2021 NFL Draft: Day 2 Surprises and Best Players Available

If you thought Day 1 was wild, Day 2 went off the rails! Tampa, Minnesota and Houston all participated in a mini quarterback run. Dave Gettleman traded down, again! The Cowboys and Ravens took players that most draft fans have never even heard of. All in all, it was a lot to digest.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s piece, I will not be grading picks. I think it is premature to judge a team for selecting a player that has not taken an NFL snap yet, much less starting going through rookie OTAs.

That doesn’t mean we can’t react to all that unfolded on Day 2. Here are my biggest surprises from Friday night followed by my best players still on the board.

Houston’s first pick is a quarterback
There is a good chance we have already seen Deshaun Watson’s last game in a Texans uniform. Houston all but confirmed that by selecting Davis Mills with the 67th pick in the draft. The front office has refused to enter trade talks regarding Watson. His pending legal situation has scared off all potential suitors anyway. Mills is essentially an unknown in this draft class. He appeared in just 13 games during his college career. Injuries kept him from featuring more for the Cardinal. However, he was a five-star recruit and has some flashes of utter brilliance on his tape. With two veterans ahead of him in Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Finley, the Texans gave themselves a young quarterback to develop. It was a smart move all things considered, but definitely a bit unexpected given that it was their first selection of the draft.

Owusu-Koramoah kept on sliding
Clearly, the media was way higher on this guy than the NFL was. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah fell all the way to No. 52, where the Browns traded up to select him. At first glance, Cleveland is crushing it. In my book, it landed a pair of first-round players. Just how wrong was everyone in the media? NFL Mock Draft Database had JOK at No. 19 on its consensus big board, which pulls from hundreds of rankings. The consensus draft slot for him was to the Raiders at No. 17. I talked about it in my first-round reaction, I think he is a perfect fit in the modern NFL. He is fast enough to line up all over the formation. Maybe Isaiah Simmons’ inability to make a seamless transition to the pros hurt his stock, but this is truly a mystery to me. Falling out of the first round is one thing. Falling into the middle of the second is another.

Raiders reverse course with second-round steal
Trevon Moehrig was viewed by many as the top safety in this class, myself included. He ended up being the third player selected at the position on Friday. What is really interesting about this is that no one would have batted an eye if the Raiders had flipped these two picks. I guess all is well that ends well. I still don’t fully understand the Alex Leatherwood pick at No. 17, but Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden made up for it in a big way by landing Moehrig, a Day 1 starting-caliber player.

Top interior linemen fall
Interior linemen were a hot commodity on Day 2. Landon Dickerson got things started, which made a ton of sense for an Eagles team in need of interior line help. What transpired afterward was unexpected. Jackson Carman, who played tackle in college but will likely kick inside for the Bengals, came off the board at 46. It was a bit early for my liking, but it filled a clear position of need. Even more shocking was San Francisco taking Aaron Banks two picks later. I didn’t have him in my top 100 as he was 10th-rated interior lineman. Green Bay piled on by taking Josh Myers at the end of the second. I had him 17th among interior linemen. Meanwhile, my first and second interior linemen, Wyatt Davis and Creed Humphrey respectively, were still on the board. Kansas City ended Humphrey’s fall in what looks like a great fit for their offense. Davis slid all the way to Round 3, landing in Minnesota.

Photo courtsey of TigerNet.com

Who needs blocking?
For three picks in a row, I felt like we could have seen any number of offensive linemen come off the board. Instead, Pittsburgh selected Pat Freiermuth, Seattle tabbed D’Wayne Eskridge, Los Angeles picked Tutu Atwell. All three of those teams need offensive line help. Creed Humphrey, Jalen Mayfield and Wyatt Davis were all on the board. The Steelers offensive line crumbled down the stretch, leading to an early exit in the playoffs. Russell Wilson told the Seahawks he wanted a better offensive line this offseason. Los Angeles has less of a need, but Andrew Whitworth turns 40 in December and Austin Blythe left in free agency. For Seattle especially, who only has two more picks in the draft, it was definitely questionable to ignore the offensive line. Pittsburgh finally took an offensive lineman in the third round.

What happened to Jabril Cox?
Coming into the draft, Cox was a fixture in the second round of mock drafts. He is by far my best player available. After years of feeling like the NFL was trending towards smaller, faster linebackers, it seems like the league is pushing back on that notion, at least a little bit. It’s not like linebackers were not being selected. Seven different off-ball linebackers came off the board between rounds two and three. Perhaps it was because teams did not get a chance to see Cox run at his pro day. I’m pretty much at a loss otherwise to explain why he is still on the board. Now, I just want the Jets to take him at 107.

