Heading into Senior Bowl week, there are a host of big names and potential first round prospects that will be participating. From Heisman winning quarterback Baker Mayfield, to Biletnikoff winner James Washington, and All-American selections Rashaad Penny and Michael Gallup, Mobile will be loaded with talent.

Looking past the bigger names and highly touted prospects, a host of players will be seeking to prove themselves and improve their draft stock. Digging into the rosters, here are the two most underrated prospects on either side of the ball whose stock could be on the rise after Senior Bowl week.

Mike McCray – Michigan WLB – 6’4 242 Pounds

Background: Mike McCray heads into the Senior Bowl as a 5th-year senior and team captain of the Wolverines. He is a two time All-Big 10 Honorable Mention, his only two seasons as a starter. McCray posted back-to-back seasons of at least 73 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. Strengths: As a stand-up linebacker, McCray loves to plays downhill and at the line of scrimmage. His run fits come second nature to him, and because of that his read-and-react ability is lightning fast. He plays with an awareness of the line of scrimmage and doesn’t come too far up-field, which would widen rushing lanes. Rather, McCray does a good job of “turning his blinker on” and getting lateral down the line of scrimmage. As a highly instinctual player, McCray consistently got on his keys faster than former Wolverine and current Vikings linebacker Ben Gedeon throughout the 2016 season.

With his downhill play style, McCray racked up 29.5 tackles for loss and 9 sacks in his two seasons as a starting linebacker for the Wolverines. McCray is an adept blitzer because of his high motor and his understanding of when to get lateral to collapse the pocket. He has shown a decent dip-and-rip move, but he gets home based more so on his relentless pursuit of the QB. McCray is a sure tackler in the open field, as he regularly gathers his feet at good pace and does an excellent job of wrapping the ball carrier’s legs. Coming downhill or in lateral pursuit, McCray has consistently shown his ability to bring down ball carriers with good technique and good pad level.

McCray does a pretty good job of block destruction, ripping through blocks to avoid engagement and replacing the blockers hips. He has shown good lateral agility and hip flexibility to side step blockers when necessary. Also, when he is able to engage the blocker he shoots his daggers and controls their chest plate, flashing the ability to get off blocks with good hand usage.

Weaknesses: McCray struggles in pass coverage, and this past season he got burnt a few times by pass-catching running backs, namely Saquon Barkley. While he is consistent in getting to his zone drop and highly aware of crossers or running QBs, his path to stay on top of routes in man coverage can be too inconsistent. His athleticism is slightly limited for a linebacker who “only” weighs 242 pounds, as you’d like him to be a little more explosive. Without that elite explosiveness, he can struggle getting off blocks when offensive lineman are able to latch on to him. This happens to McCray too often while in pursuit, and his lack of elite play strength can occasionally get him rag-dolled by bigger, more powerful offensive lineman.

Projection: McCray comes into Mobile as a probable Day 3 Selection, however I think his value should be late on Day 2 as he has the versatility to stuff the run, play in the backfield, and come on stunts to get after the QB on obvious passing downs. This projects him as a movable piece for a defensive coordinator, with the potential to be used as a Dont’a Hightower style of hybrid.

Ian Thomas – Indiana TE – 6’5 248 Pounds

Background: Ian Thomas enters Mobile as a true senior, coming off a season where he was named All-Big 10 Honorable Mention. Thomas will be 22 years old in June, and during his childhood he was cared for by his older siblings after his parents passed away when Thomas was nine years old. Thomas burst onto the scene during his senior year, after two seasons spent at Nassau Junior College and one season as a backup for the Hoosiers. He turned 25 catches into 376 yards and 5 touchdowns. His 15.0 yards per catch was good for fourth nationally among tight ends, and his 5 TDs was good for twelfth nationally among tight ends.

Strengths: As a pass catcher, Ian Thomas is a traditional field stretcher at tight end. He thrives in the seam and running intermediate routes to lengthen the defense. Thomas will be labeled as a “Move” tight end for the next level because of his ability run routes from around the formation. For his size, he shows a nice ability to sink his hips at the break point and has won some routes with double moves throughout the year. Lining up at in-line tight end, H-back, and in the slot, Thomas has does a decent job of threatening the leverage of the defensive backs and working into voids against zone coverage.

Thomas is an above-average athlete with pretty good explosiveness and good flexibility in his hips, which allows him to create separation and run at good play speed, including with the ball in his hands. Thomas is a hands catcher off his chest plate, occasionally pulling in one handed grabs. He has flashed the ability to win in contested catch situations with good body control, but he hasn’t been in that situation often at Indiana.

As a blocker, Thomas thrived coming across the formation from H-back. He wins blocks with his hat placement and pad level, and runs his feet through contact. Thomas bought in to Indiana’s system, blocking with tremendous effort and even working hard to block downfield and through the whistle.

Weaknesses: Ian Thomas doesn’t have a ton of experience, as he has only been the starter for one season. In that lone season as the starter, he produced at only a modest level for a tight end. Thomas hasn’t shown the ability or traits to consistently win routes against the bigger safeties he may see at the next level. Thomas did have some problems with bobbling passes, and he will need to tighten up this trait in order to really thrive in the NFL.

Along with his lack of experience at college football’s highest level, he didn’t take many snaps as an in-line tight end and his run blocking from that position can be limited. Though Thomas has decent size and strength he will probably be slightly undersized against NFL defensive ends, and his measurements will prove valuable to his draft stock.

Projection: Thomas projects as a mid-round tight end, potentially slipping into Day 3 of the draft. With his abilities as a pass catcher and potential versatility as a blocker, I think he should be safely in the Day 2 discussion.

About The Author Brad Kelly

Brad is in his second year as the wide receivers and defensive ends Coach at Portsmouth High School in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, the same high school in which he attended. He also coaches indoor and outdoor track & field, specializing the sprinters and jumpers. Brad attended Salve Regina University where he played football and rugby, splitting time between wide receiver and tight end. He graduated college in 2015 with a degree in Criminal Justice and is currently working towards his Masters.