MOBILE, Ala. -- The National team defeated the American team, 27-10, in the 2023 Reese's Senior Bowl on Saturday at Hancock Whitney Stadium on the campus of the University of South Alabama. The game capped off a week-long job interview, including three days of practices, for 100-plus of the 2023 NFL Draft's top senior (and some junior-eligible) prospects.
Here are five takeaways from the 74th annual all-star contest.
1) Mixed bag for quarterbacks
Fresno State's Jake Haener was named the game's MVP, turning in a solid effort in completing 12-of-19 passes for 139 yards and a 44-yard TD to Stanford’s Michael Wilson. Haener misfired on two passes on the second drive of the game and took third- and fourth-down sacks in the second half, but he departs Mobile having proved himself as the most solid of the Senior Bowl quarterbacks.
Louisville's Malik Cunningham threw a pick-six early in the fourth quarter and was injured on the play. He did not return to the game. Virginia's Anthony Johnson Jr. hauled in the interception and ran it back 37 yards, giving the American team its only touchdown of the game.
There was pressure in Cunningham's face by Tennessee's Byron Young (who shoved BYU offensive tackle Blake Freeland into Cunningham).
Shepherd QB Tyson Bagent had some eye-opening moments during the week but also looked a bit harried at times, abandoning his mechanics. He escaped pressure pretty well in the game and connected on 17-of-22 passes for 138 yards but also gave the National defense an easy interception late in the game.
The rest of the quarterbacks on Saturday -- and really, throughout the week -- struggled to emerge. TCU's Max Duggan held onto the ball too long and overthrew Princeton's Andre Iosivas for what could have been a TD. Duggan battled all week but was inconsistent. Cunningham had some moments as a runner, scoring a touchdown in the game. BYU's Jaren Hall, who didn't play Saturday, started slowly this week and only got marginally better by Thursday, the final day of practices.
2) Stanford WR caps great week with TD
The Cardinal's Michael Wilson might be the wide receiver who did the most to help his stock this week in Mobile.
He was plagued by injuries during his Stanford career, and the team's performance declined in recent years, not giving Wilson an ideal environment in which to thrive. But this week appeared to be the right place for him to do just that.
After routinely looking like one of the best receivers on the field during practices, Wilson caught four passes for a game-high 76 yards on Saturday, including the game-sealing touchdown from Haener in the fourth quarter.
Wilson had a great release off the line on his opening-drive 22-yard catch. Haener ended up overthrowing an open Wilson at the end of that drive. In the fourth quarter, Wilson zoomed past LSU's Jay Ward (who fell down near the goal line) and stepped in front of Florida State's Jammie Robinson for the 44-yard score.
The biggest question on Wilson -- other than his durability -- was whether he could threaten defenses vertically. He did that all week in Mobile. Consider us intrigued by the 6-foot-1, 216-pound Wilson after what he accomplished at the Senior Bowl.
3) Payne Durham did a little of everything
The Purdue tight end is on the short list of players who helped themselves the most this week at the Senior Bowl. Durham appeared to improve with each day during practice and might have saved his best for Saturday's game.
Durham caught two passes for 24 yards and hauled in a two-point conversion for the National team, showing off impressive athleticism for a 258-pounder. There were a few times he was moved as a blocker in the game (and during the week's practices), but he also had some wins in that department.
His first grab in traffic from Haener -- they made a nice tandem all week -- was thrown a little bit behind Durham. And his second catch was a pretty 16-yarder down to the American team's 1-yard line, just missing a score. He scored the two-point conversion on Cunningham's TD run, racing across the formation to gain easy separation, and also took a handoff when the National team was backed up inside its 1-yard line early on, gaining two yards.
It unquestionably was a productive week for Durham, who at times outshined the more ballyhooed Luke Musgrave (Oregon State) in the buzz department, making several contested catches this week. Considering that Durham, a former lacrosse player, didn't play football until late in high school and arguably was underused at times for the Boilermakers, he's a rising prospect worth keeping tabs on.
4) Northwestern RB looked the part
There were some standout performances by running backs this week, including Oklahoma's Eric Gray and Tulane’s Tyjae Spears. But we can't forget the work put in by Northwestern's Evan Hull.
After a good first day of practice, the 5-10, 214-pound Hull's impact leading up to the game leveled off a bit. But he awakened quickly on Saturday, starting the game off with a bang on a sidewinding 24-yard run.
Hull finished with a game-high 74 rush yards (no one else had more than 40) on only 10 carries, also catching both of his targets for 11 yards. He carried the ball five times for 41 yards on the opening drive and later shed multiple tackles on an inside run for 18 yards. Defenders appeared to be a bit surprised by his quickness, downhill style and tackle-breaking ability.
On a Northwestern offense last season that struggled mightily, Hull was the one sure thing the Wildcats had, amassing 1,459 yards from scrimmage, catching 55 passes and scoring seven of the team's 21 touchdowns. With more talent around him at the Senior Bowl, Hull was able to build off his 2022 performance and leave Mobile having impressed onlookers.
5) Undersized defenders stand tall
Three smaller defenders had their share of moments during the Senior Bowl practices and in Saturday's game.
One of them was Cincinnati linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. At 5-10 and 231 pounds with sub-31-inch arms, Pace won't be for everyone in the NFL. But his full-tilt style was on display Saturday, as he regularly took on offensive linemen (including the 342-pound Darnell Wright and 337-pound O'Cyrus Torrence) to make plays. Pace had a game-high 10 tackles and seemingly was everywhere.
Florida A&M edge rusher Isaiah Land was pressed into some inside linebacker duty in the game. He worked at both positions this week in practice. But Land also saw action as a pass rusher -- his specialty -- and collected a fourth-down sack of Haener in the fourth quarter. The 6-3, 226-pound Land could be a tricky fit on an NFL defense, but he made a few statements this week.
Lastly, Jackson State's Aubrey Miller Jr. had a nice week, too. Like the other players mentioned in this section, his size (5-11, 229) will be considered a detriment. But he certainly showed physicality that should serve him well at the next level, including his tackle of Northwestern RB Evan Hull on the game's first offensive play, the first of his team-high seven stops.