The final stage of the week-long NFL audition in Mobile, Alabama, is supposedly the least important one. Pro scouts, coaches and general managers arrive at Ladd-Peebles Stadium early in the week to put eyes on the 100-plus college standouts participating in the Reese’s Senior Bowl, analyzing players during position drills, team scrimmages and one-on-one interviews away from the field.
Many of them filter out before the week ends, skipping a game that serves less as an evaluational tool as it does a chance for college football diehards to watch their favorite players compete in an all-star setting with no actual ramifications.
It would’ve been hard to convince Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon that Senior Bowl showcase wasn’t a significant opportunity to show a national audience what he’s capable of. Or that the score of the game didn’t matter.
When Gordon was inserted into Saturday’s game in the third quarter, the North and South were deadlocked at 10-10. By the time the Cougars’ signal-caller left it, Gordon had inflated the lead to 21 points, allowing the North to cruise off with a 34-17 victory.
Wearing the No. 3 on his back as a tribute to former friend and teammate Tyler Hilinski, Gordon completed 8-of-12 (66 percent) passes for two touchdowns and no interceptions, splitting time with fellow North QBs Jordan Love, of Utah State, and Shea Patterson, of Michigan.
“I came out swinging when it was my time,” said Gordon, according to the Associated Press. “I guess that kind of correlates to my time at Washington State. I spent a lot of time waiting, but when my time came I was ready.”
Though Gordon catapulted the North to victory, as the only quarterback with multiple touchdown passes and the only one to lead three touchdown drives, game MVP honors went to popular Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert, who was 9-of-13 with one touchdown and no interceptions for the South.
Gordon, the national leader in passing yards game in 2019, whipped his first pass of the game to Texas A&M’s Quartney Davis on a slant pattern, then zinged another throw to Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins and dumped off to TCU’s Darius Anderson to set up JaMycal Hasty’s 11-yard touchdown.
“He’s been throwing slants, you see those yards, over 5,000 yards, a bunch of them came on that throw right there,” the NFL Networks’ Daniel Jeremiah said.
“Has there been a quarterback that’s played a full season for Mike Leach that hasn’t thrown for 5,000 yards?” analyst Charles Davis responded. “It’s hard to find.”
On his second drive, Gordon found Dayton tight end Adam Trautman twice and squeezed a throw to SMU’s James Proche between two defenders – something former WSU coach Mike Leach always claimed was one of his QB’s best assets – to set up the North inside the red zone.
“Gordon does not have a huge arm, but the timing, anticipation and accuracy is how he gets by,” Jeremiah said. “This ball is already up and right on him.”
Gordon followed with his first touchdown – a 1-yarder to Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool, who was unmarked in the end zone, putting the North up 24-10.
The North offense went three-and-out on the next series, but the defense emerged with an interception to give Gordon the ball back with almost a minute left in the third quarter.
That set up the QB’s best series – a four-play drive that culminated with Gordon escaping the pass-rash and tossing an off-balanced, sidearmed touchdown to Liberty’s Antonio Golden-Gandy near the back right corner of the end zone to push the North’s lead to 31-10.
“Did we not talk about Anthony Gordon and arm angles and being a former shortstop with delivery?” Davis said. “Come on now.”
Gordon, considered to be a late-round NFL draft pick at best, surely improved his stock with Saturday’s performance, as did North teammate Evan Weaver, a former Cal linebacker and who grew up in Spokane and attended Gonzaga Prep.
Defensive numbers were not tallied by Senior Bowl statisticians Saturday, but Weaver either made or assisted on no fewer than five tackles in the game, displaying strong pursuit of the ball on a first-quarter carry from Memphis’ Antonio Gibson.
“Who made that tackle there, DJ?” Charles Davis said. “Was that the tackling machine?”
“Yeah, that was Evan Weaver from Cal who wears No. 89 at linebacker, which is always unique to see,” Daniel Jeremiah said.
“He went to Cal as a defensive end and has kept the number,” Davis added. “But every time you turned on a Cal tape or watched a Cal game, didn’t it feel like he made 20 tackles in that game?”
Weaver turned in a few more tackles for a defense that allowed no more than seven points in a single quarter and made one of the top special teams plays when the linebacker motored down the field on a punt to down the ball at the 1-yard line.
“Weaver’s got a tackle on special teams, he’s downed one inside the 1-yard line, he’s got a boatload of tackles on defense,” Jeremiah said.
“And to zero surprise, because that’s who he is,” Davis said. “No matter all that motivation he has, won’t test well, all that. Excellent punt by Braden Mann, but Evan Weaver is one of those football players. You turn him on, on gameday, and turn him loose and he finds a way to make plays.”
The NFL Networks featured a segment on Weaver in the third quarter, telling the story about how as a junior, the linebacker began writing negative things said about him on a rock stored in the bedroom of his Berkeley apartment. The broadcast showed a picture of the rock, scribbled with things such as “bad body,” “stiff in hips,” “slow – 4.8 (40-yard dash) estimated” and “Day 3 pick.”
“On one side of the rock, it says ‘People don’t understand, ceiling is not visible,’” Jeremiah shared. “And on the other side, ‘Why not us?’”