For those who have been preparing for the NFL Draft since last April, no need to worry, the 2017 NFL Draft is almost upon us as draft season is finally upon us. With the conclusion of the Senior Bowl, we now have no film or sources to evaluate players (excluding the NFL combine). Senior Bowl week is a tremendous milestone in the whole draft process. When else do we get to tune into live practices in preparation of an All Star game which showcases some of the top NFL draft talent?
The Senior Bowl serves as a great outlet for prospects of all magnitudes to improve their draft stock; whether you’re coming off consecutive National Title appearances playing for the Crimson Tide, or coming from an unheard or program like Saint Francis, all players are on a level playing field for this event which puts into perspective how good the player actually is based on the competition.
While a lot of players impressed during Senior Bowl week, I narrowed down the list to 13 players who I think improved their draft stock the most, or in other words made themselves even more money come draft day. Check it out below and let me know what you think!
*Comment below with some players who impressed you the most!
RB Kareem Hunt (Toledo)
If there is one position that was loaded at the Senior Bowl, it was running back. Kareem Hunt set himself apart from the rest of the pack as he was by far the most impressive tailback in the game. Hunt rushed for a game-high 118 yards which included a long gain of 43 yards in which he showcased his impressive power, relentless, balance and effort.
During the week of practice, Hunt displayed his reliable pass catching ability and solidified his status as a guy who can come in on 3rd down and be an option in the passing game. With the great week that he had, Hunt could land on Day 2 of the 2017 NFL Draft.
WR Zay Jones (East Carolina)
One thing that often goes unnoticed when watching players from an evaluators’ perspective is that it’s not all about what a player contributes to the stat sheet, but the traits they offer. For example, Zay Jones hauled in two impressive TD catches, however, they would eventually be called back due to penalties on the offensive line. Add in the 6 catches and 68 yards which were recorded, Jones had himself a monster game.
Not only was he a standout in the game, but Jones had a great week of practice and was arguably the best receiver down in Mobile. He put on a clinic and showed off his sticky hands, ability to adjust to the ball in the air with fluid body control, aggressiveness to attack the ball, among other traits. At just 22 years old by the start of the 2017 season, Jones should be off the board no later than the 4th round.
— Jonathan Valencia (@JonValencia_WiB) January 30, 2017
WR Cooper Kupp (Eastern Washington)
If you watched Senior Bowl practices, you noticed that Cooper Kupp stood out above the rest of the pass catchers in attendance. I don’t think he dropped a pass all week long. Entering the week, Kupp was considered an ‘under the radar’ type prospect as he comes from an FCS program in Eastern Washington, but you can all but throw that label in the trash. Kupp is now on every team’s radar and I’ve even see 1st round rumblings from draft experts, although that seems like an extreme reach.
While Kupp is fiercely overaged, he proved his ability outmatches that by a great margin. Aside from his tremendous hands, he proved he can run routes at every level and make an impact. Kupp will likely go off the board early on Day 2 to a team that needs a reliable pass catcher who can play inside and out.
WR Josh Reynolds (Texas A&M)
A bit inconsistent during the early days of practice, Josh Reynolds settled down and finished the week strong, including in the Senior Bowl game where he posted the best numbers at the position with 6 catches, 96 yards and a score. The touchdown coming on a deep go route up the sideline as he showcased his ability to beat defenders deep with his combination of size and speed.
One of the highest graded receivers at the combine by most scouts and analysts, Reynolds solidified his case as a Day 2 prospect as he brings an intriguing bag of traits to the table.
TE O.J. Howard (Alabama)
The best prospect in all of Mobile was without a doubt the Alabama tight end, O.J. Howard. The fact alone that Howard decided to participate in the Senior Bowl unlike most top prospects says a lot about his football character and will to compete. Underutilized in Alabama’s system, Howard was able to run free at Senior Bowl practices and in-game. He got going early and caught 5-6 passes within the first 2-3 series of the game before being taken out.
Howard is a surefire 1st round pick, and can even go as high as the top 10 after impressing with his ability to create mismatches in the passing game and move the chains along with his plus blocking ability. A “can’t miss” prospect who some even rank in the top 5 on their overall big boards.
