It is going to be a chaotic week in Mobile as the Senior Bowl festivities take place. The Senior Bowl is almost the unofficial kick off to draft season and I could not be more excited to be down there for Steelers Depot.
There will be no shortage of high-profile prospects in action, especially on the defensive side of the ball, which I feel is the strength of this year’s squad. This is perfect for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have many defensive needs such as cornerback, inside linebacker and pass rusher.
I have previewed each position group for this year’s Senior Bowl and its jam packed, full of important details and notes that I have compiled from watching film. It is a bit wordier than most posts but I promise its worth the read. There are only a few positions that can be likely ruled out for the Steelers to draft from (quarterback and perhaps defensive line?) so I wanted to make sure I touched on every position in as much detail as necessary.
Let’s jump right in.
Lots of intriguing quarterback prospects on the North team. None better than Missouri QB Drew Lock. He’s got the size (6’4) and arm to be a top ten pick in this year’s draft, with 72 touchdown passes over the last two seasons.
Also, on the North squad is quarterback Daniel Jones, who has all the making of an NFL caliber quarterback and is making his way into early first round discussion.
NC State QB Ryan Finley is this year’s super senior, already 24 years old. Finley has many questions to answer about his arm strength and ability to withstand pressure.
After Clayton Thorson’s late exit from the Senior Bowl, the South roster will be led by Buffalo’s Tyree Jackson who has a cannon of an arm. Once you are finished raving about his arm strength, take a look at his height. Jackson comes in at a mammoth 6’7. He is definitely the biggest upside project of this year’s bunch as his natural traits are enough to make any coach fall in love with his ability. Can not wait to see the natural chemistry between him and Buffalo wide receiver Anthony Johnson this week, it could do wonders for both their draft stocks.
Other QBs: Jarrett Stidham, Will Grier, Gardner Minshew II, Trace McSorley
Michigan running back Karan Higdon will lead the North squad now that Myles Gaskin has bowed out. Higdon is lightning quick with light feet and loose hips which give him great lateral agility. He will be a tough one to square up on in the open field and will be one of the more athletic running backs in Mobile.
Filling out the North running back committee is Dexter Williams, another athletic back built on quickness and shows a surprisingly good amount of toughness for his size. Higdon and Williams will be a lot to fun to watch run around for the North as they both are springy, elusive backs.
Temple running back Ryquell Armstead had his best season to date, cracking over 1000 yards last season and will lead the South squad. Really love Armstead’s vision and burst to the line of scrimmage. He runs hard but right now his ceiling is a two down back as he does not offer much receiving or blocking skills.
North Dakota State running back Bruce Anderson is my small school sleeper pick out of this year’s running back group. Not a lot of attention has come his way but that can all change with an impressive showing this week.
Was not planning on diving into the wide receiver group too much but with the future of Antonio Brown up in the air, there is a good chance that the Steelers scout their fair share of receiving prospects this spring.
Business is boomin’ when it comes to the South squad as they are stacked with receiver talent.
Deebo Samuel may be the most NFL-ready receiver out of the group down here in Mobile. A great route runner, Samuel has the athletic ability to be an elite playmaker at the next level. When he gets in open space, he is a nightmare to bring down as he is just so slippery and hard to wrap up. Defenses are playing a game of cat and mouse when Samuel gets the ball in his hands. His arrow is pointed way up after finishing with 62 receptions for 882 yards and 11 touchdowns this season.
Buffalo wide receiver Anthony Johnson is a small school kid with big talent. He’s got great length at 6’2, strong reliable hands and is physical in his route running. What really blew me away though was his body control. Johnson can control his body unbelievably well for a man his size. Add in 2300 yards receiving in just two seasons at Buffalo and there is a lot to like when looking at Johnson’s body of work.
Clemson receiver Hunter Renfrow is fresh off winning the National Championship and his appearance at Mobile feels like a long time coming. Renfrow has been a four-year contributor at Clemson with almost all his opportunities coming in the slot. What makes him so consistent in the slot position are his great hands, savvy route running and quickness.
One last receiver on the South squad worth mentioning is Marshall’s Tyre Brady. The 6’3 receiver is a big target and was the focal point of the Marshall offense. After being fed the football, Brady is a trustworthy pass catcher and his size gives him an obvious red zone advantage. His 17 receiving touchdowns over the last two seasons will back that up.
