2023 Senior Bowl: Practice Report

2023 Senior Bowl: Thursday’s National Team Practice Report

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

  • The National team held their third practice of the week and did more scrimmaging than in the previous sessions. Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham made some nice plays in the red-zone scrimmages, utilizing his mobility to buy time and then lofting in some passes to open receivers as plays broke down. Cunningham won’t be an early-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, but he offers some Tyler Huntley-esque backup potential to his NFL team.

  • Multiple team sources noted USC cornerback Mekhi Blackmon has put together an excellent week of practice and really helped himself. He has shown speed and loose hips to run the route to prevent separation. On Thursday, Blackmon left practice early and was in the injury tent before coming out with something that looked minor. While he may not play in the Senior Bowl game, but he definitely made himself some money this week. Blackmon (5-10, 182) is not a big corner, but he can really cover and looks like a starting slot cornerback. After his strong week in Mobile, Blackmon could be a second-day pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

  • Cincinnati tight end Josh Whyle had a good week of practice, per team sources, and that continued with a solid showing on Thursday. Whyle runs smooth routes for a 6-foot-6, 260-pound tight end while using his big size to wall off defensive backs for the ball. He had an impressive session in the one-on-ones. Quality defensive backs and linebackers can run with Whyle, who is not a game-breaking speed tight end, but he uses his size well to make contested catches. Given the 2023 NFL Draft’s loaded tight end class, Whyle could be a nice value pick in the mid-rounds.

  • One of the stars of the Thursday practice was Purdue tight end Payne Durham. He caught multiple touchdown passes and was phenomenal in the red zone. In the team scrimmage, Payne reeled in a leaping touchdown grab in a crowd of defenders, using his size and leaping ability to high point the ball. He also set up a touchdown with a diving grab on a post route that went for about 18 yards to approach the goal line. Payne (6-6, 258) displayed nice size and quickness as a receiver on Thursday. He looked like an intriguing backup tight end candidate to finish his Senior Bowl practices.

  • There were some really good battles between some future early-round picks with Maryland left tackle Jaelyn Duncan and Notre Dame defensive end Isaiah Foskey. In the one-on-ones, they started out with a draw, where Foskey got held up after achieving some pressure in the pocket. On the rematch, Duncan won the rep, anchoring against a bull rush. However in the team scrimmage, Foskey shed Duncan’s block and used straight-line speed to close on the quarterback for what would have been a sack.

    The 2023 Senior Bowl has illustrated that Duncan possesses a nice skill set, but he is raw and needs development. Playing right away at the next level could be a problem for Duncan. Foskey has functional strength and straight-line speed, but he has worrisome stiffness that hurts his ability to redirect to the quarterback. As a result, the true value of these players might be more like that of late first-round or second-round picks, but they play premium positions so they have the potential to go higher during the 2023 NFL Draft.

  • Illinois safety Sydney Brown has had a solid week of practice, and team sources say they have been impressed with him. Brown is tough as nails and plays like a furious dog. While he is not a natural center fielder, he showed some nice zone-coverage skills in the intermediate part of the field in the seven-on-seven scrimmage. Brown broke on the ball well, but also dropped a would-be interception. As a senior, Brown had an excellent season of production, so he could be a riser in the months to come.

  • Unfortunately, injuries have really impacted the National team roster, so some intriguing players were out on Thursday. Texas running back Roschon Johnson broke his hand on Tuesday, and Ohio State right tackle Dawand Jones and Illinois defensive back Quan Martin were out with injuries as well. Jones and Martin could be second-day picks in 2023 NFL Draft, and Johnson could have been with a strong postseason. The broken hand could keep Johnson out of the combine in a few weeks, so the injury is a tough blow to Johnson’s hopes of moving up for the 2023 NFL Draft.

  • Follow @walterfootball for updates.

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