I sincerely feel like a kid counting down the final days to Christmas. Instead, I’m a 24 year old man who can’t stop thinking about his awaited trip to Mobile, Alabama to cover the 2018 Senior Bowl.
I’m extremely grateful and appreciative of the opportunity given to myself and a handful of staff members here at Breaking Football as we take the next step in this industry. I know it will be the experience of a lifetime and it will be treated as such. We appreciate everyone who has followed along and supported us over the past year or so.
With the mushy stuff out of the way, let’s get down to business. In anticipation of the Senior Bowl, which has rapidly approached us, I whipped up some storylines to watch during the week in Mobile with some analysis and of course no shortage of “hot” takes.
Be sure to follow me on Twitter @JonValencia_WiB as I’ll be dropping any notable takeaways during my time at the Senior Bowl along with a daily update posted here on Breaking Football. Feel free to hit me up with any draft questions or conversations you wish to discuss. Any interactions are appreciated!
1. Historic Talent Pool
Man did fate provide me with seemingly the best year to make the trip down to Mobile. I understand it’s easy to get excited over an event we’re all looking forward to and maybe hyperbolize a thing or two, but I’m not alone in this. Scanning up and down the Senior Bowl roster, you see studs throughout the lineup.
Of course the most compelling are set to be Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen at quarterback, but I’ll touch more on them soon. I’ll also touch on Rashaan Evans and Marcus Davenport a bit later, but these are two guys who likely draw top 20 grades from me. Evans was featured in my Top 10 Franchise Cornerstones piece a couple months back.
Overall I think we see at least six or seven Senior Bowl players drafted in the first round. I’ll put my money on Mayfield, Davenport, Evans and probably Martinas Rankin. Then I think we see one of these receivers separate themselves between Michael Gallup, Anthony Miller, James Washington and Cedrick Wilson. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Maurice Hurst will make a strong bid. And of course, the Josh Allen 1st round talk will always be hovering in the media.
Aside from the first round caliber guys, some other notable standouts who look like slam dunk 2nd round picks include: Mason Cole, Uchenna Nwosu and Kyzir White, among others.
2. Baker Mayfield Headlines Notable Quarterback Group
It’s rare to see a quarterback of Mayfield’s prowess to be on display at the Senior Bowl. Typically you see experienced, productive guys with day 2 aspirations, or those small school sleepers. In the case of Baker Mayfield, he brings the swagger, the glamour, and the Heisman. My question is, what else does he have to prove?
While I question that, I admire his willingness to scrap it up with the best of the best for one last go around. His competitiveness was never a question. Unless he absolutely falls off a cliff, I don’t see how Mayfield slips outside the top 10 come April. Especially now that the Broncos have requested to serve as his coaching, along with the fact that he signed with a Colorado based agency. Take that for what it’s worth. I’ll say that he has a case as the most polished QB prospect in this year’s draft, and he still has room to grow, plus the competitive gene. All those traits = top 10 pick in my book.
It’ll be a real treat watching Mayfield operate with the weapons at his disposal in Mobile, not to say he wasn’t spoiled with gifted athletes in Norman. While he fell just short in the Rose Bowl against Georgia, Mayfield is typically one to step up on the big stage, and I expect no less in Mobile.
RELATED: The Rise of Baker Mayfield
Then there’s Josh Allen. The Allen debate has been full-fledged since Bleacher Report coined him a #1 pick and the “franchise QB your team needs”. Regardless of what side of the spectrum you’re sitting at, we’ll have much more clarity following the week in Mobile.
OK now we’re cooking. This is the good stuff. Seriously. Very tight window completion on the run pic.twitter.com/xCnwcMIM5y
— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) January 17, 2018
Allen’s massive upside alone is worth an early day 3 pick. Talking strictly physical tools, he’s off the charts. Allen possesses enormous arm talent, explosive athleticism with sturdy stature and he’s shown tremendous flashes of making big throws off platform. With the most to prove among any player at the Senior Bowl, Allen could vault as high as the 1st round. Although some reports prematurely link him to the Browns at #1. An often excuse for his poor play at Wyoming has been covered up by a poor supporting cast. Now, there are no excuses. It will be crucial for Allen to develop rapport with his weapons during practices to set up a strong showing on gameday. RELATED: Josh Allen Scouting Report Aside from the two bigger names, six other quarterbacks will have a chance to put their talent on display. Kyle Lauletta out of Richmond draws my attention the most of the remaining guys. While I haven’t put in the film study quite yet, I’ve seen some Jimmy Garoppolo comparisons which is extremely intriguing following his rise with the 49ers. My man Nick Martin orchestrated a tremendous piece as he outlined Lauletta as a potential senior QB riser back in November. Brandon Silvers and Kurt Benkert both draw some intrigue. Silvers displays impeccable ball placement and accuracy with improved mechanics and footwork this year. While he doesn’t have much of a ceiling, he’s the most polished QB in Mobile (aside from Mayfield). I can see him sticking in the league as a low-end starter/backup. Among the most impressive QB tape I’ve seen all year, Kurt Benkert’s first half against Miami is certainly up there. Benkert has a live arm with mobility, toughness and ability to make plays off script. As Ben Solak pointed out in great detail with his newly launched Contextualized Quarterbacking project, Benkert is “inconsistent and streaky”, although he boasts some upside. Then you have Luke Falk, Mason Rudolph and Mike White. All three have had tremendously productive college careers, but I don’t view them as capable quarterbacks in the NFL. We’ll see who can standout among this trio.