West Virginia is going to send a pair of wide receivers to Mobile with David Sills V and Gary Jennings both making the trip. Sills V is the deep threat receiver as his height (6’4) makes him not only a master at coming down with contested catches but also a huge red zone threat (35 career touchdowns). While Sills V handled more of the vertical receiving game, Jennings took care of the middle and is a physical route runner who also finished with over 900 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns this season.
Other South WRs: Travis Fulgham, Jaylen Smith
Small school, small stature but big sleeper talent. That is the tag I currently have attached to UMass wide receiver Andy Isabella, who just capped off his best season to date recording 102 receptions for 1698 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. His 102 receptions ranked second in the entire NCAA while no one had more receiving yards in the country than Isabella. The UMass receiver is short on height at just 5’10 but he’s big on speed. Isabella has legitimate ‘take it to the house’ speed and is elusive in the open field. I am excited to see if he can put his name on the map this week in Mobile.
The fastest receiver may just be another small school standout. Northern Colorado’s Alex Wesley is a track and field competitor and he sure brings track speed to the gridiron. Wesley is a true vertical threat and has the ability to take the top off any defense.
Other North WRs: Penny Hart, Jakobi Meyers, Terry McLaurin, Keelan Doss
An interesting group of tight ends will be in Mobile this week as each individual brings an intriguing trait to the table.
Perhaps the cream of the crop and the safest bet at the position is Boston College tight end Tommy Sweeney. He has really taken strikes in his progression during his senior year, showing promise as both a run blocker and pass catcher with 68 receptions over the last two seasons. A true jack of all trades.
Joining him on the North team, Drew Sample and Donald Parham also have their own niches. Sample may be the best blocker of the bunch as that is what he was primarily asked to do at Washington so it will be interesting to see what he shows as a receiver this week. Parham on the other hand comes in at a gigantic 6’8 and will very likely look like a man among boys out there. As you would expect from a 6’8 target, Parham has a huge catch radius and mismatch potential.
My dark horse favorite of the tight end group is on the South roster. I was blown away and hooked by Utah State tight end Dax Raymond. His film really left me impressed as Raymond has the makings to be a modern-day tight end with serious speed, athleticism and receiving abilities. He was used in a variety of ways and he has a big chance to make a name for himself this week.
Foster Moreau is another block-first, catch later tight end who will fill in the South roster. Moreau anchors well in pass protection and moves well to run block. Limited tape as a receiver but has this week to show that it is in his arsenal. Josh Oliver is another small school kid from San Jose State with the chance to put himself on the map this week. Can not wait to see Oliver showcase some of his slept on receiving abilities.
For the first time in many years, the Steelers may pay some serious attention to their offensive line due to the uncertain futures of impending free agent Ramon Foster and the injury prone Marcus Gilbert.
Some names to keep an eye on from the South roster are a couple of maulers from Oklahoma. Ben Powers and Dru Samia helped hold down the interior of the Oklahoma offensive line. Powers will likely be a mid-round pick, he has the size and anchor for the position but he’s far from the most athletic lineman in this year’s class. Samia made the All-Big 12 first team and if there is one reason to be interested in him, its his ability to move. The Steelers love to pull their guards and that just happens to be Samia’s strength as he has great footwork and strength to pull and get to the second level.
Two developmental tackles on the South roster – Washington State’s Andre Dillard and South Carolina’s Dennis Daley.
The North team is absolutely stacked when it comes to offensive line talent. Northern Illinois tackle Max Scharping was an early favorite of mine while I was profiling the bowl games. He has the size teams are looking for (6’6, 320). Scharping shows ability to get to the second level and if he can put it all together, he could move up draft boards this week.
It seems like every year Wisconsin sends a couple highly skilled guards to the NFL. This year is no different as Beau Benzschawel and Michael Deiter are set to graduate from the collegiate ranks and be propped into a team’s offensive line. Benzschawel comes with a higher ceiling as he is already a dominant run blocker and can anchor well in pass protection. Deiter will not lag too far behind though. Boston College’s own Chris Lindstrom is also another impressive guard who will be on the North roster.
Wrapping up the North’s offensive lineman is Texas A&M center Erik McCoy. The Texas A&M prospect has experience both at guard and center. His athleticism is his biggest tool.
