Sleeper receivers making big impressions at Senior Bowl

Jan 22, 2019; Mobile, AL, USA; North wide receiver Keelan Doss of UC Davis (8) goes up for the catch over North defensive back Amani Oruwariye of Penn State (21) during the North squad 2019 Senior Bowl practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Rob Rang

Having scouted the Senior Bowl since 2001, history has taught me that evaluating wide receivers early in the week of practice can be a recipe for trouble as pass-catchers have had little time to develop any chemistry with their quarterbacks and defenders can be especially grabby early on.

Sure, raw athleticism can be seen from the moment receivers begin making the cuts and accelerating downfield. It was obvious that Georgia State’s Penny Doss and Massachusetts Andy Isabella had the quickness and burst to get open, for example, or that Old Dominion’s Travis Fulgham and Cal-Davis’ Keelan Doss accelerated smoothly for big-bodied receivers.

And, of course, the tape was strong for each player – as was expected given that much of their production came against questionable competition.

But over the three days of practice at the Senior Bowl, these wideouts have gone past suggesting they are future pros, they’ve proven it out, showing more accomplished route-running, physicality and hands than some of their more hyped peers. The video clips in this article only show 1-2 snaps but are reflective of the impressive performances each has shown all week long.

Anyone who watched Isabella light up Georgia this season knew he could run and his quickness was demonstrated over and over again this week. Where he may have made his most money, however, was during the weigh-ins, showing a much more impressive physique than most wideouts with his 5-9, 186 pound frame. That may continue at next month’s NFL Combine, especially if Isabella can live up to his boast this week of running the 40-yard dash in as fast as 4.26 seconds.

While entering the week with significantly less fanfare, Hart has actually been the most consistent of the two, showing similar quick-twitch athleticism at 5-8, 180 pounds to get free from the bigger, physical defensive backs on the South roster and also more natural hands.

This clip shows off Hart’s burst against Delaware’s Nasir Adderley – the most impressive defensive back on either team this week.

While unlikely to perform as well during workouts, Doss (6-2, 207) has impressed with his athleticism, showing grace in accelerating out of his breaks and contorting his frame to make difficult receptions look easy. The catch made against Penn State's Amani Oruyariwe in the photo above showed the toughness through contact often missing among small school receivers but something he'd shown on tape previously, including against Stanford.

Impressing as a wide receiver in an all-star game can be difficult, especially when the weather isn’t cooperating. Still, when a receiver of Fulgham’s size shows the initial quickness to get a clean release against press coverage, accelerates smoothly to challenge vertically and then sinks his hips to create a large window for quarterbacks to fit the ball, he can leave a positive impression on scouts without even making a catch, as this clip shows.

In terms of who will be drafted first from this game, South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel is the leader in the clubhouse. His production and versatility against elite competition throughout his career speaks for itself.

And if you’re looking for a sneaky slot receiver in the late rounds, Clemson’s Hunter Renfrow is as proven as it gets.

Both players have lived up to expectations – and then some – this week.

But more was on the line for sleepers like Isabella, Hart, Doss and Fulgham and they’ve delivered despite inconsistent passing from the quarterbacks, weather-related challenges and the small-school stigma.