Senior Bowl Workouts: Tulane RB Tyjae Spears Practice Player of Week

By Frank Cooney

Responsive image Feb 1, 2023; Mobile, AL, USA; American running back Tyjae Spears of Tulane (22) practices during the second day of Senior Bowl week at Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

As we wait for the Senior Bowl game Saturday, let's sum up the most impressive players from this week's practice sessions in front of coaches and scouts from every team in the NFL.

Practice Player of the Week was Tulane running back Tyjae Spears, who put on a show as a runner and receiver, to the embarrassment of some linebackers and defensive backs. We went into this week rating him in the fifth round, but it is doubtful he will last that long after being THE MAN in Mobile the last few days. 

Minnesota Center John Michael Schmitz was already listed a round two prospect, but his high-level, consistent performance could move him up. He showed take-charge, leadership ability that teams, and quarterbacks, cherish. 

Here are the highlights from practice this week, with several players deserving mention in multiple days: .

 Thursday's Day Three Highlights and Week's summary:

RB Tyjae Spears, Tulane, 5095, 205

NFL Draft Scout: No. 165 overall, round 5

The most conspicuous player during workouts this week. Small but explosive, Spears was a one-man highlight reel, bursting free for big runs and generally demanding attention of those watching. During Thursday's practice, Spears put his route-running ability on display, leaving his defender looking dazed and confused as he raced for the end zone. On Wednesday he showed a startling burst in runs and when defended by a safety he won easily.  Sensational week. We at NFL Draft Scout will be among those who push his name up the charts, some say as high as second round. Stay tuned.

Center John Michael Schmitz, Minnesota, 6035, 320

NFL Draft Scout: No. 44 overall, round 2

Another player who caught our attention early and often (see below), Schmitz was probably the most consistent player this week. Per Daniel Jeremiah: "He is strong, powerful and tough. He interviewed really well during his meetings with teams this week. I've been told his character is off the charts. I don't see him being available beyond Day 2 of the draft. Schmitz is a member of the American team, which is loaded with future NFL starters on the offensive line, including Florida OG O'Cyrus Torrence and TCU OG Steve Avila, who showed he can all play all three spots on the interior during practice this week."

CB Julius Brents, Kansas State, 6030, 202

NFL Draft Scout: No. 88 overall, round 3.

Miami's Tyrique Stevenson is highest rated corner at Senior Bowl by most teams, is my highest-rated cornerback here in Mobile and he was consistent on Tuesday and Wednesday before not participating in practice on Thursday. He can get a little too handsy in coverage at times, but he proved he can run with the all-star wide receivers. He's a feisty player.  The corner that excited's Daniel Jeremiah was Brents. DJ: "At 6-foot-3, 202 pounds, he is loose and fluid for a big player at the position. South Carolina CB Darius Rush deserves a mention, as well. Stevenson, Brents and Rush are big, athletic guys who can make plays on the ball."


S Sydney Brown, Illinois, 5100, 213

NFL Draft Scout: No. 117 overall, round 3-4

We mentioned Brown earlier in the week. He reminded Jeremiah of a former Illinois safety from last year's Senior Bowl -- Lions' Kerby Joseph, who had a very good rookie season. They went to the same school and they both have great instincts, and big-time production. Brown trusted his eyes this week and it paid off. See more on Brown below.


QB Jack Haener, Fresno State, 6000, 208

NFL Draft Scout: No. 271 overall, round 7-FA

Again, we noted Haener earlier in the week and he continued to command attention. Per Jeremiah: "There wasn't a stellar group of quarterbacks in Mobile, but I thought Haener flashed the most of this year's crop. The ball jumped out of his hands during practice, and he was accurate. He's already shown he's tough, coming back from an ankle injury last season and spearheading the Bulldogs' run to a Mountain West championship. I think Haener's stock could benefit from Brock Purdy's incredible run as a rookie after he was drafted with the final pick last year.


