Located on the Mobile River, at the head of Mobile Bay, is Alabama’s only saltwater port the city of Mobile. Heralded as one of the key cultural centers of the southern states, Mobile is the yearly host of the Senior Bowl. One week after the official kickoff to draft season the East-West Shrine Game, the Senior Bowl is coached by two NFL coaching staffs and is widely covered.
Jon Gruden has the opportunity this season to coach the North squad of the Senior Bowl and this gives him and general manager Mike Mayock incredible access to many draft prospects. Being able to watch the players in drills, practice, and the game allows coaches to see what makes these players tick.
When Mike Mayock was introduced as the new general manager, he spoke excitedly about how he believed Jon Gruden was building a roster of old school Raiders. All fans remember the great Al Davis’ obsession with size and speed, but there is something to say about the value of elite traits you cannot teach. It is likely Mike Mayock will not necessarily be obsessed with size and speed. He may however be attracted to players with elite traits that set them apart. Here we examine six Senior Bowl Participants who show elite traits that you should keep an eye on.
Deebo Samuel, WR South Carolina
After an up and down career at South Carolina, Deebo Samuel comes into the Senior Bowl slightly under the radar in a very exciting receiver class. His sophomore season really showed the fans of college football that he was a talent to be reckoned with. After only playing three games as a junior he returned as a senior and caught 62 passes for 882 yards and 11 touchdowns.
An extremely important trait that is routinely under appreciated for wide receivers is hand size. Generally speaking players with larger hands tend to have less drops and they tend to have less fumbles after the catch. This also applies to running backs and quarterbacks. Quarterbacks with smaller hands tend to have more fumbles when they are sacked.
When you watch Samuel you can see this principle come into play. On a regular basis he plucks the ball out of the air and secures the ball on a regular basis. Because he can make such beautiful acrobatic catches he does have a rare mental lapse on a more simplistic catch. Combine this with his ability to sell routes with the best of them and you have the makings of a solid slot receiver who can win on short routes and do damage after the catch. His skill set is an ideal fit for the Raiders.
Samuel’s hand size is 10 ⅛ inches which is very outside the norm for a 5’11 receiver. His 216 pound frame makes him a stout aggressive player with a low center of gravity who can take punishment as he completes a catch.
Gardner Minshew II, QB WSU
Another player who showed exceptional hand size is the Washington State quarterback. Starting his college career at East Carolina, Minshew transferred to Washington State after his sophomore season. As a senior in 13 games he completed 70.7% of his passes for 4776 yards and a 38:9 touchdown to interception rate. Air raid quarterbacks do tend to produce pretty outrageous statistics, but he led to the Cougars to a 11-2 season surpassing expectations.
Minshew can definitely have some accuracy issues. It can be maddening when he misses a short throw to the sideline or something relatively simply, but many times he follows one of those misses with a beautiful dime over the middle between two defenders. He absolutely excels on vertical throws especially up the seams or even outside the hashes as long as the route is a go or fade. He will tend to stay on a guy longer than most quarterbacks, and he does not always get through his progressions. What he lacks there he makes up for in his ability to extend the play. Minshew is a hard nosed runner that has a true feel on how to scramble and is not phased by the pressure at all.
That final trait is the one that is really made most effective with his 10 ¼ inch hands. Because his hands are so large, he can take hits and not fumble, protect the ball when he scrambles, and fight through wide edge rushers looking to strip it out. There is a very good chance that Minshew will be viewed as a guy who can be a backup to Carr and if Carr does not pan out, maybe a viable starter. If he impresses this week and in the game, expect the hype to start building.
Donald Parham, TE Stetson
Similar to hand size with receivers, arm length with tight ends is a trait that is generally overlooked. However when you have a tight end that can give the quarterback a huge target he is worth his weight in gold. At Stetson, Parham’s physical build made him a huge matchup issues for almost every team. His Senior season saw him catch 85 balls for 1319 yards and 15 touchdowns.
In line blocking will never be a strong suit for Parham, but his value will come as an oversized slot receiver or H-back type player. Standing 6’8 with 36 ⅛ inch arms, and 10 ½ inch hands, he is an utterly massive target. He will likely get compared to fellow small school product and current Bear tight end Adam Shaheen. Like Shaheen, he is not the most willing blocker or physical player, but his natural tools as a pass catcher are off the charts. Do not be surprised if the Raiders draft two tight ends in this draft and Parham is one of them.
