After covering practice all week, the 2023 Senior Bowl kicks off today at 2:30 PM/EST aired on NFL Network. The 74th edition, it’s the marquee college All-Star event and offers a solid group of players we’ve discussed throughout the week. Just as our group did for the East/West Shrine Bowl, here are ten players we have our eyes on for today’s Senior Bowl as broken down by the four of us who were there: Ross McCorkle, Tyler Wise, Jonathan Heitritter, and myself.
Ross McCorkle’s Players To Watch
OL Cody Mauch/North Dakota State – 6047, 305 pounds – National Team #70
Mauch’s story is great, going from a 220 pound tight end his freshman year of college to a 305 pound offensive linemen, but his play on the field this week at the Senior Bowl is sure to have people digging further into his college tape. He took snaps at all five positions along the offensive line and performed very well against competition that he didn’t have access to at the FCS school. He has a lighthearted and free-spirited demeanor when you speak to him, but on the field he brings that nastiness that you look for up front. With 32 1/8” arms, he projects best at guard, but the added versatility would give him more opportunities early on to make the roster and get some in-game experience.
DL Zacch Pickens/South Carolina – 6035, 300 pounds – American Team #3
Pickens really stood out to me on that first day of practice, generating a ton of power to blow back offensive linemen. He also showed enough quickness to win with power or finesse. Sign me up for any interior defensive lineman that can create that much chaos in the middle of the defense. The Steelers have been lacking an impact iDL since Tyson Alualu’s knee injury a few seasons ago and by all accounts the Steelers were heavily interested in the interior players all week at practice. Pickens was voted the American team’s DL practice player of the week, so a nice performance in the Senior Bowl game itself would make Pickens an attractive prospect through the rest of the process.
Tyler Wise’s Players To Watch
WR Jayden Reed/Michigan State – 5106, 191 pounds – National Team #1
Coming into the Senior Bowl last year, NDSU Christian Watson was the guy who I expected to stand out of the WR group and he made me look smart, winning the 2022 WR “practice player-of-the-week”, voted on by the team’s cornerbacks. Coming into this year Jayden Reed was my guy, expecting Jayden Reed to be the one that impressed out of the WR group down in Mobile. He didn’t disappoint by being voted to win the same award. He dominated from day one, not losing a rep of 1on1s and flashing his nuanced, tempo’d route running and deep ball tracking. He followed it up with another dominant day of 1-on-1s in practice number two.
Taking a step back from the offensively slanted drill, Reed is a complete football player who takes pride in his blocking and has the versatility to play all over the field. In 43 career games at Western Michigan and Michigan State, he put together 203 catches, 2866 receiving yards, 14.1 yards per catch, 26 receiving touchdowns in his 43 career games. In Mobile, he almost primarily played in the slot, so I expect to see him operating almost exclusively inside in today’s game. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him make a big play on a slot fade or in the return game as he’s one of three wide receivers taking on the return duties for the National Squad.
CB Kyu Blu Kelly/Stanford – 6001, 193 lbs – National Team #17
Kyu Blu Kelly was a name I was only familiar with coming down to Mobile because of finding out his father was Brian Kelly, a former NFL defensive back that played five years under Mike Tomlin when he was the Defensive Backs Coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, his play spoke for itself during his three practices in Mobile. He was constantly making plays on the ball, bringing in two picks and was close to two more in the first two days of practice. The third day I noticed he was focused on primarily playing trail technique and was blanketing receivers a majority of the day using it.
At Stanford, he played in the slot some in his earlier years, but was bumped outside primarily for his final season. In his 37 career games, he was surprisingly only able to bring in three career interceptions, but he’s not lacking plays on the ball with 23 career pass deflections. I would look for him to have a nice day playing physical off the line and being sticky in coverage against the American WRs.
Jonathan Heitritter’s Players To Watch
CB Darius Rush/South Carolina – 6015,196 pounds – American Team #28
Darius Rush gets less attention than his potential first-round former teammate Cam Smith but Rush’s measurables, play style, and character make him a fine prospect in his own regard. He possesses great length and athleticism for the position, posting the fastest GPS-recorded time during the week of practices of any player. He has a short memory, moving on from any mistakes and bouncing back to make plays in the passing game. He has a couple of picks and several PBUs throughout the week, being named the American CB practice player of the week by his peers. Given his willingness as a run defender and special teams capability, Rush can contribute right away as a rookie as he works his way into the lineup.
