NFL Midseason All-Rookie Team: Mac Jones, Creed Humphrey, Micah Parsons and Nate Hobbs lead first-year standouts

So often, we spent an entire year, if not multiple years, scouting players as they prepare to enter the NFL. Then, we seem to lose track of them unless they are quarterbacks or top-tier performers. I know I am very guilty of this.

This year, I wanted to take a little extra time to appreciate the rookies who have performed well out of the gate. I know we are a bit past the midseason point, but there is still a lot of football left to be played, so this team is bound to look very different by the time we reach early January.

Here is my all-rookie team through 10 weeks of NFL action.

QB – Mac Jones, Patriots
This is a no-brainer. Jones has unquestionably been the best rookie quarterback of the bunch so far. Through 10 games, he has over 2,300 yards and 13 touchdowns. Trevor Lawrence has the second-most touchdown passes with eight. Jones’ completion percentage is significantly higher than all other rookie passers as well. He is in the running for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

RB – Elijah Mitchell, 49ers
While Najee Harris has the gaudy usage numbers, Elijah Mitchell has been much more efficient this year. Perhaps that is because he has a much better line, but Mitchell has been one of the fun surprises from this draft class. He is averaging 90 yards from scrimmage per game on a healthy 4.7 yards per carry. Mitchell is in line for a solid second half.

RB – Najee Harris, Steelers
While Harris has had some ugly games this year, evidenced by his 3.7 yards per carry on the season, he is a workhorse for the Steelers. He leads all rookies in rushing yards and actually ranks second in receptions, trailing only Jaylen Waddle. It would be nice to see him be a bit more efficient as a runner, but much of that comes to running behind a poor offensive line.

WR – Ja’Marr Chase, Bengals
Chase has lit up the NFL so far. He ranks fourth in receiving yards per game and tied fifth for touchdown receptions this season among all receivers. He also has 229 more yards than the next rookie in this class. His big-play ability is unrivaled so far and he has to be the front runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

WR – Jaylen Waddle, Dolphins
While he has not been the deep threat that Chase has proven to be so far, Waddle is the main fixture in Miami’s offense. He has 60 receptions this season, by far the most of any rookie and sixth-most for any player in the league this year. If the Dolphins have some more consistent quarterback play in the second half, Waddle should see some of those yardage totals increase.

TE – Kyle Pitts, Falcons
While the scoring plays have not been there, Pitts is still making a large impact. He trails only Ja’Marr Chase for the most receiving yards among rookies. He has unquestionably benefited from increased volume with Calvin Ridley out for the Falcons. It is only a matter of time before Pitts starts to figure things out in the red zone and adds to his one touchdown on the season.

OT – Rashawn Slater, Chargers
Physically dominant barely begins to describe Slater this season. He is the third-highest rated rookie by PFF, posting a dominant 82.2 grade. He has only allowed two sacks this season and continues to shine as a run blocker. He honestly deserves some rookie of the year consideration.

G – Alijah Vera-Tucker, Jets
In the midst of a rough season for the Jets, Vera-Tucker has been a bright light. He has only allowed one sack in 617 snaps this season. He is a bit uneven as a run blocker, but has shown flashes of truly dominant play. The upside he has displayed with his movement skills and instincts is impressive.

C – Creed Humphrey, Chiefs
One of my favorite offensive linemen in this past draft, Humphrey has slotted in nicely as a Day 1 starter for the Chiefs. He honestly deserves some consideration for Offensive Rookie of the Year. He is PFF’s top-ranked center through 10 weeks of play. That’s every center in the NFL, not just rookies. Bradley Bozeman is the only center in the league with a higher pass-block win rate at this point. It is obviously early, but it looks like Kansas City landed a steal. 

G – Trey Smith, Chiefs
If Creed Humphrey was a home run, I don’t even know what that makes Smith. A fifth-round pick out of Tennessee, he has taken the league by storm. Ranking sixth in both pass-block and run-block win rate, Smith is proving that he has what it takes to compete in the NFL at a high level. PFF credits him with four sacks allowed, so there is clearly still room for improvement, but he is off to a hot start.

