Senior Bowl 2023: Tyjae Spears, Dawand Jones Shine, Other Day 1 Notes

Jan 31, 2023; Mobile, AL, USA; American running back Tyjae Spears of Tulane (22) practices during the first day of Senior Bowl week at Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 31, 2023; Mobile, AL, USA; American running back Tyjae Spears of Tulane (22) practices during the first day of Senior Bowl week at Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports /

Many names stood out on day one of practices at the 2023 Senior Bowl, including a potential first-round tackle and a loaded group of running backs.

The first day of Senior Bowl practices are in the book, and it was one of the best days for practice in a while at 75 degrees and sunny. The performances by some were as good as the weather, some of which came from the presumed top players down in Mobile.

Senior Bowl Standouts, Day One

It’s hard to overlook what Dawand Jones has already done in his short time in Mobile. After registering the longest wingspan in the history of the event (89.5 inches), Jones went right to dominating on the practice field. He erased defenders on the one-on-one run blocking drills, and snatched Isaiah Foskey in a 1v1 pass protection drill, which the draft community ate up.

Jones’ size and length, as mentioned above, have made him tough to get around in the pass rush matchups. He’s got what feels like unlimited power in his hands and core, and can drop anchor to neutralize rushes no matter where he’s at. His improved footwork during the 2022 season, combined with this performance so far, should have him knocking on the door of the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.

Tulane running back Tyjae Spears also grabbed headlines on day one. Running back isn’t an easy position to generate a ton of chatter, mostly because there isn’t much contact. But, Spears looks super explosive when he runs, and his quick cognitive abilities, combined with the quicks in a short area, make for a tough player to bring down. He looked strong catching the football and the lateral displacement he can generate is scintillating.

Other Standouts

Despite losing that rep above to Jones, Isaiah Foskey stood out on day one. His measurements came in well and he put on a show. His ability to convert speed to power stunned Michigan tackle Ryan Hayes, sending him to the ground. Foskey also utilized his length well in run defense drills and full team drills, something that was very apparent on tape at Notre Dame.

Keeanu Benton was as surgical as he could be rushing on Tuesday, utilizing a brilliant club move to get around Asim Richards in 1v1s. His explosion, well-timed and violent hands, and pass rushing chops could have him soaring up boards. Louisville defensive lineman Yaya Diaby was also disruptive rushing the passer, living in the backfield all afternoon long.

Spears wasn’t the only running back who stood out Tuesday. Eric Gray from Oklahoma looked impressive with his quick twitch, lateral cuts, and creativity as a runner in full team drills as well.

Luke Musgrave looks the part at tight end, with impressive movement skills and a large catch radius. Alabama tight end Cameron Latu looked smooth as a route runner. Brayden Willis looked good too.

Both placekicker Chad Ryland (Maryland) and punter Bryce Baringer (Michigan State) looked good as well for the National Team.

On the American Team side, both O’Cyrus Torrence and John Michael Schmitz were as advertised. Seeing Schmitz drop anchor against big defensive tackles was impressive, and it was extremely hard for defenders to move Torrence.

Will McDonald IV showed off the explosion and ability to counter with his twitch and change of direction skills, beating Darnell Wright with a wicked inside move and impressive hand timing. He also won around the edge in the team period.

Kansas State corner Julius Brents looked the part as a tall, long press corner. He moved so fluidly for his size, and disrupted receivers in the 1v1s, getting hands on with a quick jam and squeezing them to the sideline on deep routes to thin the throwing windows.

Pitt linebacker SirVocea Dennis came up with an interception today, and Sacramento State safety Marte Mapu made a nice play in 1v1s as well. LSU safety Jay Ward has all the quicks and technique to thrive in the slot. Christopher Smith looked good running the show with route recognition in seven-on-seven.

The WR Position

Receiver is such a fun position to scout at the Senior Bowl. The 1v1s aren’t easy to evaluate, because they have so much of the field to utilize in order to win. Who stood out?

Dontayvion Wicks might have had the rep of the day in 1v1s. His hesitation moved shook corner Darius Rush out of his shoes, and he was wide open for a score. Wicks’ dynamic skill set as a route runner is what intrigues teams and analysts the most. He’s a big play threat but needs to cut down on his drops.

Andrei Iosivas showed off the speed and ability to gear down through his breaks. It’s clear that this level of competition isn’t phasing him too much. He’s a tough assignment in man coverage, and his week should only get better.

Stanford’s Michael Wilson was the clear top guy on the National team on day one. He’s as smooth and crisp of a route runner as anyone down here at the Senior Bowl. Everything looks easy to him, especially his route break transitions.

Houston’s Nathaniel “Tank” Dell has incredible stop/start acceleration, and that helped a ton on the vertical plane in 1v1s. He created plenty of separation and hand great spatial awareness and creativity in space in team drills.

Mississippi’s Jonathan Mingo is an impressive receiver at 6’1″ and 220 pounds. He is strong through contact and made a few tough plays over the middle of the field and in 1v1s.

Tune in every day at NFL Mocks for notes on the Senior Bowl, along with final film notes and game notes at the end of the week.