LB Daiyan Henley, Washington State, 6007, 230

NFL Draft Scout: No. 131 overall, round 4

Another player we mentioned early in the week who deserved high summary grade from Jeremiah, who said "The big test for Henley was how he would hold up in coverage against all-star competition. Well, he passed that test with flying colors. He's instinctive and he can run. Henley has a chance to be a Day 2 (Rounds 2-3) pick."


OLB/DE Will McDonald IV, Iowa State, 6034, 281

NFL Draft Scout: No. 42 overall, round 2.

Most sideline witnesses agree that McDonald is the best pure pass rusher at the Senior Bowl. He has a combination of speed, agility and there is that wingspan of 82 3/8ths inches. Seriously. We have him in the second round but scouts and coaches at practices were very impressed and he might sneak into the first round. Jeremiah says McDonald is a better player than the Titans' Harold Landry back in 2018 as a prospect out of Boston College, and Landry went early in Round 2 (41st overall). For pure entertainment, McDonald can talk about his outrageous hobby -- jumping over cars.

DE Keion White, Georgia Tech, 6046, 280

NFL Draft Scout: No. 68 overall, round 2-3

White caught everybody's attention and we highlighted him earlier this week (see below). Jeremiah was very impressed, saying "He came in as my top-rated Senior Bowl player, and I thought he improved every day. He didn't have that wow moment that jumped out to everyone, but he was steady. White has big-time power, as we saw in some of the one-on-ones and the team period on Thursday. He's a Round 1 player."


TE Josh Whyle, TE, Cincinnati, 6064, 260

NFL Draft Scout: No. 179 overall, round 5.

Oregon State's Luke Musgrave is the best tight end in the Senior Bowl. Coming off knee injury with only two games played in 2022, Musgrave showed steady improvement through the week, as we noted earlier (see below). That said,  is the tight end who helped himself the most this week, showing he has speed and agility to go with his exceptional length and showed up as a blocker in the run game. 




Wednesday's Day Two Highlights:

 Two key players for the National team missed Wednesday's practice after impressing on Tuesday.

 Ohio State offensive tackle Dawand Jones -- the largest player at the Senior Bowl (6-8, 375 pounds) -- was feeling under the weather and his status for the rest of the week is to be determined, NFL Network Insider Tom Pelissero reported during live coverage of Wednesday's practice on NFL+.

Texas running back Roschon Johnson broke a bone in his hand early in Tuesday's practice, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. Johnson was able to play through the injury on the first day but did not practice on Wednesday. Rapoport reported that Johnson "likely won't be able to participate the rest of the week."

 OT Cody Mauch, North Dakota State, 6047, 305

NFL Draft Scout: No. 40 overall, round 2

Mauch's move to the next level might mean a position change. He played almost exclusively at left tackle for the Bison but was moved inside this week at the Senior Bowl -- at two different spots. In Tuesday's opening practice, Mauch was working predominantly at left guard. On Wednesday, Mauch also took snaps at center. Either spot could be Mauch's new home in the NFL. "I definitely can see myself there (at guard)," Mauch said. "I thought it was actually, you know, an alright day, especially for my first time doing guard, and obviously, (there is) stuff to work out. So I'm excited about the start and now just to see how we can finish it."  Mauch added that "a lot of teams like me at guard, and I'm even getting a lot of talk about center." He looked a little better Wednesday than he did Tuesday.

 WR Nathaniel "Tank" Dell, Houston, 5083, 163

NFL Draft Scout: No. 120 overall, round 3-4

NFL teams tend to be cautious when it comes to drafting players who are as small as Dell, especially before Day 3 (Rounds 4-7). However, it makes defenders nervous to see players with Dell's speed and separation ability lining up across from them on Sundays.  We estimate he could run 40 yards as quickly as 4.36 seconds.  As was the case during the 2022 college football season, Dell has basically been unstoppable in one-on-one matchups and has clearly created buzz with scouts.

