NCAA Tournament Takeaways: What we learned from women’s round of 64 and men’s round of 32

The best time of year on the sports calendar definitely delivered. With 48 NCAA tournament games played over the course of Sunday and Monday between the men’s and women’s divisions, there was no shortage of basketball action to watch. Hopefully, it made the start of your work week more tolerable. The men’s tournament has whittled its way down to 16 remaining teams and will take the rest of the week off. The women keep rolling on Tuesday with the round of 32.

I don’t know that anything could top what we saw over the first two days of the men’s tournament, but the past two days came pretty close. If you missed anything from the weekend or are just looking to catch up on the big storylines, let me catch you up on what we learned.

Best is yet to come in women’s bracket

After an incredibly boring first day of action, the women’s NCAA tournament started to heat up on Monday. Every single favored seed won on Sunday, with lower seeded teams going 16-0. Georgia Tech did pull off a stunning 17-point second-half comeback to beat upset-minded Stephen F. Austin in overtime. That was about the only real excitement we got on Day 1. Things changed in a big way on Day 2. 11-seed BYU knocked off No. 6 Rutgers for the first upset of the 2021 tournament. Belmont then stunned Gonzaga in a 5-12 seed upset. Wright State took it up a notch, beating 3-seed Arkansas to really shake up the bracket. The best game of the day though was probably the upset that didn’t happen. Troy came agonizingly close to being the first 15-seed to beat a 2-seed. Texas A&M got a little bit of help from the refs to secure its spot in the round of 32, ending what would have been an awesome Cinderella story. You can tell me what you think, but this looks like a backcourt violation to me.

We will get better matchups going forward. Michigan draws Tennessee on Tuesday. Iowa vs. Kentucky should also be thrilling. Could Syracuse possibly topple UConn without coach Geno Auriemma and starting guard Nika Muhl in doubt due to injury? It’s unlikely, but there should hopefully be a bit more intrigue as we move further along. Don’t just write off the division because we had a lackluster start to the proceedings. You never know when you might get an Arike Ogunbowale moment. That’s what makes it March Madness.

Chaos reigns in the men’s bracket

Speaking of 15 seeds, Oral Roberts continues its unlikely run, becoming just the second 15-seed to ever reach the Sweet 16. Max Abmus and company took down an SEC power this time in Florida and set up a date with another SEC school in Arkansas. While that is all wild and fun, it probably isn’t even the most shocking region in the field. Illinois fell to Loyola Chicago, Oregon State knocked off Oklahoma State and Syracuse toppled West Virginia. Rutgers also came very close to upsetting Houston, ultimately blowing an eight-point lead with four minutes to play. Still, the region is guaranteed to have either an 8-seed or a 12-seed in the Elite Eight. Plus, don’t rule out the Orange taking out the Cougars given how well Buddy Boeheim and company are shooting the rock. In total, there are four double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16.

We could still end up with a very chalky Final Four, but that’s looking less and less likely with every round. It seems like there are a few more upsets on the horizon and we could end up with a very high seed participating in the final weekend of the tournament.

Pac-12 does it again

In both divisions, the self-proclaimed Conference of Champions continues to excel. On the women’s side, that was expected. Pac-12 women’s teams went 6-1, with Washington State the only team to not make it out of the first round. The Cougars were also the only underdog, at least from a seeding perspective. It speaks to the dominance of the conference as a whole.

Meanwhile, the men’s Pac-12 teams are pulling off upsets left and right. I already mentioned Oregon State knocking out Oklahoma State. USC stormed past Kansas, handing the Jayhawks their worst loss in NCAA tournament history. Oregon dropped 95 points on Iowa to end the Hawkeyes’ title hopes. UCLA also cruised into the Sweet 16, taking care of Abilene Christian. Only Colorado came up short, getting blown out by Florida State. Ironically, Colorado was the highest men’s team from the conference this year. In a year where nothing makes sense, at least that still applies to basketball.

What’s wrong with the men from the Big Ten?

All season long, we heard about how great the Big Ten was. The conference was incredibly deep, evidenced by the eight teams from the conference to make the field, including two No. 1 seeds. After two rounds, only Michigan remains, and the Wolverines were definitely tested by LSU. Illinois suffered a shocking upset. Iowa got blitzed in transition by Oregon, despite Luka Garza scoring 36 points. Ohio State didn’t even reach the second round. After I panned the ACC for only having two teams left after the first round, it has more teams in the Sweet 16 than the Big Ten does. Maybe it was just fatigue after a long season of beating up on each other, but this has to go down as a disappointment for the conference after all of its regular-season success.

Why wasn’t Baylor a No. 1 seed again?

The defending champions in the women’s division narrowly missed being on the top line, instead settling for a No. 2 seed. After watching the Lady Bears drop 101 points on Jackson State while NC State struggled early against North Carolina A&T, it is fair to question if the committee got it right. Now, the Wolfpack did lose Kayla Jones to injury, but after one round, it certainly looks like the committee messed up. It happens all the time. On the men’s side, it is clear Loyola Chicago deserved better than a No. 8 seed. If it sounds like I am splitting hairs, consider this: Baylor has to go through UConn to reach the Final Four (assuming both teams make it that far.) NC State would draw Texas A&M, who nearly lost to Troy, if seeding holds the rest of the way. I don’t care how good you are, you would rather be playing Texas A&M with a trip to the Final Four on the line than UConn.

CBS gets creative with its graphics

March Madness has undoubtedly delivered on the hype, particularly after skipping a year, but I don’t think anyone could have anticipated this gem. Greg Gumbel’s face will no doubt be a meme for years to come. This clip has already made its rounds on social media, and I don’t think it will stop any time soon. What makes it even better, is that CBS doubled down and used these weird Mii adjacent dancers, this time supported by their television producers as backup dancers.

The Madness is clearly spreading. I apologize if you cannot unsee this.