Oli Udoh, OT Elon
In 2014 Gabe Jackson showed up to the Senior Bowl and was extremely impressive. He ended up falling until round three where the Raiders selected the future pro bowler. The 2018 season had many struggles and the most notable were along the offensive line. Many fans look at left guard Kelechi Osemele and believe he is not worth the money. With the cap space the Raiders have there is no financial reason to cut Osemele. However, if one player was a cross between Osemele and Gabe Jackson it would be Oli Udoh.
Primarily playing tackle at Elon, Udoh is a massive human. He came into the Senior Bowl at nearly 6’6 weighing 327 pounds. His arms are 36 inches and he has an 85 inch wingspan. For reference, Kolton Miller at 6’9 only had 34 inch arms and not nearly the same wingspan. Udoh has the length and size of an offensive tackle, but he may not have the feet of one in the NFL. To complete the comparison with Osemele, at the combine Osemele measured 6’6 with 35 ⅞ inch arms, and weighed 333 pounds.
Being a small school prospect means not having much film in the public sphere. Udoh finished the 2018 season as a 2nd team all FCS All-American and can be a true life wrecker along the offensive line. If nothing else, drafting him in the later rounds could provide the Raiders a developmental guard and possible right tackle that can push the starters at three positions.
Montez Sweat, DE Mississippi State
The previously mentioned players all have one trait that truly sticks out as elite. Montez Sweat and the next player, both have elite combinations of traits. This draft is loaded with defensive ends that fit the mold for a Paul Guenther edge player. Climbing the ladder of interesting prospects is Sweat. He spent his freshman and sophomore years at Michegan State and then he transferred to Mississippi State. Rather than only play one year, Sweat played both of his remaining seasons racking up 30 tackles for loss and 22.5 sacks.
Not only does Sweat have elite stats and comes into the draft as a very mature player with starting success, but he also has some incredible God given gifts. Standing 6’6, weighing in at 252 pounds, with 35 ⅝ inch arms, and an 84 ½ inch wingspan, Montez Sweat is the physical prototype for a Guenther strong side defender. At his height and weight ratio some people may think that Sweat would not be strong at the point of attack, but he is a dog in the trenches. Sweat may not be the strongest individual, but he understands how to leverage his length and disengage from a blocker.
Due to his length Sweat has issues moving laterally. Luckily for the Raiders they have no need for an edge defender to move laterally frequently. What the Raiders do need is a stout run defender who can tackle and also produce a pass rush. Sweat has developed solid technique with bullrushes, and has developed a couple of counter moves. He also is very good running stunts which can help the Raiders be more disruptive along the defensive front. This player is worthy of a round one pick and the Raiders should absolutely be considering him with any of their draft picks coming after pick 10 in the draft.
Charles Omenihu, DE UT
Wrapping up the watch list is another prospect with a very exceptional combination of traits. Unlike Sweat, Omenihu may end up being more of a two gapping defensive end in a 3-4 defense, but he certainly has potential to be a stout run defending strong side defensive end in a 4-3.
One of the first things to love about Charles Omenihu is his experience. He played in 48 games for the Texas Longhorns and his best statistical season for sacks was 2018 finishing with 18 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. This amount of experience and his general versatility will make him an attractive option for almost any defense.
Similar to Sweat, Omenihu was nearly six and half feet tall, weighed in at 274 pounds, 36 ½ inch arms, and an 84 ¾ inch wingspan. These numbers are very similar to Sweat. The difference between the two is Omenihu does not have the same kind of explosiveness especially to get around on the edge. It would be fair to describe him as a straight line player who makes his impact on a direct path to the ball although his flexibility will surprise you.
With the severe lack of sacks for the Raiders last season, they should be drafting two edge players in 2019. If the two edge guys were Sweat and Omenihu they would have two very good prospects who have traits that can play off of each other and work to keep both guys fresh at the strong side edge position. Omenihu is likely looking at a round two or three selection and can have an immediate impact. If when it was all said and done the Raiders drafted all six of these players, they would have added some exceptional upside.