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2024 NFL Draft: Five takeaways from National's 16-7 win over American in Senior Bowl

MOBILE, Ala. -- The National Team defeated the American Team, 16-7, in the 2024 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 more than 100 of the 2024 NFL Draft's top senior (and select underclassman) prospects.

Here are five takeaways from the 75th annual all-star contest.

Tune in for live coverage of the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine beginning Feb. 29 on NFL Network and NFL+.

1) Rattler top performer at QB.

The early star on Saturday was South Carolina's Spencer Rattler, who threw a pretty 29-yard touchdown pass on a fade to Georgia WR Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, giving the American Team a 7-0 lead. Rattler worked the first two series of the game, completing 4-of-4 passes for 65 yards and the TD. Rattler was named the MVP of the game on Saturday. He threw a pick on the first day of practice this week but otherwise had a very respectable showing, arguably as the most consistent QB throughout the week.

Oregon's Bo Nix also led a touchdown drive to tie the game for the National Team, fitting in a tight-window pass to Minnesota TE Brevyn Spann-Ford for a 2-yard score. Nix started slowly this week but gradually improved, especially in red-zone work.

Notre Dame's Sam Hartman had a tough game, completing 7-of-25 passes for 69 yards and a pick. He took the majority of the National Team snaps with Washington's Michael Penix Jr. not playing in the game. Hartman was under duress on several snaps and never really was able to get into a passing rhythm. Tennessee QB Joe Milton III completed 9-of-13 passes but struggled to get much going. He took a sack deep in his own territory on his first snap, misfired on an open checkdown pass and threw an end-zone interception, one of his two picks on the day. The other one was a clear overthrow right after he'd had his best stretch of the game.

Neither Tulane's Michael Pratt nor South Alabama's Carter Bradley (son of Colts defensive coordinator Gus Bradley) had much success either. Pratt (4 for 10, 45 yards, INT) and Bradley (1 for 6, 6 yards) both suffered from poor protection.

2) Defensive backs turn heads.

The two best defensive plays in Saturday's game were diving interceptions.

Oregon safety Evan Williams nabbed the first one in the second quarter. QB Joe Milton III extended the play with his legs and could have taken off but opted to try to hit Missouri RB Cody Schrader in the end zone for a touchdown pass. Enter Williams, who came flying in to secure the catch. It was a heck of a play by a safety who showed off his coverage ability in practice versus tight ends and backs.

The second diving pick was even more prolific. Washington State's Chau Smith-Wade dove for and caught Milton's overthrow -- and for a moment, Smith-Wade stood still after the pick. But this game is played with NFL rules, not college, and Smith-Wade quickly realized he had not been touched down and could return the pick. And boy, did he ever, running it back 83 yards, juking about six players along the way, but he was stopped one yard shy of a pick-six. Smith-Wade had another takeaway on the final play of the game, picking off Michael Pratt's deep throw.

Louisville's Jarvis Brownlee Jr. also made an interception, capping a strong week for him. Brownlee, who was one of my colleague Lance Zierlein's Day 2 standouts, stepped in front of an errant Hartman throw for an interception in the red zone, running it back 32 yards in the final minute of the first half. Brownlee's arrow is pointing up.

Georgia S Tykee Smith also had a strong showing and a good all-around game. He made several nice plays, including breaking up a deep pass to North Carolina WR Devontez Walker at the end of the first quarter, one of three pass breakups Smith made, and helping tackle Troy RB Kimani Vidal for a loss.

3) Fiske leads DL group with strong effort.

In a Senior Bowl first, a player was traded prior to Saturday's game.

Florida State DT Braden Fiske was a menace for the American Team all week in practice, wearing out offensive linemen with his tenacious effort and quickness off the ball, being named one of NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah's 10 practice standouts. Then on Saturday, because the National Team was short on defensive linemen, Fiske swapped teams -- and was a huge addition.

Fiske made four tackles (1.5 for losses), half a sack and had a pressure that led to an incomplete pass. He made a hustle play to tackle Emani Bailey from behind, made two quality run stops close to the line of scrimmage and nearly took down Joe Milton III for a safety in the fourth quarter.

4) Undersized running backs stand tall.

It wasn't the loudest week for either Emani Bailey (TCU) or Cody Schrader (Missouri), but both American Team backs made the most of their chances in Saturday's game.

The 5-foot-7, 208-pound Bailey showed his ability to power through contact by running for 53 yards on 10 carries and adding four receptions for 34 yards. He had a long run of 14 yards and a long catch of 14, displaying a little juice on each. Bailey also made the hustle play of the day by tackling Washington State DB Chau Smith-Wade one yard shy of a touchdown on an 83-yard INT return.

Like Bailey, Schrader is a thickly built, shorter back at 5-8 and 207 pounds. And similarly, Schrader showed off some of the contact balance he displayed in a brilliant season for the Tigers, powering through contact on a few plays. He was held in check as a runner (7-12-0 rushing, long run of 7) but was effective on checkdowns and quick passes, with 54 yards receiving on five catches.

The National Team also had a few moments from their backs, as South Dakota State's Isaiah Davis (who had a solid showing this week) had a 20-yard run and Troy RB Kimani Vidal ripped off a 23-yarder.

5) McCaffrey among other standouts.

Saturday's game turned out to be a defensive battle, but there were contributors in all three phases who made their mark.

On offense, not many receivers were given great chances to thrive, but Rice WR Luke McCaffrey -- the brother of 49ers RB Christian McCaffrey -- had two nice catches. He made a one-handed stab for 13 yards, a 15-yard catch and a 5-yard run. He also added a 20-yard punt return, showing the added value he can bring to an NFL team.

Two offensive linemen, Wisconsin's Tanor Bortolini and Connecticut's Christian Haynes, each deserve praise for their blocking work. Bortolini played both guard spots and took snaps at center, and Haynes also played guard and center. With a limited number of capable snappers, both blockers deserve credit for their work, even if the QB-center exchanges were a bit dicey at times.

Two defenders who were highly active in the game were North Carolina LB Cedric Gray and Kentucky LB Trevin Wallace. Gray tied for a game-high seven tackles and broke up two passes in the second half, nearly intercepting both of them. Wallace set an early tone by racking up six tackles, including three within a yard of the line of scrimmage.

Iowa P Tory Taylor had a good day, averaging 44.8 yards per punt with good hangtime. Stanford K Joshua Karty made three of his four field-goal attempts, missing from 32 yards but also hitting one purely from 52. Alabama K Will Reichard missed his only try, but it was from 57 yards, hitting halfway up the upright for about as impressive a miss as you'll see in a college all-star game.

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