Just stop checking your bracket

If you are like me, your bracket is likely toast by now. I picked Illinois to win it all in the men’s division and I picked all the wrong early-round upsets on the women’s side. Only two perfect brackets remain in ESPN’s Women’s Tournament Challenge. I honestly don’t know if anyone successfully predicted the 16 teams left in the men’s bracket. This seems like a good time to mention that ESPN has a Second Chance Bracket. No, it’s not nearly as fun, but I will never get tired of filling these things out.


NCAA Tournament Takeaways: What we learned from men’s first round

The greatest time of year on the sports calendar is finally here. We have all waited a very long time to enjoy March Madness. At long last, our full days of meaningful basketball games have returned! The men’s NCAA tournament is off to a thrilling start and there is still plenty to come with the second round of action on Sunday and the women’s tournament getting underway. With the first 36 games in the books on the men’s side, let’s take a look at what we learned.

We really missed March Madness

Whether it was Oral Roberts stunning Ohio State, Ohio knocking out the defending champs, or complaining about our brackets being busted, it was so good to have the NCAA tournament back. Friday really spoiled us with tons of upsets and three overtime games. Saturday was a bit more tame early on, but we still had plenty to talk about with Virginia losing its first NCAA tournament game since the biggest upset ever against UMBC in 2018, VCU bowing out due to COVID-19 positive tests and Abilene Christian shocking Texas. To put it in perspective, my friend Akshat offers a very sobering comparison.

Needless to say, we all needed March Madness back in our lives. The second round of the men’s tournament starts Sunday, as does the first round of the women’s tournament. There are going to be an absurd number of basketball games on. Savor these moments. As we learned last year, we can’t take it for granted and before we know it, the season will be over and we will be without college basketball once again.

The NCAA still has a long way to go on gender equity

This should come as no surprise, but the women competing in San Antonio were not given the same treatment as their male counterparts in Indianapolis. While the men had a full weight room, the women had one weight rack with a few dumbbells. Thankfully, Oregon’s Sedona Prince was unwilling to stand for this.

The NCAA botched the whole situation. They issued all kinds of excuses and apologies, but that does not erase the very apparent issue. The NCAA does not have the best interests of women’s college sports at heart. I get that the men’s game makes more revenue, but for the governing body of college sports to not only allow, but play a hand in increasing the gap between men’s and women’s sports is disgusting. All signs point to Mark Emmert being unqualified to hold his position. Thankfully, athletes from the NBA, WNBA and men’s college hoops spoke up on social media and Prince’s tweet went viral. It made national news broadcasts across the country and reignited the conversation surrounding a lack of funding and respect for female college athletes. I won’t pretend that this fixes everything, but it is good to put the spotlight on the issue. And, as a result, the NCAA fixed the situation.

It is nice to see that these athletes can use their platform to advocate for themselves, but it is way past time for these things to stop happening. Hopefully, the NCAA actually learns something from this incident and addresses how they prioritize their athletes. I won’t be holding my breath though.

Cinderella is alive and well

Four teams seeded 13 or higher reached the Round of 32 for the first time in tournament history. No. 13 North Texas, No. 13 Ohio, No. 14 Abilene Christian and No. 15 Oral Roberts all booked spots in the second round in stunning fashion. In total, nine double-digit seeds made it through the first round. With Abilene Christian set to face No. 11 UCLA, we are guaranteed to have a double-digit seed in the Sweet 16. In a year unlike any other, there was bound to be upsets. I expected that. This level of chaos was not something I saw coming.

Could one of these teams truly be Cinderella and reach the Final Four? Recent history suggests that it is likely. From 2013 to 2018, a team seeded 7th or higher made it to the Final Four. No. 11 Loyola Chicago did in 2018. No. 7 South Carolina made it to the final weekend in 2017. No. 10 Syracuse stunned everyone with a semifinal appearance in 2016. No. 7 Michigan State reached the Final Four in 2015. No. 7 UConn beat No. 8 Kentucky in the National Championship game in 2014. What a wild year that was. No. 9 Wichita State made a semifinal run in 2013. It is far from a guarantee, but all signs point to another unforeseen team making a deep run.

If I had to pick one team from this year’s group, I am looking at UCLA. Michigan is not at full strength without Isaiah Livers. Alabama looked plenty mortal against Iona. Florida State and Colorado have high ceilings, but low floors. Mick Cronin’s group is my pick to play Cinderella this year after watching the first round.

Pac-12 came to play

Only one conference in men’s college hoops emerges from the first round undefeated. The Pac-12 went 5-0 as Colorado, USC, Oregon, UCLA and Oregon State all advanced to the round of 32. Now, that record has an asterisk because Oregon advanced without actually playing, but this is still incredibly impressive. Georgetown was a very trendy upset pick over Colorado, but the Buffaloes blew out the Hoyas by 23. In fact, all four teams that actually played won by double digits, which is just unheard of. None of these teams were seeded a five seed.

Now, the task gets much harder going forward. Florida State, Kansas, Iowa, Texas and Oklahoma State await, but after what we have seen so far, it would be a mistake to count this conference out. Remember this next year when you are making your bracket. It’s important to eliminate that East Coast bias.

ACC was as bad as we thought

Speaking of teams on the East Coast, the ACC was downright terrible. And this should not come as a shock. Despite having seven teams in the tournament field, this was a down year for the conference. Virginia and Florida State were the highest-seeded teams, landing on the four-seed line. Much has been made of Duke’s struggles, but they were far from the only blue blood to miss a step this year. UNC was incredibly inconsistent. Georgia Tech was too. Virginia Tech and Clemson faded down the stretch. Louisville, who arguably should’ve been in the field, had some ugly losses. The bottom of the conference was really bad as well. Miami, Notre Dame, Boston College, Pittsburgh and Wake Forest all finished with losing records. A 2-5 showing in the first round feels like a fair reflection. Syracuse and Florida State advance, but their opponents, West Virginia and Colorado respectively, could very well keep the ACC out of the Sweet 16 all together.

What home state advantage?