Boston College’s Zach Allen is an intriguing piece as a 4-3 defensive end. His bend is limited by his 285-pound frame so he projects better as a 4-3 piece rather than a 3-4 pass rusher. He uses his hands well and has a strong bull rush. Allen also has a high motor and plays the run well.
Charles Omenihu is an underrated defensive lineman, finishing with 9.5 sacks this season. Omenihu has great length, his wingspan measurement should be a good one and his burst off the line jumped off his film.
One player I want to highlight on the South team is Georgia defensive lineman Jonathan Ledbetter who is a big man at 6’3 and 280 pounds. He holds his ground at the point at the attack as his size gives him adequate strength. Limited pass rusher but there is room for improvement.
The south team is loaded with defensive tackle talent with Isaiah Buggs, Kingsley Keke and Dontavius Russell.
Buggs led Alabama in sacks this season with 9.5. He played interior and on the exterior due to the tremendous amount of talent on the Alabama defensive line. This week will be his chance to show that his production was not just the result of playing with many other talented players.
Russell may be the most realistic nose tackle option out the bunch, listed at 320 pounds. He is a four-year starter, which is a testament to how well he does his job. Russell eats double teams for breakfast allowing his other team mates to flourish.
Gerald Willis III unfortunately pulled out of the Senior Bowl just recently and I am beyond dissapointed. His 2018 campaign with Miami had been a complete 180 since his early off field problems and transfer from Florida. His size and natural raw talent made Willis III a rising star, he will be missed this week.
The North team is not as talented but they do have Arizona State DT Renell Wren, who is listed at 6’4 and just under 300 pounds. Wren is raw but you will be hard pressed to find a more explosive defensive tackle when he puts it all together. If there is one thing that Wren has done consistently this season, it is put offensive lineman on skates as he drives them into the backfield. He has a quick burst and is strong as a bull. Will be keeping an eye on him as the arrow is pointed up on his potential.
Josh Allen was the biggest name but he was notably absent from both final roster sheets. Probably a smart decision as Allen has been heralded as a Top 20 pick by many. It is unfortunate that he will not be attending.
With Allen’s absence, the next biggest star pass rusher is Louisiana Tech pass rusher Jaylon Ferguson, who was even mocked to the Steelers in Todd McShay’s first mock draft. Ferguson does the most important part of his job really well as his 43 career sacks are the most in NCAA history. His biggest strengths? His powerful arms as Ferguson knows how to use his leverage for a nifty speed to power move. The only question mark is that Ferguson got minimal reps as a standup outside linebacker, spending a lot of his time with his hand in the dirt so it will be interesting to see how he translates this week.
Joining Ferguson on the South team is Mississippi State pass rusher Montez Sweat, who I am eager to see this week. Sweat has recorded 22.5 sacks over the last two seasons. He has great size for the position at 6’6, 240 pounds, which he uses to just swallow up opposing players. He has long arms so I am interested to see what his official wingspan ends up being during the weigh in. Sweat has a variety of pass rush moves and has a quick first step off the line. He holds well against the run, though one area that he will have to show further is how comfortable he is in space as a standup pass rusher.
Wyoming’s Carl Granderson is another name to watch though his production may not be the best. Granderson had just three sacks this season after recording eight last season but there is reason for optimism. He is strong, powerful and also plays the run well. His bend is his biggest area of concern.
The North side has Oregon outside linebacker Jalen Jelks, who is also a victim of seeing his numbers drop in his senior year. Jelks recorded 7.5 sacks last season but finished with just 3.5 this season. Two aspects that make Jelks an intriguing pass rusher – his athleticism and quickness. He also comes with a high motor and he racks up a lot of pass deflections with his long arms.
You won’t find a better inside linebacker in Mobile than Notre Dame’s Te’Von Coney. A tackling machine, Coney has recorded over 100 tackles in back to back seasons. He reads his keys well and is highly instinctive, as he has also recorded over nine tackles for a loss in each of his last two seasons. Coney never came off the field, showed ability in man and zone coverage and rarely missed tackles. A big week would do wonders for his draft stock.
NC State linebacker Germaine Pratt and USC linebacker Cameron Smith will back up Comey on the North roster. Pratt is quite aggressive but trails behind his classmates when it comes to instincts. Smith offers a bit more promise with a very high motor and quick burst. Other reasons to like the USC product – he is as consistent as they come with his tackling and he has shown the ability to cover running backs and tight ends.