Who are Brandon Stephens and Nahshon Wright?
There are usually a few players in every draft class that I have never heard of. They don’t usually come off the board in the third round. The Cowboys took Nahshon Wright from Oregon State 99th overall stunning pretty much everyone. He is incredibly long, standing 6’4″ with nearly 33-inch arms. NFL Mock Draft Database has his consensus ranking as the 294th prospect in this class. Reminder: there are only 259 picks. Maybe Dallas knows something we don’t, but this feels really early for a player that was likely not going before the sixth round. Baltimore followed it up by taking Brandon Stephens out of SMU. The database had him ranked 424th overall. These two guys came from way off the radar, but in a year when the whole scouting process has been disrupted, this was bound to happen.

Best Players Available

We still have more than half of the draft to go. 105 picks down means that there are still 145 still to go. Heading into Day 3, here are my top remaining prospects:

36. Jabril Cox, LB, LSU
45. Daviyon Nixon, DL, Iowa
48. Brevin Jordan, TE, Miami
53. Quincy Roche, EDGE, Miami
54. Rashad Weaver, EDGE, Pittsburgh
63. Jay Tufele, DL, USC
66. James Hudson III, OT, Cincinnati (Second-round cut off)
72. Trey Smith, G, Tennessee
79. Shi Smith, WR, South Carolina
81. Michael Carter, RB, UNC
83. Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State
84. Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama
86. Marvin Wilson, DL, Florida State
87. Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC (Third-round cut off)
92. Tyler Shelvin, DL, LSU
93. Nolan Laufenburg, G, Air Force
94. Robert Rochell, CB, Central Arkansas
97. Cameron McGrone, LB, Michigan
99. Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State
100. Kenny Yeboah, TE, Ole Miss

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2021 Senior Bowl Recap: Mac Jones shines, Thomas Graham Jr. struggles and small school stars dazzle

The NFL draft is officially underway! Events in Mobile, Alabama have officially concluded, capped by another exciting Senior Bowl game on Saturday. Without the combine and limited attendance at pro days, all eyes were truly on the Senior Bowl.

One of my favorite things about this whole week is the opportunity to see players outside of their usual system. From Mac Jones to Nico Collins, there were several players who got a chance to step outside their college roles and showcase their ability to learn and adapt.

If all of that wasn’t enough, we had some great moments of coaching captured by ESPN during their broadcast of the practices during the week. Both the Panthers’ and the Dolphins’ coaching staffs were mic’d up to provide some excellent sound bites. The best by far came from Matt Rhule explaining what it meant to be coachable to all of the prospects.

I did my best to take notes throughout the week watching practice and the game from home. Some of the following is just a running stream of consciousness. To make it a little easier to follow though, I am going position by position. Consider this my notebook recapping the week of action down in Mobile.

Mond took the majority of the snaps for the American team, finishing with two touchdown passes.

Lackluster quarterback group

While the quarterback position was not loaded with talent as it has been in recent years. That should not diminish the display Mac Jones put on throughout the week. He was head and shoulders above the rest of the quarterbacks in attendance. Jones looked sharp, accurate and poised. His accuracy continues to wow scouts and he easily had the best touch on deep passes of any of the six quarterbacks in attendance. Jones has locked himself in as a top-five quarterback. There is a chance he comes off the board before Trey Lance.

Nowhere near the level that Jones played at, Ian Book still had a solid week. He was the second-best quarterback in Mobile, showing his mobility and an increased willingness to hit receivers in tight windows. He is probably nothing more than a mid-round project at this point, but I think he has pushed himself above the likes of Jamie Newman, who had an uneven week, and Sam Ehlinger, who struggled with consistency and ball placement.

Kellen Mond will draw some intrigue as a late-round flier. His upside is clear and there were moments of brilliance mixed into his play. He was by far the best quarterback in the game on Saturday. Felipe Franks unfortunately looked close to undraftable. He struggled with everything from waiting too long in the pocket to taking snaps under center.

Running backs get left out

Neither team had much success running the ball. The two squads combined for just 121 yards on the ground. Some of it can be chalked up to poor run blocking. Some of it points to an underwhelming running back group and an inability for the teams to establish the run.

Despite the disappointing showing, UNC’s Michael Carter still found a way to stand out. He looked great catching passes out of the backfield and showed more power than I would have expected for a player his size. I don’t know if I would call him a franchise back, but he is closer to that designation than I originally thought.

Virginia Tech’s Khalil Herbert had a couple of moments of brilliance, but they were few and far between. Larry Roundtree looked powerful coming out of Missouri, but had some mental lapses. Rhamondre Stevenson left a bit to be desired after finishing his Oklahoma career on a hot streak. At this point, Carter is the only back from this group I could see going before Day 3.

