NFL Draft

Biggest standouts from the 2021 Senior Bowl:

Since I invested so much time into my Super Bowl preview and a video on the ten biggest questions heading into the big game, I only got around to re-watching all the practice footage from Senior Bowl this week and with this being the only really meaningful event in this year’s pre-draft process – since the combine has already been canceled and pro days will be pretty limited as well – I think it was certainly worth studying in more detail and point out the college prospects, that impressed me the most.

This has nothing to do with any ranking or who the best players were overall, but rather who helped themselves the most with their week of practice and the actual game down in Mobile. I’m going to work through this position-by-position and explain what these young men did to make the scouts go back and watch what they might have missed originally on tape, showed in terms of something they weren’t really asked at their respective schools or in the case of smaller school prospects – how they proved that they can perform against more talented competition.

Here’s the guys that really stood out to me:

 

 

Offense:

 

QB Mac Jones, Alabama

This year wasn’t the most impressive crop of quarterbacks, because the big names were all underclassmen, but Jones’ abilities to quickly process information, re-sett his feet and deliver accurately was apparent right off the bat in Mobile. And when you paid attention to the interactions with the coaching staff, you realized the grasp and understanding he has for the game. He just seemed to be in such great command. In these all-star games, quarterbacks usually err on the side of conservativeness, in terms of taking a lot of safe throws and check-downs to the backs, but Jones didn’t shy away from getting the ball out right as he made that hitch on curl routes or attempting touch passes against tight coverage. And the first of those two is kind of surprising, considering that the Bama offense didn’t even include those stop-type routes as primaries these last couple of years, when you listen to now-former OC Steve Sarkisian’s philosophy of wanting to hit receivers on the move. There was one throw in particular to Georgia’s Tre McKitty in team drills, who had probably the best coverage-linebacker down in Mobile tight on him running a crossing route, where Jones feathered it in perfectly, just beyond the outstretched arm of the defender. Jones put the ball as far away as possible from the defense on out-breaking routes and his ball-placement in the red-zone in particular was on point. Mac Jones did not need to show up at all in Mobile, but with the big four not eligible to participate and Florida’s Kyle Trask working through an injury, he put together a strong performance – even if he didn’t actually play in the game on Saturday – and firmly placed himself in the first round, around pick 20, I believe.

 

 

RB/WR Demetric Felton, UCLA

The weight-ins to begin the week certainly didn’t look optimal for Felton’s prospects of lining up in the backfield at the next level, measuring in at 5’8” ½ and 190 pounds. However, the Senior Bowl coaches put Felton with the receivers day one and he looked like he belonged right away, naturally getting in and out of his breaks with sudden movements and great quicks, to go along with effective head-fakes, very. Plus, I liked the way he utilized shuffle steps, to set defenders up off the line. His first two reps of the week went against the top corner there in Oklahoma’s Tre Brown and while the defender broke up the first pass, Felton shook him on a deep out route next, where he really sold the post by stemming and nodding that way. The former Bruin also ran a sick stutter-go for a TD against another really good corner in one-on-ones, as he got Oregon’s Thomas Graham to turn his head all the way around, whilst running by him. And to make sure he beat all of three best CBs down in Mobile, he also got Washington’s Keith Taylor on a double-release slant later on. This guy could be a nightmare on pivot or whip routes. I don’t think Felton actually played a single snap at RB in team drills, but he was very effective as a slot receiver. To only thing I’d say, is that there’s definitely a lot of sauce to his routes, to the point where it will be hard to sustain that in a timing-based passing attack. Yet, he is kind of doing the invert Antonio Gibson transition and it’s pretty astonishing that Felton was named the National Team’s wide receiver of the week, after he had never played the position full-time in college.

 

WR Josh Palmer, Tennessee

This dude has such a solid build at 6’1”, 210 pounds with a 79-inch wingspan. If there was an award for who filled out his Senior Bowl unis the most beautifully, I would say Palmer would be the choice with that muscular frame. However, behind those looks was even better game. The former Volunteer showed efficient route-running and strong hands, consistently beating his man in one-on-ones, as a smooth glider with excellent concentration at the catch point. You saw his play strength really on display, kind of throwing guys off when breaking back towards the QB or coming underneath the defender on in-breakers. Palmer snaps that head around when he makes his cuts, but there was one rep in particular, where he easily won on a shallow crosser versus a corner, who was playing about eight yards off – which he obviously should anyway – but what I loved is how he started bending already, but his eyes were still looking downfield, to not allow the defender to break aggressively on the ball. The way Palmer can create space with body-language is very advanced. And then he still has that strong frame, to make it hard for defenders to get around him and knock the ball down. The one play I want to point out here is making Florida safety Shawn Davis look really bad, by letting him fly upfield on a corner route, where it honestly looked like the defender tripped over some kind of string that was tied up in front of him. Palmer had also easily won on a post route earlier, where he nodded the other way and opened up the space. The cherry on top was how impressive he was at attacking the ball at its highest point and skying over DBs in the red-zone.