3. Mobile to be Well Represented with In-State Talent
As if parading the 1st round of the NFL Draft every year wasn’t enough, the University of Alabama floods Mobile this year with in-state talent at the Senior Bowl. Headlining the group is standout linebacker Rashaan Evans, who enters the rise of #DraftSzn as a top five prospect on my big board.
Evans has a chance to cement himself as a consensus top 20 prospect with a good showing in Mobile, and the opportunity to build on that with more impressive results at the Combine. If we’re lucky, we’ll get to see Evans featured off the edge quite a bit, along with his linebacker responsibilities–similar to how Haason Reddick was able to cling to his ascend last year.
Accompanying Evans will be six of his teammates, which includes four defensive companions. Shaun Dion-Hamilton will only be there for team interviews as he recovers from a knee injury he suffered back in November against LSU. If the medicals check out, SDH is a player I can see selected in the 2nd round.
Starting corners Anthony Averett and Levi Wallace will be featured in Mobile as well. Averett has always stood out as a scrappy corner who uses physicality to make an impact against the run. I like his potential in the NFL as a slot corner who can make an impact on special teams. Wallace was a late bloomer but played a crucial role on Alabama’s championship team this past season. He should be drafted at some point on day 3.
Then there’s Da’Shawn Hand. The blue chip, five star recruit never lived up to his recruiting prowess in Tuscaloosa, and was unable to crack anything more than a rotational role. It’s rare to see highly coveted high school recruits like Hand stay all four years, let alone fail to attain a starting job. He has a real chance to light some spark to his draft stock if he stands out in 1-on-1 drills. Likely a day 3 pick based on untapped potential.
Punting sensation J.K. Scott and anchor of the offensive line Bradley Bozeman round out this stellar group of players. You’ll remember Scott for the clinic he put up against Ohio State in the 2015 Sugar Bowl (that feels like forever ago). And with Bozeman, I’m sure you can recall the emotional scene where he got down on one knee following Alabama’s National Championship win. Both players should carve out long-time starting roles in the NFL.
4. Which Wide Receiver Will Separate From the Pack
Many have bashed this wide receiver class throughout the season as it lacks any real standouts who could serve as a high-end WR1 at the next level. While Calvin Ridley appears to be the consensus WR1 at the moment, he’s nothing better than what we had last year. And while I think the world of Auden Tate, I’ll save that for another time.
Point being, the Senior Bowl will host a handful of highly talented receivers who are, for the most part, all being looked at in that fringe day 2 border. Many have the chance to separate themselves, and perhaps rise as high as the late 1st round if they can build on their momentum at the Combine.
Senior Bowl WR Rankings:
- WR4 Cedrick Wilson
- WR5 Michael Gallup
- WR7 James Washington
- WR11 Courtland Sutton
- WR13 Anthony Miller
- WR14 Marcell Ateman
- WR15 Jaleel Scott
- WR16 Darren Carrington
Not Yet Graded: Braxton Berrios (Miami), D.J. Chark (LSU), Allen Lazard (Iowa State), J’Mon Moore (Missouri), Tre’Quan Smith (UCF), Javon Wims (Georgia)
My top wide receivers participating in Mobile both come from the Mountain West Conference, and both sit inside my top five wide receivers. Cedrick Wilson comes from NFL bloodlines with a big, strong build which attributes his physical play well. He can win just about anywhere whether he’s hauling in a spectacular catch downfield or picking up YAC off a quick slant. Gallup offers a little more flavor and pizazz with his quickness in routes and savvy off his release, but he’s not as well-rounded as Wilson. I see both as day 2 picks with late 1st round potential if they impressive in both Mobile and Indy.
