Let the (NFL Draft) games begin!
With the 2022 NCAA football season over and the Georgia Dawgs coming out on top again, it's time to turn our attention to the next step in the NFL Draft process. The All-Star games.
The first game on the slate is also the oldest; first played in 1925 in San Francisco, CA the East-West Shrine Bowl will be playing its 98th iteration on Feb 2 in Las Vegas. Rosters are built by polling NFL scouting departments and creating a consensus on which players are likely to be drafted and their potential. While the game may not have quite the star power of its competition, it always has a lot of players to watch as evidenced by the seventy players from last season's game who made final NFL rosters.
Zay Flowers - WR - Boston College - Possesses elite speed (his 40 time is expected to be <4.4) and he is exceptionally dangerous when put in catch-and-run situations in the open field. Has great field awareness especially with regard to his position along the boundaries. His size (5'10") may be off-putting to some teams and he will likely be unable to win consistently on the outside in the NFL relegating him to the slot. His run-blocking ability leaves a lot to be desired.
Habakkuk Baldonado - DE - Pitt - Shows great flexibility allowing him to bend the edge. High RPM motor that never shuts off, strong hands, and a good core. Has not been asked to play as a 3-4 OLB, but his athleticism and instincts should allow him to do just that. His frame should allow him to add some weight if needed but will need to develop more pass-rush moves/counters to be a three-down contributor.
Connor Galvin - OT - Baylor - Excellent size with long arms and very good athleticism. His intangibles are some of his best attributes - solid work ethic, intelligence/football IQ, and is a solid locker room guy. His worst attributes are things that I feel can all be corrected at the pro level (with the right staff)- he doesn't trust his natural attributes (size, length, athleticism) and will panic against high-level players leading to penalties. He can be sloppy with his hand placement, doesn't seem to possess a mean streak, and doesn't maintain his blocks.
Mohamed Ibrahim - RB - Minnesota - Had he not torn his Achilles tendon in the 2021 season opener he likely would have been a second or third-round pick in last April's draft. Extremely productive during his college career (4597 RuYds, 52 RuTDs, 5.4 YPC) Ibrahim should be looked at as a platoon back with potential starter upside. His ability to pick up the blitz and anchor against bigger players as well as catch the occasional ball should make him a reliable third-down option. Quicker than he is fast, he may not possess elite speed but is rarely caught from behind. Would be best in a one-cut blocking scheme where he can put his foot in the ground and go.
Brenton Cox - OLB/DE - Florida - A strong, technically sound tackler who moves well and arrives with bad intentions. Sounds good to me. Cox likely would have been a second-round pick prior to his dismissal from the Gators at the end of October. Now? Who knows. It's not the first time a team has let him go because of his antics; Georgia dismissed him prior to the 2019 season leading me to believe that whoever drafts him is going to need a solid veteran core to keep him in line. His talent is very high
so someone will take a flyer on him.
Kobie Turner - DL - Wake Forest - Has the build, physicality, and attributes to be a three-down contributor in the NFL right away. Possesses a high motor and a strong core to go with the instincts that allow him to identify and counter plays. Unlikely to get by rushing the passer as he is, it's likely that you'll see Turner move inside in passing situations to go against less athletic guards where his technical prowess can shine.
Moving south just a couple of days later, you can check out the Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL on February 4. Played since 1951 in Mobile, AL (the inaugural, and only edition, was played in Jacksonville, FL) the Senior Bowl has seen a slew of players who began their NFL journey in Mobile and ended it in Canton, OH with a gold jacket.
While many of the players who accept invites to this game are simply wanting to show that "They are who we thought they were" (to quote the late, great Dennis Green), many others are here to show that they belong with the "Big Boys" of the Power 5 and FBS. There are also surprises that pop up during the course of the week of practice; surprises like 2013 Senior Bowl player (and 2013 #1 overall pick) Eric Fisher who came to Mobile as an intriguing prospect and left ranked among the best tackles available after dominating one-on-one drills during the week.
The point is that you're going to see talent, and a LOT of it, given NFL coaching during the week leading up to the game, so pay attention to who absorbs it and who shrugs it off. With that said, let's take a look at the players who are expected to be in Mobile.
