Reiding Between the Lines – Biggest Senior Bowl Standouts

It’s one of my favorite weeks of the year—the Reese’s Senior Bowl. This year's event was much different than previous ones. With the NFL recently announcing that there will be no Scouting Combine this year and that private workouts won’t be allowed, the week of practices leading up to the game in Mobile held much more significance.

With all three practices and the game now in the rearview mirror, NFL teams now have received an opportunity to get a significant viewing of the prospects that they have been vying to see in action. As is custom, there were some prospects that significantly helped themselves. After watching all three practices, there were 15 that boosted their draft stock. 

Quinn Meinerz, IOL, Wisconsin-Whitewater

The biggest things scouts look for from small-school prospects during the week of practices is how they adjust to the speed of the game, do they have the strength levels necessary to compete and thrive, and are they progressively improving each day. In years past, we have seen small-school offensive linemen like Ali Marpet, Tytus Howard, Alex Cappa, and Ben Bartch, who have starred at the Senior Bowl and went on to significantly help their draft stock.

The biggest star in Mobile was the Division III interior blocker and another example of this case. Making statements with his fashion as well as Meinerz’s play, he’s a prospect that took prime advantage of his opportunity against the bump up in competition. 

A few weeks ago, I watched five games of Meinerz and wasn’t blown away by his film, but the one trait that caught my eye was his strength. While his technique was a bit outlandish and out of control, he had a tendency to fall on the ground frequently because of how much momentum he built up prior to engaging in blocks. 

Giving him a fifth-round grade prior to the event, he’s a prospect that is one that plenty of evaluators will be racing back to review again. After playing left guard through the first three seasons of his career, he was preparing to transition to center this year, according to sources. Already receiving experience at that spot up until the cancellation of the season helped him as he spent most of his time in Mobile there. Meinerz now has placed himself in contention to be an early Day 3 selection, but if a team ultimately elects to take him at the tail-end of the top 100, that wouldn’t be surprising. 

Richie Grant, SAF, Central Florida

From start to finish, the prospect that I was impressed with the most in Mobile was Grant. He not only played safety, but he also spent time at cornerback as well, and then turned around and showed plenty of effort on special teams. Showing off that type of versatility at an event like this is huge for a player of Grant’s status. In a safety class that seems like a bunch of players are all scrunched together in one tier, the former UCF standout did exactly that for himself.

The one-on-one portions of practice where wide receivers are matched up against the defensive backs are always a favorite of everyone evaluating the event because there’s a lot of information that you can learn about each side that’s participating. From a defensive backs perspective, you can get a feel for their movement skills, technique, route recognition, physicality levels, and ball skills. Piecing together a strong three days, the second day of practice was his best as he showed off his fluidity, but he also caught two interceptions. Safeties who are able to generate turnovers combined with displaying fluidity and instincts in coverage will always be valued high in the NFL.

Viewed as a third-round target prior to the Senior Bowl, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if Grant has now launched himself into being a firm second-round prospect for teams in need of a versatile safety with a wealth of experience on special teams (533 career special teams snaps). 

Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

A significant addition when it was announced, many evaluators were happy to see Jones head about 3 ½ hours south to Mobile. Fresh off of a national title victory, Jones wanted to interview with teams, but also compete at practice. The great aspect about this opportunity for Jones is that we were able to see him outside of the favorable elements of Alabama’s play-calling and personnel.

For quarterbacks, the second day of practice is usually when they begin to settle in and become comfortable. There're so many variables at all-star events that they have to adjust to such as new terminology, perimeter targets, and some are even experiencing calling plays from an actual huddle for the first time ever. 

After a so-so first day, Jones finished strong during the final two days. His arm was as advertised, which is borderline average, but he threw the ball with plenty of anticipation, was consistently decisive, and layered it with accuracy. Already revealed that he met with the Texans, Saints, and Patriots in Mobile, it wouldn’t be surprising if Jones eventually finishes as a first-round pick.