Purdue was the only school from the state of Indiana to go dancing his year. The Boilermakers earned a top-four seed and seemed poised for a potential Sweet 16 run playing in front of a largely pro-Purdue crowd. North Texas had other ideas. Until arenas are back to full capacity, it might be hard to count on location making much of a difference in the outcome of games. These limited capacity crowds are really fun. Grand Canyon students gave us some memorable moments, but it is clear crowd noise and energy is still not too much of a factor.

All or nothing for Virginia

This time around, it is a bit more understandable why the Cavaliers were upset. The team was not able to practice all week due to COVID-19 protocols and the rust was clear on offense. UVa scored its fewest points of the season as they shot 35 percent from the field and 25.8 percent from behind the arc. 

It is easy to forget, but Virginia was actually the defending champion, having won the tournament in 2019. That means UVa’s last loss in the NCAA tournament came in 2018, which just so happens to be the infamous UMBC game. Looking at how this all played out over the past three tournaments, I think the Cavaliers would do it all again if given the chance. Those first-round upsets sting, but those national championship banners hang in the rafters forever. (Well most of the time. Sorry, Louisville.)

Buddy Buckets is for real

For those wondering, Buddy Boeheim is more than just the coach’s son. In the month of March, Boeheim is averaging 26.7 points per game. He went off for 30 in Syracuse’s first-round win against San Diego State, including a torrid stretch where he scored 16 straight points. He is joined by Kevin Obanor of Oral Roberts and Miles McBride from West Virginia as the only players to reach the 30-point mark in the Round of 64 this year. Boeheim and McBride will face off on Sunday as well, so prepare for some major fireworks. As a Syracuse alum, I don’t think I could have written this column without mentioning Jim Boeheim’s youngest son.

Making a perfect bracket is impossible

We didn’t even get through the first round before everyone’s brackets were busted. ESPN and Bleacher Report both announced that no users on their site had a perfect bracket after Ohio upset Virginia and Maryland knocked off UConn. I didn’t even come close to making it that far. I had UNC facing Ohio State in the Elite Eight with the Buckeyes advancing to the Final Four. That didn’t quite pan out, with both teams suffering first-round losses. Texas was also in my Final Four. Trying to predict the outcome of 63 games is inherently difficult as it is. Add in the wild range of possible outcomes from college athletes and you have what makes the tournament so entertaining. The single-elimination format makes it truly unpredictable. So while your bracket may not be perfect, you can take solace in knowing that no one else managed to predict all these results either. And maybe now there is still hope you could win your bracket pool.

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2021 Senior Bowl Preview: Mac Jones, Kyle Trask headline players to watch, potential sleepers and more

It has been a long two weeks since the college football season ended. Thankfully, the wait is almost over!

The 2021 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama begins in earnest on Monday as players are measured and welcomed to the weeklong festivities. As Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy always says, “the draft starts in Mobile,” and never is that more true than in 2021.

With so much of the normal scouting cycle truncated or adjusted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is one of the few chances scouts will get to evaluate some of the top talent leading up to the 2021 NFL draft. And I mean top talent. The rosters are jam packed with recognizable names and small school stars.

First thing is first, if you want to watch all the action unfold this week, now would be a good time to make sure you have NFL Network or ESPN/ESPNU. Practices will be televised and covered on both networks throughout the week in the build up to the game. The actual Senior Bowl game is on Saturday, January 30 and will air on NFL Network.

The practice week might even be more important than the game itself. Just ask Javon Kinlaw, who suited up for one day of practice last year, dominated the competition, then withdrew from participation.

Practice starts on Tuesday and will be led by the Dolphins’ and Panthers’ coaching staffs. This is a huge opportunity for Brian Flores and Matt Rhule to get to know the players on their respective rosters, especially when you consider that the combine and individual workouts are not happening as they would in normal years. Miami has the No. 3 and No. 18 picks in the first round, while Carolina holds the eighth overall selection. Needless to say, these are teams with premium picks in this upcoming draft.

73 different schools are represented among the 110 players invited to participate. This is a star-studded list as well. Let’s start with the guys you probably already know.

Smith becomes the first Heisman winner to attend the Senior Bowl since Baker Mayfield in 2018. (Wikimedia Commons)

Stars of the show

Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama – Yup, the Heisman winner is going to be in Mobile. Don’t get your hopes up too high though. This is likely just to meet with the coaches and measure in. He is still not medically cleared after suffering an injury in the national championship game.

Mac Jones, QB, Alabama – Smith’s star quarterback will be here as well. He will get a chance to wow scouts outside the loaded Alabama offense and prove he is more than a system quarterback. There is some first round buzz around him, but the general opinion on Jones is very split. This week could go a long way in swaying the scouting community one way or the other.

Najee Harris, RB, Alabama – Let’s round out the Alabama three-headed monster with Najee Harris. Harris is a bruising back with good hands. If he can show enough speed during these practice days, he could solidify himself as the top back in the class.

Kyle Trask, QB, Florida – Another Heisman finalist joins the crew. Trask will have a chance to answer questions about his arm strength and mobility. With Carolina in the market for a quarterback of the future, the chance to impress Rhule and his staff is huge.

Trey Sermon, RB, Ohio State – He entered the national championship game on a tear before exiting early with an injury. Unclear how healthy he is going to be heading into the week. He is a name to watch after a dominant finish to the season.

Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida – A huge part of Florida’s offensive resurgence this season, Toney is a fun playmaker to watch in space. With his name already hovering around the first round, a big week could lock him in as a Day 1 pick.

Creed Humphrey, C, Oklahoma – With the injury to Landon Dickerson, Humphrey has a chance to earn the mantle of best center in this class. He was rock solid at Oklahoma and should be one of the top interior linemen selected.

Liam Eichenburg, OT, Notre Dame – Eichenburg is one of the top offensive tackles in Mobile for the week. He was great protecting at Ian Book’s blindside throughout the season. In my opinion, he is one of the more polished prospects in this class, but his upside is limited by a lack of elite athleticism.