Andre Carter II - DE/LB - Army - Until late in 2022 there was a good deal of confusion as to whether Carter would even be draftable due to the stipulation that following graduation from a service academy a player was to serve a two-year term in the armed forces of the United States. Fortunately, President Biden signed a revised version of the 2023 government appropriations bill that would allow Carter to defer his service until after his athletic career was over. With that settled, Carter should be looked at as a low second-round or high third-round pick for 2023, though he could certainly move up during the pre-draft process. His pluses are definitely his physical size/strength/speed, I would add that I believe he has to flexibility to play as either a 4-3 end or 3-4 OLB and potentially line up inside as a tackle in obvious passing situations. What he lacks, however, is the type of knowledge and coaching he would have received at a larger school, his pass rush counters are remedial, he rarely sets up a blocker by varying his moves, and there are questions regarding how well he plays with leverage.
Cody Mauch - OT (likely drafted as OG) - North Dakota State - Originally a walk-on as a tight end, Mauch worked his way to becoming the Bisons' LT. Shows excellent size and athleticism for the tackle spot but is expected to have his arms measured out as less than ideal necessitating a move inside. Also displays the ability to get to the second level and block downfield as well as the work ethic to find someone and block them. Hand placement is an issue as he can be driven off of his block if a defender gets into his chest. The power he generates from his legs is also of concern. Will likely get a chance to fail outside in Mobile so pay attention to his drills.
Jaren Hall - QB - BYU - I don't know if the way things have played out in New York with Zach Wilson has made everyone a little nervous about Jaren Hall or if maybe his age (he turns 25 in March) is giving scouts second thoughts, but Hall shouldn't scare anyone but defenses. Hall has a live arm that doesn't require him to throw from a solid base, can make off-balance throws, and has the ability to throw his receiver open. Has the ability to make plays with his feet and while durability might be a concern (concussion history, hip injury in 2020 that resulted in a medical redshirt), he has started two years since then with no obvious ill effects. He'll need to sit a year or play sparingly, but I think the worst case is that Hall can be a backup who gives you a little extra when he's in the game.
Rashee Rice - WR - SMU - Rice would be a great example of a player at the Senior Bowl who is already well thought of, but a great week of practice could push him higher into the first round, as of now he's already considered a Top 5 receiver in this class. Dynamic as both a receiver and after the catch, and his ability to make the difficult look easy makes his occasional drops on extremely catchable balls all the more maddening. Watching him you can see that his route tree is mostly complete but the SMU offense doesn't ask a ton from him. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts in the tighter spaces of the NFL, but he does very well making the contested catch and shielding defenders from the ball.
O'Cyrus Torrence - OG - Florida - An absolute unit, as the kids say, Torrence has the size, strength, and length to be a first-year contributor. A quick first step combined with the previously mentioned attributes and Torrence can create sizable running lanes for his backs. In the passing game, he has the ability to drop anchor and stop a bull rush in its tracks, this should be enough against most NFL defensive tackles, but when bigger ends are pushed inside on passing downs he may struggle against the more agile players, especially on stunts and twists. When run blocking he has a tendency to get overly aggressive and finds himself off-balance leading to a less-than-effective block. His motor never stops running and I could see a team like Philadelphia, Dallas, or San Francisco taking him in the late second or early third round. This video against potential #1 overall pick Jalen Carter highlights both the good and the bad.
Regarding the QBs in this game (other than Hall, who I profiled above) Hendon Hooker is high in a lot of pundits' minds, but you'll have to see how much he plays as he's mid-rehab for a torn ACL.
Max Duggan is a better player than his performance in the playoff finale showed, but I think he'll need a real "Did you just see that?!?!" show over the next few months to get any real movement in his draft position.
Jake Haener would likely be a Top 10 pick if he was bigger and stronger, but he's not, instead, we're looking at him in the 4-6th round range. He has the arm, the IQ, and all the intangibles. Discounting him because of his height (6'1") would be a mistake, Fresno has produced a lot of QBs over the years.
Malik Cunningham is an absolutely electric college player. I don't think he has what it takes to make it as a pro though. Unless you tailor your offense to him you're not going to be pleased with the results. Looking at his projected draft slot (#387) it feels like he's here because no one wants to miss out on the next Lamar Jackson. They're not.
Tyson Bagent is from Division 2 Shepard University and at first glance, there's a lot to like. He's tall (6'3"), athletic, has a live arm, and has a quick release. He's also inconsistent with his throws, his offense too scripted, and, of course, he's D-II, so there's a whole host of doubters just because of that. We'll see what he looks like during practice and the game though.
I'm sure we'll be talking about several players who've rocketed up draft boards after this week of practice, but it's a long road to get to the draft, don't fall in love with anyone just yet.