Five lessons from National's 16-7 Senior Bowl victory against American for the 2024 NFL Draft

Five lessons from National’s 16-7 Senior Bowl victory against American for the 2024 NFL Draft

The National Team beat the American Team 16-7 in the 2024 Reese’s Senior Bowl, held on Saturday at Hancock Whitney Stadium on the University of South Alabama campus.

The game concluded a week-long job interview, which included three days of practice, for over 100 of the 2024 NFL Draft’s best senior (and select underclassman) prospects.

Here are five takeaways from the 75th annual All-Star Game.

1) Rattler is a high performer as quarterback.

South Carolina’s Spencer Rattler delivered a 29-yard touchdown throw to Georgia WR Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, giving the American Team a 7-0 lead. Rattler worked the first two series of the game, completing four passes for 65 yards and a touchdown. Rattler was selected MVP of the game on Saturday. He threw an interception on the first day of practice this week, but otherwise had a very solid performance, possibly the most consistent quarterback all week.

3) Oregon’s Bo Nix led a touchdown drive to tie the game for the National Team, with a 2-yard throw to Minnesota TE Brevyn Spann-Ford. Nix began initially this week but steadily improved, particularly in red-zone work.

4) Notre Dame quarterback Sam Hartman struggled, only completing 7-of-25 passes for 69 yards and one interception. He got the bulk of the National Team snaps since Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. did not participate in the game. Hartman was under pressure on multiple plays and was never able to establish a passing rhythm. Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton III completed 9 of 13 passes but failed to get anything going. On his first play, he took a sack deep in his own territory, missed an open checkdown ball, and threw an end-zone interception, one of two on the day. The other was a blatant overthrow, coming after he had his greatest stretch of the game.

5) Neither Tulane’s Michael Pratt nor South Alabama’s Carter Bradley (son of Colts defensive coach Gus Bradley) saw any success. Pratt (4 for 10, 45 yards, INT) and Bradley (1 for 6, 6 yards) both had inadequate protection.

2) Defensive backs turn heads.

The two finest defensive plays from Saturday’s game were diving interceptions.

Evan Williams, an Oregon safety, caught the first one in the second quarter. QB Joe Milton III stretched the play with his legs and could have taken off, but instead attempted to target Missouri RB Cody Schrader in the end zone for a touchdown throw. Enter Williams, who flew in to make the grab. It was an outstanding play by a safety who shown his coverage abilities in practice against tight ends and running backs.

The second diving pick was considerably more productive. Washington State’s Chau Smith-Wade dove for and caught Milton’s overthrow, and he stood still for a brief moment after the pick. However, this game is played under NFL rules, not college regulations, and Smith-Wade instantly determined he had not been hit and could return the interception. And boy, did he ever run it back 83 yards, juking around six guys in the process, but he was stopped one yard short of a pick-six. On the last play of the game, Smith-Wade intercepted Michael Pratt’s long pass.

Louisville’s Jarvis Brownlee Jr. also made an interception, closing off a productive week. Brownlee, one of my colleague Lance Zierlein’s Day 2 standouts, intercepted an inaccurate Hartman pass in the red zone and returned it 32 yards in the last minute of the first half. Brownlee’s arrow is heading upwards.

Georgia’s Tykee Smith also had a strong performance and an excellent all-around game. He made several impressive plays, including breaking up a deep pass to North Carolina WR Devontez Walker at the end of the first quarter, one of three pass breakups Smith made, and assisting in the tackle of Troy RB Kimani Vidal for loss.

3) Fiske leads the DL group with great effort.

A player was traded prior to Saturday’s Senior Bowl game, a first for the event.

Braden Fiske, a Florida State defensive tackle, was a menace for the American Team all week in practice, wearing down offensive linemen with his tenacious effort and quickness off the ball, earning him a spot on NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah’s list of ten practice standouts. Then, on Saturday, because the National Team was short on defensive linemen, Fiske swapped teams and made a significant contribution.

Fiske recorded four tackles (1.5 for losses), half a sack, and a pressure that resulted in an incomplete pass. He made a hustle play to tackle Emani Bailey from behind, made two quality run stops close to the line of scrimmage and nearly took down Joe Milton III for a safety in the fourth quarter.

4) Undersized running backs are tall.

Emani Bailey (TCU) and Cody Schrader (Missouri) didn’t have the loudest weeks, but both American Team backs capitalized on their opportunities in Saturday’s game.

The 5-foot-7, 208-pound Bailey demonstrated his ability to power through contact by rushing for 53 yards on ten carries and catching four passes for 34 yards. He had a 14-yard run and a 14-yard catch, both of which displayed a little juice. Bailey also made the hustle play of the day by tackling Washington State DB Chau Smith-Wade one yard shy of a touchdown on an 83-yard INT return.

Schrader, like Bailey, is a thickly built, shorter back weighing 5-8 and 207 pounds. Similarly, Schrader demonstrated some of the contact balance he displayed during a stellar season for the Tigers, powering through contact on a few occasions. He was held in check as a runner (7-12-0 rushing, long run of 7) but was effective on checkdowns and quick passes, with 54 yards receiving on five catches.

The National Team also had a few moments from their backs, as South Dakota State’s Isaiah Davis (who had a solid showing this week) had a 20-yard run and Troy RB Kimani Vidal ripped off a 23-yarder.

5) McCaffrey among other standouts.

Saturday’s game turned out to be a defensive battle, but there were contributors in all three phases who made their mark.

On offense, not many receivers were given great chances to thrive, but Rice WR Luke McCaffrey — the brother of 49ers RB Christian McCaffrey — had two nice catches. He made a one-handed stab for 13 yards, a 15-yard catch and a 5-yard run. He also added a 20-yard punt return, illustrating the extra value he can provide to an NFL squad.

Two offensive lineman, Wisconsin’s Tanor Bortolini and Connecticut’s Christian Haynes, both deserve accolades for their blocking efforts. Bortolini played both guard positions and took snaps at center, while Haynes also played guard and center. With a limited number of good snappers, both blocks deserve respect for their performance, even if the QB-center exchanges were a touch tricky at times.

Two defenders that were particularly involved in the game were North Carolina LB Cedric Gray and Kentucky LB Trevin Wallace. Gray tied for a game-high seven tackles and broke up two passes in the second half, almost intercepting each of them. Wallace established an early tone by piling up six tackles, including three inside a yard of the line of scrimmage.

Iowa P Tory Taylor had a fantastic day, averaging 44.8 yards per punt with decent hangtime. Stanford K Joshua Karty made three of his four field-goal tries, missed from 32 yards but also hitting one completely from 52. Alabama K Will Reichard missed his lone shot, but it came from 57 yards, going halfway up the upright for about as stunning a miss as you’ll see in a collegiate all-star game.

More in Sports:
Photo Credits: