This year’s Senior Bowl just felt different. But this year’s game could have a bigger impact on the 2021 NFL draft than it has in other years.
With several opt-outs and limited — or outright canceled — college seasons last fall, several players went to Mobile, Alabama with plenty to gain or lose. For some players this past week, it was the first time that NFL talent evaluators had laid eyes on them since the 2019 calendar year.
And it wasn’t easy to pull off. Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy and his staff deserve a hearty round of applause for planning and executing a successful week all around for players, coaches and scouts from all over the country.
Grateful to announce there was only one positive Covid test out of 3,635 administered tests during 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl week. All players and NFL team personnel submitted a negative test within 48 hours of arrival and were tested every day in Mobile. ? pic.twitter.com/XCdeM3kwiV
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) January 30, 2021
Having reviewed practice tape and watched Saturday’s Senior Bowl game, there are some draft prospects who really helped their stocks … along with a few who missed their opportunities.
Alabama QB Mac Jones
Even while suffering a sprained ankle during the week, which kept him out of Saturday’s game, Jones appeared to be the best quarterback at the event.
Scouts wanted to see Jones removed from the talent hive up the road in Tuscaloosa and work in unfamiliar surroundings. He did just that, despite a handful of regrettable misses during the week.
Jones’ touch, placement and command are all his strong suits, even if he’s not the dual-threat quarterback that’s all the rage these days. There’s a good chance he can parlay this week, followed by a mostly brilliant senior season as a Heisman Trophy finalist who led his team to a championship, into a first-round landing spot.
The veteran QB derby will need to sort itself out before we can start accurately estimating what range Jones will be drafted, but his stock remains strong.
Notre Dame QB Ian Book
Book entered the week with suspicion as an NFL prospect to some. Others were intrigued and wanted to see more from the Irish QB. For the most part, Book helped his cause as a Day 3 prospect.
On short and intermediate passes, Book was highly accurate, threw crisp spirals and generally speaking gave his receivers a chance to maximize their yards after the catch. The problem came on deeper throws, where Book wasn’t as accurate and his passes fluttered more.
Overall, it’s hard to say Book didn’t open some eyes. He won’t be for everyone, and his downfield passing will limit his overall appeal, however Book’s playmaking ability and vastly improved passing over the past few years must be respected.
It wouldn’t be stunning if he goes as early as Round 4. Book reminds me a bit of Los Angeles Chargers fifth-rounder Easton Stick, but perhaps with more juice.
UCLA WR-RB Demetric Felton
First, he was a jack of all trades for the Bruins. Then he moved mostly to receiver. And the past two seasons for Chip Kelly’s team, the 5-foot-9, 189-pound Felton was a running back by trade, even carrying the ball 32 and 34 times in back-to-back games this season.
That’s likely not the role he’ll play in the NFL. But with Felton putting on a show this week, mostly as a wide receiver, he has drawn a lot of attention for how fluid and natural he looked at the position. There is still some work to do on the finer points of the position, but he showed some playmaking skills throughout the week.
Felton even capped it with a touchdown to kick off the scoring in Saturday’s game.
North Carolina RB Michael Carter
His pass blocking needs work but Carter’s big-play ability was on display most of the week, including in the game with a 27-yard run in space and a “Bush push” style rumble for a touchdown after he was first swallowed by the pile around the 6-yard line.
Carter might not be a full-time back in the NFL. If a team is seeking a Phillip Lindsay-type of change-up runner and receiver, there are far worse options. He could be some teams’ RB3 or RB4.
His toughness and inside vision are underrated. We’d endorse him going somewhere in the second or third rounds.
Louisville WR Dez Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick finished strong — six catches for 90 yards, both game highs, including a 29-yard grab — to earn Offensive Player of the Game, despite dropping a few passes. He also had another route where he beat North Carolina Central CB Bryan Mills that could have gone for a touchdown with a better throw. Nice week for a receiver who is not getting the attention he deserves.