 LB Daiyan Henley, Washington State, 6007, 230

NFL Draft Scout: No. 131 overall, round 4

Henley has already forced a grade change from yours truly with his play in the first two days of practice, and NFL scouts might be making similar adjustments. He moves around the field with an alpha demeanor, but his ability to match up with running backs in coverage really stood out. The wideout-turned-linebacker showed off his lateral twitch and ball skills to hound the route and squeeze the catch point. The ability to play well on all three downs is a huge advantage for linebackers on draft day, and Henley showed off that ability on Wednesday.

 CB Riley Moss,  Iowa, 6003, 192

NFL Draft Scout: No. 230 overall, round 6-7

He appears to remain underrated cornerback prospect who has been steady in every drill. Look, it is rare that a white player can be a highly rated cornerback, regardless of hard evidence. So it is not surprising that teams still talk about moving him to safety.  However, at Senior Bowl workouts Moss continues to show above average instincts and can play a variety of coverages as a corner. He snagged 11 interceptions in 40 starts at Iowa but missed time in 2019 and 2021 with knee injuries. He played five college seasons after an incredible prep career at Centennial High (Ankeny, Iowa) as receiver, returner in football and  member of state champion 800-meter relay team as a senior, and member of 40-meter relay unit that placed second . . . Drake Relays champion in shuttle hurdle as a junior . . . state champion in shuttle hurdle as a junior, and state runner-up in 110-meter high hurdles . . . earned Elite All-State honors in track as a junior.

 WR Jayden Reed, Michigan State, 5106, 195

NFL Draft Scout: No. 39 overall, round 4

Reed struggled in his early college career to get his share of contested catches, but eventually developed the ball skills and instincts. In Tuesday and Wednesday practices he showed standout ability to track deep balls and make tough catches near the sidelines. He can play slot or wide and is a tremendous threat as a returner with speed we estimate to stop the stopwatches (or laser beams) in about 4 .32 second at 40 yards.

 OG O'Cyrus Torrence,  Florida, 6047, 337

NFL Draft Scout: No. 21 overall, first round.

As expected, Torrence stood out as a blocker on runs and passes through two days of practice. This large human has obvious core strength that wards off bull rushers. He struggles a little with zone blocks. He is built to be a downhill road grader for power-based running attacks and stands out in individual drills and the scrimmage phase of practice.

 CB Kyu Blu Kelly, Stanford, 6001, 193

NFL Draft Scout: No. 74 overall, round 2-3

The son of former Buccaneers CB Brian Kelly, who played for Tampa Bay from 1998 to 2007, Kyu Blu made himself conspicuous in a good way Wednesday. He was everywhere in team drills, breaking up at least three passes and intercepting a pass -- even stealing it away from the grasp of his former Stanford teammate, receiver Elijah Higgins -- and running it back for what would have been a pick-six. "I just went in there and ripped it out," Kelly said. "When I get a chance, I will make a play." It was a big play for a prospect with only three career interceptions, mostly because opponents avoided him. "Twenty-five," Kelly said, counting the number of times he was targeted in 10 games in 2022. "I kept count. It wasn't hard to."  For good measure, Kelly also snagged an off-target throw while standing on the sideline – and he did it with one hand while the other one held his helmet. "I want the scouts to know I have hands and I'm a playmaker," Kelly said.

.QB Jack Haener, Fresno State, 6000, 208

NFL Draft Scout: No. 271 overall, round 7-FA

In a crop of quarterbacks that mostly range from Day 3 prospects to priority free agents, Haener might be the leading man among them. He turned in solid back-to-back practices, showing good accuracy and the ability to make plays out of structure -- even in unfamiliar surroundings this week. The Bulldogs quarterback finished off his career well, returning from an ankle injury to lead Fresno State to a Mountain West title and throw for 2,896 yards, 20 TDs and only three picks despite missing four games.  Doctors originally told him it was a 10-to-12-week injury, which might have ended his season. He said the ankle was was "75 to 80 percent healthy." The Bulldogs didn't lose a single game after he came back.