CB Julius Brents/Kansas State – 6030, 203 pounds – American Team #23
Julius Brents looks like he was made in a lab for cornerback standards, standing a legit 6’3 with 33 3/4” arms, aiding in his ability to shadow receivers on the boundary. He is coming off his best season as a collegiate, posting four INTs while showing the ability to come downhill against the run. He took some lumps in practices against quicker receivers, but he also utilized his size, length, and speed well. Having worked with him back at Iowa, I expect Brents to literally jump out of the gym at the Combine, causing his draft stock to rise as prototypical outside corner teams wanting size are going to love.
OL McClendon Curtis (Tennessee-Chattanooga) – 6056, 331 pounds – National Team #52
McClendon Curtis was a name I was not familiar with upon arriving to the Senior Bowl, but he has impressed myself and many in attendance throughout the week. Curtis has the size and frame teams drool over in offensive line prospects, standing nearly 6’6, 331lb with 35” arms and 10 1/4” hands. He has 49 career games played with 38 starts (30 at RG/7 at LT/1 at LG) in college and played well at his guard spot down in Mobile.
Alex Kozora made not of Curtis’ ability to get on his double-teams, climb, and create a crease in the running game. Former Steeler Ramon Foster told me that Curtis is a guy he has heard a lot of good things about coming into the week before he showed out in practice, potentially making him the next Chattanooga to see a meteoritic rise in his stock after the Senior Bowl like Cole Strange experienced last season.
Alex Kozora’s Players To Watch
DL Keeanu Benton/Wisconsin – 6034, 312 pounds – National Team #95
If there’s one player in Mobile who screams “Steeler,” it’s Benton. And it’s not even close. With the near-exact measurables the Steelers look for along the line, nearly 6’4, 300+ pounds, with long, 33 3/4 inch arms, he has a body type that’s hard to find these days. But he doesn’t just look like the right fit on the scale. He’s steady against the run who plays with good pad level and uses his length to create space in the run game, allowing him to stack and shed. He showed better power on his bull rush in 1v1s but also flashed quickness and finesse to swim and win with the ability to bend the corner.
With sub-par quarterback play overall and a couple of quality running backs on the opposing American Team, Georgia’s Kenny McIntosh, Oklahoma’s Eric Gray, and Tulane’s Tyjae Spears, let’s see how Benton defends the run. Potential battles against interior offensive lineman in Minnesota’s John Michael Schmitz and Alabama’s Tyler Steen will be especially interesting to watch. As Benton told us, he’s on the Steelers’ radar.
WR Dontayvion Wicks/Virginia – 6015, 212 pounds – American Team #1
It wasn’t until the last day of practice Thursday that I dedicated time to watch the receivers. I’m glad I did. Wicks was as impressive as anyone I saw down there. With good size and big, ten-inch hands, he displayed quickness in and out of his breaks while also tracking the ball well over his shoulder. His college production dipped heavily from 2021 to 2022, injuries playing a role, but he looked healthy and a top wideout of the week. In fact, he was named practice’s best receiver of the week as voted on by the opposing DBs.
LB Aubrey Miller/Jackson State – 5115, 229 pounds – American Team #45
Gotta show the small-schoolers some love too. In 2022, it was James Houston who balled out as a rookie from Jackson State. This year, Miller might be that guy. Though he lacks great size, he packs a wallop on contact and forced at least two fumbles during this week’s slate of three practices, including a big hit in 9v7 during Wednesday’s session. That’s not an accident either. He forced seven fumbles his final two years at Jackson State. A Missouri transfer who struggled with injuries early in his career, he got healthy and was a star defender his final two seasons.
Also respect his conditioning. During Thursday’s practice, several American ILBs missed and Miller soaked up the extra reps. If those guys don’t play today, names like Sacramento State’s Marte Mapu and Tulane’s Dorian Williams, Miller will have even more chances to show what he can do. A guy to watch out for on the kick and punt coverage units too.