Western Michigan WR D’Wayne Eskridge
An explosive athlete who spent time in college as a cornerback, Eskridge is a name to know. His outstanding speed, sharp cuts and reliable hands all were on display this week as well as in a 786-yard, eight-TD college season (in six games!).
The 5-9, 188-pound Eskridge lined up outside, in the slot and even in the backfield in college, as well as handling kick- and punt-return duties. That versatility wasn’t on full display this week, but Eskridge displayed advanced route-running skills in practices and caught almost everything thrown his way — even balls outside his frame. DBs looked like they wanted no part of him all well.
Eskridge is a Day 2 selection who could approach the top 50 or 60 overall selections once he tests at his pro day. He clocked a 4.33 in the 40-yard dash, is a hoss in the weight room for his size and could blow up the jumping drills, too.
Michigan WR Nico Collins
After missing last season and being underused by the Wolverines prior to that, Collins stepped in and looked the part last week. Although he played sparingly in the game and wasn’t targeted, Collins consistently separated in practice sessions and capped the practice week with a terrific grab in Thursday’s one-on-one drills, making a leaping catch in the back of the end zone over Oregon’s Thomas Graham, one of the better corners in Mobile.
Collins showed up and did exactly what he needed to do to remind people of his immense upside. A Day 2 pick looks even more likely now, and a strong pro day should help him even more. He measured in even taller than he was listed at Michigan at 6-4 1/4, with a 79-inch wingspan and a well-sculpted 215-pound frame.
Wisconsin-Whitewater OG Quinn Meinerz
He was everyone’s favorite 2021 Senior Bowl prospect. Even after suffering a broken hand in Thursday’s practice, Meinerz begged to play in Saturday’s game before he was overruled.
Meinerz was impressive during the week of practice despite his team’s season being canceled last fall. While other Senior Bowl players in a similar boat needed a practice or two to shake off rust, Meinerz came in ready to bury people — which he did consistently in one-on-ones.
A top-100 selection for the D-III standout might not be out of the question, even if Meinerz will have to figure out where he’s going to be doing his pro day testing and workout.
North Dakota State OT Dillon Radunz
Trey Lance’s left tackle got off to a slow start in Tuesday’s practice, but by the end of the week he had people talking. Displaying excellent balance and footwork, Radunz improved markedly with each passing day.
The 6-6, 304-pound Radunz lacks ideal mass and could be tried at guard, where he played a little during the week. But his work at tackle impressed.
For a player who was earning some fourth- and fifth-round grades over the summer, Radunz certainly helped his cause this week and could end up making a push to land on Day 2 of the draft.
Grambling State OG David Moore
Another small-school prospect who helped his cause, Moore was an early Senior Bowl invitee who appears to have locked up draft-pick status with a good week of action.
At 6-foot-1 5/8 and 350 pounds, Moore has a highly unusual build. His 82 5/8 inch wingspan certainly helps make up for his less-than-ideal height so he might not be for everyone.
Moore won some folks over with his barroom bouncer mentality, getting chippy in a few head-to-head battles and standing his ground. He played center and guard, too, displaying some nice versatility.
For a player who entered the summer with mostly UDFA grades, Moore seemed to help his cause, even with a few pressures allowed Saturday.
During the leadup to the Senior Bowl, former Grambling State OL David Moore trained with former Houston Oilers lineman Bruce Matthews. Moore earned the American team’s OL practice-player-of-the-week nod. pic.twitter.com/EqAB8mLi5u
— Craig Haley (@CraigHaley) January 30, 2021
Tulane DL Cameron Sample
Where does Sample project in the pros? He measured at a decidedly tweener-ish 6-foot-3 and 274 pounds. As a power end or passing-down interior rusher, Sample showed over the past year-plus he can get it done.
Sample was among the nation’s leaders in pressures this past season and carried that over into a fruitful week of practice, plus on Saturday, where he earned Defensive Player of the Game honors. He can explode off the ball and frustrate bigger guards and tackles with his quickness and hands, which appeared to be strong.
Sample has a little Vinny Curry to his game.
