2021 NFL Draft takeaways: Which teams nailed it and which teams would like a do-over

The 2021 NFL draft is in the books! While I don’t believe in giving out draft grades as soon as the draft ends and none of these players have played even a down in the NFL, I do think it is interesting to look at how the draft unfolded. There were a few teams that found great value at positions of need while others were left reaching or neglected to fill large holes on their roster. Here are my initial reactions to what went down in Cleveland.

Talk about nailing the draft

At first glance, there were a few teams that I think had really strong drafts. They navigated the board well, found great value and filled out their roster for 2021 and beyond. If your team is not here, that does not mean I hated their draft. There are only so many clubs that can impress in a weekend.

Washington Football Team
Biggest impact: Dyami Brown, WR, UNC (82nd overall)
Best value: Shaka Toney, EDGE, Penn State (246th overall)
This is by far my favorite draft class. It is way too early to start handing out grades, but Jamin Davis, Samuel Cosmi, Benjamin St-Juste and Dyami Brown could all be starters this year. Washington filled a number of positions of need and found some great value throughout the draft. Darrick Forest, Dax Milne and Toney are all solid depth pieces who could contribute in situational roles as early as this year. I think there is tons of upside with both Cosmi and Toney. I couldn’t believe they were both still available when they were finally selected. The only knock you could have would be not finding a quarterback to develop. Perhaps Washington really views Taylor Heinicke as a developmental option, but Ryan Fitzpatrick is obviously a stop-gap solution.

Atlanta Falcons
Biggest impact: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida (4th overall)
Best value: Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan (68th overall)
Atlanta quietly had a great draft. They grabbed one of the best receivers in the draft in Pitts. Richie Grant, Jalen Mayfield and Drew Dalman will all push for playing time this year. Avery Williamson will be a special teams standout. Ade Ogundeji has outrageous length to work with and Frank Darby could be a steal in the sixth round. The Falcons also grabbed Jaret Patterson as an undrafted free agent. Not drafting a running back was one my biggest negatives here, so getting him helps soften that blow.

Carolina Panthers
Biggest impact: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina (8th overall)
Best value: Daviyon Nixon, DL, Iowa (158th overall)
There was a lot to like in what the Panthers did in this draft. Carolina found some gems in the later rounds. Tommy Tremble could be the team’s No. 2 tight end this year and his blocking is a huge asset. Daviyon Nixon had a second-round grade from me and Shi Smith earned a late third-round mark. Landing them in the fifth and sixth respectively is great value. Terrace Marshall gives Sam Darnold another reliable receiver to work with as well. Chuba Hubbard will be a great change-of-pace back behind Christian McCaffrey. Oh, and Jaycee Horn fills a huge need and is pro ready. Carolina has put all the pieces in place for Sam Darnold to be successful.

Cleveland Browns
Biggest impact: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB/S, Notre Dame
Best value: Owusu-Koramoah
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was a top-20 player on my board and the Browns got him at 52. That alone might be enough to make them winners. However, they also grabbed Greg Newsome, one of my favorite corners in this draft, and Anthony Schwartz, a field-stretching receiver with untapped potential. James Hudson is a great value in the fourth round with a lot of upside. Having depth on the offensive line is never a bad thing either. I really like all of the Browns picks across the board. Tommy Togiai could compete for a role this season, maybe in goal line and short yardage situations. Tony Field is a great depth linebacker with a nose for the football. Richard LeCounte is talented but has to clean up his off-the-field issues. Demetric Felton is a fun gadget player for Kevin Stefanski to deploy as well. Well-rounded draft for Cleveland that filled a lot of team needs.

Minnesota Vikings
Biggest impact: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech (23rd overall)
Best value: Wyatt Davis, G, Ohio State (97rd overall)
When you trade down and take a player everyone expected you to take before the trade, you are doing well. Minnesota landed two new starting offensive linemen in Darrisaw and Davis. I had both ranked in my top 32 players. The Vikings landed some other key contributors in Chazz Surratt and Patrick Jones II. Janarius Robinson, Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Jalen Twyman are all good value picks in the later rounds. I think Minnesota did an excellent job of planning for the present and the future. Kellen Mond gives the Vikings a development quarterback as well, who could potentially take over for Kirk Cousins down the line. Bottom line, Minnesota addressed some big needs without reaching. That’s a recipe for success.

Even the best laid plans go to waste

We all go into the draft expecting to go one way. Very quickly, it ends up going another way. The best front offices can pivot and recover when the unexpected occurs. With the benefit of hindsight, here a few teams that might want a do-over.

Seattle Seahawks
Biggest surprise: D’Wayne Eskridge, WR, Western Michigan (56th overall)
Biggest reach: None
Let’s make something clear, this has nothing to do with who the Seahawks decided to draft. It is much more about who Seattle didn’t decide to draft. Russell Wilson made it clear he wanted offensive line help. The front office ignored that entirely, waiting until the sixth round to select Stone Forsyth. D’Wayne Eskridge is an exciting player, but the Seahawks absolutely could have filled the role of a third receiver later in the draft, especially when your top two options are D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. I touched on it in my Day 2 surprises, but there were a number of good linemen on the board at that spot. I was also stunned that Seattle did not trade down. With only three picks in the whole draft, moving down to pick up one or two more selections would’ve been a wise move. The three players they took were good ones, but it feels like the Seahawks could have done more.

