Every year the Senior Bowl brings together some of the best collegiate players across the country for a week of NFL-style practices under actual NFL coaching staffs, followed by the game itself on Saturday. Next to the Combine, it is arguably the most important pre-draft event each year, and inevitably at least one or two players will see their stock rise dramatically.
The beautiful thing about the Senior Bowl is that it takes players from the biggest programs in the country, as well as little known FCS schools, strips away all the pre-conceived notions of “big school” and “small school” players, puts them on the same field and let’s them compete. Being able to judge players from different backgrounds in NFL-style practices without them having the benefit (or detriment in some cases) of their collegiate teammates, coaching staffs, or schemes is a key part of the NFL’s evaluation. In many respects the practices on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are more important than the game on Saturday.
Last year Carson Wentz went into the week as a late-first, early-second round type of prospect, and after an impressive week of practice he shot up to a lock top-10 pick. During the 2014 Senior Bowl the battles between Aaron Donald and Zack Martin in the OL/DL one-on-one drills were stuff of legend, and now they are both All-Pro players that are arguably the best players in the league at their respective positions. And then of course there’s one Dakota Rayne Prescott, the MVP of the 2016 Senior Bowl.
Clearly this event has a dramatic impact on the fortunes of prospects and franchises each and every year. With that in mind let’s take a look at some of the players Cowboys fans should have an eye on during Senior Bowl week.
- Cooper Kupp, WR Eastern Washington: Highly productive possession-type of receiver who may be a consideration for the Cowboys in the mid-rounds. More than 6,000 yards receiving and over 73 touchdowns during his collegiate career. Will turn 24 before training camp begins.
- Zach Banner, OT/OG USC: Massive lineman who may be a better fit inside than at right tackle, which is where he played in college. He could be a developmental prospect, and future heir to Doug Free at right tackle, that would be worth taking on Day 3. This week will go a long way in terms of whether or not he will be viewed as an OG or OT at the next level.
- Kareem Hunt, RB Toledo: Versatile back with good size at 6-0, 225. With the depth at running back in this class Hunt could possibly be had on Day 3. Darren McFadden’s contract is expiring, Alfred Morris is seemingly out of favor with the coaching staff, and Lance Dunbar is a one-trick pony, a versatile back-up to Ezekiel Elliott could prove valuable.
- Corey Clement, RB Wisconsin: Another potential back-up running back who could be available on Day 3. Was solid as a senior but didn’t do much in the three years prior. Can he catch the ball out of the backfield?
- Amara Darboh, WR Michigan: Impressive physical tools, although his collegiate production never matched those tools as he never had more than 900 yards receiving or 7 touchdowns in a season. Some think he could be a better pro than collegiate player, and he could solidify a spot in the second round with an impressive week.
- Amba Etta-Tawo, WR Syracuse: After a quiet couple of years at Maryland Etta-Tawo exploded in his first, and only year at Syracuse with 1,482 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. With good size and speed to get deep, he could be a possible late-round sleeper as a developmental receiver.
- Desmond King, CB Iowa: Many thought King was a future first-round lock after he had 8 interceptions and won the Jim Thorpe award as a junior in 2015. He surprisingly returned to school, and had a good senior year, but there are questions about his long-speed with some wondering if he is better suited at safety given his physical nature. His performance this week will go a long way in determining his future NFL position, as well as whether or not he can work himself back into first-round consideration.
- Jaleel Johnson, DT Iowa: Complete interior defensive line prospect with strength to hold up against the run and enough quickness to push the pocket. An impressive week of practice could have him flying up boards, possibly as high as the late first/early second. Either way, Johnson could be a consideration for the Cowboys as early as their pick in the second round.
- Dawuane Smoot, DE Illinois: Coming into the 2016 season some thought Smoot could be a potential first-round pick. He’s been reasonably productive with 29.5 TFL and 12 sacks over the last two years while playing on poor teams, but there isn’t really anything special about him as far as size, speed, explosiveness, or otherwise. He could work his way into Day 2 with a good week of practice, but if not this is a player who would be a value pick on Day 3.
- Chris Wormley, DE/DT Michigan: A 4-3 tweener at 6-6, 300, Wormley looks like an ideal 3-4 defensive end. It will be interesting to see what kind of looks the Bears staff gives him in practice as far as playing inside or outside. A strong week could push him into the back-end of round one.
- Jourdan Lewis, CB Michigan: Some might argue that Lewis should be a first-round pick, although it seems that the league’s growing obsession with size at cornerback over the last five or so years may knock Lewis down into the second or third round due to his height and slight frame. He plays sticky coverage and has impressive ball skills, and he could be a steal on Day 2, especially if available in the third round.
- Chidobe Awuzie, CB Colorado: Physical corner with impressive size, athleticism, and extensive starting experience. He could be a very strong consideration for the Cowboys as early as round two.
- Rasul Douglas, CB West Virginia: Possible one-year wonder with only 18 games played at the FBS level over the last two seasons after spending the previous few years at community college. Didn’t make much of an impact in 2015, playing in only five games, but had 8 interceptions in 2016, to go along with ideal size at 6-1, 200+. Another possible Day 2 consideration in an extremely deep cornerback class.
- Carroll Phillips, DE/OLB Illinois: Listed as an OLB on the Senior Bowl roster, Phillips lined up as an end at Illinois, on the opposite side of the aforementioned Smoot. Another possible one-year wonder with 19 TFL and 9 sacks in 2016 after only 5.5 TFL and 3 sacks the previous two years combined. Listed at 6-3, 240, it’ll be interesting to see what his official measurement is, and also whether or not he has the size and ability to hold up in the run game.
- Tarell Basham, DE Ohio: Ideal size at 6-4, 260, and highly productive with 38.5 TFL and 27 sacks over four seasons, albeit against a lower level of competition. 2016 MAC Defensive Player of the Year. How will he fare against superior competition? An impressive week could push him up towards the back end of Day 2.
- Haason Reddick, OLB Temple: Very intriguing prospect who was used as an edge-rusher at the collegiate level despite being listed at only 6-1, 230. Explosive, quick, and ultra-productive with 35.5 TFL, 14.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles over the last two years. Clearly he doesn’t have the size to be a full-time edge rusher in the NFL, does he have the instincts and ability to play a more traditional linebacker role, and perhaps contribute as a part-time pass-rusher? If so he could make for an interesting possibility on Day 2.