The 2018 NFL Draft is still three months away, but in some ways the countdown to April 26 begins with the Reese's Senior Bowl on Saturday in Mobile, Alabama. The exhibition game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium will feature the top seniors in college football, hoping to solidify or improve their draft stock.
The Senior Bowl is unique in that it offers a chance for these players to practice under the direction of NFL coaching staffs while also offering them exposure to all 32 teams, who will be watching the proceedings carefully and interviewing select players throughout the week.
How important is this? Look no further than the fact that the Denver Broncos, who will be coaching the North Team and more than likely will draft a quarterback in April, specifically requested that Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, be on their roster. This gives head coach Vance Joseph and his staff an opportunity to work with the Heisman Trophy winner, as well as fellow North signal-callers Josh Allen from Wyoming, Washington State’s Luke Falk and Nebraska’s Tanner Lee.
The Houston Texans will coach the South Team. All told, 115* players representing 80 schools from the FBS ranks as well as FCS, Division II and III are scheduled to take part in this year’s Senior Bowl.
2018 Reese's Senior Bowl
When: Saturday, Jan. 27 at 2:30 p.m. ET
Where: Ladd-Peebles Stadium (Mobile, Ala.)
TV Channel: NFL Network
10 Players to Watch During Senior Bowl Week
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma (North)
For the Heisman Trophy winner it's more about how he goes about his business and carries himself this week than what he does on the field. The physical traits, playmaking ability and athleticism are some of the things that can easily be observed just by watching game film. It's the character and personality questions that teams want answered as he goes throughout the draft process. This is an excellent opportunity for Mayfield to make a positive impression, especially with the Broncos.
Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming (North)
Depending on who you ask, Allen (right) is right there with Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Mayfield when it comes to the top quarterback prospects in this class, if he’s not the No. 1 guy. Allen’s numbers this past season don’t jump off of the page, but he did deal with injuries and put together a strong performance in the Cowboys’ Potato Bowl victory over Central Michigan. But the knocks on Allen are his accuracy (56.3 completion rate in 2017) and that he didn’t play in a Power Five conference. This gives him a chance to prove the doubters wrong while a poor showing could see his stock take a hit.
Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA (South)
If you haven’t heard much about Davenport that will probably change soon as he appeared in ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr.’s initial mock draft as the No. 14 overall pick (to Green Bay). He’s listed at 6-foot-7 and 255 pounds and was a first-team All-Conference USA selection after finishing second in both sacks (8.5) and tackles for a loss (17.0). Here’s his chance to show he’s the real deal and why he’s generating buzz this early.
Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State (South)
The nation’s leading rusher (2,248 yards) as well as the Mountain West’s Offensive and Special Teams Player of the Year, Penny wasn’t a Heisman Trophy finalist nor was he one of the three up for the Doak Walker Award as the top running back. While there are probably questions about his size (5-11, 220) and the level of competition he faced, this is Penny’s chance to establish himself as one of the better options in what is shaping up to be a pretty deep running back class.
Shaquem Griffin, LB, UCF (South)
Griffin (right) established himself as one of the nation’s top defensive players while overcoming plenty of adversity in the process. His on-field production and accolades speak for itself and those questioning whether he can hang with the “big boys,” just need to look at the game film of the Knights’ Peach Bowl victory over Auburn. The question for Griffin is how does he translate to the next level? This week presents another opportunity for him to impress.
James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State (South)
Alabama’s Calvin Ridley is considered the best wide receiver in this year’s draft, but how the rest of the class stacks up behind him is debatable. Washington won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wideout this past season, but he will have to show that’s he more than just a product of the Cowboys’ high-powered, pass-oriented offense that wreaked havoc in a conference (Big 12) not exactly known for defense. He may be another player who needs to impress more in practice and drills compared to the game itself.
Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State (South)
One of 14 players invited to the Senior Bowl from the FCS ranks, Goedert is not only considered the top pro prospect from the subdivision, he also could end up being the first tight end taken in the draft. Plenty of eyes will be on the 6-foot-5, 255-pound target, as many scouts will probably size him up against another of the top prospects at his position, Penn State’s Mike Gesicki, who is on the North roster.
Adam Breneman, TE, UMass (South)
Another tight end, Breneman’s college career started at Penn State when Bill O’Brien was the head coach. Breneman originally stepped away from football after spending three years with the Nittany Lions because of a knee injury, but he ended up returning and played the past two seasons at UMass as a graduate transfer. Now Breneman has a chance to show NFL scouts and coaches why he was so highly regarded coming out of high school. And he gets the opportunity to play for his former head coach (O’Brien and the Texans’ staff are coaching the South Team) in the process.
Will Hernandez, OG, UTSA (North)
Already considered one of the top guards in this year’s draft class, this is a chance for Hernandez to show why. He’s large (6-3, 330) and has a reputation for being physical at the point of attack. If he holds his own this week he should solidify his positioning as an early-round pick.
Jaylen Samuels, RB, NC State (North)
Samuels was a do-everything, H-back for the Wolfpack, but do NFL teams view him as a running back or a tight end? Samuels will have to convince teams that his versatility is more of an asset rather than a hindrance considering he’s not a tailor-made fit for either position given his size (5-11, 228) and the fact he stood out more as a receiver than a runner at NC State.
*Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph was invited to play in the Senior Bowl, but had to withdraw because of a left foot sprain. He will still be present in Mobile taking part in the measurements and team interviews.