The Reese's Senior Bowl has always been viewed as an important part of the evaluation process with the top prospects heading to Mobile to participate in an all-star game that serves as a week-long audition in front of NFL coaches and scouts.
The meetings, practices and workouts enable evaluators to assess a prospect's potential in an ultra-competitive environment. Given some time to make a few calls and evaluate the practice tape, here are my thoughts on the top performers and storylines from Day 2:
The talent and depth of the O-Line class is impressive.
If the talent at the Senior Bowl is any indication, the 2021 class is loaded with talent along the frontline. Teams in need of offensive linemen should be able to find blue-chip players throughout based on the talent and depth at offensive tackle and offensive guard/center. At the Senior Bowl, the impressive performances of Cincinnati's James Hudson, East Carolina's D'Ante Smith, Oklahoma's Creed Humphrey, and Wisconsin-Watewater's Quinn Meinerz only confirm the outstanding collection of talent of available in the 2021 draft.
Smith and Hudson have dazzled evaluators with their athleticism, balance, and body control. Each edge blocker has been able to stonewall pass rushers in one-on-one drills and their success has continued in competitive team sessions. Smith, in particular, has displayed the patience, versatility, and punch that scouts covet in "swing" players (offensive guard/offensive tackle).
Meinerz's dominance at the Senior Bowl has been a pleasant surprise based on his lack of activity in the fall and the jump in competition. The DIII standout has owned defenders at the line of scrimmage with his strong hands and nasty demeanor. Meinerz has served up pancakes to multiple defenders over the first few days of practice and his finishing skills have certainly stood out. If he can pummel the competition at the Senior Bowl after missing a regular season, imagine how well he could perform as a pro with more repetition and quality instruction.
Keep an eye on Hunter Long as the best "Y" in the class.
It is hard to find a throwback tight end with the blocking ability of an offensive tackle and the receiving skills of a wide receiver. The Boston College product has the potential to develop into a five-star tight end that thrives as a blocker and receiver at the next level. The 6-foot-5, 255-pounder is a long, rangy athlete with enough speed and quickness to run away from linebackers and safeties. Long is a smooth route runner with a knack for creating separation at the top of routes utilizing a variety of head-and-shoulder fakes and body bumps to lose defenders. he combines his superb route-running ability with dependable receiving skills that enable him to thrive as a chain mover over the middle of the field.
As a blocker, Long is a sticky blocker with the size, strength, and body control to neutralize defenders on the edges. He displays quick hands engaging defenders after the snap and works his feet to sustain and finish his blocks. Although he's not an overpowering blocker, he is a sticky blocker capable of winning with his hustle and relentlessness.
At a time in which teams are looking for an old school tight end with the capacity to anchor "12" personnel (1 RB, 2 TE, and 2 WR) sets, Long is an intriguing option as a "Y" in this draft class.
The small school standouts shine on the big stage.
The Senior Bowl is viewed as a big piece of the evaluation puzzle when it comes to scouting small school players. Scouts want to see how lower-level players perform against top competition to determine if they will be able to quickly acclimate to the pro game. Based on their performances this week, Central Arkansas CB Robert Rochell and South Dakota State WR Cade Johnson have a chance to shine as pros.
Rochell, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound cover corner with an ultra-aggressive game, has displayed the athleticism and movement skills to match up with speedy pass catchers on the perimeter. Although he has been a little rusty from a long layoff (only played in one game in 2020), he has flashed the tools that coaches love in an outside corner. From his excellent acceleration and burst to his explosive change of direction ability, Rochell moves like a gazelle on the edges. If he can refine his technique and footwork, he could become a legitimate playmaker on the island with his outstanding ball skills (10 career INTs) and tackling ability.
Johnson is a natural slot receiver with the stop-start quickness, route-running skills, and hands to be an effective "chain mover" as a WR3. The productive pass catcher (139 career receptions, 2,554 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns) has a knack for getting open utilizing a variety of tricks to set up and outmaneuver defenders. Johnson's ability to get open combined with his superb kick return skills should enable him to thrive as a "catch-and-run" specialist in an offense that features option routes and crossers. If he lands in the right system, Johnson could blossom as a slot receiver in spread formations.
Jamie Newman is the wild card at quarterback.
The evolution of quarterback play in the NFL has prompted scouts to look for more athletic options at the position. Newman is a dual-threat playmaker with the size (6-foot-4, 230 pounds), speed, athleticism and raw arm talent to create problems with the ball in his hands. Although he is an unfinished product with inconsistent passing skills and limited experience, the former Wake Forest star has flashed enough potential as a runner-passer to garner some consideration as a developmental player at the position.
As a three-year player with 16 career starts, Newman amassed 4,787 total yards (3,959 pass yards; 826 rush yards) and 45 combined touchdowns (35 pass; 10 rush) while torching opponents with his rugged playmaking skills on the perimeter. From the pocket, he has the potential to deliver strikes down the field on play-passes but needs to become a more efficient performer in the drop-back game. He misses the mark on some rhythm throws and shows some indecisiveness getting to his second and third options in the progressions when opponents take away his primary read.
That said, Newman is an explosive athlete and his ability to throw on the move at the Senior Bowl has certainly captured the imagination of scouts and coaches. He has been at his best executing bootlegs and movement passes, particularly rolling to his right. Newman's success as a movement passer combined with his size and running ability makes him an intriguing option as a developmental prospect.
There aren't many options at defensive tackle.
It is not a secret that the 2021 class lacks depth at the defensive tackle position. The Senior Bowl only confirmed that opinion with only a few guys standing out as interior defenders during the first few days of practice. Washington DT Levi Onwuzurike certainly showed dominant potential on Day 1 as a disruptive force on the inside but he's been the only defensive tackle to flash five-star potential. Florida State DT Marvin Wilson is an intriguing power player with the size, strength, and pop to shock defenders at the line of scrimmage but he lacks the elite explosiveness and twitch to be a high-end sack artist from inside.
USC DT Marlon Tuipulotu is a heavy-handed interior defender with the strength and power to hold his own against the run but he hasn't displayed high-end pass-rush ability. He is more of a pocket pusher at the line of scrimmage and his inability to win with quickness or finesse limits his impact as a pass rusher at the next level.