Coney’s linebacking mate Drue Tranquill will also join him down in Mobile. Tranquill comes with medical risks as he has torn his ACL twice already. On the positive side of things, he is comfortable in coverage and has impressive downhill speed. Tranquill will have to show that he can stack and shed better as he does get washed up on second level blocks from time to time.
Another up to the minute update shows that Chase Hansen will be replaced by Norther Illinois linebacker Sutton Smith.
Smith’s addition is an exciting one, as the linebacker is a two time MAC Defensive Player of the Year winner and finished with 15 sacks this season. His usage will be something to keep an eye on as Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy states that Smith will be used as an off ball outside linebacker this week by the North team. How he performs in this tweener role will go a long way in determining his potential.
While Hansen will not ultimately be there, I thought I’d leave my notes on him here, as he is a very uniquie player. Hansen is a safety to linebacker convert and could be a matchup weapon for defenses. You can see the safety in Hansen’s game as he is highly athletic in space and has great range. He is still raw when it comes to the linebacker side of things with more missed tackles than you would like to see and his processing is still a half step behind.
For the South, I love what New Mexico State linebacker Terrill Hanks brings to the table with his range and instincts in coverage. He has no problem going sideline to sideline and I got his name circled as a player who I feel will have a big week. He kind of reminds me of L.J. Fort with his ability in space.
West Virginia’s David Long Jr. is coming off a season in which he was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year after finishing with 108 tackles and seven sacks. He penetrates the backfield with urgency and packs a punch when coming downhill. High motor player who is always involved in the play.
Stanford’s Bobby Okereke has all the tools ready but needs to put it all together. He has the range and athleticism you want from a three down linebacker but he is not as instinctive as you would like. He is a split second behind and misses his fair share of tackles.
Personally, this is the position group I want to see the most, not only because cornerback is high up on the Steelers’ needs but because there are a lot of players who could see their stock boom.
Rock Ya-Sin caught my attention early in the draft process and I have not been able to get his name out of my head since then. Ya-Sin is an incredible story, in his only season at Temple, he recorded two interceptions and 12 pass defenses. He comes into Mobile with a great frame at 6’2 and is gifted at playing man coverage.
Then there is Isaiah Johnson, who is massive for a cornerback (6’4). His size alone will have scouts keeping an eye on his every move. He brings a rare combination of size and speed as he converted from wide receiver just two seasons ago. A very raw player, Johnson’s potential is sky high.
Lonnie Johnson Jr. is lengthy as well, standing at 6’3. He has some work to do with his ability to handle vertical routes but he is comfortable in both man or zone coverage.
Switching over to the North team, Penn State’s Amani Oruwariye is disruptive and aggressive. He uses that to his advantage in man coverage but he is also capable of sitting back in zone. What really stood out to me was Oruwariye’s ball skills as he attacks the ball like a wide receiver in the air.
Also on the North team is Texas’ Kris Boyd. The corner is capable of carrying his man down the field and staying tight on their hips. Compared to the other lengthier cornerbacks in this year’s group, Boyd’s 6’0 frame does not seem like much but the corner makes sure to use all of his 6-foot frame in coverage. One area of improvement for Boyd is his tackling ability.
On the south roster, Johnathan Abram is arguably the most NFL ready of the bunch. One word to describe him is physical as he is a big hitter and great downhill tackler. He also matches up well with running backs and tight ends. High ceiling player.
Miami’s Jaquan Johnson is a best of both worlds kind of safety bringing ball skills and in the box physicality. Five interceptions and five forced fumbles over the last two seasons, Johnson has a natural knack for the football.
Also on the South roster are a pair of Kentucky safeties in Mike Edwards and Darius West. Edwards intrigued me more with his ball skills and versatility. He can play high or even line up in the slot if needed.
Nasir Adderley is my favorite safety on the North roster. He’s got great closing speed in coverage and is a capable tackler. He is still sometimes fooled by misdirection and vulnerable to taking bad angles but you can not ignore his ball skills.
Utah’s Marquise Blair was primarily used as an extra man in the box and with his 6’3 frame, he can be a bigger hitter. He also finished with two interceptions this season.