 

WR D’Wayne Eskridge, Western Michigan

We have seen plenty of MAC receivers make noise in the pros and just in 2017, Corey Davis was a top-five pick coming out of Western Michigan. However, when those guys go up against Power-Five competition and face a lot of press, which they aren’t used to, it takes some time adjust – not so much for Eskridge. He showed great urgency off the line, did not get hung up with contact despite only weighing in at 190 pounds and he smoked a bunch of those highly-recruited DBs. The way he snapped off his routes and created separation just looked so easy. He had an absolutely filthy rep against Cal’s Camryn Bynum, where he turned him completely around on a slant with a V-release, to the point where the defender was completely out of the picture in the practice footage I had. I also loved how Eskridge leaned to the outside and then created space when breaking to the post a few times. You can tell that he really has an understanding for pacing and body-language on routes. And then he snatched the ball at full extension, at times when thrown too high. All of those things combined is what got him named the National Team’s Player of the Day for Tuesday. He had to sit out day three and the actual game, because he was a little banged up, but with what he put on tape, roasting several of the top corners from the Power-Five, he has not only cleared up any questions about how his talent may transition against the top players in the country, but also put him above quite a few of those receivers. I wouldn’t be shocked if he ended up going somewhere in the middle of the second round.

 

TE Tre McKitty, Georgia

When you talk about those prospects from big-time SEC programs like Alabama or Georgia in this case, a lot of times there’s not a ton to gain in these events, but for McKitty this was an important week, because of how underutilized he was with the Bulldogs. He only caught six passes for just over 100 yards last season. The winning for him started at weigh-ins already, when he measured in at 6’5”, 245 pounds with massive 11 ½-inch hands. When he got out to the practice field, McKitty moved around and caught the ball very naturally, really working that middle of the field. There was the one I just referenced with Alabama QB Mac Jones, where the part this big tight-end played, shouldn’t be undersold either, as he extended that upfield arm late and made a one-handed grab on it, despite having LSU linebacker Jabril Cox right in his face. And later on, he kind of bailed out the QB on a throw over the middle, where he made a smooth transition with the ball a little behind him, that many guys would have dropped. He had two more one-handers in one-on-ones – even though I’m not sure if it was really necessary on the first one – once after he made one of the safeties fall on the second break of the dig route and then in kind on an underthrown jump-ball situation. With McKitty, I feel like defenders often were in pretty good position and at the very end, he got off them with a little shake at the top. The former UGA tight-end got man-handled a couple of times by Wake Forest’s Carlos Basham at the point of attack, but that’s somebody, who may play three-technique in sub-packages quite a bit and that’s just a matchup that he will lose, and in general I liked how he initiated contact and climbed up to linebackers. In a very shallow tight-end class, with one true head-liner and about three more names in day one and two consideration, McKitty certainly helped himself.

 

OT Dillon Radunz, North Dakota State

At 6’5” ½, 305 pounds, Radunz was appealing to scouts thanks to his measurements, but more importantly his dominant play at the FCS level. During this week in Mobile, he absolutely showed that he can do it against Power-Five competition as well. Radunz’ movement skills looked very impressive. As a pass-protector, he flies out of his stance and into the kick slide, taking away any easy angle right away. I love how active and well-coordinated his feet are, plus he showed the ability to re-position the hands and recover with natural athleticism. There was one rep, where he got beat on an inside counter and spun himself to get his hands back on the defender and ultimately pancake him. Northern Iowa’s Elerson Smith gave plenty of tackles problems with his quickness, but on the couple of reps Radunz had against him, he did what he already did in their last regular season meeting – he shut him down. My biggest question coming into the week for Radunz was if he had enough sand in his pants and if he could swallow power, especially transitioning from speed and landing the icepick, but that didn’t seem him like much of a problem for him at any point. To me he was the best and most consistent OT of the week at Hancock-Whitney Stadium. I’m still working through a lot of tape and I think there’s plenty of intriguing tackle options in this class, but at this moment I’m only comfortable with four names that I’d definitely put ahead of Radunz. I think this is one of those guys that actually would have benefitted from a full combine, where put his athleticism on display, but the tape and the confirmation against NFL-level players is there.