Dallas Cowboys
Biggest surprise: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State (12th overall)
Biggest reach: Nahshon Wright, CB, Oregon State (99th overall)
It feels weird to put the Cowboys in this category. On one hand, I love Micah Parsons and Jabril Cox. I think both are great players and Cox was an absolute steal in the fourth round. However, this is a team that already has Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith at linebacker. While Dallas was smart to address its defense, linebacker was the one spot that didn’t feel like a huge need. Rashawn Slater was still on the board with both Tyron Smith and La’el Collins coming off major injuries. Then there was the Cowboys’ third round. Osa Odighizuwa went a bit earlier than expected, but filled a need. Chauncey Golston did too, but I liked him in the fifth round. NahShon Wright is long, but I was shocked to see him go this early. I don’t think this was an awful draft for Dallas by any means, but it was a weird one. I think they could’ve done better with the picks they had and the players still on the board.

Indianapolis Colts
Biggest Surprise: Dayo Odeyingbo, EDGE, Vanderbilt (54th overall)
Biggest Reach: Kylen Granson, TE, SMU (127th overall)

Indianapolis got off to a great start to the draft with Kwity Paye in the first round. Things went downhill from there. Dayo Odeyingbo is an intriguing talent, but he is coming off a torn Achilles suffered in January, so he likely won’t contribute this year. It was also a bit early for him and they had already drafted Paye. With a huge need at left tackle and other needs at receiver and corner, doubling up at defensive end was an odd choice. Kylen Granson was one of my least favorite picks. He went way too early and there were better players on the board, both in general and at the position. Waiting until the seventh round to draft an offensive lineman is questionable given the team has no real plan at left tackle. Carson Wentz proved last year that he does not thrive under pressure. I thought the Colts would prioritize protecting him. Still don’t understand the Sam Ehlinger selection either. Indy just took Jacob Eason last year. Definitely not my favorite draft on paper.

Dylan Moses and Mavin Wilson
Heading into the 2020 NFL draft, I had a late first-round grade on Dylan Moses. Even with the ACL injury and him missing his entire junior season, I figured a team would take a flier on him by the end of the second round at the latest. When he returned to school, he became one of the top prospects for 2021. I mocked Moses No. 10 to the Dolphins in my way-too-early mock draft. Moses had a rough 2021 season. He looked nowhere close to the explosive athlete we saw in 2019. His change of direction speed was gone and he reportedly dealt with a meniscus injury. I thought he would slide into the middle rounds of this draft. For him to go undrafted is wild. It was likely due to the lack of medicals for teams this year. Still, Moses missed out in a big way by returning to school. I will be rooting for him to prove people wrong in Jacksonville. Much of the same can be applied to Marvin Wilson. He was a fringe first-round pick in 2020 mocks, but decided to return to school. He debuted at No. 17 to the Jaguars in my way-too-early mock for 2021. Wilson had a checkered season that started with a public dispute with new Florida State coach Mike Norvell. He only recorded one sack, which came against Jacksonville State, in a disappointing season. Wilson ended up going undrafted as well, signing with Cleveland as an undrafted free agent. He signed a deal worth $192,000 guaranteed. For reference, Joe Tryon, who went to Tampa with the final pick of the first round, is expected to sign a deal worth $11.1 million with a $5.4 million signing bonus, per Spotrac.

While I have you here, a few more thoughts on this draft

These next two teams didn’t really fall into either category, but I felt like they were worth talking about because of the moves they made.

Houston Texas
Biggest impact: Nico Collins, WR, Michigan (89th overall)
Best value: Brevin Jordan, TE, Miami (147th overall)
Houston has now signed Tyrod Taylor, traded for Ryan Finley and drafted Davis Mills. Deshaun Watson’s future looks murkier than that of even Aaron Rodgers right now. Adam Schefter was reporting on Saturday that there are people in NFL circles who believe Watson won’t play in 2021. Credit the Texans for being aggressive in trying to find his successor. Well, as aggressive as a team who traded away a ton of premium draft picks to acquire Laremy Tunsil can be. Houston is still undoubtedly one of the worst-run franchises in football, but this is a positive start for Nick Caserio and company. Instead of feeling like this team is headed for a tear down, they suddenly have an exciting, raw quarterback to develop with an on rebuilding. Nico Collins and Brevin Jordan could both be involved in the offense this year. The Texans are still bad, but I like what they did with limited resources.

Buffalo Bills
Biggest impact: Carlos Basham, DL, Wake Forest (61st overall)
Best value: Basham
For the third year in a row, Buffalo invested significant draft capital into its defensive line. In 2019, it was Ed Oliver with the ninth overall pick. A.J. Epenesa landed with the Bills in the second round in 2020. This draft saw Buffalo grab defensive linemen with its first two picks, selecting Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham. Only San Francisco is able to rival the amount of young talent the Bills currently boast up front. What makes this group particularly scary is the versatility. You could really start any of them anywhere along the defensive line and feel pretty good about that decision. That doesn’t even take into account that Buffalo still has veterans like Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison and Vernon Butler. This undoubtedly sets the Bills up to have one of the best defensive lines in the league going forward. Also love the addition of Spencer Brown in the third round.

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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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