ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos' decision-makers may not have sifted through all their notes from the Senior Bowl yet, but it’s a good bet some of the players they worked with will feature prominently in the team's 2018 draft class.
"It helps, there is no question," Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway said of the Broncos' hands-on work with North team prospects. "To be able to get into meeting rooms with them, get to know them as people, have the coaches be around them and see how they are in the meeting rooms -- they learn a little bit about them as well as their football knowledge. It’s important."
Senior Bowl officials say 85 players from the 2017 Senior Bowl were selected in the 2017 draft. And in 11 of the past 12 drafts, at least 82 players from the game have been selected in each of those drafts.
Senior Bowl participants are especially prevalent on the second day of the draft, since so many underclassmen are selected in the opening round and are not eligible to play in the Senior Bowl unless they have earned their degrees. In last year’s draft, 26 players selected in the third round had been at the Senior Bowl. In the second through fourth rounds, 53 of the 113 players selected had been at the Senior Bowl.
"Once we get back, we'll go through the week and talk about everybody," Elway said. "Each position coach will go through their position and talk about each guy and what they liked and didn't like. That is why having the personal touch ... is a good advantage for us."
Certainly some of the North team's quarterbacks -- Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Washington State’s Luke Falk -- will dominate the conversation given the team’s need at the position. Mayfield, the Heisman Trophy winner with 48 games played for the Sooners, had the best week of any of the eight quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl.
Many personnel evaluators said Mayfield was the most comfortable running the offense, and he also showed the most consistency with the biggest variety of throws. Allen, however, did his best work of the week in Saturday’s game with two touchdowns.
Beyond the quarterbacks, some of the North’s other players will get plenty of discussion by the Broncos.
Start with Miami receiver Braxton Berrios, undersized at 5-foot-9 and 177 pounds, who showed explosiveness, quality hands and consistent route-running -- all despite a rib injury. There were quality moments from the receivers group overall, but Berrios’ performance was easily the best.
Michigan’s Mason Cole did top-tier work, and he could be one of the first two centers selected in April. Cole made 51 consecutive starts for the Wolverines and started at both center and left tackle at Michigan. While center is likely Cole’s natural position, Broncos coach Vance Joseph said he believes Cole could play tackle, guard or center.
Texas-El Paso guard William Hernandez, who played for newly hired Broncos offensive line coach Sean Kugler at the school, proved to be a powerful presence, but the Broncos will have to decide if he can move well enough to fit in their offense. Hernandez got everybody’s attention with some edgy play and his work in one-on-ones.
Army tackle Brett Toth will likely not be available to play immediately because of service commitments. But after watching Toth -- who majored in nuclear engineering -- work for a week in Alabama, he’ll be worth the wait. He has been coached well with clean footwork and plays with patience and toughness.
NC State defensive tackle Justin Jones showed the quickness/power combination the Broncos are hunting for. He rushed with quickness, and while he didn’t always free himself from double-teams, he consistently made things happen against single blockers.
Fort Hays State defensive lineman Nathan Shepherd was injured in Wednesday’s practice (hand fracture) and did not finish out the week, but he’s another player who demanded attention. A player with his size, quickness and footwork will only improve under an NFL strength program.
Florida cornerback Duke Dawson missed practice early in the week with strep throat, but he may have been the only defensive back who consistently ran with Berrios in drills. Dawson showed competitiveness in one-on-ones and played well in both man-to-man situations and off coverage.
"We’re going to have 100-plus [video] clips on the guys after three days of work," Joseph said. "The practices are way more important to us [than the game] because you’re actually asking them to do what you’re teaching them to do. That’s the evaluation. Can they take information, process it and do what he’s asked to do inside the scheme?"