Ian Book, QB, Notre Dame – Speaking of Ian Book, he might not be highly regarded as a quarterback prospect this year, but he will draw a lot of attention after leading Notre Dame to the College Football Playoff. He is not one of the top prospects in this class, but he is a name a lot of people already know.

Alex Leatherwood, OL, Alabama – Arguably the top lineman who accepted an invite, Leatherwood is an interesting player to watch. He has played all over the line at Alabama. Where coaches line him up this week could be very telling.

Carlos Basham, DL, Wake Forest – Let’s get over to the defensive side of the ball. Basham enters as one of the top defenders participating on many draft boards. He will have a chance to feast in the one-on-one drills. He was dominant in his time at Wake Forest.

Quincy Roche, EDGE, Miami – The former Temple standout impressed in his one season at Miami. The list of edge rushers is fairly short, so Roche will have a chance to stand out. He still feels like a work in progress despite being a grad transfer.

Richard LeCounte III, S, Georgia – After a great career at Georgia, LeCounte will have a chance to follow in the long line of Bulldogs defenders who have gone early in the NFL draft. It is a deep safety class and this week will give him a chance to separate from the pack.

Patrick Jones II, EDGE, Pittsburgh – One of the top pass rushers in the country each of the past two years, Jones will have a chance to show off his speed. Teams are desperate for pass rushers this year. I could see him sneaking into the top half of the first round if he has a big enough week. This edge rusher class is still wide open.

Small school stars who could shine

Without a doubt, these rosters are loaded with talent. And those are just some of the big-name players that will feature prominently in practice this week. One of the great things about the Senior Bowl though is the chance for small school stars to jump off the page and send their draft stock soaring. Recent examples include Kyle Dugger from Lenoir Rhyne and Jeremy Chinn from Southern Illinois. Here are some of the best unheralded standouts that could be big risers by the end of the week.

Tarron Jackson, EDGE, Coastal Carolina – Coastal Carolina was obviously the Cinderella story of the 2020 college football season, but the Chanticleers still didn’t get the respect they deserved. He had a strong statistical year and will get a chance to make a bigger name for himself in Mobile.

Dillon Radunz, OT, North Dakota State – You’ve probably heard this one already. Radunz was getting some first-round buzz before the start of the 2020 season. We haven’t seen him play this year because he opted out after the FCS moved its season to the spring. Needless to say, huge week for him.

Spencer Brown, OT, UNI – I don’t think he has gotten the same hype as Radunz, but he probably should. Brown is a mammoth. He is listed at 6’9″, 320 lbs and reported benches 500 lbs. That should speak for itself. Prepare for some scouts to fall in love with Brown similar to how they did last year with Mekhi Becton.

D’Wayne Eskridge, WR, Western Michigan – If you are looking for a big-play threat, Eskridge might be the guy for you. He averaged 23.3 yards per reception this season and scored eight touchdowns for the Broncos. His size is a concern, but he will get a chance to show he belongs with the top prospects.

Robert Jones, G, Middle Tennessee State – One of the top offensive linemen in Conference USA, was one of the bright spots in a tough season for the Blue Raiders. He has the size to impress coaches this week. Without a ton of high profile interior linemen in this year’s class, this is a massive opportunity for Jones.

Christian Uphoff, S, Illinois State – Hard not to pick a fellow safety from an FCS school in Illinois after what Jeremy Chinn did last year. More of a traditional safety than Chinn, who was built like a hybrid linebacker, Uphoff has not played since 2019 due to the pandemic. For every FCS star, this week is crucial as they get their first reps in a long time.

Riley Cole, LB, South Alabama – Cole was one of the top tacklers in the country in 2020. He led the Jaguars with 96 stops, including 54 solo tackles. He is a bit undersized, but coaches could be willing to overlook that given his productivity.

Quintin Morris, TE, Bowling Green – It was a terrible season for Bowling Green. Morris now gets a chance to showcase his talent outside of the team’s dysfunctional offense. He has the build to be a productive move tight end in the right system.

Newman will see his first action since December 27, 2019. (Wikimedia Commons)

Who needs a big week?

Senior Bowl week is important for all of the players looking to improve their draft stock. However, there are a few that really need a strong week to bolster their standing among their peers. Here are the players under the most pressure to perform.

Jamie Newman, QB, Georgia/Wake Forest – Newman transferred after an exciting season with Wake Forest. He never took a snap for Georgia. With a ton of question marks, Newman needs to produce some answers in Mobile. Will he look sharp after months of preparation or rusty after not playing a game in over a year? At the same time, there is a clear drop off in this quarterback class after the top four prospects. A strong week could position Newman as one of the top mid-round options at the position.

Marvin Wilson, DL, Florida State – Wilson was generating first-round consideration last year before deciding to return to school. It turned out to be a poor decision. The season was tough for everyone, but Wilson had a new coaching staff take over and then had a public dispute with his new coach before the year even began. He checks all the physical boxes, so if he can show that potential we all saw on film in 2019, he could salvage his draft stock.

Tuf Borland, LB, Ohio State – Unfortunately for Borland, the last thing a lot of people are going to remember about his college career is him getting toasted by DeVonta Smith on a terrible mismatch. He has to work to erase that image and give scouts something else to talk about. Perhaps this is a bit unfair, but as the saying goes, you are only as good as your last game.

Sage Surratt, WR, Wake Forest – Surratt was a late addition to the Senior Bowl roster, but a good one. He tore up the ACC in 2019 before going down with an injury. He then opted out of the 2020 season, which means the last snaps we saw him play came over 14 months ago. That’s a long time to be out of the eye of scouts and coaches. He has a chance to be one of the best receivers suited up this week.

Jacoby Stevens, LB/S, LSU – Stevens was a top recruit out of high school, but has definitely not parlayed that into immense draft buzz. Given his size and success in the box, I will be curious to see if coaches want to work him out as a linebacker. This could be a massive week in determining how NFL teams view him as a prospect.