UCLA DT Osa Odighizuwa
When he wasn’t facing Meinerz in practice (seriously), Odighizuwa looked really good most of the week. He’s a smaller interior rusher who flashed some burst, even with a few hiccups in practices. That also showed up in the game, when Odighizuwa was the most effective rusher for the National Team.
It’s a lean draft class at defensive tackle, which also helps his cause. A Day 2 selection feels proper.
Ohio State EDGE Jonathon Cooper
There isn’t a ton of excitement in Cooper’s game on tape, reading more like a solid performer at the next level. However, this week proved that we might need to conduct a deeper dive into Cooper’s game.
Cooper stood out in the week’s practices, including a few dominant reps vs. Cincinnati’s rising OT prospect, James Hudson III. With nice extension, good short-area quickness and the ability to redirect in a flash, Cooper displayed some nice layers to his game.
Then on Saturday, he had a good tackle for loss on QB Jamie Newman’s rushing attempt and another for a 6-yard loss on a sack of Newman. Often lined up next to Odighizuwa, the pair of defenders gave the American Team offense fits when they were on the field together.
Florida State EDGE Janarius Robinson
Robinson won the weigh-in when he measured an impressive 6-foot-5 and 266 pounds with a stunning 87-inch wingspan, 35 3/4-inch arms and 11-inch hands. The latter three measurements will put him in the upper 10 percent of pass rush prospects over the past few decades.
Robinson also made hay in the practices, harnessing that great length into multiple pressures and disruptions. He’s not a perfect prospect and was not as effective with the Seminoles when he was asked to do more than attack the ball. But his recovery quickness, run-defending ability and quick-twitch athleticism make him an interesting edge prospect.
Houston LB Grant Stuard
There are limitations to Stuard’s game. But his effort is seemingly in endless supply. Stuard made himself some money with how he performed on special teams in Saturday’s game, making three tackles on those units and delivering a huge blow on one of Felton’s punt returns.
The long-haired ball of energy isn’t a complete defender, and his size (5-11, 230 pounds, 29 1/2-inch arms) is an issue. But for a special-teams demon, Stuard fits the bill. He’ll go to a team and compete his tail off for a roster spot, even if he has his shortcomings.
Washington CB Keith Taylor
A long corner who often is compared to former Huskies CB Kevin King, Taylor looked really strong most of the week. At 6-foot-2 and 191 pounds, Taylor certainly fits the mold of corner that many teams are seeking (even if his 31-inch arms aren’t quite as long as you’d hope).
Taylor and Louisville WR Dez Fitzpatrick had some fun back-and-forths during the week. Taylor might have ended up on top in their battles.
In the game, Taylor stayed with virtually every receiver he was tasked with covering, registering a pretty pass breakup, strong coverage on a ball that his teammate (Pitt safety Damar Hamlin) picked off and even had a tackle for loss.
It was a nice week for Taylor. His last interception, crazy as it might sound, came as a sophomore in high school, so his ball skills are ripe for questioning. But Taylor’s coverage skills cannot go overlooked.
UCF S Richie Grant
We were surprised that Grant didn’t enter the 2020 draft. Coming back has paid off for the playmaking center fielder. Following a strong nine-game college season in which he picked off three passes and was good against the run, Grant stepped his game up further in Mobile.
It’s sometimes hard for safeties to separate themselves at this event, but Grant had no issues making his presence felt. His competitiveness, range, nose for the ball and playmaking ability — unofficially leading the week in practice picks — all shown out during the week.
Jones might end up being a fairly high second-round pick when it’s all said and done.
Ex-Wake Forest QB Jamie Newman
Newman was in a tough spot, coming into the week cold in terms of recent high-intensity reps. He last suited up for the Demon Deacons in the 2019 season, transferred to Georgia and then opted out of last season. Despite training with well-regarded QBs coach Quincy Avery in the interim, Newman failed to land the big week he needed to re-energize his stock.
Newman flashed some dimes and a big arm in practice, but they were interspersed with off-target throws, shaky decisions (four practice INTs, more than one to Grant) and indecision. After some standout moments in Tuesday’s practice session, Newman faded as the week went on.
