Senior Bowl filled with expertise regardless of pandemic


The 2021 NFL draft cycle might be distinctive, totally different even than the difficult run-up to the 2020 draft that noticed professional days and prospect visits canceled because the COVID-19 pandemic hit the nation laborious final spring.

This 12 months, that a part of the script might be flipped. The NFL scouting mix, which has occurred yearly in some type or one other for practically 4 a long time, has been canceled this 12 months. However the professional days are scheduled to occur, together with the potential of regional mix websites permitting gamers to work out, be measured and interview with NFL golf equipment.

And regardless of a slew of different pre-draft all-star video games being canceled, the Senior Bowl — a sui generis model of it, naturally — will occur as deliberate this 12 months. Different pre-draft all-star video games, such because the East-West Shrine Sport, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and the Hula Bowl, have been canceled.

The Senior Bowl will go on. Held yearly in Cellular, Ala., the occasion has grown in measurement, scope and significance lately underneath the steering of govt director Jim Nagy. It’s a vital analysis stage for any draft cycle. However the 2021 occasion probably might be much more vital than usually given the pre-draft limitations elsewhere.

“Simply speaking to common managers across the league this season, exterior of 1 GM who didn’t journey together with his group to their video games on Sundays, I haven’t talked to many who (have been going) to many video games to observe prospects,” Nagy informed Yahoo Sports activities.

“I simply can’t think about attending to April when you’re a common supervisor and selecting gamers that you simply’ve by no means seen bodily earlier than.”

However simply because the gamers, scouts, coaches and others are transport in from all elements of the nation for Senior Bowl week doesn’t imply issues will precisely be enterprise as regular.

This year's Senior Bowl will look different than the 2020 game did, but it might carry even more weight during this draft cycle. (Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports)
This 12 months’s Senior Bowl will look totally different than the 2020 sport did, but it surely may carry much more weight throughout this draft cycle. (Chuck Cook dinner-USA TODAY Sports activities)

Additional security measures, fewer Senior Bowl occasions

This 12 months’s Senior Bowl might be a extra stripped-down occasion. The Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers will coach the 2 groups of greater than 100 complete NFL draft hopefuls.

In years previous, there have been a number of occasions all through the week, however this 12 months it is going to be boiled right down to principally soccer — following Monday’s weigh-in, gamers might be restricted to practices and the 72nd annual Senior Bowl sport subsequent Saturday.

Gone are the annual parade, the varied civic occasions sponsored by the Senior Bowl and the annual media day that sometimes has kicked off the week.

“It’s actually disappointing as a result of we’ve labored actually laborious to construct the week out, and we actually see it rising much more sooner or later,” Nagy mentioned. “Final 12 months was an enormous step ahead for that. However the primary factor is getting these groups in entrance of those gamers. Getting them stay publicity in entrance of scouts.”

Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy (left) says his event will go on as planned, even if this year will be different for obvious reasons. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
Senior Bowl govt director Jim Nagy (left) says his occasion will go on as deliberate, even when this 12 months might be totally different for apparent causes. (Photograph by Don Juan Moore/Getty Pictures)

The protection measures Nagy has put in place are beginning to trickle out because the occasion will get nearer. Media and scouts can have designated viewing spots for each practices and the sport on the occasion’s new location, Hancock Whitney Stadium on the College of South Alabama in Cellular, which replaces Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

“We’ve had lots of time to arrange, there’s little doubt about that,” Nagy mentioned. “It’s been a course of placing the contingencies in place, and I feel what we’ve all realized with COVID is that issues can change shortly. So we’re prepared to regulate if we want.

“We’ve been in fixed communication with the league, the groups, well being officers, and we do actually like our plan. We’re going to hold everybody protected. I feel on the minimal I can say that there might be loads of testing through the week.”

Quarterbacks might be an enormous story

There are at present seven quarterbacks dedicated to attend this 12 months’s Senior Bowl. All six have a shot at being drafted, with a handful of first-round and Day 2 (Rounds 2 and three) prospects.

The American Group roster, coached by Matt Rhule and the Panthers’ employees, options Alabama’s Mac Jones, Florida’s Kyle Trask, Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond and former Wake Forest and Georgia QB Jamie Newman.

