What We Learned About BC’s 2019 NFL Draft Class From the Senior Bowl

Boston College football hasn’t had a player selected in the first round of the NFL Draft since Luke Kuechly was picked ninth overall by the Carolina Panthers in 2012. For the past few months, the expectation had been that Zach Allen would end that seven-year drought in April, but after Saturday’s Senior Bowl, it became pretty clear that the edge rusher isn’t the only Eagle that has a chance to hear his name called on Day One. Chris Lindstrom, who was one of NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah’s “Save the Best for Last” honorees—an in-game award recognizing four players that improved their stock the most throughout the week in Mobile, Ala.—is now regarded as one of, if not the, top guards in this year’s class.

For Lindstrom, the Senior Bowl was a way to burst onto the national scene. For others like Allen, who has now dropped out of the first round of CBS Sports’ most recent mock draft, the All-Star Game proved to be a setback. But all four of the Eagles’ participants—the second most of any school in the country—made their fair share of quality plays, Will Harris and Tommy Sweeney included. Amid a heavy dosage of Jon Gruden and an ugly Reese’s uniform combination, here’s what we learned about BC’s 2019 NFL Draft Class from Saturday’s Senior Bowl.

Chris Lindstrom

All week, Lindstrom received high praise from reporters and scouts, as he went toe-to-toe with some of the draft’s best defensive linemen in drills, showcasing his quick feet and calculated hand placement in the process. Of course, the 307-pound guard wasn’t perfect—one defensive lineman in particular, Western Illinois’ Khalen Saunders, had his way with the Dudley, Mass. native. And, during the first half of Saturday’s game, Lindstrom was pushed around a bit, even collapsing inside the pocket on a few separate occasions.

For instance, with less than a minute left in the first quarter, Lindstrom was backed into the feet of Missouri quarterback Drew Lock. Luckily for Lindstrom, the first-round gunslinger got the ball out to Memphis wide receiver Tony Pollard before he could be sacked.

But, as the game progressed, Lindstrom began to dominate in the trenches. Exploding off the line of scrimmage, the veteran guard—who started his final 47 games in a BC uniform—carved up space for his running backs, down after down. The North’s first drive of the fourth quarter dispelled any doubts that Lindstrom can’t start for an NFL team next fall. Starting at his own 25-yard line, the versatile guard laid down three massive blocks in a row—eye candy for any NFL offensive line coach.

First, Lindstrom opened up a hole inside for Notre Dame running back Dexter Williams to scamper four yards past the line of scrimmage without being touched. It’s also worth noting that he continued to drive his legs, even after Williams juked back inside to cap off a nine-yard gain.

On the very next play, Lindstrom teamed up with Kansas State tackle Dalton Risner and paved the way for another chunk run. This time, Lindstrom chipped a defensive tackle before climbing to the second level and bulldozing Stanford linebacker Bobby Okereke to the ground. Lindstrom made it look easy—moving in open space with both speed and purpose.

If that wasn’t enough, the hard-nosed guard came right back in a matter of seconds to pull across the line and land a ferocious block on Georgia defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter, allowing Williams to scoot by for a four-yard rushing play.

Lindstrom has his flaws, but his tenacity and athleticism—namely, the ability to serve as a lead blocker, even in the backfield, and rise to the second level—are what make him a surefire NFL starter. This past week might have even been enough to buy him a spot in the first round.

Zach Allen

Allen was set to miss the SERVPRO First Responder Bowl with an ankle injury, but the absence went unnoticed, in large part because the postseason game technically never happened. In the following weeks, the defensive end’s draft stock rose, as scouts evaluated him as one of the more complete players at his position in this year’s class—after all, Allen finished the 2017 season as one of only two defensive linemen in the nation to record 100 or more tackles. On Saturday, though, Allen was inconsistent at best.

On the opening series of the game, he struggled to penetrate the South’s offensive line. Nothing was worse than Allen’s attempted goal-line stand. Defending against a 2nd-and-Goal, the 284-pound edge rusher tried to close the inside gap, but instead was stood up in his own end zone by Alabama State’s Tytus Howard. Flailing to get any sort of leverage, Allen looked on helplessly, as Ryquell Armstead plowed into the paint for six.

The New Canaan, Conn. native bounced back on the next snap, however, using a mitt to block Cole Tracy’s extra point—marking the third blocked kick that Allen has recorded this year.

