The most impressive players at the 2023 Senior Bowl so far

Iowa State’s Will McDonald IV will let you know who he is up front.

You see the short dreads, tied up above his face today for the Senior Bowl media breakfast in the Mobile convention center.

You see his hoodie depicting his favorite anime character, Killua Zoldyck from Hunter X Hunter. He also has a tattoo of Killua on his arm, and plans to get one of the main character from the show, Gon Freecs.

Most importantly, McDonald will let you know about his journey from Milwaukee, WI to a small town Ames, Iowa, and his journey from skinny teenager to 2021 AP Third team All-American, and the first in his family to graduate. “Before football, I was planning on going to the Army for my family, so I could help them,” McDonald IV said at the media breakfast. “Football helped me start a new life, and football saved my life.”

McDonald sees every challenge as a new opportunity, whether that be coming to Mobile and testing himself among college football’s best upperclassmen, or doing martial arts (McDonald said it helped with his balance as a kid, and also played other sports such as soccer and basketball. If you’re wondering if he was good at any of those—the answer is yes). In challenge and strife, McDonald sees promise, and in promise he sees a chance. “[Playing football] allowed me to be able to challenge myself,” McDonald said. “With that came discipline, poise and getting comfortable in uncomfortable situations.”

McDonald says he’s willing to play anywhere and do anything, which he might have to do coming from the Iowa State 3-3-5 defense. In Mobile, McDonald has lined up both as an edge rusher and dropped into coverage. Just like Zoldyck in Hunter X Hunter, McDonald uses lightning quick moves to dart into the backfield, taking down QBs and, in coverage, breaking up underneath passes. His long arms and long strides closing the gap on opposing offenses like Goku’s Ultra Instinct, appearing before helpless ballcarriers in an instant.

No matter what comes McDonald’s way, be assured that he’ll go into the challenge looking for opportunity.

“I always want to get 1 percent better,” McDonald said. “I want to reach my fullest potential.”

Senior Bowl practice notes

National Team

  • Stanford WR Michael Wilson has had some really impressive moments all week. The 6’1, 216 pound receiver is very fluid and smooth in his movements, and has created separation really well all practice.Wilson wasn’t helped at all by a simply anaemic Stanford offense, but he’s shown that he’s got a lot of potential to help a WR room early and often. He’s definitely a guy I’ll go back and watch tape on.
  • North Dakota State OL Cody Mauch went from tight end as a freshman, to tackle as a senior, and is now being looked at as a center. Mauch took center reps for the first time in Mobile, and looked like he didn’t miss a beat. Mauch is an easy mover at 305 pounds, and despite being rather light and short-armed, he seems like a perfect fit at the pivot or at guard. Start buying Mauch stock now.
  • Ohio State RT Dawand Jones has left the Senior Bowl. Although the reason is unknown, Jones looked dominant on Day One, and really didn’t need any other day of work.
  • The National Team QBs definitely settled in today. Fresno State’s Jake Haener looked like he was going through progressions and was willing to create out of structure, something that’ll help in the eyes of NFL scouts. Jaren Hall from BYU had a rough Day One, but got acclimated and really started to flash the arm talent that he put on tape. He dropped a couple of throws in the bucket, both on corner routes in the back of the end zone, that got me out of my seat.
  • Stanford CB Kyu Blu Kelly was all over opposing DBs today. When the National team defense went into Cover 2 shells, and Kelly was able to play the flat, he was jumping every route in the book. He had two interceptions on the day, one of them jumping an inside curl route by Clemson TE Davis Allen, and another in 1 on 1’s with Stanford teammate Elijah Higgins. Kelly’s father played 11 years in the NFL, and that shows when you watch the son. He’s instinctive, plays low to the ground and is quick to trigger on the ball. He could sneak into the first round.
  • Washington State LB Daiyan Henley looks like the best LB among the National team. He made multiple plays in pass coverage today against running backs, shutting down the two way go they had and swatting away passes. He also was quick to fill and support in the run game. Henley is definitely on my radar now, a really solid player.
  • Michigan State WR Jayden Reed has got JUICE. He’s a slot only WR, but he’s got a different gear he can kick into when he’s running routes. He has the ability to stack defenders with speed and while his hands are inconsistent, he can threaten teams with his speed. For franchises looking to add juice to their receiver room on Day 3, Reed is a perfect fit.
  • A couple of guys who I’ve been hot and cold on this week: Boise State S JL Skinner and Cincinnati LB Ivan Pace Jr. Skinner is a physical specimen at 6’4 and 211 pounds, but he’s very high waisted and struggles to turn in man coverage. If you’re a team that needs a safety that can be a late rotating defender where he’s coming downhill or an overhang, that’s your guy. Pace measured in a lot smaller than I thought he would be (5’10, 231 pounds), but he absolutely crushes opposing RBs in pass rush drills. His hands are advanced and none of the RBs can match his technique. However, in pass coverage, he struggles to move laterally or backward, making him a blitz-primary backer at sub-6’0. Fun player, very fun, but odd team fit.
  • Maryland’s Jaelyn Duncan is 100% a left tackle. He looked fantastic on the left side all day, but on the right side, he wasn’t great. He quickly lost a rep to Army’s Andre Carter on the right side in team drills, but on the left he barely lost. He’s light at 298 pounds, but he’s a smooth pass protector. If a team can fill out that frame without losing any foot quickness, watch out.
  • Now that Texas RB Roschon Johnson is out with a broken hand, the best RB on the National team is Northwestern’s Evan Hull. Hull has shown the best blend of pass protection, pass catching and rushing ability, and showed off his burst and acceleration multiple times in team drills. The long speed is a question mark, but he can get from 0-60 very quickly.
  • A name to keep an eye on: Cal safety Daniel Scott. He had another good day of practice, undercutting an out-breaking route for an interception and made a couple of plays yesterday too. An experienced guy who played everywhere in the Golden Bear secondary, he could be a late round steal.