Khalil Herbert, RB, Virginia Tech – As it seems to be every year, this running back class is deep. Herbert was a human highlight reel this season for the Hokies. He needs to prove that he can sustain this success though. He spent the first four years of his college career at Kansas and came nowhere close to reaching the heights he did in 2020. A limited resume as a pass catcher could hurt his stock as well. If he shows off some soft hands in drills and scrimmages, we could see Herbert come off the board some time on Day 2. If not, he has an uphill climb heading into the rest of the draft process.

Hill opted out of the 2020 season after just three games, but had 1,350 rushing yards in 2019. (Wikimedia Commons)

Breakout candidates

Every year, there are a few players who arrive from notable schools who maybe did not get the best chance to showcase their skill set in their college system. Van Jefferson showed off some incredible route running last year that we had not seen at Florida. Josh Uche flashed tons of speed that boosted his draft stock. So did Troy Pride Jr., who would run routes for the opposing receiver at times. Those three went to major schools, Florida, Michigan and Notre Dame, but didn’t really start to earn more draft buzz until the Senior Bowl. Here are some candidates that could do the same this year.

Michael Carter, RB, UNC – The lightning to Javonte Williams’ thunder, Carter actually led the Tar Heels in rushing, but took a back seat to Williams, who finished the year with 22 touchdowns. Carter will get a chance to remind scouts that he is more than just a change of pace back and can be relied on at the next level.

Shi Smith, WR, South Carolina – After spending two years behind Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards, Smith got his turn as the top receiver. South Carolina might have had a rough year, but Smith actually played pretty well in his go-to playmaker role. I think he has a chance to shine and move himself into the Day 2 conversation.

Nico Collins, WR, Michigan – After opting out of the 2020 season, Collins has a chance to reassert himself in the wide receiver conversation. He has the size to turn heads and it will be really fun to see him compete in one-on-one drills. He will benefit from some better quarterback play than what he has dealt with at Michigan, too.

Rhamondre Stevenson, RB, Oklahoma – For teams looking for a powerful back, Stevenson should be on their radar. He returned from a drug suspension in late October and looked great in the Sooners’ final six games, including a 186-yard performance against Florida.

James Wiggins, S, Cincinnati – Wiggins had an interesting career at Cincinnati. He tore his ACL before the 2019 season after a fantastic 2018 showing. Injuries again slowed him down the stretch of 2020. If he is fully healthy, this will be a great opportunity to remind scouts of his athleticism.

Jabril Cox, LB, LSU – The former North Dakota State standout tried to help LSU pick up the pieces after losing so much talent from 2019’s national title team. Cox has great size and speed for the position. I think he got lost in the focus on LSU’s offensive struggles, but he could really make a statement in what feels like a wide-open linebacker class.

Desmond Fitzpatrick, WR, Louisville – He might not be as much of a household name as his teammate Tutu Atwell, but Fitzpatrick is a big-play threat in his own right. He showed flashes during the 2020 season. I think he will have the physical tools to win one-on-one matchups and turn some heads.

Richie Grant, S, UCF – Grant has a nose for the football and a talent for making big plays. He turned in a great 2020 campaign and has a chance to build off that in Mobile. This is a deep safety class, so Grant needs to stand out.

Hunter Long, TE, Boston College – Long took a big step in his development in 2020, doubling his yardage per game and hauling in more than five passes per contest. He has ideal size for the position and could wow in a solid tight end group competing in Mobile.

Kenny Yeboah, TE, Ole Miss – While Long is more your typical possession receiver, Yeboah is the big-play threat. He averaged closed to 20 yards per reception in 2020. Despite that, he can still be a factor in the red zone. He has the size and speed combo to be a mismatch for defenders.

Kylin Hill, RB, Mississippi State – Hill made waves in the offseason for sparking meaningful change in Mississippi State. After threatening to boycott the season, the state agreed to remove its current flag, which featured the symbol of the Confederacy, and design a new one. Unfortunately, Hill did end up missing most of the 2020 season anyway. He only appeared in three games, totally just 15 carries. He has plenty of previous experience to lean on and impressively tallied 23 catches in those three games as well. If he can continue to flash that pass catching ability, he will be rising up draft board.

Despite my best efforts, I cannot break down every player attending this year’s Senior Bowl. Hopefully, this will give you a pretty good introduction to this year’s rosters. As always, you can check out the full list of attendees on the Senior Bowl website. It is time to officially get draft season underway. Happy scouting!

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2021 NFL Mock Draft: Jets face tough decision at No. 1

The New York Jets are on a collision course for the first overall pick. I know it. Joe Douglas knows it. The whole NFL knows it. However, the Jets are in a very unique position. They are the least talented team in the league, but the organization believes it has a franchise quarterback.

Sam Darnold has had his ups and downs as a pro, but he also has had the worst set of receivers any quarterback could have asked for in his three seasons. In his last start, his go-to guy was Lawrence Cager, a rookie undrafted free agent. His supporting cast includes a 37-year-old Frank Gore, Patriots castoffs Braxton Berrios and Chris Hogan and an injured Jamison Crowder. Plus whatever you make of Chris Herndon at this stage.

Evaluating Darnold is hard as a result. He has committed a ton of turnovers, but he has never really been put in a position to succeed. His offensive line play finally improved this year, but injuries have already derailed his protection plan. He has also played for two coaches (likely to be three if he is on the roster next year) and two general managers in three seasons. His current head coach is arguably the worst in the NFL.

I believe Sam Darnold has what it takes to be a starter in this league. He might just need an improved supporting cast and some better coaching. In this mock draft, the Jets decide to go with Lawrence and send Darnold to Indianapolis for a 2021 conditional third-round pick (with a chance to become a second) and a 2022 sixth-round pick.

Darnold would take over in 2021 as the starter with Philip Rivers only on a one-year deal. Darnold gives them an instant starter with at two years left on his deal at a reasonable price. Indy still has Jacob Eason to develop in the meantime and Jacoby Brissett to step in if Darnold struggles or goes down with an injury.

Frank Reich would be the perfect coach to mentor Darnold and help him take the next step. He has plenty of talent, so a better system and better supporting cast will do him wonders.

