Zachs Draft Corner: Senior Bowl Preview


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Welcome to Zach’s Draft Corner, where it’s always amateur hour.

The Senior Bowl, the premiere, graduate-only all-star game for college football players and NFL Draft hopefuls, will kick off at 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday, January 26, televised on NFL Network. This year, the North squad will be coached by Jon Gruden and the Homeless Raiders coaching staff, while the South squad will be coached by our very own Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers coaching staff.

More important than the game itself, practices for the Senior Bowl begin on Monday, January 21. Over the course of the week, the 49ers coaching staff will get hands-on experience with every member of the South team, analyzing their athleticism, technique, and ability to handle coaching from the exact staff that would be coaching them up this summer and running concepts that the team would want them to run as a professional. These practices can provide valuable insight into many draft-eligible prospects, and there is a strong chance that someone from these rosters will be at the 49ers training camp in August. This week, I’m going to break down the Senior Bowl rosters, giving you indications of who to look out for and who could potentially sport a 49ers jersey this season.

As a preliminary note, you may notice that Josh Allen, the speedy defensive end out of the University of Kentucky and a favorite of many 49er fans, is absent from this list. He has withdrawn from the Senior Bowl, likely because it would be hard for this week to improve his draft stock at all. It’s unfortunate that the 49ers won’t get a closer look at him with a week of practice, but the decision is certainly understandable.

Quarterbacks

North

Daniel Jones, Duke University (#17)

Ryan Finley, North Carolina State University (#15)

Trace McSorley, Penn State University (#9)

Drew Lock, University of Missouri (#3)

South

Gardner Minshew II, Washington State University (#16)

Jarrett Stidham, Auburn University (#8)

Will Grier, West Virginia University (#7)

Tyree Jackson, University of Buffalo (#3)

Analysis

One thing you will notice about the rosters is that Jim Nagy, the head of the Senior Bowl and the roster construction, may take team needs into account when assigning payers to different rosters as opposed to strictly the player’s geographic location. This is shown by the fact that the Raiders, who may be looking for a quarterback this offseason, were able to get potential first-rounders Daniel Jones and Drew Lock on the North roster, while Gardner Minshew, a day three option, is on the South roster.

It is highly unlikely that any of these players end up on the 49ers roster in April. The 49ers do not seem to be in the running for a backup quarterback. If Minshew were to go undrafted, his skill set may appeal to Shanahan and John Lynch, but Minshew will likely be picked by somebody on Day 3. What is more interesting, though is the performance of players such as Jones and Lock. There is a legitimate chance that the 49ers trade down from the second overall pick, especially if Nick Bosa is off the board. In such a scenario, Jones and Lock cementing themselves as top-end talents would increase the value of their pick in attempting to trade back. 49er fans should be cheering for Jones and Lock to both have a very good week of practice.

Running Backs

North

Karan Higdon, University of Michigan (#22)

Dexter Williams, University of Notre Dame (#2)

Tony Pollard, University of Memphis (#1)

Alec Ingold, University of Wisconsin (#45, fullback)

South

Ryquell Armstead, Temple University (#25)

Wes Hills, Slippery Rock University (#31)

Bruce Anderson, North Dakota State University (#4)

Trevon Wesco, West Virginia University (#88, fullback)

Analysis

The 49ers spent big money on Jerick McKinnon last offseason, meaning drafting a running back is likely off the table unless the value is impossible to pass on. The two best prospects here are Higdon and Williams, who are both representing the North squad.

The three names to watch here are Pollard, Anderson, and Hills. Pollard is a Swiss Army knife type player, as he was an effective runner, receiver, kick returner, and punt returner for the Memphis Tigers. He was behind stud Darrell Henderson, limiting his use, but the talent could entice the 49ers. Anderson is a more traditional running back, but has a skill set similar to a young Alfred Morris. Anderson is a thicker running back who was barely used as a receiver in college, but shows the ability to succeed in that role if given the opportunity. Shanahan himself could potentially see the similarities after a week of practice, opening the relationship for an undrafted free agent signing down the road. Hills is another big back, coming into the Senior Bowl at 6’2” and 218 pounds from Division II Slippery Rock, but has proven that he has the hands and ability to be a receiver in addition to being a dynamic runner. Rushing for 1,714 yards in 12 games this season, Hills added 28 catches for 193 yards to his resume in 2018. Hills will turn 24 this year, so it seems like he’s a prime candidate to slip through the draft and then rock a training camp as an undrafted free agent.

