The Senior Bowl is one of the best events of the draft calendar. It’s the time of year where everyone, even the fans of NFL teams in the Super Bowl hunt, starts to tune their eyes and ears to the draft.
This year, the Senior Bowl won’t be the same as we are used to. Due to COVID-19, there won’t be as much media coverage or availability with the players, but the event is still going on and practices will still happen. The Carolina Panthers coaching staff was chosen to coach for one team and the Miami Dolphins were chosen to coach for the other. Regardless of how much practice time and how different the week might be, having an NFL staff teaching some of the next great players in the league always has its benefits for both the coaches and players.
This year’s roster list is stacked. There are top players at almost every position, and when it is all said and done, there will be multiple first-rounders in attendance.
Here’s who we think has the most to gain during Senior Bowl week.
D’Wayne Eskridge, WR, Western Michigan
You may remember not too long ago a Western Michigan wide receiver product going pretty high in the 2017 NFL Draft. That was Corey Davis, who went No. 5 overall to the Tennessee Titans. Now, Eskridge doesn’t have that kind of draft appeal, but he is fun.
The 5-foot-9, 190-pound wide receiver never topped 1,000 yards in a single season like Davis did, but in his 2020 campaign, he caught 33 passes that he took for 768 yards—a crazy 23.3 yards per catch average—and eight touchdowns. Eskridge, a former Indiana state 100-meter track champion, has the getaway speed when he gets into the open field, but he’s also become quite explosive in his releases off the line of scrimmage.
For wide receivers, the Senior Bowl is a lot of 1-on-1 drills and opportunities. Eskridge has a chance to really stand out like Van Jefferson and Deebo Samuel did in years past.
Kylin Hill, RB, Mississippi State
2020 was supposed to be a big year for Hill. It was exactly that, just in ways that weren’t on the football field—it was something far more important. He became a catalyst for the changing of the Mississippi State flag due to its confederate roots. But on the football field, Hill didn’t get as much action as he hoped.
Hill played in just three games this season before opting out. This all came after Hill changed his mind to return for his senior season months prior. He saw just 15 carries in 2020 for 58 yards with no scores. However, in his previous season, he rushed for more than 1,300 yards with 10 touchdowns.
Senior Bowl week has the potential to be big for Hill. He had a lot of supporters going into the season as a potential top-five running back in the class, and though I’m sure there are those who are still holding onto that (opting out doesn’t make a player any worse, remember), Hill reassuring those supporters and changing the mind of doubters would make for a big week for him.
Jamie Newman, QB, Wake Forest
Speaking of opt outs, Newman was one of the biggest ones this season. There were plenty that liked what they saw from Newman during his time at Wake Forest. After announcing that he would be transferring to Georgia for his final season, many were eager to see what he could do in a more passing-based offense led by Todd Monken. However, Newman’s Bulldogs career ended before it could even begin, as he opted out just as the season was about to get underway.
This quarterback class is pretty strong at the top with Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, and Trey Lance. However, the QB5 and QB6 spots are open for competition. You have some names placed there already like Mac Jones and Kyle Trask, but there isn’t a consensus. A big week from Newman could have a big impact on who tops that second tier of quarterback prospects.
Patrick Jones II, EDGE, Pittsburgh
We know that the NFL draft consistently prioritizes three positions above all others: passers, pass protectors, and pass rushers. We have the top tier passers that the league can select this year, and we even have guys like Penei Sewell and Rashawn Slater championing the offensive tackle class. But in terms of pass rushers, there aren’t those “can’t-miss” guys at the top. Guys like Kwity Paye and Gregory Rousseau are the names we see the most at the top of the edge rushing class with players like Joseph Ossai and Azeez Ojulari getting first-round buzz, too. But there’s no doubt people are still searching this edge class to find their favorite.
Jones is an easy edge rusher to love. His motor runs hot at all times, he can be really explosive out of his stance, and he’s got some nice bend to his game as a speed rusher. He led the country in sacks for most of the season and finished with nine, along with 12.5 tackles for loss. He has the potential to give you some eye-popping reps in Mobile.
Ambry Thomas, CB, Michigan
Like Newman, Thomas was a player many were looking forward to seeing in 2020 but never had the chance to, as Thomas opted out before the season began.
Michigan has Thomas listed at 6-foot and 182 pounds. In his Wolverine career, Thomas played in 34 games recording 54 tackles with 3.5 for a loss, four interceptions, one forced fumble, and five fumble recoveries. He has experience as an outside press corner. He likes to be physical, but all eyes will be on how well he can keep up with some of the faster, more explosive wide receivers in Mobile. If he makes a big name for himself, he could be a fast riser.