2023 Senior Bowl Practice Winners: Tyjae Spears and Nathaniel ‘Tank’ Dell Stand Out Most at Their Positions

    Who were the positional winners at the 2023 Senior Bowl practices, and who helped improved their NFL draft stocks the most?

    Three days of two-a-day practices, which were each two hours in length, are complete in Mobile. All that’s left is to play the game. As the saying goes — the practices are more important than the game — and that saying is 100% correct. So with this in mind, let’s take a position-by-position look at the big winners from Senior Bowl practice and the players who improved their NFL draft stock the most.

    2023 Senior Bowl Practice Winners


    In a nutshell — none of them. As a veteran of Senior Bowl attendance — I’ve been going to the practices since 2000 — this was one of the worst classes of quarterbacks assembled for the event.

    Tyjae Spears, Tulane | Running Back

    Tyjae Spears was as good as advertised and, in some respects, even better. From the first day of practice, scouts could see Spears was the real deal, and the game film was not fraudulent. His running style is superb, as is his vision, quickness, and speed.

    Added to all the great skills he displayed carrying the ball, Spears put a shake-and-bake move during a route in pass-catching drills on Wednesday, leaving his opponent twisting in the wind. Spears caught the pass, sprinted to the end zone, and had the crowd oohing and aahing.

    The question about Spears after three days of practice? Does he now move into the second round?

    Payne Durham, Purdue | Tight End

    This was a tough one as Luke Musgrave deserved consideration, but the Oregon State product admittedly was not 100%. That’s too bad because if he was completely healthy, we may be talking about Musgrave as TE1 at present time.

    Enter Payne Durham, who was dominant blocking early in the week then caught the ball extremely well on the final day. He made several nice receptions during end-zone drills and came away with several tough grabs in full scrimmage. Amongst them was a great catch, in a crowd, 25 yards downfield.

    I still believe Durham is a late-round pick, as I doubt he runs faster than 4.8 seconds in the 40 at the NFL Combine. Yet, I fully believe he’ll have a long career in the NFL as a backup tight end.

    Nathaniel ‘Tank’ Dell, Houston | Wide Receiver

    For the two days he practiced, no one — and I mean no one — could cover Nathaniel Dell. He beat defenders off the line, ran incredibly quick routes, and ran away from defenders if given the slightest bit of open room.

    Dell’s burst and deep speed were incredible, and he caught the ball extremely well. He measured a tick under 5’8 1/2″ and just 163 pounds, and Dell looks small. That’s going to limit his appeal on draft weekend, but a crafty offensive coordinator will find a way to use Dell and design plays specifically for him.

    Dawand Jones, Ohio State and McClendon Curtis, Chattanooga | Offensive Line

    Dawand Jones was incredible on Day 1 of Senior Bowl practice, doing what few thought he was capable of. Jones dominated defenders during drills and scrimmage as a run blocker. He drove them off the line and completely engulfed them. But what surprised everyone was his skills in pass protection.

    Jones showed great footwork and lateral range and handled small, speedy edge rushers with ease. He only practiced one day and sat out the rest of the week with an injury, which many found suspicious. Jones improved his draft stock by a least a round. At this point, I don’t buy into the thinking he’s a locked-in first-rounder and instead believe Jones will be an early second-rounder.

    MORE: 2023 Senior Bowl Risers — Darius Rush and Keidron Smith Impress in Final Practice

    McClendon Curtis continued the very recent tradition of UTC blockers impressing at the Senior Bowl. Last year, it was Cole Strange, who ended up a first-round pick.

    Curtis is a different type of lineman, however. He’s a thicker, power-gap blocker. And power Curtis showed every single day.

    He was one of the few offensive linemen that had success against Keeanu Benton, who was dominant most of the week. Curtis also took snaps at offensive tackle and looked good. At the very worst, Curtis now grades as a mid-Day 3 pick, though he could go much higher.

    Adetomiwa Adebawore, Northwestern | Defensive Line

    Benton received recognition at this spot, but the Wisconsin DT fell off during practice on Thursday. Not Adetomiwa Adebawore, who got better each and every practice.

    Adebawore came in 14 pounds heavier than expected, tipping the scales at 284 pounds, yet looked stronger, quicker, and more explosive than his college film. He consistently handled offensive linemen that had 30 pounds on him. Adebawore showed incredible athleticism, agility, and speed playing defensive end and defensive tackle.

    How much did Adebawore help himself? Let me say this. Every draft, there are always several surprises at the end of Round 1. If Adebawore follows up his great Senior Bowl week with an even better Combine workout, I believe he could be one of those surprises.

    Daiyan Henley, Washington State | Linebacker

    I gave Daiyan Henley glowing reviews on Twitter and here at PFN on Wednesday. A former receiver, Henley showed off his athleticism and ball skills during drills and scrimmage. At times, he showed cornerback-type ball skills with the ability to flip his hips, easily stay downfield with opponents, then get his head back around to track the ball in the air and defend the pass. He easily covered running backs and tight ends all over the field.

    Initially graded as a late-round prospect, Henley has moved into the middle rounds.

    Sydney Brown, Illinois | Defensive Back

    Jalen Pitre came to last year’s Senior Bowl branded as a run-defending safety. He then blew everyone away with the cover skills he displayed. One year later, there’s a similar storyline with Sydney Brown.

    On film, Brown is a head-hunting defender who throws his body around the field. During Senior Bowl practices, he showed a lot of nuance in his game and a tremendous amount of cover skills. Brown handled receivers, tight ends, and running backs during drills and scrimmage. He made several plays on the ball, specifically when the ball was in the air.

    Brown cemented himself as a Day 2 pick.

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