The Nationwide Group, coached by Brian Flores and the Dolphins’ employees, will work with Texas’ Sam Ehlinger, Notre Dame’s Ian E-book and Arkansas’ Feleipe Franks, who began in entrance of Trask at Florida in 2018 and 2019.

It’s doable that the Nationwide Group may obtain one other QB dedication alongside the way in which. Nagy informed Yahoo that there have been a complete of 9 quarterbacks who can be worthy of an invite within the eyes of him and his employees.

Alabama quarterback Mac Jones is the highest-rated QB at the Senior Bowl. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Alabama quarterback Mac Jones is the highest-rated QB on the Senior Bowl. (AP Photograph/Chris O’Meara)

Though he wouldn’t point out which different quarterbacks is likely to be on the sport’s radar, a few of these invites included underclassmen who had accomplished their levels and have been eligible for the sport, but it surely’s doable not all of them can have declared for this 12 months’s draft.

Regardless of the notion he benefited enormously from his supporting solid, Jones is probably the one doable first-round decide within the QB lot, we imagine. Main the Crimson Tide to a nationwide title this previous season, Jones picked up the place Tua Tagovailoa left off and displayed nice poise, contact, toughness and management.

Bama had one of the proficient offenses within the nation this season, and two of his offensive linemen and star RB Najee Harris additionally plan on attending. (Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith additionally might be in Cellular, however the thumb harm he suffered within the nationwide title sport will forestall Smith from practising or taking part in.)

Scouts have needed to observe Jones exterior the expertise hive at Bama. The Senior Bowl rosters, in fact, are simply as loaded with NFL prospects, too, however seeing how Jones operates in unfamiliar environment with new teammates might be an vital section of his analysis. Jones’ week, because it has for a lot of Senior Bowl QB prospects in years previous, may function an enormous increase for his draft inventory.

Comparable questions and issues exist with Trask, too, even when NFL scouts don’t view him now as a first-rounder. One scouting director we spoke with final week predicted that Trask may fall to Spherical 3.

However Nagy has been a fan of the Gators QB since he first noticed him up shut in Florida’s slim loss to Joe Burrow and LSU in Baton Rouge previous to the Tigers profitable the 2019 nationwide title.

“(Trask) made some actually spectacular throws in that sport, and although I wasn’t there to observe him particularly … he obtained my consideration with how calm, cool and hard he was,” Nagy mentioned. “He was getting overwhelmed round fairly good and was holding his personal.”

Florida quarterback Kyle Trask had a terrific 2020 season but struggled in the bowl game. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
Florida quarterback Kyle Trask had a terrific 2020 season however struggled within the bowl sport. (AP Photograph/Ron Jenkins)

Trask took over for an injured Franks (who would switch after the 2019 season) and took his sport to new ranges in 2020. In his first full season of beginning in school or highschool, the place he backed up Miami QB D’Eriq King, Trask was named a Heisman finalist after throwing for 4,283 yards with a 43-8 TD-INT ratio in 12 video games.

Though Trask performed nice in opposition to Alabama within the SEC title sport, accounting for 4 TDs (three passing, one speeding), Jones and the Tide have been only a hair higher. Now they’ll be splitting follow reps for Rhule’s Panthers, a group that may very well be available in the market to draft a QB who can problem starter Teddy Bridgewater.

Trask additionally struggled within the Gators’ Cotton Bowl loss, as a lot of his offensive starters missed the sport.

“Although (Trask) confirmed good accuracy on his 2019 tape, his skill to place the ball the place he desires to place it (in 2020 was) superior,” Nagy mentioned. “It’s going to be massive for him down right here. He’ll be a enjoyable man to take a seat and watch tape with as a result of there are some performs the place you may query his determination making, when he’s actually making an attempt to suit it into a good window, however I actually suppose he’s simply so assured in his contact and precision.”

“However we’ve had him our highest-graded senior quarterback since final March. He’s obtained an ideal alternative awaiting him down right here.”

Mond, Newman, Ehlinger, E-book and Franks all have their respective followers within the scouting group to various levels. Additionally they can have their pictures to impress on this setting.

