This is my first Senior Bowl week where I have not been in Mobile since 2008, and it’s a decidedly different experience not being in attendance. Aside from missing the friends, the food, the nightlife, the hotel lobby and coffee shop fraternization with NFL scouts and coaches, I’m also missing the practice sessions.
The experience of being there is quite divergent from the coverage I’m getting from Ladd-Peebles Stadium from the NFL Network and national radio programs. Following along with the broadcast feed, I’m much more at the mercy of the narratives the networks want to sell. And unfortunately, I’m not real interested in buying their predetermined stock choices.
One of the big reasons is the gulf between the mythos they are promoting and what is actually happening on the practice field below them. I’ve been in the press box for practices there, and I’ve been on the sidelines. My usual spot is just below the camera lift in the north end zone, where the offensive and defensive lines typically wage war. My 10 years of attending every practice session have taught me the difference in perspectives, and the people I trust watching down on field level is very different than the perspective the NFL Network is selling the masses outside Mobile.
Take Marcus Davenport, the athletically freaky defensive end from Texas-San Antonio. He’s been a focal point for Mike Mayock in the NFL Network press box, which sits well above the field and is situated such that they don’t actually watch the action but rather view it on monitors. To hear Mayock and some other major media pundits, notably ESPN’s Todd McShay on the Golic and Wingo morning program, speak on Davenport, you’d think he’s the next Jadeveon Clowney. Both have made that comparison, Mayock repeatedly so.
Yet when I read the real-time social media accounts from draft media who I trust and respect, guys I’ve sat with and stood with and shivered with when 10 others were in the stadium for the final afternoon practice on the last day, it’s a very different story. Everyone recognizes Davenport’s considerable physical potential, which does indeed resemble the Texans standout edge defender and No. 1 pick of the 2014 NFL Draft.
The discrepancy comes in the practice action. The guys actually watching within earshot of the coaches, friends of mine who include Kyle Crabbs and Joe Marino of NDT Scouting, Eric Galko of Optimum Scouting, Pete Smith, Trevor Sikkema of Pewter Report, Emory Hunt (Mr. Football Gameplan), Chris Burke from The Athletic, CBS’s Chris Trapasso and many others, are near unanimous in declaring Davenport a paper tiger. He certainly looks the part, but his actual football skills are primitive. That’s not to say he cannot develop into something special, but his inability to use his hands, countermoves, or work in conjunction with the rest of the defense in team drills is all indicative of a major project who is not ready for more than spot duty as a rookie. That, ladies and gentlemen, is not Jadeveon Clowney 2.0. Even Davenport himself admitted he wasn’t performing very well and losing too many 1-on-1 reps, but you’d never know that from the major network coverage.
It’s a similar story with the quarterbacks. I understand why the big media focuses on Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen. They’re sexy names at the sexiest of positions. If Davenport is the teaser pictorial at the front of Playboy, Mayfield and Allen are the dual centerfolds with finely airbrushed pieces and parts, bathed in perfect lighting and adorned by lightweight commentary about turn-ons and vague dreams.
There is a divergence here too, notably with Allen. He’s an incredibly polarizing prospect. The Wyoming QB is straight out of central casting physically at 6-5 and 237 pounds, with an arm capable of throwing a football 66 MPH and the testicular fortitude worthy of Brett Favre or vintage John Elway. In hearing interviews with him, it’s impossible not to like his humbly confident and affable personality. He’s exactly what NFL teams want from their franchise quarterbacks, with one notable but critically important exception.
He cannot throw the ball with any modicum of accuracy.
This was very evident during his 26 starts with Wyoming, where he didn’t exactly face the 85 Bears defense in the Mountain West conference. There are but two Mountain West defensive players in Mobile (San Diego State CB Kameron Kelly and Hawaii safety Treyvon Henderson, both likely 7th round picks) and there weren’t any in St. Pete for the Shrine Game last week. Bemoan his lack of weaponry and supporting cast, but nobody is trumpeting Fresno State or New Mexico’s defenses either.
His accuracy got some legit lip service from the major media, but almost invariably framed with qualifiers.
“He didn’t have great receivers.”
“He tried to do too much.”
“You can’t teach what he has.”
“He makes a lot of plays too.”
To be perfectly fair to Allen, he looked great on Thursday. This was the audition tape he’d send to American Idol, perfectly remixed and autotuned. He was crisp, he was decisive and his egregious lack of touch on passes under 20 yards softened. If you could give me this Josh Allen every day, I’d have no problem drafting him with a top 50 pick. He had that same kind of aura of greatness in the first half of their bowl win over Central Michigan, a team I saw in person this year and know can play some pretty solid defense.
Even my fellow Allen skeptics on the ground in Mobile lauded his day. That’s legit. And the major media seized upon it to continue to thrust the narrative that Allen should—and perhaps will—be the No. 1 overall pick in April.
Alas, that ignores the rest of his week. Wednesday was particularly telling. In watching Mayock practically drool on camera whenever Allen came up, or hearing McShay validate his ESPN frenemy Mel Kiper’s take of the Browns selecting Allen No. 1, it completely ignored what the cameras were showing on the field. It was laughable when compared to the reaction of folks watching up close, able to hear the receivers and the coaches and Allen’s repeated admission of “my bad” when he flung passes twenty yards off target against no pass rush. Allen launched a simple RB swing pass that landed beyond the protective fencing that sits some 15 yards behind the sidelines of Ladd-Peebles. That’s legitimately hard to do, being that wildly inaccurate.
You never heard about that If you were watching at home and didn’t know who to follow on social media. And that’s a major problem.
Again, my perspective of having been there for ten years is very different than the average fan catching up on the DVR after dinner and a 8-to-5 day at work. I know better. I want you to know better, too. Be careful in biting those easily packaged apples. They might be tasty and have some nutritive substance, but they’re not a complete meal and you’ve got to watch out for the worms.