 

 

OT D’Ante Smith, East Carolina

This is one of those guys I didn’t really know or hear much about before the week, but I will definitely watch more of his tape now. Smith made an early statement on day one of team drills, when he took Florida State’s 320-pound D-tackle Marvin Wilson and drove him a good five yards out of the way on angle-block. He was lined up at guard there and got a help-hand from the tackle, but he was definitely the one rolling those hips through contact and creating the momentum. And he does a good job of using his lower half to get that initial movement and then continuing to drive those feet. Overall, I liked his quickness of the snap, the balance he played under and how he stuck with plays until the whistle blew. His usual tendency of leaning and making himself a little off balance showed on the first couple of one-on-ones, but his athletic ability allowed him to recover early on and then I felt like he got more and more consistent with his pass-sets as the week went along. Smith lined up at guard to some degree as well and look pretty comfortable as well, considering he weighed in just below 300 pounds and could be expected to struggle with power. Something that I believe Smith will be very comfortable with – and he showed it a couple of times during one-on-ones – is taking those more horizontal, 45-degree kick-slides against wide-nine alignments and cutting of the rusher’s angle. He has those movement skills to get to a spot, where the defender will have to go through him and even when he has to turn and run, his 85-inch wingspan is a major asset at pushing rushers past the arc.

 

IOL Quinn Meinerz, Wisconsin-Whitewater

There’s a couple of names every year from small schools, that really create a buzz among scouts with their performance during Senior Bowl week. This year the trendy choice would be this Division III center/guard, who drew the attention with that belly hanging out of his half-jersey, but even more so he made noise with what he did between the lines. The amount of hype he was getting on the broadcast was a little over the top and I had to go back to the practice tape to see more of the O-line, because the camera followed him instead of showing the other reps, but he certainly was very impressive for a D3 prospect. He got some help on a quick combo to set him up, but this guy put Washington’s potential first-round D-tackle Levi Onwuzuruike on his back early on in team drills on day one – That’s how he received my attention. I also liked his natural ability to recover in pass-rush one-on-ones and the strong grip he showed in his hands. Meinerz is not just a great story, but actually was one of the top interior O-linemen in Mobile and he bullied a few guys. You saw him pancake Pittsburgh’s Patrick Jones at one point in pass-rush drills and he routinely created vertical movement on run plays in the team portion of practice. What he does great already as a pass-protector is using good flexion in his joints to really set that anchor and swallow the bull-rush. And I thought he definitely improved from day to day as well, doing it at all three interior spots. The one thing I saw that I didn’t like was how wide he got with that outside land a lot of times and that’s what the refs will flag him for at the next level, when defenders can turn that into jersey tugs. However, he was named the National Team’s Offensive Lineman of the Week and improved his draft stock as much as anybody with that jump in level of competition.

 

 

Defense:

 

EDGE Quincy Roche, Miami

A great week for Roche started at weigh-ins already, when he came in bigger than expected at 6’3”, 245 pounds, but he didn’t seem to have lost any of that explosiveness or quicks. He showed a lot of twitch in pass-rush one-on-ones, dipping around the edge and hitting the quick up & under, when tackles took a wide kick out to him. In team drills – especially day three – you saw him put a high level of focus on being a strong run-defender, whilst playing with a ton of effort, constantly chasing ball-carriers from behind and at times giving them the little tap at the end, once he got there, coming from one edge to the opposite sideline. I wasn’t in love with Roche, after what I saw from him at Miami last year, because I was so much more impressed with his teammate on the opposite end of the line in Jaelan Phillips, and that D-line would have also included a projected top-20 pick in Gregory Rosseau on top of it, but Roche showed me a lot during his week down in Mobile and what I appreciate about him is that he understands how he can win as a pass-rusher – with speed, bend and then the inside counter, if tackles open the door for it. I think he really separated himself among this group as a stand-up edge rushers, 3-4 outside backer-types, especially when you look at guys like Pitt’s Patrick Jones having a very disappointing week altogether, Oregon State’s Hamilcar Rashed not really flashing and playing more off the ball anyway none of the other likely top ten edge defenders doing anything in this pre-draft process to impress scouts most likely.