Wesco is a dark horse candidate to wind up a 49er as a fullback. Very few teams use this position, but Wesco doubled as a tight end. This versatility is similar to 49er offensive weapon Kyle Juszczyk, which could lead to Wesco being a practice squad candidate.

Wide Receivers

North

Emmanuel Hall, University of Missouri (#84)

Alex Wesley, University of Northern Colorado (#81)

Penny Hart, Georgia State University (#18)

Jakobi Meyers, North Carolina State University (#11)

Terry McLaurin, Ohio State University (#10)

Keelan Doss, University of California – Davis (#8)

Andy Isabella, University of Massachusetts (#5)

South

Anthony Johnson, University of Buffalo (#83)

David Sills V, West Virginia University (#21)

Travis Fulgham, Old Dominion University (#15)

Hunter Renfrow, Clemson University (#13)

Tyre Brady, Marshall University (#11)

Jaylen Smith, University of Louisville (#9)

Deebo Samuel, University of South Carolina (#1)

Analysis

The fact that most of the big names in this receiver class are underclassmen but the Senior Bowl was still able to assemble this level of talent just goes to show how deep this receiver class is. For the North, Hall, Meyers, and McLaurin all fit the mold of a big, athletic receiver that could work their way up draft boards if they show versatility and route running ability to go with their size and speed.

Hart is a personal favorite as a small-school prospect, though his size and play style are more akin to a Marquise Goodwin than a Julio Jones. Isabella had a ridiculous season, catching over 100 passes for almost 1,700 yards in only 12 games. It’s unknown how either will translate to more pro-style offenses, so a strong week of practice is very important to both players.

Meanwhile, for the South, Nagy gave Shanahan some intriguing weapons that may be available in the later rounds of the draft. Brady, a former Miami Hurricane who transferred to Marshall, and Fulgham are both 1,000-yard receivers that are over 6’3”. Sills is likely to be drafted higher than almost anyone in this group not named Deebo, though he’ll need to prove that his hands are not an issue this week.

Johnson has the most variability in this group, as his talent is undeniable but he was criminally misused at Buffalo. Renfrow is a shoo-in to be drafted by the Patriots. Smith is another big-bodied receiver, but his production left Louisville with Lamar Jackson last year. Finally, Samuel is the best singular talent, potentially on both rosters, though he seemed to still be suffering the effects of a season-ending 2017 injury early on in the season. He’ll need to prove that the dynamic ability he consistently showed in 2016 and early 2017 is still there.

Tight Ends

North

Tommy Sweeney, Boston College (#89)

Drew Sample, University of Washington (#88)

Donald Parham, Stetson University (#49)

South

Josh Oliver, San Jose State University (#89)

Dax Raymond, Utah State University (#87)

Foster Moreau, Louisiana State University (#18)

Analysis

These tight ends are nothing to write home about. Sweeney is one of the best blockers in this class. Oliver is very athletic, but seems to be more of a pure receiver with some big deficiencies as a blocker. Raymond may end up being the best of the bunch, but he was plagued with inconsistency throughout the season. He’ll need to show up day-in and day-out if he wants to impress scouts this week.

Tackles

North

Max Scharping, Northern Illinois University (#73)

Dalton Risner, Kansas State University (#71)

Chuma Edoga, University of Southern California (#70)

Kaleb McGary, University of Washington (#58)

South

Dennis Daley, University of South Carolina (#78)

Andre Dillard, Washington State University (#60)

Tytus Howard, Alabama State University (#58)

Oli Udoh, Elon University (#73)

Analysis

While the top-end talent at this position seems to be limited to Jonah Williams from Alabama, the Senior Bowl still includes at least three players (Scharping, Risner, and McGary) that should be drafted before the end of Friday night. Dillard is more of a mid-round prospect, but his pass protecting skills should provide a valuable challenge to many of the pass rushers on the South roster. Udoh replaces first-round lock Yodney Cajuste of West Virginia, and does so with an extra 40 pounds. Standing at 6’5” and 356 pounds, the senior from FCS power Elon impressed scouts so much during the East-West Shrine Game that his number was called to replace Cajuste when he decided to sit out of the game.

