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.
- O.J. Howard, TE Alabama: This could be the “belle of the ball”, if you will. If you created the prototype tight end in a lab you’d probably come back with something looking very similar to Howard. He has all the tools you could ever want with height, length, speed, athleticism, soft hands, and blocking ability. The issue is that he never really lived up to those tools as a receiver at Alabama, which could be due in part to the offense they ran. It will be very interesting to see how performs as a receiver during practice, he’s already pretty much a lock first-round pick as it is, but if he dominates in receiver drills I wouldn’t be surprised if he was picked in the top 15. He will be a consideration at 28 if available.
- Evan Engram, TE Mississippi: Listed as a tight end, Engram mostly functioned as a jumbo receiver in college. He rarely, if he ever lined up with his hand down, and it’s anybody’s guess as to whether or not he can block. If he proves he can block effectively his stock could soar because he is an excellent receiver. It will be interesting to see what he measures at, as he’s listed at 6-3, 227. Will have to prove he can block, or at least that he has the bulk to develop into a blocker, in order to be considered a tight end. I wouldn’t be shocked if teams came away from this week considering him simply a big receiver.
- Gerald Everett, TE South Alabama: The South squad is an All-Star group of tight ends, including this little known small-school prospect who is in the mold of Jordan Reed of the Redskins. Everett is very impressive as a receiver, and if he has a big week in Mobile he could see his stock soar, perhaps all the way up to the back end of round one. Listed at 6-4, 240, this is another player I’ll be curious to see how he measures. He could be a possible Day 2 pick as the Cowboys should be looking to find an heir to Jason Witten.
- Donnel Pumphrey, RB San Diego State: Speedy, ultra-productive player who racked up over 6,000 yards rushing (averaging 6.0 YPC) and 62 touchdowns over four years. He is also a threat as receiver out of the backfield. With the depth at the position this year Pumphrey could probably be had early on Day 3, and would likely be an upgrade over Lance Dunbar. Can he block?
- Josh Reynolds, WR Texas A&M: Long, lean receiver who is a serious deep threat on jump balls with his leaping ability. Averaged 17.0 YPC over three seasons, to go along with 30 touchdowns and just under 3,000 yards. Could be a nice developmental receiver prospect at some point on Day 3.
- Conor McDermott, OT UCLA: Extensive starting experience at UCLA, he could be a potential swing tackle/future replacement for Doug Free available on Day 3. Will turn 25 during the 2017 season.
- Isaac Asiata, OG Utah: Won the Morris trophy, awarded to the top PAC-12 offensive lineman, as voted on by the league’s defensive linemen. Underrated prospect who could be a nice insurance option at guard if available on Day 3, assuming Ron Leary isn’t re-signed.
- Carlos Watkins, DT Clemson: One of the top players on an excellent line at Clemson. Plays with impressive strength in both the run and pass game, although his pass rush technique is unrefined. He could be a serious consideration as a 1-technique DT in round two for the Cowboys, although if he has a strong week he may be off the board.
- Jordan Willis, DE Kansas St.: Fast, explosive edge-rusher who racked up 31.5 TFL, 20 sacks and 6 forced fumbles over the last two years. 2016 Big-12 defensive player of the year. With that said, he seems to lack bend around the edge and looks like a straight-line kind of player. Would be a very strong consideration for the Cowboys in the second, although like Watkins, he may not be available if he impresses this week.
- Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE Villanova: Say that three times fast. This is a massive prospect, listed at 6-7, 290, who has very impressive explosiveness and athleticism for his size. He put up 31 TFL and 17.5 sacks over the last two years, albeit against a lower level of competition. If he dominates in Mobile there’s no ceiling on how high his stock could rise.
- Cameron Sutton, CB Tennessee: Some thought Sutton could be a potential first-round pick until he broke his ankle and missed the middle part of the season. He returned in November, but only played seven games on the year. It’ll be interesting to see how he performs, presumably at 100%, and whether or not he can solidify a spot in the first two rounds.
- Ryan Anderson, DE/OLB Alabama: Not as much of a natural pass-rusher as his 14.5 sacks over the last two years would seem to indicate. Is he only a 3-4 OLB? Does he have the length and pass-rush technique to hold up a defensive end? He’s listed as an OLB by the Senior Bowl so it’ll be interesting to see how the Cleveland staff uses him, his performance will go a long way in dictating his future NFL position.
- Tre’Davious White, CB LSU: Physical corner with good ball skills, it will be interesting to see if he can hit 6-0 or not during the official measurements. An impressive week could land him in round one. Added value as a punt returner.
- Damontae Kazee, CB San Diego St.: Diminutive corner listed at 5-10 with excellent ball-skills, racking up an astounding 15 interceptions over the last two years. Despite his size Kazee is a willing tackler, he could be a steal if available on Day 3.
- Justin Evans, S Texas A&M: Limited experience having played just two years in college, but he made the most of it, as he put up 4 interceptions and made the All-SEC second team as a senior. A strong week in Mobile could solidify a spot in the second round, and he could be a consideration for the Cowboys on Day 2 either way.
- Montravius Adams, DT Auburn: Surprising athleticism for his size, Adams never put up eye-popping stats in college but he was very effective against both the run and the pass. He could be in line for a big rise with an impressive week of practice, and may be an option for the Cowboys as early as the second round.
- Keionta Davis, DE UT-Chattanooga: Small-school prospect with ideal size at 6-4, 270, he looked good against Alabama late in 2016. Very productive with 28.5 TFL and 24 sacks over the last two years. Would be a value on Day 3, but he could sneak into Day 2 if he impresses this week.
- Daeshon Hall, DE Texas A&M: Excellent size (6-6, 270) and good production (27.5 TFL, 10.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles over last two years), but how much did he benefit playing opposite Myles Garrett? Most have him pegged as a Day 3 pick at this point, he could be a nice developmental prospect given his size, but he isn’t quite as explosive as you’d like.
- Ben Boulware, LB Clemson: Leader and heart of the Clemson defense. Extremely instinctive, heady, intense player who is a sound tackler and loves the game, but he lacks size (6-0, 235) and speed. He may even measure in below 6-0, which would be disastrous for his stock. Could be a steal on Day 3 as something of a poor man’s Chris Borland. How will he hold up when he isn’t playing behind Clemson’s very talented line?
- Tanzel Smart, DT Tulane: Fits the mold of a Rod Marinelli defensive tackle with his low center of gravity and ability to penetrate. An incredible 33 TFL over the last two seasons, he could be another nice developmental prospect on the line available on Day 3.