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Senior Bowl QB Scouting Day 2: Notes from the First Official Practices

Nevada QB Carson Strong is one of the best quarterbacks in the NCAA. Strong has an NFL arm, but will his decision making is questionable
Nevada QB Carson Strong is one of the best quarterbacks in the NCAA. Strong has an NFL arm, but will his decision making is questionable

“We are who we thought they were!” A saying that Dennis Green popularized years ago, but it’s a phrase that won’t get out of my head as I watch and rewatch the practice tape from day 1 of the Senior Bowl. If you watched enough film on these six prospects, likely nothing from practice was overly surprising. That doesn’t mean that wasn’t plenty of movement in their respective draft stock.

Stock up

Carson Strong, Nevada

Even though I entered this week with a good idea of the arm strength of Strong, it is hard to put into perspective how much different the ball looks coming out of his hand than his teammates Kenny Pickett and Desmond Ridder. Strong’s ability to cut through the wind was the talk of practice, and the talk was well warranted. Strong also read the field really well for a guy working with a new playbook and a new team. I even spotted him adjusting protections with a totally new group of blockers. Another thing that stood out is his ability to compensate for his slow feet and a lack of mobility with great pocket awareness and some Mac Jones-Esque movements to evade pressure. It was far from perfect, some deep balls sailed on him ( a criticism I’ve had since the pre-season) he basically offers no ability to throw on the run. Something I hadn’t noticed on tape but I have confirmed with multiple others currently scouting in Mobile is that Strong only throws fastballs, leading to some easy balls being dropped. Even with those concerns, it was clear, in my opinion, that Strong had the best day of this group.

Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh

Pickett was often far too conservative, blatantly choosing the easy throw over the deep option that was coming open. He also had some deep balls that died out at the end in 1 on 1’s. My Questions over his arm strength seem valid. However, Pickett looked confident, sharp, and accurate the majority of the day. It was essentially the same Pickett you see on tape. So…why is he on the stock-up portion of this article? Simple. Pickett entered the day with the biggest question mark. Could he grip and throw the larger NFL football with what are at least rumored to be historically small hands. Other issues aside, he certainly went a long way towards ending that discourse.

Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky

Zappe came into the day as an almost overlooked part of this star-studded QB group, and that’s despite coming off of the greatest statistical season in NCAA history. Despite looking a bit slow-footed, and weaker armed than the rest of the group, Zappe connected on several big throws in 1 on 1’s and looked like he belonged at the senior bowl. He did have a few errant throws and one ball that just died in the wind on a 10-yard crosser in 7 on 7’s. That throw brings back my concern with Zappe; does he have the arm talent to become a starter in the NFL? He still has a bit of work to do to answer that question definitively but I believe some eyes were opened yesterday.

They are who we thought they were

Sam Howell, North Carolina

Howell entered the day as my QB1. He is who I thought he was. He and Strong easily had the best 1 on 1’s with Howell throwing multiple passes that could be considered for throw of the week. 7 on 7’s and team drills weren’t as productive for any of the American Team QB’s as the defense absolutely smothered the wide receivers leading to check-downs and a few misses. Howell neither separated himself from the pack nor did he do anything to hurt his stock.

Malik Willis, Liberty

Willis is so interesting. I’ve heard from multiple scouts that he was the big winner of the day and that his stock was on the rise. I’ve also heard he was a major disappointment. To me, this isn’t surprising. If you entered the day enamored by the tools of Willis then were likely impressed by his arm, the ball just looks differently coming out of his hands than anyone else’s. But if you entered the day hoping to see improvement in Willis’ accuracy and timing, you almost certainly left disappointed. Through one day, he is exactly who he was on tape. A developmental prospect that will wow you with the traits, but is far away from starting in a conventional NFL offense.

Stock Down

Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati

Ridder was dealt a bit of an unfair hand. Coming in to throw in shorts next to two very accurate passers like Strong and Pickett was never going to play to Ridder’s strengths. With that said, Ridder did himself very few favors. Several passes were well off the mark, timing and ball placement were a mess, and to top it off he fumbled multiple snaps. It wasn’t all bad for Ridder, his ability to go through progressions is good, and he was sharp at the beginning of the team portion of practice…. until he wasn’t and as it is on tape, once Ridder starts missing, it only goes downhill.

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