Then you have the next tier featuring decorated, productive college receivers in James Washington, Courtland Sutton and Anthony Miller. Washington, your Biletnikoff Award winner, has hallmark contested ability which he showcased time and time again in Stillwater. Sutton probably enters Senior Bowl week in the top five of most WR rankings, but I’ve been somewhat down on him compared to most. However, I think he’s cleaned up his tape a little this season, but there’s still some left to be desired based on the hype. Miller is another guy I think has garnered a little too much hype, but he brings the x-factor with his big play ability developed in Memphis’ high tempo offense.
This wide receiver class has a ridiculous amount of gifted high point and back shoulder playmakers. New Mexico Star’s Jaleel Scott (6’6, 215) is certainly one of them. His name is catching major buzz. pic.twitter.com/K7q9b2GuUw
— Jake Burns (@jake_burns18) December 30, 2017
This leaves Marcell Ateman, Jaleel Scott and Darren Carrington, among non-graded players. Ateman played Robin to James Washington’s Batman at Oklahoma State, but some will even say they prefer the former. Ateman is bigger than Washington, but also an excellent contested catcher. Among the big-bodied guys we’ll see, Jaleel Scott is the most athletic. A pure gamer who made a name for himself with a one-handed circus touchdown catch back in Week 1 against Arizona State. He has the most upside of anyone in this tier. Known for his off-field record, Darren Carrington was able to stay clean in his lone season at Utah. I love his ability off release with dynamic quickness and a fatal jab step. Likely a depth play at the next level who can occasionally provide some spark. Of the guys I have yet to grade, Tre’Quan Smith draws the most intrigue. In a limited sample size, he’s displayed superb technique utilizing his hands and long arms to gain leverage. You see nice burst and acceleration in his routes as he can typically create separation all over the field. A late bloomer who didn’t start playing football until his junior year of high school. The untapped potential is there. With some big plays, Smith will be sure to generate some hype. Even after Smith lies tons of intrigue. For what it’s worth, D.J. Chark is the best LSU receiver I’ve seen in at least a couple years. J’Mon Moore has been buzzing on Twitter over the past few days. Allen Lazard has always flashed and has built quite the resume while at Iowa State. I feel I’m much higher on Javon Wims than most. He was Georgia’s most consistent threat via the air this season and he brings great size and rangy athleticism. Braxton Berrios looks the part as your slick slot man. This class is loaded with talent, and just about all of them are closely contested right now in terms of draft stock. Senior Bowl week serves as a tremendous platform for some of these guys to rise above the rest. For a more extensive look on this group, check out Brad Kelly’s Senior Bowl WR Preview.
Remember the name: Marcus Davenport. @nfldraftscout believes the UTSA product could climb into the first round with a big Senior Bowl week pic.twitter.com/zjUqVoaekQ — Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 16, 2018
5. Predicting the Biggest Risers
Let me start this segment by saying I excluded Rashaan Evans from this list, as I touched on him earlier. Overall, I’d say he has a good chance of being the highest drafted defensive player who participated in Mobile.
It was tough to narrow this list to only five players with all the talent to pick from, but I feel all the players I’ll touch on have a chance of ascending their stock into the day 2 range, at least.
1. Marcus Davenport / EDGE / UTSA
If you like watching pure domination, flip on some Marcus Davenport film. Davenport is a rare athletic freak with a 6’6”/260 pound frame, long arms and an impressive athletic profile. With traits that you can’t just simply contain, Davenport boasts among the highest ceilings of any prospect in this draft class.
While he may not be as fine tuned as a Bradley Chubb, Davenport looks pretty clean on tape, although he could use more technique refinement as he further adapts to the nuances of the game. Still, I like what I’ve seen from Davenport in terms of hand usage. He’s not your typical long, athletic edge who tend to rely on power and strength, although he can cause havoc with his bull rush.
Level of competition is sure to raise concern for Davenport, but if he shows out against the best the college ranks have to offer, that should silence some critics. In a deflated edge class which has recently lost Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant as they have their eyes set on another National title, Davenport has a real shot to cement himself as a 1st round pick. I would not be surprised if he’s selected before Chubb come April.
2. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo / LB / Oklahoma
If there’s any player who has helped their draft stock the most during the course of the 2017 season, it was (say it with me now) Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. From Week 2 against Ohio State to the College Football Playoff versus Georgia, Ogbo played lights out football all season en route to being named co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year–should’ve been sole, but I’m not going to get into that.
At roughly 6’0”/245 pounds, identifying a fit for Okoronkwo at the next level has raised some question marks throughout the draft process. To me, Ogbo brings coveted versatility to the table. Over the past two seasons he has proven he can get after the quarterback, and that’s a quality you shouldn’t waste due to size. With that being said, I like him in a Bruce Irvin role. Utilize him at strongside backer and often up on the line.
In my most recent mock draft I slated Okoronkwo late in the 1st round to the Pittsburgh Steelers, in what I thought was a very interesting fit. As it showed in their playoff loss to Jacksonville, the Steelers need to improve against the run. While known for his prominence as a pass rusher, Ogbo has displayed a loud motor in pursuit with run and chase ability.