 

EDGE Carlos Basham, Wake Forest

While just an inch taller than Roche, Basham weighed in at a massive 280 pounds. At that size, I feel like he really has all the choices, to optimize his frame from a three-technique in a 4-3 to a hand-in-the-dirt strong-side defensive end. Basham’s natural power was apparent right away, as he drove his man back into the backfield and gave the puller nowhere to go on, to completely blow up some kind of power run play on day one team drills. He just absolutely destroyed tight-ends at the point of attack on several occasions, when those poor guys were asked to block him. However, he also got a bunch of instant wins against the O-line in pass-rush one-on-ones, especially with quickness when he was lined up inside, where he really looked like he was on a different level. Centers and guards, who tried to quick-set him, often times ended up reaching for air, because he used the arm-over or countered the other way immediately, to get around and past them. And then he also whooped people on power rushes when his man got too tall. Iowa’s Alaric Jackson had a pretty rough week altogether, but Basham made him whiff really badly on a little stutter swim, as they were both lined up on the interior. The coaches also played him inside for passing downs in team drills quite a bit and he provided good pressure. I was actually a little lower on Basham coming into 2020 and haven’t worked through a lot of this year’s tape yet, but to me his quicks off the ball and just how much more dynamic he looked, will make me observe the film with that in the back of my mind to some degree. This is an edge class without a clear order at this point and Basham I believe gives you that versatility to play inside on sub-packages for extended stretches.

 

 

IDL Cameron Sample, Tulane

To show you how good of a week this guy had – he was named Defensive Lineman of the Week for the American Team, that included the two guys I just talked about in Roche and Basham. Sample won so many battles from all spots and angles along the front in one-on-ones as a pass-rusher with quickness, hand usage and reading the pass-sets of the offensive linemen. He was truly dominant on days two and three, plus he also got a sack in the game on Saturday on a little T-E twist, even though he was actually the one looking to free up the end on the loop-part of it. Something that I saw him do and win with routinely – whether it was in one-and-ones or passing down during team drills – was him being lined up shaded to one side and then when the blocker stepped that way, going around the opponent and into the opposite gap with effective hand-swipes, attacking that far side of the shoulder pad and following through on the rip up, to clear the hips. And when he utilized the up-and-under against tackles, it seemed like those guys always had the weight transitioned to the outside foot, to where they couldn’t push back up and protect the B-gap. At 275 pounds, Sample won’t necessarily be able to just build a wall against down-blocks, but he is precise with the aiming points of his hands and he could be very effective in the role as a penetrating three-technique in even fronts. At the very least – from what I’ve seen – he should be a valuable specialist in terms of pass-rush packages and I’m very excited to dive into more of his tape and see if there was anything on his 2020 tape that should have me hold back my enthusiasm.

 

LB Grant Stuard, Houston

Wow, this guy brought a ton of energy to the table and he was really flying around the field. You heard him communicating constantly and he showed up around the football. Stuard got involved in the backfield quite a bit against the run, showing a quick trigger once he saw lineman pull and he just has a way of working around traffic, dipping underneath and stepping around blockers. In the pass game, I saw pretty good burst to get to the hip of his man following the break and he does a great job of playing through the hands of the intended target Stuard is undersized for a full-time starter on the inside at just under six feet and 230 pounds with below 30-inch arms, but his playing style will make him very attractive as a sub-package player and special teams ace, which he already impressed with as a Cougar, and that could move him up boards, over some other guys that don’t offer that dimension. That was apparent on the first punt of the actual game, when he put the hit stick on UCLA’s dynamic Demetric Felton, and then he almost blocked two more the rest of the way, actually getting a finger on the second one – which you never see in an all-star game. I love guys like that and play with their hair on fire all the time, and he had the game to back it up. And while this may not the most important part of the evaluation for an all-star game like this, I liked the fact that Stuard received the Community Service award for the contributions these players made in Mobile outside of the football complex, considering he was working through a pulled hamstring, that he was trying to fix in therapy a good week before flying to Alabama.

 

 