Let’s get to the actual mock draft now. The current draft order is based on Super Bowl odds from Caesar’s Sportsbook. If you don’t like where your team is picking, you can take it up with them.

This looks like it has the makings to be a special class with some great quarterbacks and another group of talented wide receivers. Let’s get started!

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1. New York Jets (5000-1) – Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
This team is going to have new leadership in 2021. Adam Gase will be out. Hopefully, New York can lure a top coaching candidate to work with Trevor Lawrence. He is far and away the best quarterback in this class. He is the best prospect I have seen since Andrew Luck came out of Stanford. The Jets seem to finally have some of the right pieces in place. Mekhi Becton looks awesome at left tackle. While the rest of the roster still needs an upgrade, having your franchise tackle and quarterback is a good place to start.

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2. Jacksonville Jaguars (2000-1) – Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami
At the beginning of the year, if you had told me the Jaguars were picking second overall, I would have assured you they were taking a quarterback. However, Gardner Minshew has looked like the real deal. No, it hasn’t been perfect, but I believe it is enough for the team to consider building around him. While Penei Sewell is certainly an option here, only Carolina has fewer sacks this season than Jacksonville. Gregory Rousseau dominated the ACC in his one year as a starter. He opted out before 2020, but he will have every chance to solidify his status as a top-five pick during the pre-draft process.

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3. New York Giants (1000-1) – Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
2020 has been especially rough for the Giants. Saquon Barkley tore his ACL and the team has struggled to put up points this season. New York’s defense has actually been better than many expected though. I still don’t think that means the front office should pass on Micah Parsons. He is one of the best run defenders in college football and brings pass rushing ability as well. He could give the Giants a rock to build around on the defensive side of the ball.

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4. Cincinnati Bengals (1000-1) – Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
Joe Burrow looks like the answer to Cincinnati’s quarterback problems. If they don’t start blocking for him though, he might not be the answer for long. Burrow has been sacked an absurd 22 times in five games, by far the most in the NFL. Enter Penei Sewell. He would have likely been the first tackle taken in the 2020 NFL draft. You can pretty much count on him being the first one taken in the 2021 draft. He will step in at left tackle allowing Jonah Williams to move inside to guard or flip to right tackle.

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5. Washington Football Team (500-1) – Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
Dwayne Haskins’ time is up in Washington. He got benched in Week 5 and I don’t think we will ever start again, barring injuries forcing him back into action. The front office could look to trade him this offseason. Regardless, the team will be looking for a new franchise quarterback. They can just replace Haskins with his successor at Ohio State. Justin Fields had an excellent season in 2019, leading the Buckeyes to the College Football Playoff. He has plenty of arm talent and great escapability. He could sit for a year behind Alex Smith or Kyle Allen before taking over as the starter.

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6. Atlanta Falcons (500-1) – Patrick Surtain, CB, Alabama
Could Atlanta move on from Matt Ryan, or at least work on finding his successor? It’s not out of the question with both Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff fired on Sunday. However, he is effectively under contract through 2022. Outside of the dud against the Panthers, Ryan has not been the problem either. Atlanta’s defense has been arguably the worst in the league. Between injuries and a lack of talent, the secondary is atrocious. The Falcons reached on A.J. Terrell last year. Patrick Surtain would not be a reach. He has the chops to be a true lockdown corner and is reliable as a tackler. He has NFL pedigree and is battle tested coming out of the SEC.

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7. Detroit Lions (250-1) – Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
I spent most of last offseason mocking quarterbacks to the Detroit Lions. Matt Stafford stepped up though before missing the final three quarters of the season with an injury. So far this season, he has not looked sharp. His completion percentage is 30th among 33 qualified quarterbacks through five weeks. Even if the Lions don’t move on from him before the start of the 2021 season, finding his successor could be something a new coaching staff and front office places a high priority on. Trey Lance might not have faced the same level of competition as Lawrence and Fields, but he has future franchise quarterback written all over him.


8. Denver Broncos (250-1) – Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
Denver’s secondary is incredibly young right now. However, the team needs to continue restocking after Chris Harris, Tremaine Brock and Bradley Roby all left over the past two seasons. Caleb Farley is the type of physical corner that could reshape the defense. Playing him across from A.J. Bouye when he returns from injury would give the Broncos a reliable starting duo on the outside with some Bryce Callahan holding down the slot.

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9. Miami Dolphins via Houston Texans (125-1) – Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
At some point, the team is going to be turned over to Tua Tagovailoa. He has two solid receivers in DeVante Parker and Preston Williams, but Miami should find him another pass catcher to work with. Ja’Marr Chase broke all kinds of records at LSU in 2019 while catching passes from Joe Burrow. He is a great route runner with the ability to take the top off a defense. He plays a lot bigger than his size as well. This Dolphins offense could be scary to face starting in 2021.

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10. Los Angeles Chargers (125-1) – Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas
L.A. tabbed Justin Herbert as it’s quarterback of the future. Now it needs to invest in protecting him. Samuel Cosmi is not the most polished prospect, but he has the size and length to project well as a starting tackle in the NFL. He has experience at both tackle spots and moves well for a player who is listed at 6’7″, 309 lbs. No matter which side he plays on, he will provide a nice boost to a Chargers offensive line that has struggled at times this season.

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11. Minnesota Vikings (125-1) – Marvin Wilson, DL, Florida State
Stopping the run has become a major issue for the Vikings. With Cosmi off the board, Minnesota can opt to plug up the middle of their defense. Florida State standout Marvin Wilson would be an instant upgrade over Jaleel Johnson or Shamar Stephen. Wilson has racked up 14 tackles for loss and nine sacks in his career. He would create an incredible front four with Danielle Hunter, Yannick Ngakoue and Michael Pierce. Unless there is a quarterback that slides to this point or the team decides to get aggressive by trading up, I think going best player available makes the most sense.

