2021 Senior Bowl preview
With the 2020 College Football season over a little more than a week ago and the Alabama
Crimson Tide claiming the crown this year in what had to have been one of the weirdest College Football seasons since 2007 (it’s OK, I’ll wait while you look it up).
We can now turn our attention to the 2021 NFL Draft and the evaluation process. COVID threw evaluators a curve ball last year with much of the country being put under quarantine shortly after school's Pro Days had begun, cancelling all but a handful. That put into motion a hodge-podge of video pro days, agents making sure that their clients were seen (and hopefully noticed), as well as a hundred other things all designed to help the NFL scouts and GMs make sure they were selecting the right players. While we likely won’t know the actual results for a few years, it doesn’t appear that teams did any worse in the 2020 draft than they do most years. Teams will have things in place this year so that if that scenario replays itself, but for now it appears that the NFL plans to proceed as normal, with COVID precautions in place which it has, with the NFL sending out this memo to teams cancelling the NFL combine in Indy, late on Monday afternoon.
First up in the talent evaluation parade is the Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL (Saturday, January, 30 @ 1:30p CST on the NFL Network). We’re used to seeing plenty of the top talent in this game, but, as of now, it appears we’ll be seeing more players that should expect to be drafted in the second or third rounds as opposed to years past which saw plenty of First round talent. There’s plenty of names you’ll recognize though and I’m here to help you along with the rest. We’ll be identifying the players who can hurt their draft stock, those who can help it, and players you might want to keep an eye on through the rest of the evaluation process.
Players to keep an eye on
These players are the ones who are generally well thought of but could move up a round or so if they can show coaches that they have something in them that doesn't show up on film.
Hunter Long – Boston College – TE
A TE with prototypical size that has the ability to contribute in both the run and pass game. Route running is a strength and he does well finding the soft spot in zone coverage. Needs to add strength as a blocker to help him hold up better. If he can minimize his drops, he may be the best traditional TE in this draft.
Carlos Basham Jr. – Wake Forest – DE/EDGE
With excellent size coupled with a solid football IQ and a motor that runs hot, the floor is high for Basham who is currently projected as a low Second round or high Third round pick. There aren’t many “sure fire” EDGE rushers this year, but, to me, Basham seem like a player that could add 15 pounds and be a three down lineman.
Patrick Jones II – Pittsburgh – DE/EDGE
An All-ACC First team DE along with teammate Rashad Weaver (also attending the Senior Bowl), Jones II will have a chance to open eyes and show what he can do with some NFL coaching. Similar to Basham, Jones is a high-motor player who IDs plays quickly and plays to the whistle. Needs to learn better hand technique and avoid letting linemen get their hands into his body as often as they do.
All the quarterbacks
I’ve really narrowed to down for you haven’t I? Other than Mac Jones (Alabama-added 1/19) and Kyle Trask (Florida), none of the QBs taking part in this year’s Senior Bowl are projected to go higher than the Sixth round. That means that Kellen Mond (Texas A&M), Sam Ehlinger (Texas), Jamie Newman (Wake Forest), Ian Book (Notre Dame), and Felipe Franks (Arkansas) all have a considerable amount of work to do if they hope to be drafted come this April. Fortunately, there may be as many as 12 teams looking for a new signal caller in this draft and some of them may be patient enough to let a player sit for a year and learn.
Players with the most to lose
These are players who have built a reputation during their time in college and one way or another will be tested. If they come through, they could see a bump in their ranking; if not, we could see them fall… hard.
Dillon Radunz – North Dakota State – OT(L)
With the cancellation of NDSU’s season back in August, scouts were left with only two seasons (and the single game against Central Arkansas played this year) of tape on the big left tackle. Radunz has dropped a bit in the rankings over the last month, mostly because of the lost season (opinion). Watching tape of him, he’s capable and anchors well, but has the FBS ding against him. He’ll have a chance to show off against some very good pass rushers from the P5 leagues and show that he belongs. If not? He could tumble into the third round or farther.
DeVonta Smith – Alabama – WR
I know, I know, even if Smith shows up and plays like garbage (he won’t) or is a problem child (he isn’t) there’s not much he could do to hurt his draft stock (between 2 and 6 depending on where you look), except get injured.