CB Tre Brown, Oklahoma

It’s rare that cornerbacks put actual highlight plays on film, when they are in man-coverage against some of the best wide receivers in the country, who have the whole field to work against them, but Brown certainly did. He had an absolutely beautiful rep in one-on-ones on the first day against Louisville’s Dez Fitzpatrick, where he perfectly read the hips on a deep in route, undercut the pass and picked it off. Then he added another INT against Arizona State’s Frank Darby, where he found a way to recover against a deep curl route, by spinning back and work around the receiver, while having his inside arm placed on that guy’s back, to be able to make that turn. Getting pass break-ups in those drills is already great, but to come up with two picks in that very unbeneficial position is just rare. Even outside of those highlight clips, Brown was playing sticky coverage all week long, he was highly competitive and played like the best corner down in Mobile, also receiving the Cornerback of the Week for the National Team. What really stood was how light he was on his feet, which allowed him to not have his momentum take him past the break as receivers snapped off their routes. Plus, even when the former Sooner allowed just a little bit of separation, he showed the closing burst to get back into the picture and swipe through the hands of the receiver, to knock the ball down. I’m really happy for this kid to have boosted his draft stock in such a manner – judging by where I saw him ranked frequently, compared to how much he must have blown everybody away with that practice tape – but I was all ready to make him one of “my guys” in this class at 5’10”, 190 pounds and cash that W personally when he turns from late-round pick to an NFL starter potentially. After this performance – and that’s despite having to sit out Thursday – I think he’ll probably go late on day two.

 

CB Keith Taylor, Washington

Unlike Brown, Taylor came in a little more intriguing height-wise at 6’2” ½. His length and physicality were on display throughout three days of practice and he was tough to separate from on gameday as well. You saw him in great position routinely during one-on-ones and he consistently punched at the ball late, to force the incompletion or fumble. Day one, he was matched up with Louisville’s Dez Fitzpatrick on a go route and it really looked like he was the receiver on that rep, with a step on his man, as he tried to high-point the ball in the end-zone, but couldn’t quite come down with it. And then he had an absolutely perfect rep in the game, where he was in position to make an INT on another deep ball into the end-zone and Clemson WR Cornell Powell was called for offensive P.I. He actually ironically ended up surrendering a couple of touchdowns – first on a slant a couple of plays later and then at the very end, where I thought it was pretty clear that the receiver pushed off and the refs just let it go, because it didn’t make any difference for who would win, but other than that, he was outstanding all game long. Something that I’m sure nobody really pays attention to and obviously this wasn’t quite live, full-effort blocking all the time, but I really liked what I saw from Taylor in terms of setting the edge in the run game. Outside of Oklahoma’s Tre Brown, I thought the UW corner clearly had the best week of anybody at his position down in Mobile. Teammate and nickelback Elijah Molden seems to be getting all the recognition among draft evaluators, but when I put on the 2019 Washington tape, to watch D-tackle Levi Onwuzurike among others, I was highly impressed by what I saw from Taylor. I could see him being one of my favorite picks at the position, depending on how much scouts weigh his performance over the course of the week.

 

S Richie Grant, UCF

I don’t think there’s another position in this draft with more disagreement about the order of these guys than this safety class. Grant was one of my personal favorites coming into the week and I think he moved up quite a few boards with his performance there. While he was primarily used at safety during team drills, the coaches put him outside for a lot of the one-on-ones against receivers and he hung with those guys better than a lot of the true corners in Mobile. He had a beautiful rep against Florida’s Trevon Grimes, who tried to attack his outside and then cut underneath, but Grant’s rapid feet got him back into that hip pocket and allowed him to knock the ball down. And then he had another great rep against Tennessee receiver Josh Palmer I thought, where the safety was physical on the initial stem, then Palmer created some separation on the break inside, as he had done to everybody in practice by leaning into the defender before putting that foot in the ground, but Grant got back into the picture and raked through the reach of the receiver, to force the incompletion. He just didn’t give up on any plays, routinely trying to get the ball out of the hands of receivers and then showed up a lot around the ball in team drills. The only thing he didn’t seem super comfortable with was being in man-coverage, when he was asked to play way off and the receiver had a two-way go. On day three of eleven-versus-elevens, Grant got a pick-six on an overthrown deep ball (if there is something like that, with O-linemen not told to actually tackle), before driving on a slant route to the other Florida receiver in Kadarius Toney (that came out a little late and off) for another pick in the end-zone. That Thursday was pretty much a highlight reel for Grant and he was later named the American Team’s safety of the week, which had a few headliners among it, in Florida State’s Hamsah Nasirildeen, the two Missouri guys, a safety from LSU and Georgia each.

 

 

Other guys who had a good week:

 

RB Michael Carter Jr., North Carolina

WR Amari Rodgers, Clemson

WR Frank Darby, Arizona State

WR Shi Smith, South Carolina

TE John Bates, Boise State

IOL Creed Humphrey

EDGE/LB Baron Browning, Ohio State

IDL Osa Odighizuwa, UCLA

IDL Chauncey Golston, Iowa

LB Jabril Cox, LSU

CB D.J. Daniel, Georgia

CB Thomas Graham Jr., Oregon

S Damar Hamlin, Pittsburgh

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