The NFL Draft hype is in full swing as we are approaching the end of the 2021-22 NFL season. Leading up to the draft, there are a number of opportunities for players to elevate their stock. One of the biggest stock risers is the Senior Bowl, going down Saturday, February 5. Last year, a record 106 players from the Senior Bowl, or 41 percent of the entire draft class, were selected in the 2021 NFL Draft. There are a handful of top-level seniors attending the 72nd annual edition of the college football all-star game in Mobile, Alabama. With that in mind, let’s dive into the National Team’s roster position by position. The American Team preview will be coming tomorrow.
Check out the Top Five Prospects to Watch For at the Senior Bowl.
Head Coach – Ron Middleton, New York Jets Tight Ends Coach
Middleton served as acting head coach for the Jets in their Week 16 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Head coach Robert Saleh had been out due to COVID. This is the first time in the Senior Bowl’s long history that head coaches will serve in advisory roles, while assistants will serve in leadership roles.
“I want to start by thanking Jim Nagy and the Senior Bowl for the change this year allowing an assistant to work as the head coach down in Mobile,” Middleton said. “Our staff is full of deserving candidates, and I am proud to experience this week alongside them. Working with this group of extremely talented young men as they begin their professional careers is something we are all grateful to be a part of and our staff is excited to work with them for the week.”
Quarterbacks – Carson Strong (Nevada), Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh), Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati)
Of these three, Strong and Pickett are potential first-round guys, while Ridder is likely a second or third-round pick. Strong can really make a “strong” case to be the first quarterback off the board come April; it is not a great quarterback class. The Nevada product has all the intangibles to become a rebuilding team’s new franchise quarterback while starting from day one. With the quarterback class not being as clear as most years, this is a chance for all of them to make their mark on the scouts. Strong threw for 4,175 yards and 36 touchdowns (school record) while completing 70 percent of his passes this season. Pickett has a chance to elevate his stock even more after being a Heisman finalist, while Ridder looks to enter the late first, early second-round conversations.
Running Backs – Jerome Ford (Cincinnati), Abram Smith (Baylor), Tyler Badie (Missouri), Hassan Haskins (Michigan), Rachaad White (Arizona State), Jeremiah Hall (Oklahoma – FB)
There is a lot of potential here, with Ford, Haskins, and White having a shot at being in the top ten of running backs taken in this draft. Ford has the highest upside of the bunch after a 1,315 yard, 19 touchdown season. The Bearcat back has a terrific blend of quickness and power on top of his ability to keep his legs moving through contact. Haskins had a breakout senior season, sharing a dynamic backfield with sophomore Blake Corum. After not reaching 1,000 rush yards total in his first three seasons, the former three-star recruit from Missouri rushed for 1,288 yards in the regular season. Haskins also only had 10 total touchdowns before rushing for 20 this season, including five against Ohio State.
White is the only Arizona State player to accept an invite to the Senior Bowl after a phenomenal season with the Sun Devils. He found pay dirt 15 times while rushing for 1,006 yards on 182 carries. The JUCO transfer is one of the most underrated backs in this class and was also a factor in the passing game. White totaled 43 catches for 456 yards. He has the potential to be an Alvin Kamara-type player in the NFL. Smith set a single-season Baylor rushing record with 1,601 rushing yards and had 12 touchdowns. In the Bears’ Sugar Bowl win, he rushed for 172 yards and a touchdown. Badie took full advantage of his chance to be the Tigers’ starting running back, as he also set a program record for Missouri with 1,604 yards on the ground along with 18 touchdowns.
Wide Receivers – Jahan Dotson (Penn State), Khalil Shakir (Boise State), Alec Pierce (Cincinnati), Romeo Doubs (Nevada), Christian Watson (North Dakota State), Bo Melton (Rutgers), Braylon Sanders (Ole Miss)
Dotson is the top player in this group, as he looks to go late first or early second. The former Nittany Lion is a top ten receiver in this class after an explosive senior season. He recorded 91 catches for 1,182 yards and 12 touchdowns using his quickness and elusiveness. An impressive week of practice and day at the Senior Bowl could put him even more into the first-round conversation. Shakir is on the underrated side and has tremendous upside. He possesses the skillset, including twitchiness and explosiveness, to be a true deep threat in the NFL. Pierce is a potential day two guy after being a three-year starter at Cincinnati. He has solid speed, hands, and catch-point abilities.
Tight Ends – Jake Ferguson (Wisconsin), Jeremy Ruckert (Ohio State), Cole Turner (Nevada), Charlie Kolar (Iowa State), Trey McBride (Colorado State)
The two Big Ten guys and McBride lead the pack here, as they are all top-five tight ends in the class. McBride was the primary target for the Rams’ offense and enjoyed 1,121 receiving yards and one touchdown on 90 receptions. McBride is the number one tight end as he has a solid skill set, including being a physical blocker. His physicality also helps him pick up several yards after the catch (YAC). Ferguson was the favorite target for Graham Mertz for the last two seasons. He had a career-high 46 receptions this year and is a smooth route-runner. At practices this week, he will impress as he rarely drops anything thrown his way. Ruckert had his best season as he had 26 catches with three touchdowns and 309 receiving yards. He has great hands and a solid YAC ability.
