Will Grier is one of several quarterbacks who will be under the microscope this week in Mobile
The 2019 NFL Draft is still three months away, but in some ways the countdown to April 25 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 big of a deal is the Senior Bowl? Consider that coverage of the practice sessions on Wednesday and Thursday will be available on ESPNU (1:30 p.m. ET) and through the ESPN App while the game itself will be televised on the NFL Network. It's also worth noting that the North Team will be coached by Jon Gruden and the Oakland Raiders while the South Team will be led by Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers.
All told, 116 players representing 70 schools from the FBS ranks as well as FCS and Division II programs are scheduled to take part in this year’s Senior Bowl.
2019 Reese's Senior Bowl
When: Saturday, Jan. 26 at 2:30 p.m. ET
Where: Ladd-Peebles Stadium (Mobile, Ala.)
TV: NFL Network
Things/Players to Watch
Always the most scrutinized position, this year's crop of Senior Bowl QBs is different compared to last year in that none of the signal-callers participating are considered first-round locks (i.e., Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen in 2018) at this point mainly because Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins aren't in Mobile. But that doesn't mean a quarterback or two can't improve his draft stock this week. Among the eight, Missouri's Drew Lock, West Virginia's Will Grier, NC State's Ryan Finley, and Duke's Daniel Jones will probably draw the most attention. Grier in particular because he chose to not play in the Mountaineers' bowl game. But that doesn't mean that Jarrett Stidham (Auburn), Trace McSorley (Penn State), and even Tyree Jackson (Buffalo) won't get their opportunities to shine. It's also worth noting that Northwestern's Clayton Thorson accepted an invitation to participate but had to withdraw due to injury.
Will any offensive skill player stand out?
While there's still plenty of time between now and the draft, it seems unlikely that any running back will go in the first round. But even if there's no Saquon Barkley (or Rashaad Penny or Sony Michel) in this year's class that doesn't mean there won't be any RBs drafted. Michigan's Karan Higdon and Notre Dame's Dexter Williams come into Mobile as the most well known, but there's the opportunity for Temple's Ryquell Armstead or Memphis' Tony Pollard to open some eyes. And don't discount the non-FBS representatives. Bruce Anderson was a key member of three championship teams at FCS powerhouse North Dakota State while Wes Hills from Division II Slippery Rock was named the MVP of the recent NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.
A wide receiver or two could end up being taken in the first round, but barring something unforeseen, none of those guys are in Mobile this week. However, there are some wideouts worth paying attention to, including the West Virginia duo of David Sills and Gary Jennings, as well as South Carolina's Deebo Samuel and Louisville's Jaylen Smith. Another wide receiver many scouts will be watching is Buffalo's Anthony Johnson. He has appealing size (6-2, 210) and put up big numbers in college. He would move his way up draft boards with a strong showing.
A plethora of pass-rushing prospects or slim pickings?
Every successful NFL defense has more than one guy that can either get to the quarterback or at least pressure the pocket consistently. There are several intriguing edge rushers taking part in this year's Senior Bowl and while they may not be at the top of draft boards when it comes to what is shaping up to be a loaded defensive line class or even among the outside linebackers, this week gives them an opportunity to distinguish themselves among the next tier of options. That's especially the case for Oshane Ximines, who didn't get the chance for much national attention while playing for Old Dominion. Louisiana Tech's Jaylon Ferguson is another from Conference USA to watch this week while Mississippi State's Montez Sweat and Boston College's Zach Allen each will try and impress after being somewhat overshadowed while competing alongside the elite prospects that come from the SEC and ACC, respectively.
More FCS hidden gems on the way?
Last year, 19 players from FCS programs were drafted, including South Carolina State linebacker Darius Leonard, an early second-round pick (36th overall) by Indianapolis. Leonard went on to earn first-team All-Pro recognition this season and is one of the front-runners for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. Other players that have come from the FCS ranks in recent years include Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (No. 2 overall, in 2016), Chicago Bears Pro Bowler Tarik Cohen (fourth round in 2017), and Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (third round in '17).
This year, 11 players from the subdivision received an invitation to the Senior Bowl and don't be surprised if you see several of these guys hear their names called in late April. Delaware's Nassir Adderley is considered one of the FCS' top prospects as he's a solid safety who's built (6-0, 200) like a corner and he excelled at both positions. James Madison's Jimmy Moreland, who recorded 18 interceptions, is another intriguing defensive back prospect. Other names from FCS schools to file away include wide receiver Keelan Doss (UC Davis), defensive tackle Khalen Saunders (Western Illinois), offensive tackle Oli Udoh (Elon), as well as the aforementioned Anderson (North Dakota State). Udoh is sure to attract some attention merely based on his size, as the 6-foot-5, 356-pound lineman is one of the largest prospects in Mobile this week.