Five Senior Bowl Storylines to Watch
With the week of practice and the Senior Bowl game in the books, which storylines will dominate the 2022 NFL Draft leading up to the Scouting Combine.
1. Quarterback battle:
This is probably the best quarterback competition the Senior Bowl has seen in at least 10 years. Six of the top seven QB prospects were at the game, and five of which are projected as top 2 round selections. Kenny Pickett came in as the top QB prospect in most eyes, but Malik Willis, Desmond Ridder, Sam Howell and Carson Strong all have cases to challenge that. After the week I think there is a little bit more clarity, but overall this is still going to be a very intriguing battle.
Kenny Pickett and Malik Willis both had the best two weeks overall. Pickett bounced back from a poor rain soaked Wednesday practice with a good showing on Thursday. Overall he showed consistency and accuracy, with good marks of throwing with anticipation and getting through his reads. His arm strength won’t be his calling card, but it’s good enough and inside 20 yard attempts he’s very good. Willis is more the big play guy with a cannon for an arm and the mobility make defenses pay. He did show some better accuracy than what we saw in college, but this is still an area he needs to improve. His tools though should push him into the mid-first round range, and potentially as QB 1 in the class.
After Pickett and Willis, Howell and Ridder both did things throughout the week to help themselves. Ridder checks a lot of boxes and is decent to good in pretty much every area, I think the question is ceiling when it comes to him. His base skill set though is enough to have him push for a back end of the 1st-to-early 2nd range for him. Howell still has a few inconsistencies, but he’s another QB similar to Willis, who has the tools to be a good starter if you believe they can all come together. He was able to flash throughout the week, and during the game he was able to lead multiple productive drives.
Carson Strong is the one quarterback who I don’t think helped himself a lot this week. Health wise it was good to see him move well enough, and not seem to have any lingering knee issues. Unfortunately his passing was fairly erratic throughout. The big arm is evident, but he wasn’t connecting enough and had some just downright poor stretches. He will need to bounce back some with the Combine and Pro Day. The 6th quarterback Bailey Zappe probably didn’t hurt his ranking among QBs, but he didn’t have a great week. The lack of arm strength is evident and he seemed uncomfortable in more pro style settings. He still could be a good long term back-up, but that appears to be his ceiling.
2. Offensive vs Defensive Line:
Always one of the best battles of the week is the match-ups between the offensive and defensive lines. Though many thought that the offensive line would dominate this week, it was pretty clear early in the week that the defensive line group was stronger. Now I think there are still a number of offensive linemen who will be top 100 picks, but by in large the defensive line won the week.
Jermaine Johnson II, Logan Hall, Myjai Sanders and Perrion Winfrey all had tremendous weeks and really helped their stock along this defensive line. They showed not just production, but clear traits that will get teams interested in them. Johnson is a player who I think will rise up boards and if he tests well could crack the top 15. The defensive line group as a whole in this draft is going to be incredibly strong, which means some guys with top 50 grades will likely slide into the 3rd and even 4th rounds.
3. What Tight ends helped themselves?:
This tight end class is fairly strong and the Senior Bowl had a quality group. Tre McBride made a strong case for TE 1 and there is a real chance he sneaks into the back end of Round 1. He’s a complete TE who can be a focal point of an NFL offense. Isaiah Likely is a little more raw, but he has the upside to be a very athletic weapon in the NFL. Jeremy Ruckert, Jake Ferguson, Charlie Kolar and Greg Dulcich are all mid-round talents who can be effective NFL tight ends. Ruckert and Ferguson especially look like potential starters at the next level. They might not reach top tier TE status, but solid starters who can be the 3rd or 4th option in a quality offense.
4. What Running backs put on a show?:
Running back can be the toughest position to evaluate during Senior Bowl week since there isn’t full hitting until game day. You can still get a fair amount on a running backs vision, athleticism, and receiving ability, but you can’t get the full picture until game day. This year’s group of backs has a number of interesting prospects, as everyone in the game should get drafted at some point, but there is a wide range of opinions.
Brian Robinson coming off National Championship run is the biggest name here, but he faced some stiff competition this week. Dameon Pierce never won the fulltime starting role at Florida, but he has the tool set to be a better Pro than college player. Rachaad White has the chance to be a weapon as a passing down back. Abram Smith was strong throughout the week, and looks to be one of the more well rounded backs here. The most interesting back could be Tyler Badie who is on the smaller side, but was highly productive in the SEC and had a good week.
5. What Small school guys impress?:
Though every year the Senior Bowl rosters are filled with Power 5 players make up the majority of the rosters. On top of the big programs you will find numerous Group of 5 players as well. Despite having over 130 Division 1 (FBS) schools to choose from, the Senior Bowl consistently finds smaller school gems. In years past guys like Ali Marpet, Jeremy Chinn, and Quinn Meinerz showed that they could play at this level. Who will be the small school guys this year who prove that they can handle the competition and should hear their name called in the first couple of rounds of the NFL Draft?
Trevor Penning from Northern Iowa was already considered a 1st round LT prospect coming into this event, and he showed that those projections are legitimate. Penning was physical all week and handled most pass rushers with ease. Cole Strange (Chattanooga) and Matt Waletzko (North Dakota) were two other offensive linemen who really looked good at the Senior Bowl. Strange especially has a good shot to go in the top 100 picks, as he could profile at any interior position. Sticking on offense WR Christian Watson (North Dakota State), has an impressive size/speed combo skill set. He needs to refine his game some, but he could end up being a mid-round pick.
On the defensive side of the ball three guys really stood out to me as guys to watch. CB Gregory Junior won’t probably crack the first 4 or 5 rounds, but coming from a Division II school (Ouachita Baptist) he showed that he can make some plays. Defensive lineman Eric Johnson from Missouri State, was very active all week and made a number of plays. He’s a guy who might only end up as rotational player early in his career, but he could develop into a starter 3 years down the line. The most impressive small school defender was probably LB Troy Andersen (Montana State). Andersen was flying around the field and consistently in on plays. During coverage snaps, he showed despite being one of the bigger LBs at the Senior Bowl, that he can stay with tight ends. He might have done enough to earn himself a Day 2 selection.