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USATSI

The Senior Bowl week is the unofficial kickoff to NFL Draft season. It's there where many good collegiate players show up for a week's worth of practices followed by the Senior Bowl game. The whole purpose? To draw attention to the next generation of NFL talent, which is of course synonymous with Fantasy Football talent.

But a word to describe the week and the game? Underwhelming.

There weren't any sure-fire superstars participating. There might be only a handful of guys who played who will be relevant for the long-term in the NFL. Word around the league is that the 2022 NFL Draft is loaded on along the O-line and on the defensive side of the ball. CBS Sports NFL Draft analyst Ryan Wilson has one offensive skill-position player among the first 12 picks in his most recent mock draft; fellow analyst Chris Trapasso has three. It doesn't mean the 2022 draft is a bust in terms of rookie prospects, but it certainly lacks the star power that the 2020 and 2021 drafts had.

I spent the week watching every rep of Senior Bowl practice and the Senior Bowl game itself to get a grip on the 36 prospects who may make an impact in Fantasy Football. I then ranked them solely off of what I saw in practice and the game. I did not take anything they did in college games into account -- that's for later on. In no way do I expect the following ranks to stay the same through April. And if anything, this should give Dynasty leaguers a starting point on evaluating what their upcoming rookie picks are worth. 

Quarterbacks

Rankings after Senior Bowl game:

  1. Malik Willis, Liberty
  2. Kenny Pickett, Pitt
  3. Carson Strong, Nevada
  4. Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
  5. Sam Howell, North Carolina
  6. Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky

Best in the game: Pickett was a perfect 6 for 6, good for 89 yards and a touchdown. And honestly, he should have had more than that because a savvy read to Christian Watson late in the first quarter when a defensive back fell down would have been a long touchdown if he had put more into the throw (Pickett said after the game he was focused on not overthrowing him on the play). Talk about his hands all you want, but Pickett is a good quarterback who should be able to string stats together in the NFL.

Best in the week's practices: Willis was my favorite of the bunch. He, like all the quarterbacks, made plenty of mistakes, but the dual-threat element he possesses is undeniable. I wouldn't say he's a nuanced thrower, but he did do well with his progressions and has the strong arm to push the ball anywhere on the field within 50 yards. He also has better-than-expected instincts when it comes to maneuvering the pocket and knowing when to run and when to throw. I'd say he's more refined as a passer and as a runner than Jalen Hurts was when Hurts played in the Senior Bowl.

Running backs

Rankings after Senior Bowl game:

  1. Dameon Pierce, Florida
  2. Jerome Ford, Cincinnati
  3. ZaQuandre White, South Carolina
  4. Tyler Badie, Mizzou
  5. Rachaad White, Arizona State
  6. Brian Robinson Jr., Alabama
  7. Abram Smith, Baylor
  8. D'Vonte Price, FIU

DNR. T.J. Pledger, Utah

Note: Price and White did not play in the game; Badie and Ford didn't get any touches.

Best in game: This isn't the first year where a runner disappoints in practice but turns in a great Senior Bowl game. Smith struggled with drops during the week and really didn't have much in the way of speed or power (which isn't great considering the guy is a stocky 211 pounds), but his catch-and-run for a touchdown was good and he displayed nice burst on a second-quarter run and finished off a 10-yard run with contact balance later on. He finished with 67 total yards on 13 touches.

Best in the week's practices: Pierce impressed with explosive burst and strong power in nearly every element of the game. I noted several times where he had strong cuts to find rushing lanes and evade defenders and also saw him accelerate to top speed in a jiffy, which was good to see from a thick 220-pound back. Best of all, he was a pass-blocking machine, giving some hope that he could contribute as a three-down back as soon as 2022.

Wide receivers

Rankings after Senior Bowl game:

  1. Alec Pierce, Cincinnati
  2. Velus Jones Jr., Tennessee
  3. Jalen Tolbert, South Alabama
  4. Calvin Austin III, Memphis
  5. Bo Melton, Rutgers
  6. Christian Watson, Baylor
  7. Dontario Drummond, Ole Miss
  8. Romeo Doubs, Nevada
  9. Danny Gray, SMU
  10. Khalil Shakir, Boise State
  11. Braylon Sanders, Ole Miss
  12. Tre Turner, Virginia Tech

DNR. Jequez Ezzard, Sam Houston

Note: Pierce and Gray did not play in the game; Drummond, Sanders, Shakir and Turner didn't record a catch.

Best in game: Jones was a standout during the week and led all receivers in catches and yards in the game. He's fairly refined in terms of his route-running and technique with good speed to boot. Listed at just under 6-foot, I felt like Jones played bigger than he actually is, adjusting to off-target throws and winning on contested catches. He has work to do on deeper throws, and he's the oldest receiver prospect I can remember seeing (he will be 25 when the season starts), but he's got some skills to land him some action in the pros.

Best in the week's practices: Pierce came off as a total technician. He has good size (nearly 6-foot-3), good speed and is a very crafty player not only in terms of footwork and changing speeds while in routes but also in how he uses his hands to swat away defensive backs and deftly push off when needed to haul in a contested catch. I'm certain NFL coaches will fawn over his accomplished skill-set, but they'll also love that he'll be just 22 years old when the season starts.

Tight ends

Rankings after Senior Bowl game:

  1. Greg Dulcich, UCLA
  2. Jeremy Ruckert, Ohio State
  3. Isaiah Likely, Coastal Carolina
  4. Trey McBride, Colorado State
  5. Jake Ferguson, Wisconsin
  6. Grant Calcaterra, SMU
  7. Cole Turner, Nevada
  8. Daniel Bellinger, San Diego St.
  9. Charlie Kolar, Iowa State

Note: Ruckert did not play in the game; Bellinger, Kolar and Likely did not record a catch.

Best in game: If the narrative on Ferguson was that he was just a blocker in college, the Senior Bowl proved he's just fine as a pass-catcher. He led the National team with three catches and led everybody with 62 yards. His 25-yard catch-and-run on a shallow crosser was pretty, but it was a deep-out route in the fourth quarter that raised some eyebrows. 

Best in the week's practices: Dulcich proved to be good as a blocker and as a receiver all week. I thought he had some good speed and quickness for a guy his size and played bigger than his height and weight (nearly 6-foot-4, 248 pounds). He's certainly strong and also adjusted to multiple off-target throws.