OT – Penei Sewell, Lions
Finding another tackle across from Slater proved to actually be difficult. Had Samuel Cosmi stayed healthy, this likely would have been his spot. Instead, I will go with Sewell. He has been fine so far, definitely a bit uneven in his play, but that should be expected from one of the youngest prospects in the draft. He has now started on both sides of the line with Taylor Decker returning to action, dominating in his first start at right tackle. Sewell is showing the versatility needed to thrive in the NFL.

DL – Osa Odighizuwa, Cowboys
While Micah Parsons has, deservedly, gotten most of the press clippings this year, Odigizuwa has had a solid start to his NFL career. He is providing some interior pass rushing for the Cowboys on a defense that desperately lacked it. With nine QB hits and a pair of sacks so far this season, he is making his presence known. However, he definitely still has room for improvement as a tackler.

DL – Christian Barmore, Patriots
While it is clear Barmore is still finding his footing, there is no question he has been one of the most impactful interior rookie linemen so far this year. He is tough to move and shows the occasional flash of pass rushing prowess. Putting it all together on a more consistent basis is key, but Barmore seems to be getting better as the year rolls on.

DL – Kwity Paye, Colts
If you haven’t watched Paye play much this year and just look at the one sack he has recorded, you might question his inclusion. But if you have watched his explosive play off the edge, particularly in recent weeks, it is clear to see he is going to be a problem in the league. He is clearly still trying to figure out how to excel as a pass rusher at this level, but his physical tools have been on full display and he should continue to be disruptive.

LB – Azeez Ojulari, Giants
In what proved to be a very weak class for edge rushers, it is hard to find too many players that have stood out. While it has been a little bit of feast or famine for Ojulari, he is second in the draft class with 5.5 sacks so far this season. What’s more is he is getting on the field, a lot. He has played at least 50 percent of New York’s defensive snaps in every game this season.

LB – Micah Parsons, Cowboys
The top dog in the race to win Defensive Rookie of the Year, Parsons has done a little bit of everything this year. He has earned the most plaudits for his scary ability as a pass rusher. He leads all rookies with six sacks on the season. What makes Parsons a lock for this list though is his versatility. He can play on the edge with his hand in the dirt, or he can drop back and play as an off-ball linebacker. That makes it really difficult to account for his whereabouts on a play-to-play basis.

LB – Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Browns
A surprising slide on draft day saw Owusu-Koramoah slip into the second round. The Browns have greatly benefited from his fall. JOK was ramping up into a large role within Cleveland’s defense before missing a pair of games. Now, it seems the coaching staff wants to work him back in slowly, make no mistake though, when he is on the field, he is a difference maker. 

LB – Odafe Oweh, Ravens
You knew this was going to happen. The supremely athletic edge rusher that everyone knocked for his lack of college production has flourished with the Ravens. He has four sacks already in his rookie season, trailing only Parsons and Ojulari among first-year players. Add in 11 quarterback hits and a steady presence on the field, and you have one of the top rookies in the league.

CB – Nate Hobbs, Raiders
Most of the players on this list are first- or second-round picks that I was very familiar with by draft day. Even Trey Smith and Elijah Mitchell were more widely known because of their participation in the Senior Bowl. Hobbs was notably left off the Senior Bowl roster, and yet has been one of the top cover corners in the league this season. He came back down to Earth a bit when Patrick Mahomes picked on him in Week 10, but has been one of the league’s stingiest corners on a yards allowed per completion basis.

S – Jevon Holland, Dolphins
I remember a time where Jevon Holland was regarded as a lock to be a first-round pick. It is looking more and more like that should have been the case. I know, I know, it is way too early to make those conclusions, but Holland has been one of the most dynamic rookies on the defensive side of the ball this year. He is excellent as a pass rusher and has no problem laying the wood. There is unquestionably room for improvement in coverage, but he is best used down in the box, wreaking havoc on opposing offenses. 

