MILE HIGH MONDAY

With Broncos in need, a tale of three QBs at the Senior Bowl

Feb 5, 2024, 6:49 AM

The “All-Star Road Trip” wrapped up this weekend! For 18 years in a row, I have traveled to the East-West Shrine Bowl and Senior Bowl to scout the incoming talent for the NFL Draft.

I like scouting players in person. It’s an important part of my process as I prepare my reports, and I enjoy the work!

I also like contemplating life and sports when driving around with the top down on my old Jeep Wrangler TJ! The following is a result of those trips during the week.

Buckle up, let’s take a ride through my thoughts.

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Disturbing Trend

Michael Penix participated in the week of practice for the Senior Bowl, but he opted out of playing in the game. Other players did on the National Team as well, but I feel this is a disturbing trend. Players put on a show for scouts in practice, but they need to wrap things up with the game as well.

Penix did not “wow” scouts in Mobile. He “wowed” some in the media, but there is a huge difference in evaluations. The media liked what he did in practice because Penix’s game is built to shine in a practice setting. He had great pass placement when unrushed, and in practice, there is no live tackling and the quarterback cannot get hit. Penix had plenty of time to throw, and he proved that he can slice up a defense in that setting.

That’s not how football is played, though. Quarterbacks need to perform under pressure, and they need to make things happen when the play is not “clean.” I said during the week that Penix would be a Hall of Fame player if the NFL was a 7-on-7 league. Evaluators watching closely in practice could see that when he felt a little bit of pressure (in a practice where he could not get hit), the mechanics would suffer and his passes did not look as pretty.

I don’t like players skipping the game, no matter how they did in practice. Penix was okay in practice, but he certainly was not great. While he does have first-round physical tools, Penix has a long injury history that is a concern. His performance in practice and him skipping out of the game don’t help his draft stock – and he’s likely a mid-second-round pick at best.

***

Footwork is Key

Nobody in football has the perfect scouting method for finding franchise quarterbacks. If someone did, he would be the highest-paid evaluator in the league. It just doesn’t exist, but over almost 20 years of scouting players I’ve learned a few things about quarterbacks.

First, the physical stuff is easy to see. The quarterback position is a mental game, so that needs to be sharp. Physical stuff can be worked on to improve, and if a player does that with proper mental skills, they can excel in this league. Second, it’s all about fit in the NFL. A quarterback must fit the style his coaches want or else he is doomed to struggle. The fit is the most important part of finding a franchise quarterback.

That’s why Oregon’s Bo Nix is such an intriguing prospect. He did improve as the week of practice went on at the Senior Bowl, but his footwork needs a lot of work. That’s going to require a staff that gives him time to develop. If he gets thrust into starting duty too early, it could jeopardize his long-term success. I did ask Nix about his comfort level when working from under center, and he responded succinctly “100 percent comfortable.”

Nix may feel comfortable, but he looks quite awkward working under center. The physical stuff is easy to see. Nix has arm talent, and he plays with high football intelligence. That’s a nice base to start with, but to truly hit his full potential as a quarterback, the footwork must improve.

***

Injury Creates Value?

You never want a player to get hurt at an All-Star game, especially when they can suffer career-altering injuries before they even turn pro (see O’Brien Schofield years ago). However, this is football and there’s a 100 percent injury rate. I’ve seen players get banged up at All-Star games, and it negatively affects their draft stock.

That might be the case with Marshall running back Rasheen Ali. He was one of the standout players during practice early on at the Senior Bowl. I like the way he attacks the line of scrimmage as a runner, and he’s adept at creating his own space. Ali has great foot frequency, and this skill allows him to change direction without losing much speed.

I also appreciate what he can do as a receiver out of the backfield. Most importantly, Ali worked well in pass-protection drills. Well, a biceps injury that he suffered during practice will require surgery. I hope it doesn’t hurt his value, but in this league and at that position, it likely will.

I want the Broncos to draft MarShawn Lloyd (USC), but Ali would make a fine addition to the roster as well. No matter what team gets Ali, he’s going to provide quality depth at the very least. I think he’s got Pro-Bowl upside as a starter if he gets the opportunity.

***

Game Creates False Positives

I’ve never gone to the Senior Bowl game in 18 years of attending practice. Years ago, I learned that the game can create false positives. It’s an important game, but I believe most of the evaluation is done in a controlled practice environment. You never know what’s going to happen in a game, and there’s value there. Too many players can look great in an All-Star game, but fail when it comes to their pro career.

I want to see someone look great in both. For example, QB Justin Herbert looked like a superstar in practice at the Senior Bowl and he followed it up by being the MVP of the game. That’s a good sign. What’s odd is when a player struggles in practice, but then shows up in the game. It makes me question the “why?” of their performance. I like consistency, and the game sometimes makes players look better than they are.

That’s what makes QB Spencer Rattler so interesting. He was just okay in practice, but he was MVP of the game. Rattler is a player that saw his draft stock rise a bit at the Senior Bowl, but I still believe he’s a third-round pick. Entering the week, Rattler might have been seen as a day three (rounds 4-7) pick. He did move up, but I’m not putting him in the first-round conversation as some are. Let’s put a pin in this, and it will be fun to see which side of the ledger Rattler ends up on. Is he like Herbert, or is he like Kellen Mond? Time will tell.

Did you watch the Senior Bowl, and if so, what did you think? Hit me up on social media and let me know!

Mile High Monday

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