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12. Miami Dolphins (100-1) – Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama
The Dolphins linebacking corps at this stage is mostly just ex-Patriots. The group could use an infusion of talent. Dylan Moses has sideline-to-sideline potential and a nose for the football. He has racked up 23 tackles and three tackles for loss in Alabama’s first three games this season. He missed all of 2019 due to a torn ACL, but seems to be back to full strength. His playmaking ability and leadership make him a great fit for Brian Flores’ defense.

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13. Philadelphia Eagles (50-1) – Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State
Philadelphia hoped that acquiring Darius Slay would solve their secondary problems. He has held up his end of the bargain. The rest of the unit has not. The last defensive back the Eagles drafted in the first round was Lito Sheppard back in 2002. It is past time Philly dedicated draft capital to the position. Shaun Wade showed out as a nickle cornerback last season for Ohio State. Once the Big Ten season starts, he will get a chance to show he can play on the outside as well. He has the size and length to the play the position well.

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14. Carolina Panthers (50-1) – Wyatt Davis, G, Ohio State
Carolina is gaining momentum right now and seems set at a number of key positions. Teddy Bridgewater looks sharp at quarterback. The team is pretty deep at the skill positions and spent all of its draft picks on defense last season. The biggest hole the Panthers have is at left guard. Michael Schofield was a stop-gap solution after the team traded away Trai Turner. Wyatt Davis can step in and play the position at an extremely high level. He is a road grader with great pass blocking tools. He will be a big boost to this offense.


15. Arizona Cardinals (40-1) – Creed Humphrey, C, Oklahoma
Arizona’s offensive line has been much better so far this season. After Kyler Murray took 45 sacks in 2019, the unit has only allowed eight so far this year. However, they could still use some help along the interior of the line. Creed Humphrey is about as polished of an interior line prospect as you will find in college football. He has started each of the past three years at Oklahoma, including 2018, when he was blocking for none other than Murray. This is a perfect fit that fills a huge need.

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16. San Francisco 49ers (35-1) – Alex Leatherwood, OL, Alabama
Injuries have decimated the 49ers so far this year. Suddenly, the team has a quarterback controversy on its hands as well. I don’t think San Francisco will be investing a first-round pick in a quarterback this year though. Instead, the front office should look to solidify the offensive line or secondary. Alex Leatherwood is the best player at either position available. His versatility would be hugely valuable. He has played every position other than center along the offensive line. Leatherwood has the length to play tackle, making him a potential long-term solution at left tackle as well.

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17. Chicago Bears (30-1) – Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
Chicago is one of the toughest teams to mock in the NFL. In the middle of the order, quarterback would be a reach at this point. The team has plenty of talent on defense and an above offensive line as well. One area for concern centers around Allen Robinson. There has been tension between him and the front office regarding his contract situation already this year. Even if he is back, the Bears could use more playmaking on offense. Look no further than Jaylen Waddle. He is an explosive athlete with good size and incredible yards after the catch ability. He can also contribute on special teams. No matter who the quarterback is next year, he will benefit from playing with Waddle.

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18. Indianapolis Colts (25-1) – Jevon Holland, DB, Oregon
Julian Blackmon has been a revelation for the Colts defense this season. Malik Hooker is a pending free agent though and suffered a season-ending Achilles injury. Even if Hooker does come back, Jevon Holland is the best available option on the board for Indy. After trading for Sam Darnold (in this mock draft) to find a quarterback, Holland can step in and be a dynamic playmaker on the defense. He has played at both safety spots and nickle corner in time at Oregon. Indianapolis desperately needs that type of versatility and depth in the secondary.

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19. New England Patriots (25-1) – Carlos Basham, EDGE, Wake Forest
With the top offensive linemen off the board, New England can go after an edge rusher. Between opt outs, offseason departures and injuries, this once vaunted Patriots defense is much more middle of the road in 2020. With just six sacks through four games, they need an infusion of talent and speed off the edge. Carlos Basham can do just that. He has 17.5 career sacks, including three this season, and 33 tackles for loss. His size makes him a good fit for Bill Belichick’s defense as well, with the ability to put his hand in the ground or stand up on the outside.

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20. Dallas Cowboys (22-1) – Andre Cisco, S, Syracuse
Injuries have tanked the Cowboys this season, but most of those have been on the offensive side of the ball. Defensively, Dallas just stinks. Darian Thompson is not a starting-caliber safety. Xavier Woods has been solid, but could easily be replaced. Andre Cisco is a free safety by trade, which makes this fit a little tricky, but the Cowboys cannot afford to pass up on talent. Cisco is a ballhawk with 13 career interceptions. Considering Dallas has a league-worst -7 turnover margin, this is the type of playmaking they desperately need.

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21. Cleveland Browns (20-1) – Christian Barmore, DL, Alabama
Cleveland could arguably use linebacker help over a defensive tackle, but with none worth taking here, Christian Barmore is the pick. He is a well-rounded prospect with three-down ability. He can stuff the run or get after the quarterback. At 6’5″, 310 lbs, he could easily fit into the Browns 4-3 defensive front alongside Larry Ogunjobi. The team can save $12 million in cap space by cutting Sheldon Richardson next offseason. Too often, Myles Garrett is a one-man wrecking crew. Barmore will help shoulder the load up front.

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22. Tennessee Titans (20-1) – Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue
Maybe Corey Davis has a future in Tennessee, maybe he doesn’t. A.J. Brown seems pretty well entrenched as the No. 1 option when healthy and Davis might just be good enough to play behind him. With Davis’ deal up at the end of the year, the Titans could be in the market for another playmaker. Rondale Moore is about as reliable as they come. In his freshman season, he caught 114 passes for over 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also added an additional 213 yards rushing. He got off to a great start in 2019 before injuries derailed his season. While Tennessee would love a top-tier defensive back to fall to them, Moore is an excellent consolation prize.

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23. Las Vegas Raiders (18-1) – Jaylen Twyman, DL, Pittsburgh
One year after thinking they struck gold with their revitalized pass rush, the Raiders have managed just seven sacks in five games. With two young pass rushers on the edge, Las Vegas needs a disruptive force on the interior. Jaylen Twyman would be just that. He racked up 10.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss in his 2019 campaign. At 6’2″, 290 he projects well as a three-technique tackle who would fit really well alongside Johnathan Hankins.

