5 Early Predictions For 2019 Senior Bowl

Photo: Dec 1, 2018; Columbia, SC, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks wide receiver Deebo Samuel (1) celebrates a touchdown against the Akron Zips in the first half at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

In cased you missed it, the lion's share of the Senior Bowl invites were released yesterday. The Senior Bowl tracker hosted here at The Draft Network is fully updated with the accepted and outstanding invitations.

With the Senior Bowl class almost fully into view -- we're still waiting on about ten invites for potentially graduating redshirt juniors -- we can start to guess as to how this year's Senior Bowl will go down. We don't yet know coaching staffs or teams, I'm afraid -- though I'm hoping for Jon Gruden on one sideline and Kyle Shanahan on the other. The rosters will be enough.

Let's get bold.

1) Deebo Samuel (re)cements a potential Round 1 status

Remember Deebo Samuel? It's kinda tough. He was an electric playmaker with the ball in his hands, dangerous route-runner with excellent stop/start ability to create windows of separation, and nothing evinced this better than a 5 reception, 83 yard, 3 total touchdown (1 return) performance against North Carolina State to open the season.

In 2017.

As a draft-eligible junior in the 2017 season, Samuel ripped off 280 yards and 5 touchdowns on just 18 touches, housing two kickoffs as well. In his third game of the season -- with the Draft community abuzz -- the dreaded struck: Samuel broke his fibula and lost the rest of the season for injury.

With his healthy tape still illustrating great promise, Samuel came into the season as a potential Round 1 wideout -- he drew comparisons to D.J. Moore for his explosiveness and running back frame; to Anquan Boldin for his strength as a contested catch player despite his smaller size.

But during the 2018 season, Samuel started off slow -- I mean, slow. He didn't look as explosive as he did in 2017, and his production was capped by pour quarterback play and the emergence of other receiving options.

And then, something seemed to change: Samuel's production rocketed back up, and his game-breaking ability showed out on a couple of late-season plays. Across his final four games: 23 catches, 575 yards, 6 touchdowns -- including a 10 catch, 210 yard, 3 touchdown game against the Clemson Tigers.

Samuel seems back to speed, and that's great news for his Draft stock and the upcoming Senior Bowl: if he's 100% healthy, he's comfortably the best wide receiver there, and his physical tools and strong routes should get him back into Round 1 rumblings.

2) This running back class gets a bit of a boost

I don't know if you've heard, but this running back class? Not great!

But the Senior Bowl could make things look a bit brighter -- and it's because of the names they landed. Myles Gaskin and Karan Higdon are two of my favorite runners that I've seen thus far, senior or otherwise. Gaskin will come in a touch under 200 pounds when all is said and done, but he's a mighty smart runner who offers good pass protecting ability and great receiving upside as well. I think he's faster than we realize.

Same goes for Higdon, actually -- he can kinda scoot out there in the open field! Higdon is opposite Gaskin in that, while Gaskin is slight, Higdon is thick and stout -- he brings a lot of power to the contact point and I love how he runs with leverage to churn out dirty yardage. Both may not be bellcow players -- Gaskin's frame may limit his touches, and Higdon's average athleticism limits his big plays -- but they can be primary backs in a committee.

The big question mark: Notre Dame runner Dexter Williams has really come on this season -- that's how he earned the Senior Bowl invite. 99 carries coming into his senior year, and now 142 in this season alone. Williams benefits from a strong Notre Dame line, but he also brings a strong size and explosiveness profile. I've gotta get deeper into his film, but I am excited to see how well he catches the football in Mobile.

There are still outstanding invites -- unaccepted, that is -- for Bryce Love and Damien Harris. Love's probably gonna look better in practice -- no contact -- and in the open field/agility drills, which will have some clamoring that his stock is improving. I'm quite out on Love, but Harris is my easy pick for first RB off the board: he's one of the strong pass-protectors in this class, has a no-nonsense and smart running style, and offers good receiving ability for a back of his size (215 pounds)

I think three of the first six backs off the board could be in Mobile -- even more if Williams fleshes out nicely. Despite the weak class overall, that's a strong showing for the Senior Bowl.