S – Trevon Moehrig, Raiders
Man, the Raiders really hit it out of the park with defensive backs in 2021. Early returns from Moehrig might not be quite on the same level as Hobbs, but he has been a valuable member of Las Vegas’ defensive backfield. He is the opposite of Holland, excelling in coverage, especially as a deep centerfielder. He has only missed a few snaps this whole season and even has an interception to his name.

CB – Patrick Surtain II, Broncos
While he hasn’t quite reached lockdown corner status yet, Surtain is off to a strong start to his career. Opposing teams have gone after him a few times, but Surtain has largely held his own. The three touchdowns given up aren’t great, but he is one of just seven starting corners to allow fewer than 50 percent of passes thrown his way to be completed. What’s more is he has seen the eighth-most targets of any defensive player this year. He is under fire a lot, but he has won more than he has lost this season.

2021 NFL Award Predictions: Najee Harris, Patrick Mahomes in line for some hardware

The NFL is back! Before the season gets underway in full on Sunday, I wanted to go on record with my predictions for who will win the major awards handed out at the end of the regular season. I am so glad that football finally here again!

Offensive Rookie of the Year

Harris scored 30 touchdowns in his senior year at Alabama.

Winner: Najee Harris, RB, Steelers
I am incredibly way of the Steelers’ offensive line, but this is going to be about volume. No one else in Pittsburgh’s running back room has proven themselves in the NFL. Harris is going to be in line for a 350-touch season. The team seems committed to running the ball and relying on its defense to win games. That sets up a great situation for the former Alabama star to shine and take home the award.

Runner Up: Mac Jones, QB, Patriots
Some of this is about Jones’ situation and some of it is due to his talent. He might have been the most pro-ready quarterback in the 2021 draft class. Now, he will play with a revamped Patriots offense behind a good offensive line. He also feels like a great fit for Josh McDaniels’ offense. His ability to make plays from the pocket and take care of the football bodes well for him having an impressive 2021 season. I think there might be too many hiccups for him to win the award. Quarterbacks tend to be dissected more intensely than any other position. I think it is too much to expect him to match Justin Herbert’s numbers from a year ago. He will be in the conversation, but I believe he will ultimately come up short.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

Winner: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Broncos
It only took one preseason game for Surtain to flash the potential that made him the No. 9 pick in the 2021 draft. He raced back a 30-yard pick-six against the Vikings in the Broncos’ preseason opener. Now, it was just the preseason, but that is the type of playmaking ability that will win Rookie of the Year. Without an elite edge rusher in this draft class, at least right out of the gate, there is a good chance we see either a corner or linebacker take home the award this year. I’m backing Surtain, who was my top corner prospect in 2021.

Runner Up: Jamin Davis, LB, Washington
Davis flew up draft boards with his speed and instinctive playmaking style. He has the intangibles to become a sideline-to-sideline linebacker at the next level. Washington also has arguably the best defensive line in the NFL, which means Davis should have plenty of clear sight lines to the quarterback and ballcarriers. That front four eating up blocks will free up Davis to diagnose and go make plays. There will be a decent amount of competition for the award this year with Jaelan Phillips and Zaven Collins poised for big roles early in their careers, but I like Davis to stand out.

Offensive Player of the Year

Jones ran for a career-high 1,104 yards in 14 games in 2020.

Winner: Aaron Jones, RB, Packers
Jamal Williams and his 70 receptions over the past two season are in Detroit. A.J. Dillon might still be there, but he is definitely a change of pace back. He will get carries, but I think Jones is in for a monster season. This offensive line will get better when David Bahktiari returns. Until then, Jones can run behind Elgton Jenkins. He will also continue to be involved in the passing game, where he has seen 131 targets over the past two years. This is going to be one of the best offenses in the league again and I expect Jones to be a huge part of that.

