There’s a phenomenon among some NFL scouts, characterized by the development of fond feelings toward a prospect. They predict good things for that player based not only on performance, but on their interactions with that prospect. Mostly this warmth is reserved for prospects who don’t initially get a ton of attention in early draft reports.
It’s called a “draft crush,” and NFL coaches get them too.
That is a good thing, if you’re East Carolina’s Zay Jones.
His crisp route-running and nice hands on both inside and outside routes have really impressed the scouts and analysts at the Senior Bowl this week. In fact, he was intentionally matched up against Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis, one of the top cornerbacks in the country, in Wednesday’s practice to really push his abilities.
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“He’s good,” Jones said with a nod of emphasis. “Very quick. Great feet, great recovery speed. It’s an honor to go up against someone like that.”
Winning matchups against Lewis can only improve Jones’ stock as the NFL Combine and the draft approach – before the Senior Bowl, he was predicted by many to be a mid-to-late round prospect.
But what makes Jones more of a “draft crush” is his personality and intelligence. His ability to scout Lewis and to self-scout, for example, was highly impressive for someone asked to process so much information in just three days of practice. But he was a five-position receiver at East Carolina, so information analysis is not new to him.
Jones remembers the name of each reporter who speaks with him, and addresses that reporter by name in conversation as proof he is actively listening and engaged – something that will go a long way in interviews with coaches and NFL team personnel. He is quick to speak of his willingness to fit in literally anywhere a coach might want him – in the slot, on the outside or on special teams.
He is humble despite his talent, and even though Jones in 2016 became the all-time NCAA receptions leader (399), he speaks in amazement of other receivers around him, such as roommate Trent Taylor of Louisiana Tech and big-name wideout Amara Darboh of Michigan.
“I’m fans of them,” he said. “I mean, I’m a fan of the game of football, so to actually see these guys out here in person is kind of cool. I’m not starstruck or anything, but it’s just like, ‘Wow, these are some of the elite guys across the nation.’ So to be a part of it is just a blessing.”
Three things we learned
▪ LSU cornerback Tre’Davious White, a top Senior Bowl prospect, will miss the game after injuring his ankle in practice on Wednesday. He did not practice on Thursday.
▪ Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs was announced as the starting quarterback for the South team on Thursday. All signs point to Pitt product Nate Peterman starting for the North.
▪ Based on the tweets and mutterings of many scouts and analysts at Thursday’s practice (and in the days before), Temple linebacker Haason Reddick wowed and improved his draft stock by a large amount, especially when involved in pass-rush drills. Rotoworld and NBC Sports analyst Josh Norris said earlier this week that Reddick acquired his now-signature bend by practicing yoga.
By the numbers
2 Number of would-be Senior Bowl participants who are recovering from injuries who came anyway for networking opportunities and interviews with teams. According to Senior Bowl representative Patrick Woo, Florida safety Marcus Maye and Alabama safety Eddie Jackson were to be in Mobile on Thursday night.
80 Explosive movements at the Senior Bowl by North Carolina wide receiver Ryan Switzer heading into Thursday’s practice, according to numbers recorded for the Senior Bowl by Catapult Sports and Roster Watch. That was almost double the next-highest number, 44 for Grambling receiver Chad Williams.
▪ The Starbucks a half-mile from the stadium seems to be quite popular with the Chicago Bears staff, who, head coach John Fox included, held a brief meeting there after the North Team wrapped up practice on Thursday.
▪ As the Senior Bowl practices wrapped up, the players scouts and coaches seemed to talk about the most were Jones, receiver Cooper Kupp, defensive end Deshaun Hall and tight end O.J. Howard.
They said it
▪ “This may sound stupid, but we want our first marketing deal do be for Lunchables. My favorite Lunchable is pizza. I like the crackers, but I’m definitely a pizza guy. I’m dead-ass serious.” – Clemson linebacker Ben Bouleware, in a “diary” entry with Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated.
▪ “In the past I’ve gotten killed for not drafting tackles. I’ll tell you right now, if you overdraft a guy, you’re going to be upset. The coaches are going to be upset. The team is going to be upset. Everybody’s going to be mad at the guy, and it’s not his fault. ... No, he was a sixth round pick, and you took him the fourth round. That’s not his fault.” – Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman