FRISCO, Texas – The Senior Bowl continues to rocket up the pecking order of the NFL offseason.
It's an unfortunate circumstance in 2021, given the continued efforts to work around the outbreak COVID-19, but it's hard to deny the benefits for the annual all-star game.
The NFL has already called off the NFL Scouting Combine, in the traditional sense, at least. Private workouts and college facility visits won't be happening in 2021, either. That means these three days of practices in Mobile, Ala., will be arguably the best opportunity to watch members of this year's draft class in something that resembles a normal environment.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, there will be plenty of talent on hand this year. Gone are the days when the Senior Bowl was viewed as an afterthought, as several of college football's biggest stars – including Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith – will be in Mobile for the proceedings.
All of that said, here's a handful of names the Cowboys will undoubtedly have an eye on, and just might make sense in their draft plans.
- Alex Leatherwood, OL, Alabama
DeVonta Smith and Mac Jones will get more headlines this week, but teams with offensive line needs would be smart to keep an eye on Alabama's star offensive tackle.
There is some debate about whether Leatherwood projects as a guard or a tackle in the NFL, and he'll have a chance to make his case by practicing at left tackle this week. He was named a unanimous All-American playing the position for the Crimson Tide this past season.
If you're following the Cowboys' draft storylines, you've undoubtedly heard about the star tackles – Oregon's Penei Sewell and Northwestern's Rashawn Slater – as possibilities for the No. 10 overall pick. It seems unlikely Leatherwood would climb that high in the draft order, but this week will be a big chance for him to jump onto the radar.
- Ifeatu Melinfonwu, CB, Syracuse
This isn't the most loaded DB group in Senior Bowl history, and it took a hit with the news that Washington's Elijah Molden won't be participating due to injury.
Melifonwu is intriguing, though. He's the younger brother of former UConn safety Obi Melifonwu, who caught a lot of attention back in 2017 with his rare size and athleticism.
It's fair to say the younger Melifonwu has that in common. At 6'3, 213 pounds, he's definitely got intriguing size – and it's especially interesting, given defensive coordinator Dan Quinn's preference for longer corners.
Melifonwu started two years for Syracuse, finishing with 88 tackles, three interceptions and 26 pass breakups in 19 starts. The early prognosis is that he's a likely second or third-round pick. But if he handles himself well against this impressive receiver group, don't be surprised if that grade skyrockets after the Senior Bowl.
- Carlos Basham Jr., DE, Wake Forest
Another draft legacy, Basham is the cousin of Tarell Basham – who was a much-discussed Cowboys target back in 2017.
In an edge rusher class that feels a bit lackluster, Basham looks like one of the best of the bunch, and arguably the best one going to Mobile.
Basham finished with 19.5 career sacks in four seasons with the Demon Deacons. More impressively, he managed 35.5 career tackles for loss – including a ridiculous streak that saw him make at least one tackle for loss in 23 consecutive games.
Wake Forest lists him at 6'3, 280 pounds. If those measurements are even close to accurate, Basham has a plenty big head start on acquiring the necessary size and strength to play in the NFL.
This probably isn't a name to know for the No. 10 overall pick, but Basham could be an awfully intriguing option at the top of the second round – provided he doesn't play his way to a loftier draft slot.
- Levi Onwuzurike, DT, Washington
This is an awfully intriguing prospect for a position – much like edge rusher – that is lacking a little bit of star power.
Onwurzurike was first-team All-Pac 12 in 2019, tallying 45 tackles, six tackles for loss and two sacks for the Huskies. He opted out of the 2020 season without ever playing a snap.
Now, he's coming to Mobile to remind people what he's capable of. If he performs well, it's not a stretch at all to say he could throw himself into the conversation as one of the best defensive tackle prospects in this draft class.
For a Cowboys front that has lacked size, not to mention production, at defensive tackle, the 6'3 293-pound Onwurzurike could be an immediate help.
- Quite A Few Linebackers
If there's a position for the Cowboys to be excited about at the Senior Bowl, it just might be this linebacker group.
Jaylon Smith was the target of constant criticism in 2020, and Leighton Vander Esch once again struggled with durability. Throw in the possible retirement of Sean Lee, and it's understandable why many see the position as a big draft need.
These practices in Mobile could provide a bevy of possibilities.
None of these guys are likely candidates to be the No. 10 overall pick, but they could all be finds later on.
For starters, there is Ohio State star Baron Browning, who is fresh off an appearance in the national championship game. He managed 29 tackles and three tackles for loss during the Buckeyes' shortened season, but he showed up in a big way during that national title game loss to Alabama, notching five tackles, a sack and a big strip of Crimson Tide quarterback Mac Jones.
There's also North Carolina standout Chazz Surratt. Originally a quarterback, Surratt developed instead into a playmaking linebacker for the Tar Heels. He finished with 91 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and an impressive six sacks for UNC's Orange Bowl team.
Another fascinating storyline would be LSU's Jabril Cox. The 6'4, 231-pound linebacker started his career with three all-world seasons at North Dakota State, earning All-America status and helping the Bison win three national titles. In an effort to bump his draft stock, Cox jumped up to the FBS level at 2020, and he continued to impress. On an otherwise lackluster LSU defense, Cox made 58 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and an impressive three interceptions.
Finally, there's Auburn's K.J. Britt, who missed the vast majority of the 2020 season with a thumb injury. Britt was first-team All-SEC in 2019 off the strength of 69 tackles and 10 tackles for loss, but the injury prompted him to undergo surgery on Oct. 9, ending his year. It remains to be seen what, if anything, Britt will do this week in Mobile. But he undoubtedly has the athleticism to make a name for himself in this draft cycle.