The Senior Bowl game is currently unfolding at the time of this article being written, and the game itself gives a very unique and important look at various invitees in action, but it’s often the case that more can be gleaned about senior prospects from the week of practice leading up to the game.
That’s where it’s easier to get an idea of how these guys actually work and practice, as well as how coachable they are. It’s easy to just turn it on when there’s a game to be played, but the way a player prepares each week is arguably just as important. So while the Cowboys coaching staff wasn’t there for the Senior Bowl, their scouts and other front office personnel was. And here’s a few guys who they may have their eye on that turned some heads.
Richie Grant, S from UCF
It seems as if every single offseason involves Cowboys fans talking about safety prospects, but that’s what happens when a team doesn’t invest in the position. The hope is that the arrival of defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, whose scheme highlights the free safety as a rangy middle-of-field ballhawk type, will change that. If so, nobody has done more to look the part than UCF’s Richie Grant.
In a mock draft earlier in the week, Grant was the Cowboys’ third-round pick. But after the week of practice Grant just had, Dallas will have to hope and pray they can get him with their second-round pick. He was making plays on a consistent basis, showing off the versatility to play nearly anywhere on the field. Dane Brugler of The Athletic was particularly impressed with the safety:
Each practice, Grant was all over the field, showing off his range and play speed. He had a handful of interceptions throughout the week, doing receiver-like things at the catch point and taking advantage of every opportunity thrown his way. And even when he did surrender a completion, he continued ball-searching to the ground, sometimes prying the ball out.
I really liked Grant’s film from the season, stamping him with a third-round grade and including him on my top-100 draft board. But seeing him up close this week, I was a round off — there is no reason he shouldn’t be a top-50 pick on draft weekend.
Prior to the Senior Bowl practices, Grant was an under-the-radar sleeper pick because of his range in the deep middle of the field, which made him the ideal fit as a free safety in Quinn’s scheme. He’s no longer under the radar, and if the Cowboys are serious about him then they’ll have to get serious about investing premium draft capital in the safety position.
Damar Hamlin, S from Pitt
Richie Grant definitely had the best week of practice of any Senior Bowl safeties, but Damar Hamlin also made plenty of people take notice. Hamlin was a late withdrawal from last year’s draft, and at the time was a prospect I was very excited about. As a former cornerback, Hamlin has been used in a wide variety of roles for the Panthers defense, making him a chess-piece defensive back.
In three years as a regular starter at Pitt, Hamlin was second on the team in tackles twice before leading the team this past year. He also had nine tackles for loss, five interceptions, and 21 passes defensed over that span. It’s the kind of play that would usually garner more attention at a bigger football school, so it shouldn’t really be a surprise that Hamlin impressed under the Senior Bowl spotlight this week:
It’s been a pretty solid week at the Senior Bowl for Pitt safety Damar Hamlin. Had some pretty sticky reps in man coverage, which figures seeing as he is a former CB that was converted to safety.— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) January 29, 2021
Hamlin was a winner from these practices, there’s no question.
Hamlin was so good that ESPN draft expert Todd McShay singled him out with some pretty strong praise:
️ Todd McShay on Damar Hamlin— Pitt Football (@Pitt_FB) January 28, 2021
"I absolutely love this Pitt safety. He is smart. He has football intelligence and instincts. He can cover. He loves the game. He's going to be in the league for a long time."@HamlinIsland x @SeniorBowl#H2P pic.twitter.com/iA1Y4hpcs7
Going into Senior Bowl week, Hamlin was viewed as a late-round pick, but that won’t be the case anymore. Still, Hamlin offers a good value safety prospect in the middle rounds for the Cowboys if they choose to once again prioritize other positions over safety.
Jabril Cox, LB from LSU
The linebacker position is an interesting one for the Cowboys this offseason, as many fans want to see at least one of the Leighton Vander Esch/Jaylon Smith duo replaced, although it seems unlikely to happen. Still, if the Cowboys are interested in finding a good linebacker in this draft, there are a few options.