Dillon Radunz, OT, North Dakota State

For some odd reason, Radunz’s name hasn’t been mentioned much throughout the week. Eventually named as the “Overall Practice Player of the Week,” Radunz spent the first day of practice at left tackle and then transitioned to left guard for the final two sessions. Having only played one game over the past calendar year, I thought that he was fantastic throughout the week. 

Evaluating his film over the summer and during the showcase game against Central Arkansas this past season, my biggest issue with Radunz was his inconsistent pass set and overall play strength. Over the course of practices, he silenced those concerns as he displayed an active set, but also plenty of strength at the point of attack. Having played mostly left tackle during his time with the Bison, he transitioned inside to left guard seamlessly during the final two practices.

For zone-blocking scheme teams, Radunz could be an ideal fit at multiple spots as he helped himself a lot during the week. The top 75 could be an ideal range for Radunz, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise if he goes higher considering the depth at the position in this class, but also teams wanting to secure their choice of the bunch.

David Moore, IOL, Grambling

In years past, we have seen HBCU players such as Darius Leonard and Javon Hargrave play in the event and then go on to star in the NFL. Moore is the next prospect to throw his name in the hat. During the early stages of the first practice, I thought that Moore struggled some with adjusting to the speed and moves that rushers were performing against him, but after those opening portions, he was lights out from then on. 

The trait that stood out the most about the former Grambling interior blocker is his grip strength. When he was able to land in his target spots and gain a firm grasp on matchups, he was successfully able to lock them down. Two reps for him stood out during the second day of practice. Both happening during the one-on-one periods as he completely stonewalled two ACC players in Boogie Basham and Marvin Wilson—two of the more notable defensive linemen in Mobile. Moore proved early on that he belonged. If you were to put a Notre Dame, Alabama, or Clemson helmet on Moore, you would have never noticed that he was from a smaller school. 

Another aspect that will help Moore’s stock moving forward is that he showed that he was comfortable playing center. As he mentioned during my interview with him last December, he strictly played left guard during his career with the Tigers. Having that type of versatility added another positive bullet point to his pre-draft resume as he potentially catapulted himself into early Day 3 considerations.

D’Wayne Eskridge, WR, Western Michigan

Wide receivers and defensive backs are always the two positions that the media looks forward to watching at this event due to the excitement that the one-on-ones provide. A similar case can be made for evaluators and the things that they can take away from those periods. They obviously aren’t the end-all, be-all, but they can reveal the degrees to which wideouts are true route runners combined with creating natural separation. After playing cornerback during the 2019 season, he transitioned back to receiver in 2020. Eskridge is a prospect that wasted little time standing out from his counterparts as he’s a supreme space creator. His ability to operate at full speed still make cuts all while maintaining proper hand-eye coordination to haul in catches was highly impressive.

Averaging 23.1 yards per catch last season, everyone in the stadium knew the type of explosiveness that he brings to the table, but it’s another thing to see it with your own eyes. Eskridge operates at a different tempo from his surroundings as there were only a handful of reps where he didn’t end up on the winning end. A long strider and glider when he runs, he can quickly leave the opposition in their tracks. Generating clean releases off of the line, there’s a lot of excitement about Eskridge heading into the meat and potatoes portion of the pre-draft process. Also a dynamic return specialist, that’s another angle that he has working in his favor of where he can contribute from the moment he steps on an NFL field. Even though he will be an older rookie (24), there will be some teams that value his traits highly and overlook the age factor with him.

Carlos “Boogie” Basham, EDGE/DL, Wake Forest

Lacking a true headliner name at the edge group at the Senior Bowl, Basham was one of the more familiar prospects at the position. Even though he didn’t have a bunch of eye-popping plays, I thought he was steadily consistent throughout the three days of practice. As is a similar case as his tape at Wake Forest, he’s a player that creates constant chaos with his strength. His ability to slam shut the edge as a run defender was evident, but the aspect that caught my eye the most was his versatility. 

