If Lions draft QB on Day 3, Senior Bowl prospects lack star quality

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News

Mobile, Ala. — Opportunity has been ripe for the taking, but if somebody doesn’t grab the spotlight in Saturday’s game, the quarterbacks at this week’s Senior Bowl will have let the moment spoil.

Without a top dog in attendance in Mobile, Ala. — projected top-10 pick Will Levis (Kentucky) withdrew from the event — the door was open for any one of the game’s seven quarterbacks to become a draft darling heading into the combine, but none of them were able to do so. 

The early run of practices suggests Detroit’s options may be thin, if they’re hoping to find a backup/developmental quarterback on Day 3.

Lions general manager Brad Holmes was adamant in his season-ending press conference that he doesn’t feel the need to upgrade the quarterback position with high-end draft capital, which would have, in theory, made the week-long event a perfect place for them to start finding their developmental signal-caller of the future — but in practice, there can’t be many teams who are encouraged by the options in front of them.

“It wasn’t perfect. A lot of mistakes, a lot of things that I can clean up, and today that’s my focus,” BYU quarterback Jaren Hall said of his first day. Hours later, Hall would be showing the same deficiencies — slow processing, poor timing — that plagued him the day before, and he's not alone.

National quarterback Jaren Hall of BYU throws a pass during practice for the Senior Bowl NCAA college football game Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023, in Mobile, Ala..

Max Duggan, for all the adoration he garnered from TCU’s run to the College Football Playoff, has fallen flat out of the gate when it comes to his evaluation as an NFL prospect. Any sort of mildly impressive run of form for him would have immediately whipped up a frenzy a la Malik Willis some one year ago, but he struggled to stand out amongst fellow American team quarterbacks, including Tyson Bagent from Division-2 Shepherd.

Malik Cunningham (Louisville) missed the first day of practice with a non-Covid illness and never found his groove. Clayton Tune (Houston) was probably the most consistent quarterback of a rough day one, but regressed through the remainder of his stay. 

Injured Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker (knee) probably had the best weekend of anybody, and he never threw a pass. 

The quarterbacks underwhelmed so greatly that there was ample chatter in Mobile centered on whether the camp’s receivers can even be properly evaluated. At times, full drill sessions came and went with just one or two passes being caught in-bounds.

More:Senior Bowl presents Lions with multiple options at offensive line

The Senior Bowl’s executive director, Jim Nagy, warned against making judgements on them early on — it’s objectively difficult to come in and manufacture chemistry with receivers you’ve never thrown to — but as day three comes to a close, it’s more than fair to wonder if there’s a single quarterback with an NFL future. 

Even if it’s typical that most of the quarterbacks in this game are unpolished, the standard for 'wowing' onlookers has been mere competence. It's common for players with accuracy or pocket-presence issues to still manage to impress with their arm talent, but there has been almost none of that, even.

To further illustrate: During the first session of practices Thursday, Purdue tight end Payne Durham caught a touchdown pass from Jake Haener (Fresno State) in an 11-on-11 red-zone drill after several failed attempts, and the offense’s entire roster straight-up exploded. Some players ripped off their helmets and most mobbed the end zone like it was the final drill of the practice, or helped them avoid some sort of physical conditioning punishment. 

But no, it was just a run-of-the-mill red-zone drill.

After the celebration subsided, players went back to the huddle and ran another play. And honestly: The play probably should have been blown dead for a sack.

Bombs away

One of the more interesting prospects in Mobile — and the draft as a whole — is Andre Carter II, an EDGE from Army whose NFL eligibility has been a hot-button issue over the last month.

He initially was ruled ineligible because of his obligations to the academy but had his fate reversed when a provision in the Omnibus Appropriations Measure was passed in late December, giving him the ability to defer his military service to pursue a career in professional sports.

Carter (6-foot-6, 252 pounds), expected to be a late first-, early second-round pick, detailed what he would have been doing this summer had the rule not been reversed.

“I was a business management major, and the branch I got was field artillery,” Carter said. “The summer training, you do all that stuff. Your training will be an infantryman. It’s pretty much all based around infantry, but you can do infantry, field artillery, and everything that goes with that, you’ll be doing at academy in the summertime.”

Instead, he’ll be taking part in his first NFL training camp. While everyone at the Senior Bowl is fixed (in part) on showing things they didn’t do in college, Carter’s NFL career has implied upside because of the restrictions that he was placed under while with the service academy. 

He was often sent out to the field for up to three weeks at a time and lived on Meals Ready-to-Eat (MRE) — a standard order of business for most member of the armed forces, but for an NFL prospect, it significantly limited his ability to continue putting on weight through the end of his college career.

“I definitely do think I need to get stronger,” Carter said. “I think being, now that I’m able to be on a consistent weight room regiment, I think that will help. You just got to stick to the plan and keep eating as much as I can, and get stronger each and every day. ... They don't cap you at a certain weight.

"It's hard to maintain it sometimes in the summer when you're sleeping outside in the field for weeks at a time. But I eventually see myself getting up to 270, 275. Putting it on slowly, five pounds a year and doing it the right way."

As to how it feels to fire a rocket...

"It's awesome. It's a great deal of responsibility, but it's fun to get out there and put some rounds down-range," he said.

No, not that Byron Young

There are two defensive linemen named Byron Young at the Senior Bowl, one an EDGE from Tennessee and the other an interior lineman from Alabama.

If the Lions draft either, the Alabama Byron Young fits their position of need a bit more.

When Young (6-foot-3, 297 pounds) is at his best, he's "really just holding the point and taking up two gaps. Even not being the biggest person, really being able to play bigger than I am."

Young was named First-Team All-SEC by the Associated Press in 2022, making 13 starts and racking up 48 tackles, 5.5 tackles-for-loss and four sacks. His style of play is an unselfish one, he said.

"(I'm) maybe not making all the tackles, maybe not making all the plays, but (I'm)...in the right spot and helping my teammates make plays," he said.


Twitter: @nolanbianchi