NFL Draft

2022 Senior Bowl Preview: What To Watch For

We’re gearing up for the 2022 Senior Bowl down in Mobile, Alabama. Jonathan Heitritter, Tyler Wise, Jacob Harrison (new to our Depot team so be sure to say hello), and myself will be covering the week of practice.

To get you started, Jonathan and I have put together a preview of names and position groups to watch for. Jonathan’s written about the National Team while I have previewed the American Team.

National Team (Coached By New York Jets)

The National Team in Mobile will be coached by the New York Jets and feature several intriguing prospects at various positions that the Pittsburgh Steelers will be looking to address this off-season.

QB: Probably the main attraction down in Mobile. The National Team will be led by QBs Carson Strong, Desmond Ridder, and Kenny Pickett. Pickett will be looking to prove his one-year of impressive production this season was now fluke as he tries to cement himself as the most pro-ready prospect in this draft class. Strong will be looking to show his knee injury is behind him and will have to show improved mobility to encourage teams that he is worth a Day One Investment. Ridder potentially has the highest upside of all the QB prospects in this draft class given his arm talent and mobility but will have to show improved consistency and decision making against NFL-caliber talent to walk away a winner this week.

RB: There are several intriguing backs on the national squad, but a lesser-known name that should be getting more love is Cincinnati’s Jerome Ford. The former Alabama transfer was the engine of the Bearcat offense in 2021 and possesses the feature back size (5’11, 220lb) and burst in the open field to work his way into a three-down role at the next level.

WR: Penn State’s Jahan Dotson is the headliner of the group for the National Team and has the ability to vault himself into being a Day One selection with a strong week. However, smaller-school products Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs will get an opportunity to show that they can win against Power-5 competition as deep threats that win down the field which is a skill set Pittsburgh desperately needs in its WR core.

TE: Colorado State’s Trey McBride is the current favorite to be TE1 in this draft class and has garnered late-round consideration heading into Senior Bowl week. However, Cole Tuner and Charlie Kolar are both impressive receivers that excel in red zone/jump ball situations and can do themselves a lot of good in Mobile by showcasing the ability to block as well as be a reliable pass catcher.

OL: For the National Team, a lot of eyes will be on the small-school offensive linemen to see if they can hold up in one-on-ones against NFL-caliber pass rushers. Personally, my eyes will turn to Central Michigan’s Bernhard Raimann and Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning who have received first round hype from many in the scouting industry and see if they represent themselves well against the best competition, they have likely seen in their college careers down in Mobile.

DL: Owner Art Rooney II made the decree in his latest press conference that Pittsburgh must improve both in the running game as well as stopping the run-on defense this season. Given the unknown status of Stephon Tuitt and the dependency of Tyson Alualu returning to form off a severe ankle injury, names like Travis Jones from UConn, Perrion Winfrey from Oklahoma, and Haskell Garrett from Ohio State profile as interior defenders that could fit the Steelers’ defensive system and could be on their radar in the middle rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft. Jones is especially intriguing given his size and movement skills as a prototypical nose tackle that could be groomed this season to inherit Alualu’s role for the future.

LB: Utah’s Devin Llyod will steal the spotlight at the linebacker position for the national team and for good reason given his playmaking abilities as a run defender, pass rusher, and coverage defender. Other names worth keeping an eye on include Cincinnati’s Darrian Beavers, Wyoming’s Chad Muma, and Miami of Ohio’s Sterling Weatherford. Beavers will have to show scouts he can be a viable three-down LB and hold his own man coverage situations. Weatherboard is a LB/S hybrid that can significantly help his draft stock by showing off his versatility and ability to wear multiple hats for an NFL defense.

DB: Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner garners the headlines and first round draft hype, but it was his teammate and fellow CB Coby Bryant who won the Jim Thorpe Award this season. Bryant has played in 62 games during his collegiate career, having the instincts and ball hawking ability to make an immediate contribution to an NFL secondary should his long speed translate to the league. Another name to watch out for is Fayetteville State’s Joshua Williams who possesses fantastic length (6’2 5/8”), (32 5/8” arms) along with the athleticism that NFL teams desire at the position. He will have to prove he’s up to the task of playing higher-level competition but could see his stock skyrocket with a successful week of practice.