 RB Tyjae Spears, Tulane, 5095, 205

NFL Draft Scout: No. 165 overall, round 5

Spears is one of the early stars at the Senior Bowl workouts, making impressive plays two days in a row. On Wednesday, Spears made a few memorable plays

He slipped on one carry and it looked like he might go down for no gain, but he regained his balance, shifted his weight and picked up yardage. He also stood tall in receiving and pass-blocking drills, and ripped off a long touchdown run late in the session. At Tulane, Spears was often an afterthought as a receiving option, catching only 28 passes in his first 22 college games. A two-game spell last season against Southern Mississippi and Houston offered a glimpse of that ability, with Spears catching a combined 11 passes for 159 yards and a TD. Spears said Wednesday he never asked the Green Wave coaches for more chances as a receiver. Why? Because he said it wasn't his job to decide how the offense was run. "I never tried to put myself in the coach's shoes because there are so many things you've got to put into the equation," Spears said. "I can't just go to (them) and say, 'Hey, use me (as a receiver) out of the backfield. I am not that player. I'll let you figure it out."

 DL Adetomiwa Adebawore, Northwestern, 6015, 284

NFL Draft Scout: No. 238 overall, round 7.

Adebawore put on quite a show Wednesday at both defensive end and defensive tackle, beating opponents consistently with quickness, athleticism, or sheer power. He was especially obvious during drills and one-on-ones. Adebawore had blockers twisting, grasping at air, and sometimes pulling themselves off the turf, as he blew past them. Great show indeed..

 DE Keion White, Georgia Tech, 6046, 280

NFL Draft Scout: No. 68 overall, round 2-3

Played the role of the rambling wreck from Georgia Tech. He showed shocking explosiveness off the snap and glided around the field like he owned every square foot. White has tremendous closing burst and blew up plays during the scrimmage or embarrassed opponents in one- on-one drills.

 Center John Michael Schmitz, Minnesota, 6035, 320

NFL Draft Scout: No. 44 overall, round 2

Two days in a row, Schmitz was a standout. On Wednesday he gave a clinic in how to be a dominant offensive lineman -- blocking fundamentals, football intelligence, leverage and especially a nasty, hunt-you-down attitude. He makes the line calls and then God help whoever gets in his way. He gave freeway access up the middle of the line for ball carriers. When the American team was going through a two-minute drill, Schmitz ran 20 yards downfield and obliterated a linebacker. If he keeps this up, he could move close to a first round pick.

 S Sydney Brown, Illinois, 5100, 213

NFL Draft Scout: No. 117 overall, round 3-4

Brown showed exceptional coverage skills when he lined up over receivers instead of in space. Brown has a quick backpedal, tracks the ball well and takes clues from the receiver when to ball react. He eliminated the notion that he was just a run-defending safety and now appears to be somebody with the ability to move up and cover slot receivers in the NFL.

 TE Payne Durham, Purdue, 6050, 258

NFL Draft Scout: No. 140 overall, round 4.

Durham has been on the ascent the last few months and it isn't because he is necessarily a great receiver. Putting that aside, he dominates as a blocker in drills as well as during scrimmages. He is large, powerful and explosive. During one-one-one drills he punished linebackers. OK, FWIW, in his last two seasons at Purdue, Durham caught 101 passes for 1,037 yards and 14 touchdowns. 

 Tuesday's Day One Highlights:

 QB Max Duggan, TCU,  6012, 210

  NFL Draft Scout: No. 245 overall, 7th round.

   Duggan had an uneven day but finished looking good in full team drills. He spoke Tuesday morning about what he called an "eventful" and "special" season with the Horned Frogs, one that came with several twists and turns.

At first, he lost his battle to Chandler Morris for the starting QB job but regained it when Morris got hurt in the opener.

    Duggan led TCU into the College Football Playoff and was a Heisman Trophy finalist. The season then ended with a thud after Georgia thumped the Frogs in the title game, 62-7.

   "We got our butts kicked, but you know, there's a lot to learn from it," Duggan said. "... (Learning) how to handle something that (was) a failure in our eyes, and how to, you know, get up from it."

