2019 Senior Bowl: Here are the four most compelling storylines to keep an eye on
The focus in Mobile will be on the quarterbacks and a handful of defensive prospects
Still coming down from those ridiculous NFC and AFC championship games? Yeah, me too.
As you're probably fully aware, essentially outside of Fourth of July week, there's always something happening on the NFL calendar, and Senior Bowl week is upon us.
The annual all-star exhibition is an important event at the beginning of the pre-draft process relative to it consisting of three practices per team and a singular game on Saturday.
These are the storylines to follow from Mobile, Alabama this week.
Can any QBs generate serious buzz to catch the top underclassmen passers?
Drew Lock, Ryan Finley, and Will Grier, your opportunity to change that awaits in Mobile. Compared to one-year starters Murray and Haskins, the seniors are grizzled veterans who enjoyed thoroughly productive careers.
Oh, by the way,. His accuracy, decision-making, and pocket presence improved in his final year in Columbia, and he has the best arm of any quarterback in this class. Finley sat atop my signal-caller rankings for a large portion of the season, but antsy movements when pressure mounted along with a limited arm led to a late-season plummet. His film is, however, loaded with high-quality, pinpoint accurate tosses.
Grier doesn't have traditional NFL size -- which is increasingly mattering less -- and a weak arm. He's coming from an Air Raid system -- which is increasingly becoming more of a luxury than a deterrent -- that greatly boosted his statistical output. At times, Grier can be amazingly patient in the pocket and methodically progress through his reads. In other instances, he panics, runs into pressure, and makes bad decisions his arm can't neutralize.
A lot of those strengths and weaknesses apply to Duke's Daniel Jones ... but he's 6-5 and has more arm talent than Grier.
With a strong effort in an unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar receivers, one -- if not more -- of these quarterbacks should be talked about in the same first-round conversation as Murray and Haskins.
Will Nasir Adderley, Andy Isabella, and Sutton Smith prove they belong?
Adderley and Isabella are two small-school prospects heading into Senior Bowl week with a serious amount of buzz.
With good reason.
Adderley's explosive, springy athleticism pops on film, whether it be on a play where he ranges from center field to break up a downfield pass or when he flies across the field to stop a runner in his tracks on an outside run play.
He snagged nine picks over the past two seasons at Delaware and will have, essentially, his first chance to show he can play with top, NFL-caliber talent in Mobile. The on-field opportunity for Adderley provided by the Senior Bowl is what makes the event awesome.
Speaking of that unique opportunity, Isabella, UMass' hyper-productive receiver, should scorch defensive backs in Mobile. Seriously. Despite being a white, sub-6-foot receiver, I think, for the most part, he's already shed the "Wes Welker/Julian Edelman" label. His 219-yard effort to end the season against Georgia in Athens prooobably helped there. So, in a way, he's already shown he belongs.
Isabella needs to sustain (or build) momentum at the Senior Bowl against some of the best draft-eligible defensive backs ... not only on underneath passes out of the slot but downfield, where his blazing speed is very evident.
Despite playing in the MAC, a conference with many alumni currently playing at a high level in the NFL, Smith needs to generate his own buzz this week.
Potentially generously listed at 6-1 and 237 pounds, Smith tallied 29 sacks and a flat-out ridiculous 56.5 tackles for loss in the past two seasons for Northern Illinois but has a major uphill climb to earn the respect of scouts as GMs as anything more than a prospect worth a Day Three flier. He has a varied arsenal of pass-rushing moves and bends the edge with tremendous speed.
Working over Senior Bowl offensive tackles would go a long way toward an ascension during the pre-draft process.
Can Jaylon Ferguson perform well enough to lock himself into Round 1?
Ferguson is probably already in the first-round conversation on many teams' boards. At 6-5 and 265 pounds with 45 sacks and 67.5 tackles for loss in his legendary four-year career at Louisiana Tech, his production is basically off the charts.
How refined is he with his hands on the edge? And can he routinely bend it? Those are two characteristics of the league's most dominant pass-rushers.
Ferguson won't be able to fully erase my concerns in those two areas in Mobile, but if he plays to his collegiate production during the week of practices, when he'll get a ton of one-on-one reps, and shows out in the game, he'll be trending toward a Marcus Davenport reputation.
If neither development occurs, Ferguson could be on the fast track to landing in the second round after a productive collegiate career like Browns defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah.
How far can Khalen Saunders move up boards?
Football Twitter was introduced to Saunders on Jan. 16 by ESPN's Adam Schefter:
The Western Illinois star racked up 25 tackles for loss and 14 sacks in 2017 and 2018 combined. At 6-2 and 310 pounds he has legitimate NFL defensive tackle size ... and let me tell you, his film is loaded with explosive, high-motor plays as well as, more importantly, seemingly countless reps with heavy-handed block-destroying, pass-rushing moves.
He basically did whatever he wanted at the small-school level.
With a strong display of his powerful and polished skill-set in Mobile, Saunders will become a name known in more and more households. If he does just that, it won't be crazy to view him as a second-round prospect in what is the most loaded defensive line class in a very long time.
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