American Team

  • Iowa State EDGE Will McDonald IV has made himself some money this week. The edge rusher showed off his versatility on both days, and today flashed his prowess as a pass rusher. Against Tennessee RT Darnell Wright, McDonald beat Wright to the outside with speed, and then on the next rep, spun back to the inside for another quick win. McDonald also used the spin move to his advantage in team drills. He’s got great bend and has shown versatility, things scouts love. He’s had an amazing week.
  • Speaking of Wright, it was an up and down day. Outside of those losses to McDonald, Wright was beaten to the inside twice by Auburn EDGE Derick Hall for a sack and lost the edge to Auburn EDGE Eku Leota. He tends to overset himself, which doesn’t help, but when he uses his hands and stays balanced, he’s fantastic.
  • Alabama guard Emil Ekiyor Jr. got a lot of run at center today, and for the most part, he did really well. He was able to anchor against power during pass drills and moved better as a center than at guard. He might’ve found his new home.
  • Oklahoma’s Jalen Redmond has some real sweet pass rush chops. He didn’t necessarily win every time when using power, but he has a lethal cross chop move on the inside, and pairs that with a nice swim move he flashed a couple of times.
  • His teammate, OT Wanya Morris, struggled with power early on in inside run. He let Hall (who had another great day) knock him to the ground, had a couple of false starts and lost the edge to TCU DL Dylan Horton. He turned it around in team drills and pass protection, however. He had some nice battles against Derick Hall.
  • The most fun battle of the day was Florida OG O’Cyrus Torrence vs Alabama DTs DJ Dale and Byron Young. These are WARS in the trenches, with power and strength being all these guy’s top attributes. Torrence won plenty more times than he lost, but Young is a fascinating player. He could end up being a guy that plays a long time in the NFL, just as a really solid piece on the interior.
  • My new favorite Senior Bowl player: Sacramento State LB Marte Mapu. An NFLPA call up and former safety, Mapu was all over the field today. In inside run, he crushed a couple of RBs on zone plays where he disengaged from the block and filled the hole with violent intentions.

He also did very well in pass coverage, breaking up multiple passes and tipped a pass going over the middle in team drills. He got flattened by Minnesota C John Michael Schmitz on a screen play in team, but Mapu has made himself some money this week. I would love to see him on a team where he can play WILL LB and just fly around.

  • Syracuse OL Matthew Bergeron played guard all day today after playing tackle yesterday. He didn’t look out of place, in fact he opened up a hole for Tulane RB Tyjae Spears in team drills that was nice to see. Another player showing some versatility.
  • Tulane RB Tyjae Spears is another guy with unreal juice. He gets going downhill and he leaves people in the dust. He scored a would-be touchdown in team drills off a beautifully blocked power play by Alabama G Tyler Steen, and when Spears hit the hole he took off. A very fun player who could be a Round 3-Round 4 pick.
  • Oregon State TE Luke Musgrave had a nice catch in 2 minute drill, that was really cool. He’s among the top TE’s in the draft and hasn’t really stood out too much, but that catch was dope.

Vibe Check

  • There’s this place called Walk On’s, which makes Krispy Kreme doughnut bread pudding…mine eyes have seen the glory and the coming of the Lord.
  • Crawfish is a very sneaky filling food. I had crawfish yesterday and thought I’d mow through it, but no you hit that wall really quick.
  • The music selection was better today, but remixes of the song “Return of the Mack” need to be banned. Forever.

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