That said, he’s giving the Dolphins (who will coach his team in the Senior Bowl) an up-close look at his abilities during practices that week. Is that his way of lobbying to play with Tua? I don’t know, but the ‘Phins need playmakers in this draft.
Kadarius Toney – Florida – WR
Before this year Toney was mostly an afterthought in a Gators offense that could have used a spark plug, this year, he became the transmission, going for first to fifth in the blink of an eye. Coach Dan Mullen found ways to get Toney the ball and the results speak for themselves (70 REC, 984 yds, 10 TDs), with the ball in his hands Toney is lightning. At the Senior Bowl he can prove that he’s not just a slot receiver with an underdeveloped route tree, he can prove he can be an outside receiver. If he can’t, well, scouts start pointing out that he’s a bit of a body catcher who is probably maxed out physically, and teams don’t spend first round picks on those type of players.
Jabril Cox – LSU – LB
A graduate transfer from NDSU, Cox was one of the most sought-after transfers of last summer. While his transfer season didn’t turn out like he hoped, he gave evaluators a season full of tape in what is (debatably) the best conference in College Football. Rated somewhere in the second round, Cox shows good “get off” when blitzing and was regularly put in man coverage against slot receivers while at North Dakota. His coverage skills aren’t in question, his tackling is. As well as the pursuit angles he takes and his willingness to bite on false keys. I wonder if he might not run DB drills as well during the week, but that will be up to his coaches.
Players with the most to gain
Without a doubt, this category is the largest, year-in, year-out, at the Senior Bowl. Many of the players show up as stars on their own teams, or in their own conference, but lack something that can make them a “for sure” draft pick. These are the players who can jump up a round or two (or more) and open teams’ eyes, because while only two teams are coaching, every team is watching.
Cade Johnson – South Dakota State – WR
Another player who missed his senior season due to cancellation and chose not to transfer to an FBS school, Johnson is a dynamic receiver. Displaying good body control and boundary awareness, he can make the difficult/contested catch, and is dangerous with the ball in his hands. A willing blocker and a special teams ace (1496 return yards in 56 attempts over 3 years) his two biggest limitations are his size (5’9” 180lbs) and playing at the FCS level. I feel he’s the type of player that teams may leave Mobile talking about.
Tarron Jackson – Coastal Carolina – DE
With the Chanticleers getting some national publicity this year, Jackson showed up and made a name for himself. He may not have ideal size for a defensive end and might be a little too stiff in the hips for a linebacker, but I feel he’s the sort of player who can, with coaching, develop into a solid rotational player on the D-line for a team. Has a very good motor and good strength, but needs to expand his repertoire of pass rush moves as well as plan his attacks and counters. Likely won’t be a high riser if he shows out, but could move into the high fifth round if he does.
Trey Sermon – Ohio State – RB
If Sermon makes it to Mobile, and right now there’s no reason to say he won’t, he’ll have a great chance to move up into the second day of the draft. With the record-setting game against Northwestern and the CFP Semifinal against Clemson, most fans (and scouts) were eager to see what he could do against Alabama. Unfortunately, one carry into the game Sermon was done for the night. What we do have is his Oklahoma tape to supplement those games and it shows a runner that is patient, with good vision, and won’t be brought down by arms tackles. Combine that with soft hands in the receiving game and you have a player who teams should be lining for. He’s got his downsides though, notably an ACL injury to his left knee in 2019, and an upright running style that invites big hits.
Every CB at the Senior Bowl
Yeah, I know, I already did one like this. But, with the addition of DeVonta Smith, every CB should be fighting for extra reps against him in practice. Seriously, this is your time to show you can play with the big boys, and Smith is one of the biggest of the big boys.
So there it is folks, your Senior Bowl player preview. Coverage begins on the NFL Network @1:30PM CST on Saturday January 30, 2021.Practices are televised beginning the previous Monday until Thursday by either the NFL Network or on ESPNU, check your listings and if you can't watch the whole practice, NFLN will have an hour-long wrap-up show each night .