3) WRs v. CBs battles: all WR, all day

As I look through the positions, I think the group I'm most concerned about is the corner group. Maybe DBs in general; I'm not sure.

But the corners particularly worry me. The invite went to Lonnie Johnson instead of Derrick Baity, who I think is the better Kentucky corner by a fair bit. Corey Ballentine, the small-schooler out of Washburn, could have some promise -- Taron Johnson out of Weber State parlayed a strong Senior Bowl into a draft slot and now a vicegrip on the nickel job in Buffalo. And then there's Isaiah Johnson, the WR convert out of Houston -- love the size, but he seems super raw.

Rock Ya-Sin and Amani Oruwariye are the two potential early selections who fill the field -- but here's the thing: Both project best as man coverage players in press alignments, not as off-coverage players. Oruwariye can soft-shoe a little bit, play more of a cautious technique, but Ya-Sin really needs that disruptment at the line.

That's the thing about drills: they don't favor the corner at all, but it's especially tricky for corners who win as feast-or-famine press guys. They play themselves out of recovery position inherently, via their technique -- and it's hard for them to work back into recovery position, because neither is overly quick.

They may win against some of the slower receivers -- David Sills and Anthony Johnson are two big dudes without great releases -- but this is a particularly quick receiving corps. One that I think will have the advantage over the bigger, longer corners: Andy Isabella, Deebo Samuel, Emanuel Hall, and Alex Wesley can all really fly, and they have the short-area quickness to match.

It would have been interesting to see DeAndre Baker, the senior corner from Georgia, in this group -- he's one of the best off-coverage corners in this class. Unfortunately, Baker declined his invite. Apparently he's got a strong enough grade from the advisory board to ride on his tape? I dunno, folks.

4) The risers that are gonna surprise everybody? That's these guys

QB: Nobody, everybody knows everything about the QBs

RB: Myles Gaskin (see Point 2)

WR: Emanuel Hall. Been saying it for a month -- this guy can absolutely play. Will get Top-75 buzz by the time the week is done.

TE: Josh Oliver. Dude is 250+ pounds and gonna run in the 4.5s!

OT: Chuma Edoga. Great mover who has improved over the past couple seasons.

iOL: Ben Powers. The Oklahoma line should take home the Joe Moore Award, and Powers is the best player on the line. Dude can knock your teeth out.

iDL: Charles Omenihu. Can't teach Omenihu's length, but he's also got good technical understanding to match. Consistent player.

EDGE: Chase Winovich. Lotta potential in this group, but Winovich wins with polish, and that will show out in the one-on-ones.

LB: Bobby Okereke. I don't love this group, but Okereke's the best athlete. I hope they give him EDGE reps.

CB: Isaiah Johnson. Being 6'3 is never not good.

S: Juan Thornhill. Gonna seal a first-round grade from me with a strong week. Love Thornhill's versatility and ball skills.

5) A key acceptance from a first-rounder's outstanding invite

Right now, as I see it, there are six players with legit Round 1 potential who have been invited, but have not accepted:

But the sixth is the one who interests me the most; who doesn't get much national run; and will really have to play his way into Round 1: that's Jerry Tillery, the defensive tackle for Notre Dame.

I think Ferrell and Sweat could decline, because they're probably locks to go Round 1. Harris and Wilkins definitely seem like players who could benefit from strong showings, and every quarterback should go to the Senior Bowl for the extra exposure and interviews.

Tillery also should go -- he's had a great senior season, and plenty of his 2018 tape is Round 1 worthy. But his career has generally been inconsistent, and teams will have questions about his body type and athleticism as he's undergone a pretty significant change over his time with the Irish.

Given how he's played in this season, I think he could show up in Mobile and just dominate. This iOL class is good -- Elgton Jenkins, Chris Lindstrom, and Garrett Bradbury are all potential early pick -- and I think Tillery could beat all three regularly.

Tillery has a chance to be the best player who goes to Mobile, especially if Ferrell foregoes his invitation -- he has that much stock to gain. I think he accepts, especially if Notre Dame gets knocked out of the semis -- and I think he thrives.




Written By:

Benjamin Solak

Senior CFB Writer

Benjamin Solak is a Senior College Football Writer for The Draft Network and co-host of the Locked On NFL Draft podcast.