Jabril Cox of LSU had the best week of those senior linebacker prospects. While LSU’s defense took a big step back this season, Cox wasn’t the reason for it. In his lone season as a starter, Cox tallied 58 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and three picks. It was that last part, his ability to excel in coverage, that helped Cox stand out this week:
Seems like LSU's Jabril Cox is easily the best LB in coverage down in Mobile.— John Owning (@JohnOwning) January 28, 2021
Considering how bad the Cowboys’ top linebackers were in coverage this past year - LVE allowed catches on over 86% of his targets, while Smith gave up a 71.2% completion rate - getting someone like Cox in the fold could be a major boon, especially with Quinn’s scheme putting more coverage responsibilities on his linebackers.
Baron Browning, LB from Ohio State
While Cox set himself apart from other linebackers in Mobile this week, Baron Browning also got in on the fun. He has a bigger frame than Cox, which has translated well to his skills as an extra pass rusher:
Ohio State LB Baron Browning has such a good feel when it comes to rushing. Just blew past a RB in one-on-one drills.— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) January 27, 2021
Is that Baron Browning wearing #55 off the edge for National squad?!— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) January 28, 2021
Smashed the fullback here! Wooo pic.twitter.com/A4nV7rr3io
With his size and strength coming uphill like this, Browning seems like an ideal SAM linebacker in the scheme that Quinn likes to run. But Browning also used the Senior Bowl practices to highlight his skills in coverage as well:
Ohio State's Baron Browning with some great coverage on Hunter Long at National team practice this morning. pic.twitter.com/R6FzgAUW5Q— Daniel Kitchen (@Sports__Kitchen) January 27, 2021
Browning isn’t quite as good in coverage as the other linebacker on this list, but he’s far from being a liability, which is what you want to see from a guy with his profile. If the Cowboys are indeed looking for a linebacker in this draft, Browning definitely caught their eye this week.
Cameron Sample, DL from Tulane
No one would blame you for not knowing the name, as Tulane football isn’t exactly must-watch television. But Cameron Sample turned more than a few heads this week, firmly putting him into the conversation as a later-round prospect. In one-on-one drills, Sample consistently beat his blocker with both speed and power moves, showing a wide repertoire of skills in his pass rushing attack.
The biggest issue for Sample now is his size. Listed at 6’3” and 274 pounds, Sample is a bit too big for playing on the edge and a little too undersized to play defensive tackle, which is a side-effect of playing at a smaller school like Tulane. But the traits and technique are there, and Sample will be a name to watch going forward.
Tre Brown, CB from Oklahoma
Cornerback is a pretty obvious need for the Cowboys, but many of the top prospects this year are underclassmen. That paved the way for Tre Brown to stand out this week. He has a diminutive stature, measuring just under 5’ 10” and under 190 pounds, but that wasn’t a problem for Brown this week.
Brown showed some particularly impressive footwork in his one-on-one drills, sticking with the receiver and making several plays on the ball, including one pick.
You never see picks in 1-on-1's— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) January 27, 2021
Oklahoma CB Tre Brown got a pick in 1-on-1's pic.twitter.com/2zQwrGQ1n8
His size likely relegates him to a slot role, but guess what? The Cowboys need that too. It remains to be seen just how high Brown’s stock will go with all the uncertainty surrounding this cornerback class, but Brown is definitely a riser. His week of practice was so good that all the Senior Bowl receivers voted him the best defensive back on his team:
Oklahoma’s Tre Brown was named top DB on the American team in a vote from the WR group at practice player-of-the-week awards ceremony tonight at 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl. #TheDraftStartsInMobile pic.twitter.com/nm0XUNBFoF— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) January 30, 2021
Benjamin St-Juste, CB from Minnesota
Benjamin St-Juste is the definition of under-the-radar, as few people were paying attention to him entering this week. That’s not the case now, as St-Juste showed he belonged among his peers at the Senior Bowl. Once a top recruit from Canada, St-Juste committed to Michigan before injuries led him to transfer to Minnesota.