Basham lined up as a 1-, 3-, and 5-technique during each daily session. In subpackages, he can kick inside to defensive tackle because of his athleticism, power, and ability to overwhelm blockers at the point of attack. He’s a picture description of a player with a high floor that can contribute at multiple spots from Day 1 along the defensive front. Basham still needs development with his hands from a creativity standpoint, but he seems to be best suited as a 5-technique in a four-down defensive front, which is where he will be able to reach most of his potential.

Keith Taylor Jr., CB, Washington

After the first few rounds in this upcoming class, there’s believed to be a precipitous drop-off. With no scouting combine or private workouts, this is the position that I believe will be the most difficult to separate into tiers. 40 time and on-field drills are two big variables that many teams use in order to stack players at the position.

Taylor’s career at Washington was filled with inconsistencies, but the biggest takeaway was him having not recorded a single interception during his career.

Ball production is a factor that scouts frequently look at even though it’s not always the telltale of a prospect's career. With questions about his ball production and exact scheme fit, Taylor played like one of the better corners in Mobile. His length, patience in press-man, and stem awareness are three traits that immediately jumped out. The second day of practice was easily his best day as he displayed all of the traits mentioned above and was also able to find the ball in the air prior to making plays on it—something evaluators were very happy to see. 

Taylor can thrive in a variety of schemes because of his versatility, but consistently finishing plays will be the next stage of his development that he must display more often. The Senior Bowl was a solid first step toward showing that he was capable of reaching the surface level of that layer. For teams like the 49ers, Colts, and Seahawks who perform a mixture of man and zone principles, it’s easy to see them having interest in Taylor in the third- or fourth-round range. 

Osa Odighizuwa, DL, UCLA

You may recognize the last name as he is the younger brother of Owa Odighizuwa, the 2015 third-round selection of the New York Giants. Playing 1-technique, 3-technique, and out along the edge during the week of practices, Odighizuwa was able to show off his versatility in a variety of ways. With lots of length, high strength levels, and plenty of explosion, he’s an intriguing Day 2 option that helped himself a lot in Mobile.  

Michael Carter, RB, North Carolina 

One of the positions that’s hard to stack up stand out performances for is at running back. With so many different moving parts up front and operating in a new scheme, it can be difficult for rushers to be among the more notable players. That wasn’t the case with Carter. He and Javonte Williams created arguably the top 1-2 punch in the country, but all eyes were on Carter as he was the only eligible to represent the Tar Heels in Mobile. Carter’s bread and butter is being able to break tackles, which he was able to do frequently in Mobile.

Throughout the team portions of practice and during the game on Saturday, his ability to create extra opportunities was once again evident. Carter reminds me a lot of Duke Johnson coming out of Miami. He has a similar build, size profile, hands reliability, and a knack for breaking tackles in different areas. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Carter quickly become one of the better complementary options as a 1B running back in a committee. 

Cameron Sample, DL, Tulane

Leading up to the event, Sample is a name that was hardly talked about. Quietly having one of the more dominant 2020 seasons, he finished the year with the seventh-most QB pressures in the country (42) among all defensive linemen. Throughout the three days of practice, his dominance carried over as he displayed his positional versatility as well as his strength at the point of attack.

Playing along the edge and at 3-technique, he was able to show off his raw power, but Sample is also an above-average athlete at the position. Scouts wanted to see how he performed against better competition than what he faced throughout his career and he aced the test. Following the game on Saturday, he was named as the Defensive MVP to cap off what was an impressive week for him.

Demetric Felton, WR, UCLA

One of the bigger surprises during practices was Felton. The reason for the eye-opening developments with him is because he was experimenting with a new position. After spending his career as a running back, he performed most of his duties at wide receiver. Felton’s quickness carried over, but he proved to be a technical route-runner as well. Considering that he doesn’t have much prior experience at the position, the details that he exhibited were a bit of a shock to many. 

