any indication, he possesses the drive and skill set necessary to become an impact pass catcher at the next level.
Chark’s stats don’t exactly jump off the screen. He finished the 2017 season with 874 receiving yards and just three touchdowns. Part of that comes from the fact that he didn’t exactly get the most dynamic play out of his quarterback. Nevertheless, he exuded big-play ability as evidenced by his 21.9 yards per catch which ranked sixth best in college football. There was more where that came from in Mobile.
The 6’2 1/2″, 196-pound receiver caught just about everything thrown his way all week. It included Saturday’s game in which he led all receivers on either team with five receptions and 160 yards receiving. His 75-yard score in the third quarter helped nip a potential North comeback in the bud. And throughout the game, he demonstrated his catch radius, crisp route running, and ability to generate yards after the catch. Among pass catchers at this year’s Senior Bowl, Chark may have done the most to vault up draft boards.