3. Dallas Goedert / TE / South Dakota State
The position which generates the least buzz in the 2018 NFL Draft class has to be the tight end position. This in large part based on the fact that the top guy at the position doesn’t get much exposure.
Hailing from South Dakota State, it’s understandable why many may be sleeping on Dallas Goedert solely because they haven’t had the opportunity to watch him play. Goedert passed the eye test with flying colors, even considering his level of play. He dominated and overpowered his opponents en route to a stat-line of 164 catches, 2,404 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns over the past two seasons.
Goedert has held a firm grasp as my TE1 all season, and I expect him to live up to the billing in Mobile. While he’s my top TE in the draft class, I don’t see him going any higher than early 2nd round. He’s already 23 years old, and if teams are drafting a TE in the 1st round, they’re going to go after the young, athletic freak with enormous potential.
I’m going to go out on a limb and predict a stat-line of 4 catches, 64 receiving yards and a score for Goedert in the Senior Bowl.
4. Kyzir White / S / West Virginia
As you’ll be well aware of following Senior Bowl week, Kyzir White is the younger brother of former #7 overall pick and Chicago Bears wide receiver, Kevin White. Kyzir mans the SPUR role in West Virginia’s defense and wears a variety of hats. On passing downs you’ll see him back as the deep safety, or up on the line as a pass rusher. He also assumed slot responsibilities a good deal as well.
As players have proven in years past at the Senior Bowl, versatility creates more opportunity to shine, resulting in a greater chance to showcase their ability. White meshes into that grouping without a doubt and I expect him to make a couple impact plays on gameday.
I’m about to drop a hot take, but I currently have Kyzir White as my #3 safety prospect, over Derwin James (subject to change). He’s well-built to take on that LB/S hybrid role at the next level and spread all over the defense. He has the athleticism to match. Kyzir is rangy and he displays impressive movement skills. He is well disciplined in his reads and assignments with a natural feel for the game. I could see him rise as high as late 2nd round, but he’s likely a solid 3rd round pick.
5. Timon Parris / OT / Stony Brook
I have to give some love to my boy hailing from Floral Park, New York. Timon Parris enters Senior Bowl week with aspirations of being Stony Brook’s first drafted player in program history. He started the first 40+ consecutive games, before suffering a fractured fibula towards the end of the 2017 season. He prides himself on playing through the minor nicks here and there, which he was almost able to do his entire collegiate career. He is expected to suit up on gameday, but whether he is 100% is not yet confirmed.
While I must say I still have a ways to go when it comes to offensive line evaluation, I’m draft crushing hard on Parris. It was a joy to watch him play. Light on his feet with swift, smooth movement skills. Secures the edge well and excels as a pass blocker. Encourages hands play and packs a punch on engagement.
I expressed my love for Parris even further in my early Senior Bowl Offensive Line Preview, along with a handful of other participants.
I think Parris presents tremendous upside and great value in the 3rd or 4th round, although I’ll have him graded a little higher. While it’s a crowded group, I’m hoping Parris stands out.
Just your run-of-the-mill end around from the inline TE. Jaylen Samuels is amazingly versatile pic.twitter.com/xzCWroCmMp
— Ryan Booher (@bootang25) April 1, 2017
MVP Prediction: Jaylen Samuels (N.C. State)
Baker Mayfield is the obvious choice here, so I’ll go against the grain. Originally I wanted to go with Rashaan Evans here. It fits the storyline too well. He would be just the third Alabama alum to receive such honors, and the first in over 30 years. It would also make him just the third defensive player in the past 20+ years to win the award. Then you have all of these ‘Bama players doing work, and Evans stands out with an impact play to shift momentum at some point in the 2nd half. I’ll roll with that and predict he forces a sack fumble. However, that’s not quite enough to garner him MVP honors.
Jaylen Samuels has been the sparkplug on N.C. State’s upbeat offense over the past three years. Samuels has been productive in a variety of ways and his fit at the next level is often debated. Samuels is the poster child for the jack of all trades superlative. During his time in Raleigh, Samuels was utilized as a tailback, H-back, slot receiver and tight end while establishing trust and reliability within the offense.
While the actual squads aren’t yet in place, I have a vision. Baker Mayfield dumps a pass off to Samuels into the flat off a rollout, Samuels then weaves and efforts his way downfield for a nice 40 yard TD. I’m not sure what the Senior Bowl record for touches in a game is, but I’d imagine Samuels has a good chance at contesting it, assuming he’s utilized in an expansive role.
Projected Stats: 11 touches, 89 total yards, one touchdown.