Offensive Line – Trevor Penning (Northern Iowa), Zion Johnson (Boston College), Bernhard Raimann (Central Michigan), Nick Zakelj (Fordham), Andrew Stueber (Michigan), Daniel Faalele (Minnesota), Matt Waletzko (North Dakota), Marquis Hayes (Oklahoma), Abraham Lucas (Washington State), Cole Strange (UT-Chattanooga), Luke Goedeke (Central Michigan), Ja’Tyre Carter (Southern University)
Penning is the top lineman in this group and could go in the first round. It is the second straight year a Northern Iowa lineman is attending the Senior Bowl after Spencer Brown last year. Brown went on to start for the Buffalo Bills in year one on the right side. Penning is a mauler from the left side and is impressive in the passing and rushing game. Johnson could be one of the biggest risers this week as he has the athleticism to stand out in drills. He was very consistent at Boston College and created big holes for running backs. A good week could put him in the top 50. Another potential top 100 guy is Strange, who is a small school phenom. He has a lot of the smaller things down and just needs to refine some of the bigger skills. Stueber has the versatility of playing guard and right tackle, so more reps at guard would be important this week. Faalele is a monster and was a day one starter at right tackle for the Gophers.
Defensive Backs – Coby Bryant (Cincinnati), Jalen Pitre, JT Woods (Baylor), Tariq Castro-Fields (Penn State), Joshua Williams (Fayetteville University), Damari Mathis (Pittsburgh), Jaylen Watson (Washington State), Gregory Junior (Ouachita Baptist), Joseph Kerby (Illinois)
Bryant was honored as the Jim Thorpe Defensive Back of the Year but still played second fiddle to Ahmad Gardner. Sauce Gardner is one of the best corners in the draft and will be a top 15 pick most likely. Bryant is in the later round range but could elevate that a bit with a good week. He has upside but has a lot of work to do to be a starter in the NFL. Some of his weaknesses could be exploited against better talent than in the American Athletic Conference. Castro-Fields was a returning super senior this year and played in all 12 games. He amassed 32 total tackles and six pass breakups while earning an All-Big Ten honorable mention. In addition to his skill set, he is also a tremendous leader on and off the field. Pitre is officially listed as a safety but he played all over the field for Baylor. He flies on the field with elite speed while keeping up with several assignments.
Defensive Line – Myaji Sanders (Cincinnati), Garrett Haskell, Tyreke Smith (Ohio State), Travis Jones (UConn), Logan Hall (Houston), Dominique Robinson (Miami – OH), Boye Mafe, Esezi Otomewo (Minnesota), Perrion Winfrey, Isiah Thomas (Oklahoma), Arnold Ebiketie (Penn State), Otito Ogbonnia (UCLA)
Sanders is yet another Cincinnati player playing in the Senior Bowl. He has flown under the radar in a stacked defensive end class that is led by Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux. Sanders is a physical pass rusher who uses a number of skills, including explosiveness, length, and bend, to get to the quarterback. Despite totaling just 2.5 sacks this year, he was always around the ball and created pressure on 23 percent of his true pass rush sets. This week is a really good chance for his stock to rise as a top 50 prospect. After transferring from Temple, Ebiketie earned All-Big Ten honors after recording 52 pressures, 62 total tackles, 9.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles. He is one of the more athletic edge rushers in the class and will look to prove his top 50 status. Winfrey is explosive off the snap and gets good penetration from the interior.
Linebackers – Devin Lloyd (Utah), Jesse Luketa (Penn State), Chad Muma (Wyoming), Terrel Bernard (Baylor), Darrian Beavers (Cincinnati), Mike Rose (Iowa State), Kyron Johnson (Kansas), Sterling Weatherford (Miami – OH), Brian Asamoah II (Oklahoma), Troy Anderson (Montana State)
Lloyd is the one first-round player of this bunch as he is either LB1 or LB2 as of now. He has good athleticism while he improved his pass defense this year. He is very good in pass-rush situations and is a thumper in the run game. Luketa is a linebacker/defensive end hybrid and was a great run-stopper this season. The move to defensive end was the key to a bigger breakout and he had 8.5 tackles for loss. What he does at defensive end this week will do big things for his stock. Muma currently sits in the round three conversation and his athleticism should be shown off this week.
Kicker – Andrew Mevis (Iowa State) Punter – Jordan Stout (Penn State) Long Snapper – Cal Adomitis (Montana State)
The least exciting group, but still very important. Stout was one of the nation’s best punters while also handling all of the field goal and extra point duties. He averaged 46 yards on 67 punts and was 16 of 23 on field goals with a long of 52 yards. The Ray Guy Award finalist led the nation in touchback percentage at 90.32 percent. The specialist should get some looks on day three of the NFL Draft.
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