Newman hit on 11 of 14 passes Saturday, mostly in the second half, and hit Trevon Grimes for a TD on a back-shoulder throw where Grimes dug out the low pass. He was sacked four times, three in his first four plays behind a shorthanded offensive line, fumbled once and also tossed a pick.
It’s hard to know how he’ll be viewed after not helping his stock much over the past calendar year.
Bowling Green TE Quintin Morris
He ended up having a few highlight plays in Saturday’s game, including a 35-yard grab that was the longest of any Senior Bowl receiver. But throughout the week, Morris looked stuck in the weeds.
The biggest problem was his pass-blocking technique in practice, where it was obvious Morris needs ample work. He also had some dropped passes. Morris is a Day 3 prospect with some athleticism worth cultivating, but he could have done a lot more to solidify his draft status.
Alabama OLs Alex Leatherwood and Deonte Brown
Perhaps it was the long season the standout pair endured. Maybe it was sky-high expectations for two of the better-regarded offensive linemen prospects at the Senior Bowl. Whatever the case, neither Leatherwood nor Brown can say they aided their draft causes.
Neither were terrible. But Leatherwood suffered a fair number of losses in one-on-ones during the week and lacked the kind of anchor or power ideally suited in a left tackle.
The 364-pound Brown, meanwhile, looked sluggish at times when asked to make plays on the move. His power is unquestioned, and Brown figures to win over a team that wants to mash people up front. If you’re asking him to move or handle interior quickness as a pass rusher (such as on the strip sack he allowed to Odighizuwa in the game), you might be asking for trouble.
Brown’s athletic numbers could fall on the low end when it comes to testing time. Some team still could bite on Day 2.
Iowa OT Alaric Jackson
The man who kept Tristan Wirfs at right tackle at Iowa is not the same caliber of NFL prospect as his former teammate who is playing in this upcoming Super Bowl as one of the best rookie linemen in the past few seasons.
Jackson’s lack of length and bulk showed up multiple times in drills, especially in one-on-ones when he had a few turnstile reps. It might not have been a terrible week overall, but Jackson looks more like an early Day 3 prospect than someone who should crack the first three rounds.
Ole Miss OT-OG Royce Newman
Newman struggled in Saturday’s game, giving up a sack to Patrick Jones and getting flagged for a penalty. During practices, his athleticism stood out, but Newman appeared to lose leverage and balance on some reps and will need to harness his power better and play with improved pad level.
Is he a guard? A tackle? He played left and right tackle in the game and looked shaky at both spots. He had a fine final college season, all things considered, and scouts generally like his makeup. But Newman might have missed an opportunity to boost his stock this week.
Florida State DT Marvin Wilson
We’re not sure what to make of Wilson’s game right now, coming off a disappointing final (injury-shortened) season and a Senior Bowl week that failed to move the needle.
Once considered a possible top-40 pick, Wilson figures to be one of the great unknowns in this class. It’s a shallow DT group, but is there enough intrigue to get him anywhere close to that landing spot in April? We have our suspicions.
Wilson failed to make waves in practices, and an injury kept him out of Thursday’s session and the game. Is he out of the top 100 picks now?
Ohio State LBs Justin Hilliard and Tuf Borland
The Buckeyes’ quest to have four linebackers drafted this year hit a snag with Hilliard and Borland failing to gain momentum during practice or the game.
Borland’s speed stands as an issue. He appears to lack the physical traits to be a full-time performer on defense anytime soon, even if his intangibles are off the charts. Players with his makeup can scratch their way onto rosters. Borland might have to make his way as a special-teams performer.
The same might be said for Hilliard, who has endured a few setbacks to get to this point. His tenacity is admirable and he showed some ability to disengage from run blocks in practice, but Hilliard’s coverage struggles were on display more than once this week. He got beat by Morris in the game for a 35-yard grab and had trouble sticking with backs and tight ends in coverage.
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Originally published January 31, 2021, 4:47 PM