Interior Offensive Lineman

North

Chris Lindstrom, Boston College (#75)

Beau Benzschawel, University of Wisconsin (#66)

Nate Davis, University of Charlotte (#64)

Michael Deiter, University of Wisconsin (#63)

Erik McCoy, Texas A&M University (#78)

Garrett Bradbury, North Carolina State University (#65)

South

Elgton Jenkins, Mississippi State University (#74)

Ross Pierschbacher, University of Alabama (#71)

B.J. Autry, Jacksonville State University (#79)

Dru Samia, University of Oklahoma (#75)

Ben Powers, University of Oklahoma (#72)

Javon Patterson, Ole Miss (#70)

Analysis

This position group is filled with talent. Every single player here should be drafted, which goes to show the difference in positions. Many of the top running backs and wide receivers are underclassmen, while the top players along the offensive line tend to stay through their senior years. Even the small school prospects (Davis and Autry) have plurality in excess and will be drafted at some point in the middle rounds.

Defensive Tackles

North

Khalen Saunders, Western Illinois University (#99)

Greg Gaines, University of Washington (#98)

Rennell Wren, Arizona State University (#95)

Daylon Mack, Texas A&M University (#34)

South

Dontavius Russell, Auburn University (#95)

Gerald Willis III, University of Miami (#90)

Isaiah Buggs, University of Alabama (#49)

Kingsley Keke, Texas A&M University (#8)

Analysis

The advantage here certainly goes to the South roster, with Willis, Buggs, and Keke all being likely day two talents. Mack has the size of a true nose tackle, and was recently added to the North roster after dominating practices at the East-West Shrine Game. The most intriguing name, though, may be Saunders. He may be the only defensive tackle in Mobile that can do this…​

Defensive Ends

North

Jalen Jelks, University of Oregon (#97)

Byron Cowart, University of Maryland (#92)

L.J. Collier, Texas Christian University (#91)

Charles Omenihu, University of Texas (#90)

Zach Allen, Boston College (#44)

John Cominsky, University of Charleston (#5)

Chase Winovich, University of Michigan (#15)

South

Anthony Nelson, University of Iowa (#98)

Carl Granderson, University of Wyoming (#91)

Jaylon Ferguson, Louisiana Tech University (#45)

Jonathan Ledbetter, University of Georgia (#13)

Montez Sweat, Mississippi State University (#9)

Oshane Ximines, Old Dominion University (#7)

Analysis

The position you’ve all been waiting for. Jelks, Omenihu, Winovich, and Allen are some names to watch on the North side, but their talent pales in comparison to many of the names on the South squad. While Nagy may have done the Raiders a favor by giving them the better quarterbacks and running backs, Nagy definitely did the 49ers a solid with the defensive end group. Nelson, Ferguson, Sweat, and Ximines are all candidates to go in the late portion of the first round or the early portion of the second round. Depending on how trades work out, there is a strong chance that the 49ers could wind up with one of these four players, regardless of who they take with their early first round pick. The tape of these prospects throughout the week will be the most exciting of any position group.

Linebackers

North

Ban Banogu, Texas Christian University (#52)

Drue Tranquill, University of Notre Dame (#42)

Chase Hansen, University of Utah (#22)

Cameron Smith, University of Southern California (#35)

Te'Von Coney, University of Notre Dame (#9)

Germaine Pratt, North Carolina State University (#3)

South

Deshaun Davis, Auburn University (#57)

Otaro Alaka, Texas A&M University (#42)

Bobby Okereke, Stanford University (#20)

David Long Jr., West Virginia University (#11)

Dre Greenlaw, University of Arkansas (#23)

Terrill Hanks, New Mexico State University (#2)

Analysis

While the South squad gets the advantage with defensive ends, the North squad gets the advantage with linebackers. Every player on the North team will likely be drafted prior to the beginning of the 5th round, so this is a position group to keep an eye on in Mobile. Meanwhile, for the 49ers, Davis is likely the top player. Okereke will have a strong week of practice, but don’t believe the hype. His main weakness (tackling) will be hidden due to the nature of practices, meaning this next week will showcase everything he can do well. Of this group, Greenlaw is my favorite to end up as a 49er at some point in the process. Projected as a seventh-round/undrafted prospect, Greenlaw has the athleticism and instincts to project as a good weak-side linebacker. His issue lies in tackling, as he seems to use his speed to get to the runner and then tries to drag them down. If he can be taught to keep his speed going and run through the ball carrier instead of simply trying to wrap them up, he could be a steal.

