On Tuesday, one of the highlights from practice at the 2023 Reese’s Senior Bowl was the sheer size of Ohio State offensive tackle Dawand Jones. At 6-foot-8, 375 pounds, Jones had the largest wingspan measured in the history of the annual draft showcase. He was dominant on the field, too.
Jones stood out on Wednesday, too, but he was far from the only one. While there is a lot of focus on the quarterbacks and skill players, the line drills usually draw the biggest crowds. NFL teams want close-up looks to see which offensive linemen can hold their own in pass protection and which defensive linemen win more battles than they lose.
Which players stood out on Wednesday’s second day of practice? We pick five players who stood out and could be of interest to the Washington Commanders.
Alabama DT Byron Young
Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Byron Young (47) hits Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Will Rogers (2). Alabama won 30-6. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports
No one loves Alabama defensive linemen like the Washington Commanders. Washington has two defensive tackles — both former first-round draft choices from Alabama — playing in the Pro Bowl this weekend. Byron Young isn’t the next first-round pick from the Crimson Tide, but he has a chance to be an excellent NFL player. At 6-foot-3, 292 pounds, Young has good size, tremendous strength and is a dominant run defender.
Payne is a free agent this offseason. Washington selected Young’s former college teammate, Phidarian Mathis, last year and added John Ridgeway via waivers. If Washington isn’t confident it can re-sign Payne, someone like Young is an option to keep the defensive line depth strong for future seasons. Young is a good player with plenty of experience.
Stanford CB Kyu Blu Kelly
National wide receiver Ronnie Bell of Michigan (8) practices with National defensive back Kyu Blu Kelly of Stanford (17). Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports
The Commanders need a cornerback. Many expect Washington to be in the market for a cornerback in round one and focus on the offensive line in free agency and in later rounds. But if the Commanders land an offensive lineman in round one, that’s put cornerback in focus on the second day of the 2023 NFL draft.
Kyu Blu Kelly of Stanford is a tall, lean cornerback with a track background who is good in press-man coverage. Kelly may not have the upside of a Christian Gonzalez or Joey Porter Jr., but he is taking advantage of his opportunities this week at the Senior Bowl. Much like when Washington found Benjamin St-Juste in round three two years ago, Kelly could be a steal in somewhere like the third round. He profiles as a future NFL starter.
Wisconsin DT Keeanu Benton
National defensive lineman Keeanu Benton of Wisconsin (95) battles National offensive lineman McClendon Curtis of UT-Chattanooga (52). Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports
Keeanu Benton is another defensive tackle who is off to a strong start in Mobile. The 6-foot-3, 312-pound Benton is of similar size and stature to Payne. The Commanders may or may not be in the market for another defensive tackle, so much of it depends on what happens with Payne. Benton is another stout run defender. Benton can come in and anchor a run defense immediately. He may not offer the pass-rushing upside like Payne, but he, combined with the combination of Ridgeway and Mathis, gives Washington an outstanding trio to go with Jonathan Allen.
Benton is likely a second-round pick, though. He has dominated the first two days of practice at the Senior Bowl.
Tennessee OT Darnell Wright
Tennessee offensive lineman Darnell Wright (58)
The Commanders badly need help on the offensive line. We discussed two players at the Senior Bowl who would be a match for Washington, Dawand Jones and Minnesota center John Paul Schmitz. Next up is Darnell Wright of Tennessee.
At 6-foot-5, 342 pounds, Wright has good size and athleticism and has plenty of college experience playing both left and right tackle. Wright would be a day-one starter at right tackle for the Commanders. Wright is a four-year starter against elite competition, playing for the Vols in the SEC. If Washington could somehow land Wright in the second round, it would go a long way in rebuilding the offensive line.
Unsurprisingly, he is having a good week at the Senior Bowl.
Tulane RB Tyjae Spears
Tulane Green Wave RB Tyjae Spears (22) runs with the ball against the USC Trojans. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Don’t rule out another running back for the Commanders. Remember, Antonio Gibson has one year remaining on his rookie contract, and J.D. McKissic’s future is uncertain. The Commanders fell in love with running back Brian Robinson Jr. last January in Mobile, and he’s now the featured back.
Tyjae Spears of Tulane is a fun player to watch. He rushed for over 1,500 yards in 2022 and was a reason for Tulane’s breakout season. He is absolutely turning heads in Mobile. Everyone knows what Spears can do with the ball in his hands, but he has taken advantage of his opportunities in pass protection in front of NFL coaches. Spears is a player on the rise. Don’t be surprised if he winds up in round two.