It’s generally accepted that at the Senior Bowl, the week of practice before the game is more important to the players involved than the game itself.
While that might be true in most cases, there’s still plenty of value in showing an ability to perform well in actual competition.
It’s an ability that helped salvage the Senior Bowl experience for quarterbacks Daniel Jones of Duke and Ryan Finley of NC State.
The highly rated passers drew mixed reviews for their pregame workouts leading up to the annual showcase of draft-eligible college players in Mobile, Ala. But they ended up leaving positive impressions on the NFL talent evaluators on hand by posting strong performances in leading the North team to a 34-24 victory Saturday.
Jones showed why he’s considered a potential first round pick by completing 8 of 11 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown. Entering the game at the start of the third quarter with his team trailing 12-3, the junior graduate drove his team to scores on all three of his drives — scoring once on a 1-yard run before hitting UMass receiver Andy Isabella with a 19-yard touchdown pass.
“He showed a lot of mental toughness,” North coach Jon Gruden told The Associated Press after the game. “He had some tough moments. He threw two interceptions in 7-on-7 in practice, which is uncommon. But he came back the next day and the next day and the next day and showed the right stuff.”
Finley also redeemed himself by relieving Jones in the fourth quarter and leading two scoring drives of his own.
The former Wolfpack star — who was described earlier in the week by Joe Marino of The Draft Network as being “primed for a long career as a backup” — completed 7 of 11 passes for 83 yards while rushing for 11 yards on his only carry.
“(He) is a guy that just grows on you. He doesn’t make mistakes,” Gruden said. “Not a lot of people know about him nationally, but he threw for almost 12,000 yards and a lot of touchdowns in Raleigh.”
Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com called Finley the most consistent and effective of the eight quarterbacks in the game, praising his accuracy, poise and decision-making.
“He doesn’t have a huge arm, but teams that have met with him here in Mobile have really liked him,” Jeremiah opined. “Given how precise he was and how quickly he was working through progressions, I thought Finley had the cleanest game of the Senior Bowl passers.”
While the quarterbacks garnered the most attention among the seven representatives of state schools at the Senior Bowl, the player that helped himself most was Finley’s teammate Garrett Bradbury.
The former Wolfpack center was named the week’s best offensive lineman and a team captain for the North while drawing rave reviews for his athleticism and technique.
“Bradbury consistently dominated in practice sessions,” wrote Jeff Risdon of RealGM.com, predicting that Bradbury will be the first offensive lineman taken in the draft this spring. “That’s not easy to do in drills that are set up to favor the defense. He’s one of the most athletic interior guys I’ve seen in Mobile since (All-Pro) Alex Mack, who turned out pretty darn well.”
Another NC State player making a positive impression was wide receiver Jakobi Meyers.
Although he caught just one pass for 15 yards in the game, while also returning a punt for seven yards, his work during practice opened some eyes and likely improved his draft stock by showing an ability to play both outside and in the slot.
“Meyers is making himself some money this week showing off his route variety,” wrote Eric Galko of OptimumScouting.com. “Meyers may lack an elite trait but does everything well from run blocking to catching.”
Galko wasn’t as high on a fourth Wolfpack player in Mobile, linebacker Germaine Pratt, who was credited with one tackle in Saturday’s game.
“Pratt looks like a middle linebacker but continues to show stiff hips, especially in underneath coverage, that limits his appeal,” Galko wrote. “He showed good burst and filled the gap well, but looked a step behind in coverage.”
Charlotte offensive guard Nate Davis, meanwhile, had “a terrific week” in the assessment of Marino from The Draft Network, who described Davis as “the perfect mid-round developmental prospect with eventual starting upside.”
Appalachian State running back Jalin Moore was selected to play in the Senior Bowl but wasn’t given medical clearance to practice or play while continuing his recovery from a season-ending ankle injury suffered on Oct. 9.