Runner Up: Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs
It helps to play with Patrick Mahomes, but Hill is a special talent. After a 1,400-yards-from-scrimmage, 17-total-touchdown season, Hill had a legitimate claim to win the award in 2020. Sammy Watkins is now in Baltimore, so there is potential for Hill’s target share to even increase in 2021. With an improved offensive line, Mahomes will have even more time to drop dimes to Hill deep downfield.

Defensive Player of the Year

Winner: T.J. Watt, LB, Steelers
Well part of this was an assumption that Watt would ball out in a contract year, but I still think he is in line for a special season. He has had at least 13 sacks in each of the past three seasons, including his league-leading 15 a season ago. He plays in a dynamic defense with tons of talent around him. Opposing teams will not be able to zero in on him in pass protection, at least not on every down. In addition to leading the league in sacks, Watt also tallied a league-high 23 tackles for loss. He is a disruptive force on a team that will be led by its defense.

Runner Up: Aaron Donald, DL, Rams
Six straight First-Team All-Pros, seven straight Pro Bowls, four straight seasons with at least 11 sacks. It would unwise to predict anything but another stellar season by Donald. He is the best interior pass rusher in the NFL and one of the best ever. He is going to have plenty of pass rushing opportunities as well with the Rams seemingly poised to score a decent number of points on offense. Opposing teams will definitely need to be playing catch up. I think he will come close to securing another Defensive Player of the Year award.

Coach of the Year

The Bills are 23-9 over the past two seasons.

Winner: Sean McDermott, Bills
Expectations are understandably high for the Bills. Following a return to the AFC Championship Game for the first time since 1993. Josh Allen led a high-powered Buffalo offense that won the AFC East, however, the defense took a major step back. The front office invested in some young defensive players over the past few drafts. If the Bills can become a more complete team and McDermott gets this defense back to its 2019 form en route to a 13- or 14-win season, I think he will be more than deserving of the award.

Runner Up: Brandon Staley, Chargers
A rookie head coach winning Coach of the Year? I think it could happen. The Chargers retooled their offensive line, get back some major contributors from injury on defense and have a talented, young quarterback to lead the way. Los Angeles likely won’t win the AFC West, that’s the downside to playing in the same division as the Chiefs, but the Chargers are definitely in contention for a wild card spot. I think if L.A. gets to 11 wins this season, which feels attainable given their talent and schedule, Staley should be in consideration for the award.

Comeback Player of the Year

Winner: Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys
I had Prescott picked well before I saw his season-opening performance against the Buccaneers. He plays in an offense loaded with weapons and was on a legitimate MVP pace in 2020 prior to his injury. I expect we will see a 5,000-yard season from him, especially with the extra regular season game. After coming off a serious ankle injury, it will be great to see Prescott get back to full strength.

Runner Up: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers|
If his brief appearances in 2020 were any indication, McCaffrey is still the best running back in the NFL. He is such a difference-maker in Carolina’s offense with his ability as a runner and as a pass catcher. It will be interesting to see how he gels with new Panthers quarterback, but I think his usage and productivity sets him up well to be in the mix for Comeback Player of the Year.

MVP

Mahomes has thrown 114 touchdowns since taking over the starting job in 2018.

Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs
What if I told you the most talented quarterback in the NFL is going to play behind the best offensive line he has ever had in 2021? Well that is exactly what is going to happen in Kansas City. Mahomes was in the mix for MVP in 2020, but his production slowed a little bit down the stretch. With more time to pick apart opposing defenses a bevy of talented weapons to throw to, I think 50 touchdowns is within reach for Mahomes again. If he plays in all 17 games, I could definitely see him averaging three scores per game.

Runner Up: Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks
I’m not totally sold on the Seahawks in 2021, but I still believe in Wilson. He has two reliable receivers on the outside in D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. I think new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron will help this offense avoid the second-half fallout it had in 2020. Through the first half of the year, no one could touch Wilson. He was tearing apart secondaries and toss touchdowns like it was no one’s business. Despite a major slowdown in his final eight games, Wilson still tossed 40 touchdowns. I think he can match that total while cutting down on the 13 interceptions he threw to truly challenge for MVP.

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All photos are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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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