— By Rob Rang, NFLDraftScout.com —
Every year, NFL scouts value the week of practice more than the Senior Bowl itself, or any all-star game. However, every evaluator is looking for that one athlete whose abilities become most obvious when the lights shine brightest. He is the gamer.
After a week of practice in which other quarterbacks stole the show, Saturday’s Senior Bowl featured one who did not — Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta, rated as a late draft prospect by most, including NFLDraftScout.com, which has him ranked 252nd overall, a seventh-rounder.
His play Saturday may change that rating at least a little in the next adjustments because when the lights shone brightly at this year’s event, Lauletta was that gamer. He led all quarterbacks with 198 yards passing and three touchdowns to power the South to a 45-16 victory in the rain at Mobile, Ala.
After watching the practices live this week, and then the game on television Saturday, here is a list of prospects I believe helped their draft stock with impressive performances in the 2018 Senior Bowl. Perhaps most interesting is the fact that many of them did so after disappointing practice sessions, showing a resiliency scouts will appreciate.
Players are listed alphabetically.
—Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming — If there were any questions as to why Allen will be the first player selected in the 2018 NFL draft from the Senior Bowl, his play in the third quarter answered them. He showed feather-soft touch on perfectly placed touchdown passes to tight ends Tyler Conklin (Central Michigan) and Durham Smythe (Notre Dame) to cap scoring drives, while displaying an equally impressive laser shot on a deep crossing route to Colorado State’s Michael Gallup that showed off his arm strength. The 6-foot-5, 237-pound Allen also showed off the spatial awareness and athleticism to dip and duck under pass rushers and still keep his eyes downfield, ultimately completing 9 of 13 passes for 158 yards and two scores after starting off just 2 of 5 for 14 yards in the first half.
—DJ Chark, WR, LSU — During the media session prior to the game, Chark explained that he felt LSU receivers were underrated and that their relatively meager production — at least in comparison to receivers playing in more pass-friendly offenses — was simply a function of the Tigers’ run-heavy attack. Chark certainly backed up that claim Saturday, leading all receivers with five catches for 160 yards – more than he ever generated at LSU – including a splashy 75-yard touchdown in which he twirled and high-stepped the final yards despite a defender in close proximity. Chark showed terrific burst and balance to shake free on the post-corner route that led to his touchdown, and possesses the combination of straight-line speed, size and versatility (he is also a terrific returner) to be in the conversation as the top senior receiver prospect in the 2018 draft.
—Marcus Davenport, DE, UT-San Antonio –– It was good to see Davenport provide some of the game’s biggest plays — a first quarter sack of Baker Mayfield and a scoop and score touchdown off a fumble return — as perhaps no player endured more media exaggeration over the past week than the reigning Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year. Between his impressive statistics and prototypical 6-6, 259-pound frame, Davenport competed with only Mayfield in terms of hype this week, generating top-10 talk by some. Still quite raw from a technical standpoint, Davenport was unable to deliver on these lofty (and frankly, premature) expectations in the week of practice. However, he showed the combination of upfield burst and length which have scouts so intrigued on the sack, using all of his 34-inch arms to get Pittsburgh Brian O’Neill staggering backward before sliding off to swallow up the Heisman Trophy winner. Davenport contributed to two turnovers as well, providing the outside rush (this time off the right side) to force an errant throw by Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee that was intercepted and showing impressive athleticism for a man of his size, picking the ball up and accelerating in one smooth motion on his 25-yard fumble recovery and run for a touchdown.
—Jamarcus King, CB, South Carolina — With one perfectly executed pass breakup, King captured the attention of every scout watching the Senior Bowl. Matched up one-on-one in the end zone against Oklahoma State’s James Washington (the best receiver throughout the week of practice), King showed confidence with the ball thrown in his direction, turning his head to locate it as the receiver leapt up, and extending his hand to tip the well-thrown pass (by Virginia’s Kurt Benkert) into the hands of Louisiana Tech safety Secdrick Cooper for an interception rather than a touchdown.
—Kyle Lauletta, QB, Richmond — Though he won’t be drafted as early as many of the other prospects on this list, no player took better advantage of the big stage than Lauletta, who led all quarterbacks with 198 passing yards and three touchdowns on 8-of-12 passing in the South’s 45-16 win, earning MVP honors. The 6-3, 217-pound Lauletta found a wide-open Chark for a 75-yard touchdown to spark his big day but his next two scoring tosses were even more impressive, threading the needle on short touchdowns to Western Kentucky tight end Deon Yelder and Oklahoma State wideout Marcel Ateman. As noted on the telecast, Lauletta initially looked to his back on the touchdown to Yelder, sliding to his left to buy time before firing a strike away from the defender and forcing the tight end to extend his arms and make a tough grab. The throw to Ateman — a post delivered between a trailing corner and closing safety — also showed the confidence, velocity and accuracy that no doubt will have scouts investigating him further.
—Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State — There is no getting around it, Penny struggled during the week of practice, putting the ball on the ground several times and drawing the wrath of the Houston Texans’ coaching staff with a false start. The vision, stutter-step, quick acceleration and soft hands which helped the 5-11, 224-pounder lead the nation in rushing yards in 2017 and earn Mountain West Conference Special Teams Player of the Year the past three seasons showed up Saturday. Penny led all participants in all-purpose yards, highlighted by a 37-yard burst up the middle in the first quarter, and a 73-yard catch-and-run following a pretty little flip pass by Virginia’s Kurt Benkert.
—Mike White, QB, Western Kentucky — After Mayfield and Allen dominated the conversation throughout the week of practice, it was the 6-4, 221-pound White who played the role of star quarterback early on. White completed 8 of 11 passes overall for 128 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown to Central Florida’s Tre’Quan Smith in which the quarterback froze the safety, gazing down the middle before turning to his left and delivering a strike on the slant to his slot receiver. White also completed impressive throws to the perimeter, standing tall against a collapsing pocket to complete out routes to the sideline, including two to Smith. His most impressive throw of the day came in the first quarter with a perfectly lofted deep ball up the left sideline to Chark for a gain of 63 yards, approximately 50 of which came through the air.