Allen wasn’t credited with a single tackle on the day, but eventually found his way into the backfield. With a bit more than nine minutes remaining in the third quarter, he rolled off the edge, forcing Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham to step up in the pocket. As a result, the former SEC signal caller was left scrambling to his right, completely unaware of his backside—Texas’ Charles Omenihu pounced on the opportunity, stripping Stidham from behind, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Notre Dame linebacker Te’Von Coney.

Sometimes, though, Allen was a bit too aggressive. Earlier that drive, he chased after Stidham, who was drifting toward the sideline. As Allen got closer, the Auburn gunslinger just tossed the ball out of bounds, presumably turning the page to the next play, but Allen wasn’t done quite yet—he pushed Stidham, who was already practically out of bounds, to the ground, drawing a roughing the passer penalty after the play. Considering the way today’s NFL is officiated, Allen will have to be a lot more careful with when and how he hits the quarterback at the next level.

Throw in the fact that just two days prior to the Senior Bowl, Allen got in scuffle with Risner, and it’s apparent that BC’s premier defensive end—outplayed by less heralded prospects, like John Cominsky and Omenihu, for much of the week—was frustrated and far from himself in Mobile.

Tommy Sweeney

If it wasn’t for a drop and Jaylon Ferguson’s pass rush, Sweeney might have had himself a three-reception game on Saturday. Rotating with the other North tight ends, the Ramsey, N.J. native spent a great deal of time blocking alongside his fellow teammate, Lindstrom. But within the first 12 minutes of the game, the pass-catching tight end hauled in his first and only reception of the Senior Bowl.

On 2nd-and-8 in North Territory, Lock rolled out of the pocket and waited for Wyoming’s Carl Granderson to rush before underhand tossing the ball to a now-open Sweeney. Using his soft hands, the three-year starter corralled the pass, turned upfield, and ultimately juked back inside prior to being brought down a yard short of the sticks.

Sweeney’s best chance of etching his name into the box score again came in the second quarter when Trace McSorley threw a touch pass off his back foot to the tight end on a crossing route. The ball—slightly underthrown—bounced off Sweeney’s hands and fell harmlessly to the turf. Fortunately for the North, Kentucky safety Darius West was called for holding Sweeney earlier in the play, gifting Sweeney a first down anyway. Still, the penalty had no effect on the drop—and there’s no doubt Sweeney wishes he could have that one back.

Yet it’s what he did in the trenches that will catch scouts’ attention. Coming into the week, most knew that Sweeney could find open space in the middle of the field and serve as a safety valve for quarterbacks, but the question mark surrounding him was whether or not he could hold his own in the blocking game. For the most part, he answered that on Saturday, notably on Williams’ four-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter. As soon as the ball was snapped, Sweeney pulled across the line and blocked Granderson just long enough to allow Williams a seamless entry into the end zone.

A capable blocker and above average pass catcher, Sweeney should have no problem persuading an NFL team to take a chance on him on Day Two or Three.

Will Harris

Will Harris came out of the gates swinging, tallying both of his tackles on the opening drive of the game. Right near midfield, Harris buckled down and stopped Armstead, bringing down the Temple running back five yards short of the first-down marker. Then, two plays later, Harris teamed up with Delaware safety Nasir Adderley to prevent Armstead from putting an even bigger dent in the North’s defense.

Harris—who finished each of the past two seasons as the Eagles’ fourth-leading tackler—has all the potential to play the rover position in the NFL, acting as a linebacker of sorts. He’s as hard-hitting as defensive backs get and has a nose for the ball. That’s not to say he can’t drop back in coverage. In fact, on the next series, Harris made his most impressive play of the game. Off play-action, West Virginia quarterback Will Grier moved to his right before being pressured by Allen and delivering a strike to Travis Fulgham. Draped over the Old Dominion wideout, Harris dove and extended his arm to deflect the pass.

Later on, the 6-foot-2 safety was put on blast by the NFL Network team for biting on the play fake and over pursuing Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew II. Either Harris blitzed—which defensive backs aren’t allowed to do in the Senior Bowl—or he was fooled by play-action, a potential weakness that surfaced throughout the week of practice. Regardless, the sequence was hardly favorable for Harris.

Nevertheless, that play or even a quiet second half, didn’t diminish Harris’ strong start and respectable performance. Whether he is selected Day Two or Three will likely hinge on how he stacks up to the rest of the defensive backs when the NFL Combine rolls around.

Featured Image by Butch Dill / AP Photo

January 29, 2019