   Duggan started slowly in individual work Tuesday and had his pass stolen by Alabama's DeMarcco Hellams for an interception in 7-on-7 work.  But in full-team reps, Duggan looked good. He completed all five of his passes in the session, twice sidestepping the rush to find Ole Miss WR Jonathan Mingo, who also had a good day. It was a nice start to the week for Duggan, an unorthodox passer who nonetheless has helped his stock noticeably over the past six months. Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy said Duggan has worked himself into the upper portion of Day 3 of the draft.

 RB Kenny McIntosh, Georgia, 5116, 210

NFL Draft Scout: No. 72 overall, round 2-3

Hydrate: Bulldog star left his first practice early with what initially appeared to be a scary injury. He went down and was tended to by trainers after running a route and trying to grab a loose ball on the Hancock Whitney Stadium turf. He remained down for several minutes before walking off under his own power.

Fortunately, the injury is not considered serious. NFL Network Insider Tom Pelissero reported it was a cramp in his calf. Several players spoke after practice about the unexpectedly hot conditions and how coaches reminded them frequently to hydrate. McIntosh rushed for 829 yards and added 504 as a receiver and could help most NFL teams.

 WR Ronnie Bell, Michigan, 5116, 190

NFL Draft Scout: No. 193 overall, Round 5-6

Personal Penalty:  Bell ran off the field in mid practice, did 15 pushups on the sideline and ran back into the workouts. Why? He dropped a pass.

"I can't have drops out here, man," Bell said. "Gotta be 100 percent. So I went over, did my pushups after that rep, but then you know, I just gotta keep moving for the next play and try to continue to have good practice."

Back on the field, he beat Ohio State defensive back Ronnie Hickman on a slant and caught a couple of balls that were not really on target.

"It's got to be in my heart, you know, to be able to catch anything thrown at me, so if it's close, I definitely have to put it on display that I can do that. I'm not the biggest guy, but I have the reach (31 1/8-inch arms) to make those plays."

 TE Luke Musgrave, Oregon State, 6056, 250

NFL Draft Scout: No. 71 overall, round 2-3

Musgrave was already considered one of the better tight ends in a strong class at the position this year, but he still  impressed some coaches in person. His muscular, 255-pound frame stood out among other tight ends. He is coming off a September knee injury that limited him to two games last season and was cleared to run routes just a few weeks ago. He looked 100 percent in the first practice.

 Center John Michael Schmitz, Minnesota, 6035, 320

NFL Draft Scout: No. 44 overall, round 2

In the final three for the Rimington Award, JMS is considered the best center in this draft. In the first day of practice is was the, ah, center of attention as he showed superior strength, technique and great use of leverage. JMS followed P.J. Fleck to Minnesota and thrived under offensive line coach Brian Callahan. He anchored a front line that had four new starters in 2022 and helped pave the way for one of the most dominant rushing attacks in the nation. Minnesota is one of only two teams in the Big Ten (Ohio State is the other) to rank in the Top 25 in the nation in both sacks allowed (Minnesota is T17) and tackles for loss allowed (Minnesota is T23). Schmitz was named First Team Midseason All-American by the AP, ESPN, PFF and CBS and PFF named him a First Team All-American at the end of the season as well. He was previously named a semifinalist for the Rotary Lombardi Award and for the Outland Trophy.

 OT Dawand Jones, Ohio State, 6082, 375

NFL Draft Scout: No. 92 overall, round 3

Yeowza, this is one big dude, even bigger than the 359 pounds we had him going into the season. Not as agile as you want for left tackle and doesn't redirect all that humanity very smoothly. So I guess we are talking right tackle, eh? He had a solid first practice as run and pass blocker by basically overwhelming opponents. He is an all-day journey to avoid with a wingspan of 89.5 inches with humongous mitts, 11 3/8ths inches.