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24. Jacksonville Jaguars via Los Angeles Rams (15-1) – Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
In the interest of seeing Gardner Minshew succeed, let’s get him a pass-catching tight end who can make plays in space. Jacksonville quietly has a pretty deep receiver room right now. At the same time, few teams can match their level of futility at tight end. James O’Shaughnessy and Tyler Eifert have combined for 23 catches for 208 yards and one touchdown through five games. Kyle Pitts has 17 catches for 274 yards and seven touchdowns in three games. He is a matchup nightmare at 6’6″, 240 lbs. Giving Minshew a reliable target on third down and in the red zone will definitely help his development.

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25. Buffalo Bills (12-1) – Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State
We have a run on tight ends! After none were selected in the first round last year, it is exciting to see two go back-to-back in this mock draft. Buffalo has gotten even less production out of Dawson Knox and Tyler Kroft. Josh Allen is proving that he is truly the franchise quarterback for the Bills and the team should give him as many weapons as they can. Pat Freiermuth has drawn some comparison to Rob Gronkowski. Now, that is high praise, but Buffalo would love to have a player like that on its offense. He is a threat in the red zone with the potential to develop into a top-tier player at the position.

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26. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-1) – Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
The Steelers could be heading into one of the most crucial offseason’s the franchise has faced in a long time. Without a clear heir to Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh could certainly kick the tires on Haskins and Darnold. However, Big Ben might have a few more years in him as well. With James Conner in a contract year, the Steelers could suddenly have an opening at running back. Najee Harris is a bruising back with above average hands out of the backfield. He is also a scoring machine, with 30 touchdowns in his past 16 games. Rather than pay an injury prone back like Conner, Pittsburgh can get an upgrade at the position on a rookie contract and look to target a quarterback prospect in the later rounds.

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27. New Orleans Saints (10-1) – DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
I truly believe the Saints feel they already have their long-term solution at quarterback in house. Whether it’s Jameis Winston returning on a bigger contract or turning things over to Taysom Hill, New Orleans has two options for when Drew Brees retires. What they don’t have is a long-term complement to Michael Thomas. DeVonta Smith is exactly the type of player Sean Payton has wanted in this offense for a long time. He thought he was going to get it with Tedd Ginn Jr. Smith is a speedy, big-play threat with a polished route tree and tons of agility. He comes out of an Alabama offense that has thrown it a lot over the past two seasons. He is a bit undersized, which makes me question if he will hold up in the NFL, but he would fit in perfectly alongside Thomas in this offense.

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28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (17-2) – Jay Tufele, DL, USC
Ndamukong Suh is 33 and out of a contract at the end of the season. Tampa could hope it gets another great season out of him on another one-year deal, but it might be time to start thinking about a long-term replacement. Jay Tufele is not Suh, but he is built like him. He will need time to put it all together at the next level, but he has shown flashes at USC of devestating potential. He and Vita Vea could create a dominant tandem on the interior of the Buccaneers defensive line.

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29. Green Bay Packers (8-1) – Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
While the Packers might be proving us all wrong about needing to draft a receiver, it would be wise to eventually invest in the position. Davante Adams is signed through 2021 and the rest of the Packers receivers are not exactly proven commodities. Rashod Bateman plays a bit like Michael Thomas, and that is a very good thing. He is a big-body receiver who can work underneath or stretch the field. Bateman has plenty of big-play ability, averaging 20.3 yards per reception in 2019 for Minnesota. He would give Aaron Rodgers, and eventually Jordan Love, a consistent outside threat to work with.

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30. Baltimore Ravens (5-1) – Joe Tryon, EDGE, Washington
Matt Judon, Pernell McPhee, Tyus Bowser and Derek Wolfe are all free agents after the 2020 season. While Baltimore will likely invest in keeping some of them, it is incredibly unlikely all four players return for 2021. That opens up a need for an edge rusher in the draft. Joe Tryon is still a bit raw, but he has all the physical tools to develop into a great pass rusher. His play strength is evident on film. He has quick feet and uses his hands well. Learning in Don Martindale’s defense would be excellent for his development. He might not start right away, but the Ravens could definitely deploy him as a situational rusher.

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31. New York Jets via Seattle Seahawks (5-1) – Tyson Campbell, CB, Georgia
Outside of quarterback, left tackle, strong safety and slot receiver, the Jets likely need an upgrade at the position. The secondary is a mess right now. New York’s unit is mostly just cast offs from other teams looking to fill in. The Jets are one of the most penalized teams in the NFL, largely due to poor secondary play. Tyson Campbell might help fast-track a rebuild of the unit. He has outstanding speed and quickness, not to mention excellent size for the position. Campbell still has a bit of fine-tuning to do when it comes to his technique and discipline, but he is a big reason why Georgia defense has been so dominant this year.

Chiefs Logo32. Kansas City Chiefs (7-2) – Trey Smith, OL, Tennessee
The reigning champs seem poised to defend their title. Brett Veach added a new running back to the mix and found some much-needed help for the secondary. While the Chiefs have some depth at the tackle spots, they could use some new talent on the interior of their offensive line. They have to protect Patrick Mahomes and his mega deal after all. Trey Smith has battled through blood clots in his lungs. When he is on the field, he is an All-American caliber guard. He was actually ESPN’s top-rated recruit back in 2017. He is a massive human being with plenty of potential if he can stay on the field.

NFL Draft Podcast – College Football opt outs and player demands

Chris is finally back recording the show! He breaks down the decisions of Caleb Farley, Rashod Bateman, Rondale Moore, Gregory Rousseau and Micah Parsons to opt out of the 2020 season. He also discusses the impact of the Pac-12’s player demands and how the Big Ten followed suit. Plus, catch up on the latest regarding the Power 5 conference schedules for the upcoming season. Listen to the latest episode now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.