Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Senior Bowl notebook: Quarterbacks impressive at North practice

— By Dane Brugler, —

MOBILE, Ala. — From Tuesday to Wednesday and now on Thursday at the Senior Bowl practice, NFL evaluators are hoping to see gradual improvement from players as they become more comfortable with pro coaching and new teammates.

The quarterback prospects on the North team, notably Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Wyoming’s Josh Allen, didn’t disappoint during the final day of full-speed practices on Thursday.

Mayfield has been the best quarterback this week with his ability to consistently give receivers a catchable ball. Watching him live, he doesn’t have the velocity of Allen, but his snap throwing motion provides plenty of zip to deliver the ball in time.

Mayfield started slowly this week and then was at his best toward the end of practice. However, on Thursday, he only needed a few throws to get comfortable and then impressed with his complete inventory of passes.

Many around the league believed Mayfield to be a top-15 draft pick, and his performance this week will only help those opinions.

Allen was very up and down on Tuesday and Wednesday, showing flashes of why several are high on his NFL prospects. However, he showed much improved consistency during Thursday’s practice, especially during red-zone drills. When the field shrunk and there was less thinking involved, Allen was at his best, throwing corner fades, hitting the seam route and using his plus velocity to fit the ball into tight windows.

Allen is a highly polarizing prospect and his performance this week only stoked that fire. He likely didn’t convert anyone, but for those who believed in him prior to this week, they will leave Mobile still feeling good about those opinions. And on the flip side, Allen’s doubters depart with several of the same concerns about his accuracy and overall future in the NFL.

Regardless, even Allen’s harshest critics will admit that he performed well during Thursday’s practice, arguably the most important day of the week when it comes to evaluation.

RANG: Inspirational Griffin stands out for South

Other notes from Thursday’s North practice:

–North Carolina State running back Jaylen Samuels was a tough assignment for the North linebackers and safeties during one-on-one drills. Samuels used quick feet and timing to skirt the defender and create separation in coverage, giving the quarterback a clean target. A “Swiss army knife” skill player, Samuels played running back, wide receiver, fullback and tight end in college and is ideally suited for a hybrid role in the NFL where a play-caller utilizes him in different ways. He isn’t as dangerous a ball-carrier as San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny, but Samuels might be higher on several draft boards because of his do-everything versatility.

–Draft grades shouldn’t change based strictly on all-star game practices, but it should force evaluators to return to the tape. And that will be the case with Hawaii safety Trayvon Henderson, who had a productive week and did his best work on Thursday. His one-handed interception in the end zone drew “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd, but it was his overall consistency that really jumped out. Henderson was a “winner” this week.

–Which position unit has performed the best during practices this week? Tight end. And that is somewhat surprising considering the top tight end at the Senior Bowl, South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert, exited early on Tuesday with a minor hamstring injury. But the rest of the tight end group has had plenty of impressive reps. At North practice, Penn State’s Mike Gesicki looked like a mismatch weapon with his clean routes and angular frame to attack the football. Central Michigan’s Tyler Conklin is a very smooth athlete and didn’t labor getting open. Notre Dame’s Durham Smythe might not have a specific strength, but he is a well-rounded player who finishes in a crowd. And Wisconsin’s Troy Fumagalli doesn’t impress with his size or burst, but his route-running and ball skills are why he will play in the NFL for a long time.

–On the defensive side of the ball, two pass rushers have consistently stood out: Oklahoma’s Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Rutgers’ Kemoko Turay. Okoronkwo has edge speed, but he often used his power and reach to force his way through blockers, staying low and winning with leverage. Turay has the initial burst that forces offensive tackles to respect his arc speed, opening up options for the pass rusher.

–North Dakota State linebacker Nick DeLuca had an excellent practice on Thursday. During coverage drills, most linebackers and safeties wait for the back or tight end to make a move and then react. However, DeLuca didn’t let that happen, attacking downhill to meet the pass-catcher and disrupt the timing of the route. He is a very smart and physical player, but the medical report will be key at the Scouting Combine with his injury issues the past two seasons.

Dane Brugler

Dane Brugler is a Sr. Analyst for, distributed by The Sports Xchange