Rodgers racked up 1,020 yards receiving during his senior season at Clemson.

Another loaded receiver class

This time last year is when the draft community started to gush about K.J. Hill, Collin Johnson, Devin Duvernay, Van Jefferson, Chase Claypool and Brandon Aiyuk. We will have a whole new list of draft favorites after this week.

Michigan’s Nico Collins and Florida’s Kadarius Toney stole the show. Collins showed a real comfort making contested catches and finding pockets of space in the red zone. Toney flashed an incredible ability to generate separation and clear speed to make opponents pay in the open field. Both have room for improvement. Collins’ technique is still a bit raw while Toney struggled with some uncharacteristic drops.

They were not alone in grabbing attention though. Western Michigan’s D’Wayne Eskridge widely drew praise for his route running and agility. A few corners called him the toughest player to cover all week. Amari Rodgers from Clemson dominated the game, highlighted by a touchdown catch. He is really tough and showcased great speed and agility. Arizona State’s Frank Darby also stood out. He got open a lot and showed good awareness for where he was on the field. Both should climb up draft boards following the weeks they turned in.

South Carolina’s Shi Smith turned in a strong week as well. He and Louisville’s Dez Fitzpatrick were two of the most productive receivers in space. Fitzpatrick made one of the best plays of the game with an incredible catch over the head of North Carolina Central’s Bryan Mills.

Quick shout out is needed too for Tennessee’s Josh Palmer. He has the size and speed to stretch the field. He still has a bit of a ways to go with his route running and catching though.

Lots to like from the offensive line

No one is going to make an Eric Fisher-type jump, but there were plenty of linemen that improved their stock after the week. It was the interior linemen that drew the most attention. Oklahoma’s Creed Humphrey came into the week as one of the top players suiting up. He did nothing to jeopardize that status with a solid week.

Let’s talk about the player getting the most hype from this group. Quinn Meinerz stole the show and set Twitter ablaze with crop top jersey and farm boy workout videos. He also played pretty well. This is going to send a lot of people back to his 2019 film at Wisconsin-Whitewater, but he got on everyone’s radar after his performance.

He was far from the only small-school player to turn heads. UNI’s Spencer Brown was much more on the radar than Meinerz, but watching him tower over fellow top linemen really put his size into perspective. He measured in at 6’8″ with 34-inch arms. There is still a bit of refining to do technique wise, but some scouting department is going to fall in love with his intangibles and take him early with the hopes of developing him into a franchise tackle.

Elsewhere, Cincinnati’s James Hudson flashed an enticing blend of size and speed. He is a former defensive lineman. He reminds me a bit of Josh Jones. The athleticism is clear but the technique is a bit raw still. Hudson should be solidly in the Day 2 conversation now. I was also impressed by the play of Robert Hainsey from Notre Dame. He has a good motor and a solid base that translates well to impressive play strength. He is still a late-round prospect, but I liked what I saw on game day.

There were a few players that could have had better weeks. While it was out of his control, Jack Anderson definitely dropped on many draft boards after measuring in with 31 5/8-inch arms. He had a solid week of play, but that number alone will scare teams away. Alex Leatherwood also struggled a bit more than most in one-on-one drills. The long-time Alabama starter failed to cement his status as a first-round pick and likely dropped out of the Day 1 conversation.

Deonte Brown scares me as well. After weighing in at 364 pounds, he got beat a few times in pass protection. I worry that he is not quick enough at his size to contend with the speed of NFL defenders.

Top defensive linemen fall flat, tons of depth emerges

I was really excited to see how Florida State’s Marvin Wilson, Pittsburgh’s Patrick Jones II, Miami’s Quincy Roche and Wake Forest’s Carlos Basham Jr. would fair with all eyes on them. Roche and Basham excelled, but Wilson and Jones left a lot to be desired. Wilson needed a big week to erase the concerns about his lackluster senior season. He showed flashes of his 2019 form, but did not dominate as he should have in Mobile. Same can be said for Jones. He had a great moment when he registered a sack in the actual game, but he had an uninspiring week of practice.

Roche was nearly unstoppable. He showed impeccable speed off the edge and an explosive first step. Few opposing linemen were able to stop him during the week’s one-on-one drills or during Saturday’s game. He will definitely be in the mix to go late on Day 1 or early on Day 2. Basham should be in the same boat following a strong week. He looked comfortable with his hand in the ground playing along the defensive line. He showcased versatility and pass rushing prowess.