With cat-like quickness in and out of his breaks, incorporating extra movements to throw off defenders, and having well thought out release plans at the line of scrimmage, Felton showed that he can wear multiple hats in an offense as he has draftable tape at running back, but now he’s also added wide receiver onto his draft portfolio. He seemed to be much more comfortable playing receiver, but the team that drafts him will receive plenty of value with him as he’s a two-phase player that’s also a dynamic return specialist. 

Jabril Cox, LB, LSU

Along with running back, linebacker is another position that can be challenging to stand out from the competition. Although the chatter about him seemed to be quiet throughout the week, Cox displayed flashes of what makes him so intriguing. Measuring a shade under 6-foot-3 and 233 pounds, he came in at a great size for the position. Likely best suited as a WILL linebacker on the next level, Cox’s athleticism, instincts, and three-down capabilities were all seen during the week. The Tigers defense was historically bad, but one bright spot on it was the play of the graduate transfer from North Dakota State. Fitting in with SEC speed and still being a stand out player shows just how much potential that he has on the next level. Cox reminds me a lot of Jerome Baker coming out of Ohio State.

D’Ante Smith, OT, East Carolina

A trend that seemed to come to fruition was that both teams included an intriguing crop of project offensive tackles. Smith was one of the better performers of the group throughout the week. Light on his feet and having sustainable strength and finishing ability, he strung together encouraging moments of positive play. “Winning” the weigh-in was a huge component of his resume. Listed as being 6-foot-4 and 274 pounds on the school’s official website, he measured at 6-foot-5 and 294 pounds to go along with an 85-inch wingspan. With a clear foundation to build upon, he could be appealing as a Day 3 option to zone blocking scheme teams. Smith didn’t participate in the game on Saturday due to a sprained ligament in his thumb. 

Extra Notes

  • Coming into the event, Alabama offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood let it be known that he only wanted to play left tackle. With mixed opinions on if he’s a guard or tackle, he wanted to prove to scouts that he was in fact an offensive tackle. With two years of experience at both spots, Leatherwood already has proven that he has positional flexibility. Leatherwood improved in many ways during the 2020 season. The biggest concerns with the former Crimson Tide blocker is stiffness in his lower half, which enables rushers to win the corner on him in spots. That appeared at times as I thought it was an inconsistent week for him all around. The traits are evident with him, but Leatherwood didn’t do much to silence the debate about whether he’s a guard or a tackle.
  • This QB class is unique in its own right. I used the word "unique" because everyone is aware that there are six throwers at the top of the class in Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Mac Jones, and Kyle Trask, but after the “big six,” things get a bit murky. As the Senior Bowl displayed, there’s a true lack of Day 3 options. The quarterback that I would be the most confident in taking in the fourth or fifth round range is Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond. While he was the most natural thrower and processor of the bunch, the record-setting Aggies QB was consistently inconsistent throughout his career. Never really knowing which player was going to show up on a weekly basis, the team that drafts Mond must understand that he’s a project that needs to shore up those loose ends of consistency. Regardless, he seems to be the best project of the Day 3 bunch.
  • Speaking to scouts and others that attended practices, there were glowing reviews about both staffs operating them. Many said that they were energetic, upbeat, organized, and provided pretty much everything that they needed from an evaluation standpoint. Many teams were hesitant to take on the challenging task of coaching the event, but it seems as if the Dolphins and Panthers both did a great job. They also gained a leg up in the evaluation process of seeing prospects from both teams up close and personal, which is an opportunity that 30 other teams weren’t able to gain this draft cycle.
  • There was plenty of buzz surrounding Washington IDL Levi Onwuzurike and he lived up to the billing. He only practiced one day because of a hip flexor injury, but at events like this, when prospects are labeled as being possible first-round picks, they are expected to perform like it. The former Huskies interior defender showed outstanding first-step quickness, strength at the point of attack, and creativity with his hands. He’s a name to monitor as we continue progress through the pre-draft process as one that could continue to rise, especially considering that the position group as a whole is labeled as being weak.