 WR Rashee Rice, SMU, 6004, 200

NFL Draft Scout: No. 34 overall, round 2

Rice was a Tuesday highlight, obviously one of the more talented receivers in practice. It went beyond is speed, which we estimate at mid 4.4-seconds in 40 yards. He was prepared.

"I was studying all night and all morning," he said. "I didn't put the playbook down. I was like, I can't take a nap. I had to get these plays down. I didn't want to come out here and be like the guy who didn't know what (he was) doing. Everyone out here is competing for jobs, and I didn't want to be unprepared and look foolish. I had to regain my quickness a bit and it took me a few reps. These corners are fast."

Rice caught 96 passes for 1,355 yards and 10 TDs in 12 games last season. Tuesday was his most competitive action in a couple months, as he last played in a game on Nov. 26.

 DT DJ Dale, Alabama, 6010, 302

NFL Draft Scout: No. 146 overall, round 4-5

Dale surprised those who thought he was limited to holding down a piece of real estate like a proper nose tackle type. He wriggled and writhed and was difficult to keep out of the backfield in Tuesday's practice. Those who believed he projected as a backup or short-yardage plug may think he can play a larger role. He used great leverage and managed more penetration than many expected.

Other Recent Stories

2023 Draft: 14 QBs selected but DBs most popular with 56

With the red carpet rolled up, the showpiece Lombardi Trophies back on their shelf and barbecue chewed to the bones, Kansas City returned to its version of normalcy ...

read the full story

243 High Schools Have Players Selected In 2023 NFL Draft

With the conclusion of the 2023 NFL Draft, this year’s class of drafted rookies will soon experience life in the NFL. While each drafted rookie enters the NFL from ...

read the full story

Lott IMPACT Trophy: 42-man watch list announced

NEWPORT BEACH, CA. – The Pacific Club IMPACT® Foundation announced the 42 candidates for the 2023 Lott IMPACT® ...

read the full story

2023 CFB Transfer Portal: WR Zakhari Franklin tops list of 2,600 prospects

The college football transfer portal, which was closed for new entrants April 30, holds approximately 2,600 players. If anyone wanted to play next season, they had ...

read the full story

New QB debates loom as 2023 CFB season precedes 2024 NFL Draft

Just when you thought the quarterback draft debates were done, it's time to discuss new ones as the 2023 college football season, with those 2024 draft prospects, ...

read the full story

Latest Player Notes

Arkansas Jaheim Singletary

Mar 08, 2023: Arkansas coach Sam Pittman announced the signing of former Georgia cornerback Jaheim Singletary during a Tuesday news conference. ...

Ohio State Mitchell Melton

Mar 09, 2023: Defensive lineman Mitchell Melton has been medically cleared to participate in individual drills for Ohio State during spring ...

Texas Quinn Ewers

Mar 09, 2023: Every position is open for the Texas Longhorns this spring. Every player will earn his starting role. For that reason, Quinn ...

Texas Tech Cade Briggs

Mar 09, 2023: Backup offensive lineman Cade Briggs, who played in two games last season, was removed from the Texas Tech roster on Tuesday. ...

Washington Dylan Morris

Mar 09, 2023: Dylan Morris came under heavy criticism as the starting quarterback for the Washington Huskies during their 4-8 season in ...

South Florida Gerry Bohanon

Mar 09, 2023: Almost three months to the day after his hiring, new USF coach Alex Golesh staged the first spring practice of his tenure ...

Washington Edefuan Ulofoshio

Mar 10, 2023: On the first day of his last year of college football, Edefuan Ulofoshio was back in the middle of it all Monday morning ...

Washington State Isaiah Paul

Mar 10, 2023: Two months after joining Washington State's football team, Isaiah Paul is heading back to the portal. The senior linebacker, ...

Southern California Eric Gentry

Mar 10, 2023: Linebacker Eric Gentry will miss all of spring practice following ankle surgery last month, Riley said. Gentry suffered a ...

Ohio State Jack Sawyer

Mar 07, 2023: Where is Jack Sawyer? The former five-star recruit never really took that Year 2 jump some may have anticipated. His raw ...