Cornerbacks

North

Amani Oruwariye, Penn State University (#21)

Jordan Brown, South Dakota State University (#11)

Kris Boyd, University of Texas (#2)

Corey Ballentine, Washburn University (#1)

Iman Marshall, University of Southern California (#24)

South

Sheldrick Redwine, University of Miami (#22)

Isaiah Johnson, University of Houston (#14)

Rock Ya-Sin, Temple University (#6)

Lonnie Johnson Jr., University of Kentucky (#1)

Analysis

The 49ers seem to get the short end of the stick here, as well. Oruwariye and Boyd are both in the conversation to go in the end of the first round, and both show up on the North roster. Marshall, a late add to the cornerback roster, is a 6’1” corner that is reasonably reliable in coverage, but has a reputation for not being a playmaker. A few interceptions during the week could help shed that reputation. Redwine is more of a safety than a cornerback, so he could get exposed early and often during practices. Isaiah Johnson and Ya-Sin are both early Day 3 prospects at this point in the process, but their size and athleticism are great qualities that could show up consistently throughout practices. Isaiah Johnson, in particular, could be a great fit for the 49ers system.

Safeties

North

Nasir Adderley, University of Delaware (#23)

Marquise Blair, University of Utah (#18)

Will Harris, Boston College (#8)

Darnell Savage, University of Maryland (#4)

South

Jonathan Abram, Mississippi State University (#38)

Mike Edwards, University of Kentucky (#32)

Khari Willis, Michigan State University (#27)

Darius West, University of Kentucky (#25)

Juan Thornhill, University of Virginia (#21)

Jaquan Johnson, University of Miami (#4)

Analysis

This may be the most underrated group in Mobile. Adderley and Savage are both undersized, but are absolute playmakers on the back end and have the swagger to make practices very interesting. For the South, Abram, Edwards, Thornhill, and Johnson have all been lost in the Deionte Thompson and Taylor Rapp hype, but are all strong prospects in their own right, though they would all excel in different positions. Abram is a traditional strong safety, Johnson is a traditional 2-deep safety, Thornhill has the potential to be a single-high safety once he plays the position for a longer period of time, and Edwards is a Tyrann Mathieu-esque jack-of-all-trades.

Specialists

North

Mitch Wishnowsky, Punter, University of Utah (#33)

Austin Seibert, Kicker, University of Oklahoma (#43)

Dan Godsil, Long Snapper, University of Indiana (#97)

South

Jake Bailey, Punter, Stanford University (#14)

Cole Tracy, Kicker, Louisiana State University (#36)

Nick Moore, Long Snapper, University of Georgia (#43)

Analysis

You’re still reading? Good for you!

Nagy himself admitted that they do not have the manpower to scout specialists, so they rely on NFL teams and their evaluations of the specialists in selecting the roster. This is actually a good thing, as it gives everyone an idea of the truly top-end specialists at positions notoriously difficult to scout. Many fans have been clamoring for the departure of Bradley Pinion during the offseason, so Wishnowsky and Bailey are certainly candidates to replace him if they go undrafted.

Final Thoughts

It seems that the Raiders have more positions having top-end talent, but the Senior Bowl roster sets up very nicely for the 49ers. The South roster is full of talented players with draft stock at a level matching the likely area the 49ers would be willing to take a player in that position group. Their roster includes high-end pass rushers, middle-to-high-end safeties, middle-to-late-round linebackers, undrafted running backs, middle-round receivers, middle-round cornerbacks, and plenty of interior offensive line talent. I’d be absolutely shocked if none of these players are wearing a 49ers jersey come August, and there is a good chance that multiple players here end up in scarlet and gold. Pay special attention to the pass rushers, defensive backs, and Bruce Anderson throughout the week, and be prepared for many hot takes whenever someone has a good play.

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