G Dion Dawkins (Temple)
As a whole, the offensive line units for both squads were quite underwhelming. However, Dion Dawkins was a bright spot. The former Temple offensive tackle made the transition to guard for the Senior Bowl and proved he can make the switch; a position he’s better suited at in the NFL I might add.
Dawkins presents great size on the interior along with the versatility to make the move to the outside if needed with experience there. With proving that he can play guard, Dawkins increased his stock arguably the most out of all offensive linemen and could be off the board as early as Day 2.
DE Tanoh Kpassagnon (Villanova)
The winner of Senior Bowl weigh-ins was without a doubt the Villanova product, Tanoh Kpassagnon. The mammoth defensive end measured in at 6-6 7/8 inches, 280 pounds equipped with monstrous arms and hands. It didn’t stop there, however. Kpassagnon was a standout in-game and was able to get constant pressure on the QB and use his tremendous size to his advantage.
While he may be a bit of a project, Kpassagnon presents arguably the most upside of any defensive player who participated down in Mobile. An intrigued team may be aggressive and pull the trigger at some point on Day 2.
LB Haason Reddick (Temple)
Creating the most buzz of any players at the Senior Bowl was by far Haason Reddick. Primarily utilized as an edge rusher at Temple, Reddick scarcely got to showcase any ability to run and chase in the 2nd level or drop back into coverage. The doubts were silenced during practices.
More of an unknown entering Senior Bowl week, Reddick left Mobile with the largest increased paycheck to come of any player. He did everything well. Reddick excelled in coverage, he was able to track down ball carriers in the open field, he flashed to the ball. Seeing Reddick sneaking into the 1st round isn’t too farfetched.
EDGE Derek Rivers (Youngstown State)
A small school prospect out of Youngstown State, I was very intrigued to watch Derek Rivers during the Senior Bowl game, and he did not disappoint. The highlight of his day came in the 3rd quarter when he recorded a sack. He was also able to provide constant pressure throughout the game.
Rivers displayed tremendous hand usage and polished technique. He even excelled out in space where he flashed on a nice play where he chased down the slippery Donnel Pumphrey. In a deep class full of edge rushers, Rivers will likely slide to the mid rounds and can prove to be more than serviceable at the next level.
CB Rasul Douglas (West Virginia)
A deep group of corners were in attendance at the Senior Bowl, but no one improved their draft stock more than West Virginia’s Rasul Douglas. He measured in at 6’2”/204 and offers great length on the outside.
Douglas was fantastic throughout practices as he put his rare fluidity and athleticism at the corner position on display. Douglas is a playmaker on the outside as his 8 interceptions this past season indicate. He should go off the board by the 3rd round.
CB Damontae Kazee (San Diego State)
Another corner to impress all week during practice was Damontae Kazee, you could even make the case that he was the best corner during Senior Bowl week.
A physical, press corner, Kazee will be able to make a living on the outside or even the inside if need be. The combination of physicality and cover skills will be coveted by certain defensive coordinators. Kazee rarely got beat during practice and should be a “plug and play” at the next level.
Lorenzo Jerome reads the QB’s eyes the whole way and shifts to make the INT in the endzone. His 2nd of the day. #SeniorBowl pic.twitter.com/ZF23TlOkVW — Jonathan Valencia (@JonValencia_WiB) January 30, 2017
S Lorenzo Jerome (Saint Francis)
I’m not going to sit here and pretend Lorenzo Jerome was a guy I ever heard of prior to the Senior Bowl, as most probably haven’t. However, the small school prospect out of Saint Francis made himself a good deal of money.
Jerome made an interception early in the game and was able to follow that up with a forced fumble and wait for it… another interception later on. If my count is correct, that marks 3 forced turnovers in one game. To caveat on that, Jerome also forced 2 turnovers in the NFLPA Bowl. Building the reputation as a playmaker in the secondary, Jerome left Mobile as one of the highest risers.
S Obi Melifonwu (Connecticut)
Along with Jerome, another unknown safety to significantly increase his draft stock was UCONN’s Obi Melifonwu. Already a winner during weigh-ins as he was measured at 6’4”/219, Melifonwu backed it up during the week of practices.
After further evaluation I’m not as high on Melifonwu (scouting report to come) however, his size and frame are sure to be intrigue a good number of clubs, even in a deep safety class.