Standing at 6’ 3” and weighing in at 200 pounds with a wingspan just over 80 inches, St-Juste is basically the dream cornerback for Quinn’s Cover 3 scheme. As is usual for bigger corners, long speed seemed to be a bit of an issue for him, but St-Juste showed an ability to leverage his size and length in coverage very well:
Nice rep by Benjamin St. Juste against Felton pic.twitter.com/nsymtihH92— Billy M (@BillyM_91) January 28, 2021
It seems likely the Cowboys will look to target a cornerback early on in this draft, potentially even with the tenth overall pick, but if they decide to go elsewhere then look for St-Juste to become a top priority for them in the later rounds.
Dillon Radunz, OT from North Dakota State
Everyone knows the Cowboys defense needs a lot of work, but offensive tackle is a quiet need as well. Several mock drafts have Dallas taking Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater because of this, but Dillon Radunz has made himself a viable offensive tackle target on Day 2 as well.
While interior lineman Quinn Meinerz stole the show in practices this week, Radunz was the second-most impressive offensive lineman at the Senior Bowl. Going up against some top-tier edge rushing talent the likes of which he never faced at North Dakota State, Radunz more than held his own, showcasing a handful of traits that make him a very legitimate Top 50 target now. It’s why Radunz was voted as the best practice player this week:
Congratulations to North Dakota State OL Dillon Radunz on being named the “Overall Practice Player-of-the-Week” at the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl. Last year’s winner was LA Chargers QB and NFL Rookie-Of-Year Justin Herbert. #TheDraftStartsInMobile pic.twitter.com/gqUdJCaHxb— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) January 30, 2021
Frank Darby, WR from Arizona State
The Cowboys have arguably the best wide receiver corps in the NFL right now, but with Michael Gallup entering the final year of his rookie deal it’s time to start confronting the fact that one of these three won’t be around long-term. As such, wide receiver could be a target in the later rounds for Dallas.
Enter Frank Darby, who was primed to be the next ASU receiver to become a first-round pick, succeeding N’keal Harry and Brandon Aiyuk the last two years. But the Sun Devils only played in four games due to a COVID-19 outbreak on the team, and Darby himself was injured for two of those games, hampering his shot at breaking out like his former teammates.
But Darby’s Senior Bowl performance highlighted exactly why he was expected to have such a big year at one point. His first three years at ASU saw him function mostly as a deep threat - he averaged 21 yards per reception over that span - but Darby also showed his route running and separation ability in practice this week:
It’s probably not enough to catapult Darby to the first round, but he showed exactly why teams will be keeping an eye on him going into the later rounds. For the Cowboys in particular, he offers a lot of the same traits that Gallup does, and would figure to be a viable replacement should the front office opt not to re-sign the productive receiver.
D’Wayne Eskridge, WR from Western Michigan
D’Wayne Eskridge was seemingly every draftnik’s sleeper pet cat entering this week, and for good reason. Heading into his senior season at Western Michigan, Eskridge was moved to cornerback and broke his collarbone four games into the year. After getting a medical redshirt, Eskridge moved back to receiver and put up 768 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in just six games.
Eskridge measured in at 5’ 9” and 189 pounds, which makes him an ideal fit in the slot. However, Eskridge played on the outside plenty at Western Michigan. Beyond that, though, Eskridge was a core special teamer throughout his college career, both as a return man and on the kick and punt coverage units. That versatility should earn him a little extra attention from Dallas with John Fassel running these special teams.
As for the Senior Bowl practices, Eskridge was a human highlight reel. He showcased silky smooth route running, great burst into his routes, and an ability to track the ball and make catches away from his body. He may be small, but Eskridge proved that he plays a lot bigger than he is.
Love this route by Eskridge. Great use of hands too pic.twitter.com/AgKVTHGEFi— Billy M (@BillyM_91) January 27, 2021
Dude, D'Wayne Eskridge putting on a show against Cam Bynum pic.twitter.com/WodVZ2vKAj— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) January 27, 2021
It’s easy to overreact to Senior Bowl performances, and that may be the case for Eskridge in light of Todd McShay’s comments. Either way, Eskridge proved that he brings a lot of value to a team looking for a dynamic receiver that can also make an impact on special teams. And with the Cowboys’ receivers in the position they currently are from a contractual standpoint, Eskridge may be too tempting of a prospect to pass up.