American Team (Coached By Detroit Lions)

– Quarterback will be the most interesting battle on both teams. It’s not an elite class but it’s a tightly bunched group. Who will separate themselves positively or negatively? North Carolina’s Sam Howell and Liberty’s Malik Willis are fighting to be among the top quarterback off the board. Howell had a tougher 2021 than 2020 and will have to show more consistency and better decision-making than he did his final year in college. He can’t be just a runner in these drills too. Quarterbacks can’t get hit, taking off is easy and doesn’t do much for an evaluator. Willis is a great athlete but will have to make plays from the pocket and show he can play against elite competition. Liberty is a FBS program but they’re not exactly a Power 5 powerhouse.

– Alabama RB Brian Robinson was just a one-year starter but made the most of his chance, running for over 1300 yards as a super senior. Florida State’s James Cook is an interesting name with big-play ability, averaging over six yards per carry in all four seasons spent at Georgia and FSU. But his playing time was limited, only one season having more than 50 carries, so this will be a big opportunity for him. Florida’s Dameon Pierce is a hard runner and though RB isn’t high on the Steelers’ list, I’m excited to watch him. Of course, you can’t forget about Cam’s little brother, Connor Heyward, who will have to define his best position fit for NFL scouts. Fullback, tight end, H-Back, something else?

– Tight end is a strong group down in Mobile though again, it’s not high on the Steelers’ list. Coastal Carolina’s Isaiah Likely is a playmaking threat with 1400 yards and 17 touchdowns his final two years, including 12 trips to the end zone in 2021. San Diego State’s Daniel Bellinger is a traditional-looking Y in a “move” world, listed at 6’6, 255.

– The American Team has playmakers at wide receiver. Memphis’ Calvin Austin is undersized at 5’8, roughly 170 pounds but he’s electric with a great football IQ and feisty attitude. Jalen Tolbert will be playing in his home stadium as a South Alabama alum. He’s a burner with size and the physicality to beat press coverage and work through contact. And Virginia Tech’s Tre Turner is a gadget-y piece who made big play after big play for the Hokies, including a punt block his freshman season. Steelers need speed and big plays and they’ll find it with this squad.

– O-line will be a top offseason need for Pittsburgh. Big Kentucky tackle Darian Kinnard (6’5, 345) was part of the Wildcats’ “Blue Wall” with 39 career starts. LSU’s Ed Ingram will have to answer scouts’ questions after a sexual assault charged caused him to be dismissed from the team for a year, though charges were dropped and he was brought back onto the team. Tennessee’s Cade Mays is versatile and strong with a mean streak who had some good tape, though had problems against top SEC squads like Georgia. Speaking of Bulldogs, there are two of them on this o-line, Justin Shaffer and Jamaree Salyer. You can already pencil in Mike Tomlin and company being at that Pro Day…along with the rest of the NFL.

– Defensively, Phidarian Mathis from Alabama is one of Mobile’s better prospects who could work his way into being an Early Day Two pick with a strong draft process coming off a great 2021 season. Texas A&M’s Micheal Clemons is also on the rise after an 11 TFL, 7 sack senior season. He’s listed at 6’5, 270. Virginia Tech’s Amare Barno is a lanky figure at a listed 6’6, 245. He may be asked to play with his hand up and down this week. San Diego State’s Cameron Thomas (20.5 TFL, 10.5 sacks) is a potential sleeper.

– Georgia brought their whole defense to the Senior Bowl with two off-ball linebackers in Quay Walker and Channing Tindall. Tindall was just a one-year starter LSU’s Damone Clark rounds out the SEC representation. He’s a feel-good story after going through Katrina and the Baton Rouge flood in 2016. It’s a group I’ll be watching closely.

– At corner, I like Roger McCreary as a smart, athletic man corner who held his own against the big boys at Alabama. Sam Houston State’s Zyon McCollum will have a chance to prove he can play with top-flight competition. Plenty of small-school DBs have made their money down in Mobile before. A big corner at 6’3, 200 pounds. Does he have the hips to stay there or will he need to make a position switch?

At safety, Tycan Anderson is a smaller-school sleeper, a Toledo kid. Pittsburgh loves those MAC guys.

– Can’t forget about the specialists too. Georgia’s Jake Camarda is one of the top punters in his class. He averaged at least 46.5 yards per punt his final three years.

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