Game day turned out to be a field day for the defensive linemen. Osa Odighizuwa of UCLA blew past Deonte Brown and nearly forced a strip sack of Kellen Mond. That capped off a pretty solid week from him. Jonathan Cooper of Ohio State had a great practice week and showed up on Saturday as well with a couple of disruptive plays. Pittsburgh’s Rashad Weaver dominated along the interior of the line. I viewed him as more of a standup edge rusher heading into the week given his size, but he stuffed the run consistently and made life hell for some interior offensive linemen.

Don’t be surprised if Cameron Sample and Janarious Robinson hear their names called before the end of Day 2. They both had stellar weeks and will definitely be sending scouts back to the tape. Notre Dame’s duo of Daelin Hayes and Ade Ogundeji both impressed as well. The top of this draft might lack an elite prospect, but there seems to be some solid depth.

Linebackers came to play

This year’s group of linebackers stood out in a big way, making tons of plays throughout the practice week and into the weekend. Jabril Cox, a grad transfer from North Dakota State who played for LSU in 2020, was everywhere. He looked comfortable lining up in the slot, covering running backs out of the backfield and making sure tackles against the run. He has three-down linebacker potential and received nothing but glowing remarks from his teammates.

He was not alone. K.J. Britt was one of the most surprising players of the week for me. I was not very familiar with him coming into the week, but he dominated practice and made a big impact during the game. The former Auburn linebacker looks instinctive and confident in the middle of the field. He has the makings of a true middle linebacker. Additionally, South Alabama’s Riley Cole showed out in his home stadium. He flew to the football and dropped the hammer in a couple of situations.

It was not an incredibly deep group, but the top guys made a difference. Ohio State’s Baron Browning and Justin Hilliard did nothing to hurt their stock either. Both are athletic backers with a nose for the football.

Defensive backs ensure rough day for quarterbacks

This was not the most star-studded group of defensive backs to ever attend the Senior Bowl, but they sure showed up on game day. Minnesota’s Benjamin St. Juste stood head and shoulders above the rest. His length was put to good use as he consistently disrupted passes downfield. He has some versatility to play at safety as well, but I think he could be a starting corner in the right system.

Not to be outdone, Richie Grant and Aaron Robinson improved their draft stocks. Both former UCF defensive backs fared very well in one-on-ones. Grant, who typically lines up at safety, showed his versatility by playing on the boundary. He made a number of plays throughout the week and could genuinely be the first safety to come off the board in a class that lacks a clear cut No. 1 option. Robinson won the week with physicality. He does not have all the measurables you would like to see from a starting corner, but there were a lot of receivers who struggled to get off the line of scrimmage when facing him.

I came into the week excited to see Elijah Molden take the field. He did nothing to hurt his stock, but it was his former Washington teammate that caught my eye more. Keith Taylor Jr. showed flashes of being a shutdown corner. He was incredibly sticky in man coverage and made more than his fair share of pass breakups.

Another corner that I think made himself some money is Tre Brown from Oklahoma. He is a bit undersized at 5’9″, but he flew around the field and had multiple interceptions in practice. His upside might be limited by his size, but his effort and ball skills still make him a valuable mid-round commodity.

On the flip side, I don’t know that any player’s stock dropped more than Thomas Graham Jr.’s. The former Oregon corner struggled more than most in one-on-one drills. He got absolutely torched by Demetric Felton biting on a double move. He is not physical enough at the point of attack and he has poor discipline with his eyes. He has the traits to develop into a good corner, but he looks like a project rather than a pro-ready option.

It was a similar week for Mark Webb from Georgia. He could not keep up with some of the speedy receivers on the field. I would not be surprised if he ends up being an undrafted free agent.

A couple of intriguing position changes

One of the great things about the Senior Bowl is that coaches will ask players to spend some time in positions they maybe didn’t play in college, but could in the pros. Dillon Radunz got kicked inside to guard despite measuring in well. He had mixed success with the switch. I think he can still be an NFL tackle, but I suppose this would increase his value by giving teams some more versatility.

Another notable offensive line position switch was Jimmy Morrissey moving to guard. He started 47 games for Pittsburgh at center. Much like Radunz, playing another position isn’t a bad thing for his versatility, but I think he fits best at center and it worries me he could not beat out Drake Jackson for the starting reps.

The buzziest position change of all was definitely Demetric Felton shifting to wide receiver after spending his career at UCLA as a running back. He played a bit of both positions in practice and the game. He is simply an offensive weapon at this point. He reminds of a player like Curtis Samuel. He will carve out a role on an NFL offense.

And that will do it. It feels very weird to have the calendar turn to February and not be getting excited for the combine. In the meantime, it will be back to film study trying to learn whatever I can before the draft rolls around in April. Be on the lookout for a new mock draft coming Monday after the Super Bowl when the draft order will officially be set.

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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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