Newman hasn’t performed since leaving Wake Forest final season for Georgia, having opted out previous to this previous season. And whereas Ehlinger took a step again as Texas misplaced weapons and dropped again to the pack this season, Mond, E-book and Franks all helped enhance their shares previous to this week.

“(E-book) all the time been a winner, we’ve seen that,” Nagy mentioned. “However I actually suppose the sport has slowed down for Ian. He’s performed all this soccer, and also you may need hoped (his improvement as a passer) would have occurred sooner, however there’s a degree of calm with him this 12 months that I hadn’t seen earlier than. He’s peaking on the proper time. He and Kellen Mond have performed their greatest soccer on the proper time.

“Sam misplaced Collin Johnson and Devin Duvernay, two big-time playmakers. It was a transition 12 months for him. Sam’s expertise is a big plus, and what you don’t get within the NFL (as as backup) are reps, so there’s much less of a developmental side to him due to that. He simply wants to search out the suitable group and the suitable state of affairs to thrive.”

Different non-QB prospects of notice

Harris is likely to be the largest non-QB identify attending the sport, having accepted his invitation this previous week. He’ll have an opportunity to go in Spherical 1 following an excellent profession at Bama that featured two nationwide title victories and the event of his three-down skill to go together with his super working talent.

However there are various different top-50 prospects attending the 2021 Senior Bowl.

The Nationwide has a number of prospects who may land on Days 1 or 2 of the draft, together with Washington DL Levi Onwuzurike, Pittsburgh DL Rashad Weaver, Oklahoma OL Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma State WR Tylan Wallace, Wake Forest WR Sage Surratt, Northern Iowa OT Spencer Brown, Ohio State LB Baron Browning and Western Michigan WR D’Wayne Eskridge.

The American roster is lots loaded too with similar-caliber prospects, together with Wake Forest DL Carlos Basham Jr., LSU WR Jabril Cox, Tennessee OG Trey Smith, Clemson WR Amari Rodgers, Florida WRs Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes and Alabama OLs Alex Leatherwood and Deonte Brown.

Alabama running back Najee Harris will be one of the more talented backs at the Senior Bowl in years. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)
Alabama working again Najee Harris might be one of many extra proficient backs on the Senior Bowl in years. (AP Photograph/Michael Ainsworth)

Decide-out gamers for 2020 reminiscent of Newman, Onwuzurike, Brown and Michigan’s Nico Collins additionally earn the advantage of getting so as to add contemporary tape to their arsenal.

“These are the gamers who may stand to learn probably the most, those who missed final season or who have been injured or restricted final 12 months,” Nagy mentioned. “A full week of labor on the Senior Bowl will carry lots of weight within the eyes of scouts who haven’t seen them play stay in over a 12 months.”

Like Brown, many different FCS gamers had their seasons taken from them because the subdivision forwent a 2020 season. The record of spectacular smaller-school prospects on the occasion contains North Dakota State OT Dillon Radunz (QB Trey Lance’s left deal with whose group performed one sport this fall), Wisconsin-Whitewater OG Quinn Meinerz, South Dakota State WR Cade Johnson and Grambling State OG David Moore.

(Different smaller-school prospects who’ve accepted invites however don’t at present seem on both Senior Bowl roster embrace Illinois State DB Christian Uphoff, North Carolina Central CB Bryan Mills, and Northern Iowa EDGE Elerson Smith.)

That’s a smaller group of lower-level gamers than we sometimes see on the Senior Bowl. Nevertheless it additionally underscores simply how robust it’s to face out as a smaller-school prospect with extra big-name prospects reminiscent of Harris and Mac Jones dedicated to play.

A number of brokers informed Yahoo Sports activities that the Senior Bowl’s elevated selectivity lately makes it a better-quality sport than it had been prior to now previous to Nagy’s arrival, even when it comes at the price of not having the ability to use their affect to land their shoppers on the occasion.

“You used to have the ability to speak your guys up somewhat bit earlier than,” one longtime agent mentioned. “However (Nagy) takes the gamers (he and his employees) suppose are greatest. It’s a must to respect that, even when it means it’s more durable to get a few of your borderline guys in there.”

Particularly in a 12 months the place lots of the borderline prospects confronted more durable challenges for even showcasing their expertise and proving they belong among the many greatest seniors.

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