On Wednesday, the Reese’s Senior Bowl announced 84 players had accepted their invites to attend the events beginning Jan. 21, 2019. Drew Lock has now been added to the attractive quarterback group to bring the total to 85.
Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy joined Yahoo! Sports’ The Spin on Dec. 5 to unveil the roster and release which prospects had been invited to this point. Even though the roster is not at full strength, the bulk of the roster is set.
When the college football regular season concluded, accepted invites came pouring in for first-year director Nagy. Wisconsin offensive line duo Ben Benzschawel and Michael Deiter will be in Mobile along with another powerful duo of Ben Powers and Dru Samia. Quarterbacks Will Grier, West Virginia, and Jarrett Stidham, Auburn, headline a strong quarterback group.
Though big names have accepted to play in one of the biggest draft season events, the newly hired Senior Bowl staff accomplished ways to implement plenty of lower-level talent deserving of a larger spotlight. Nasir Adderley of Delaware shows glimpses of a high Day 2 pick at cornerback. Josh Oliver of San Jose State shows the athleticism and ball skills as a primary receiving tight end. Tytus Howard of Alabama State will put his 6-foot-6, 311-pound body to the test versus high-profiled talent.
The Senior Bowl does value resumes of players it scouts throughout their careers, but mainly the staff looks for talent it sees can take that next step forward and thrive in an event like this. Steering away from players constantly mentioned as profiled draft selections yet have been over hyped throughout the years (Clemson OT Mitch Hyatt, Florida OL Martez Ivey, Ohio State OT Isaiah Prince) is a step in the right direction for the new staff.
After the first huge wave of invitations, the Senior Bowl crew received a majority of praises and high fives. But even though the staff solidified a strong roster, some deserving names are still omitted from the talented list at this point.
Deserving prospects that just missed the cut (for now):
Bunchy Stallings, Kentucky, OG
A unanimous selection across all voting platforms, Stallings is a first team All-SEC performer. Stallings dominated in the trenches of the SEC bulldozing interior defensive linemen showing off his powerful demeanor and nastiness. The senior plays with controlled pad level and is a polished pass protector with good enough movement skills and length to be scheme versatile. His awareness and consistent play made him a key piece for Kentucky’s rushing success. Stallings’ play on the field can mirror some of the skills of those that have already been invited.
Dakota Allen, Texas Tech, LB
Senior Bowl visits aren’t always strictly about getting to know the players’ skills on the field. Background information is a key part in every evaluation, especially when gaining the information directly from the source. But if having the opportunity to partner above average play on the field and receive critical background information within one player, that makes for an even more exciting and important visit. Allen’s background of being dismissed from Texas Tech University and then diligently working his way back to star for the football team is a story in its own. His All-Big 12 status in 2018 has been surrounded by draft chatter this season. Allen’s quick and accurate judgments pave way for him to make sure tackles on the perimeter or in the backfield. His burst and acceleration models that of a safety along with his ability to diagnose. Allen’s story partnered with his play on the field plead a heavy case to be added to the roster.
Damarkus Lodge, Ole Miss, WR
Somewhat lost in the mix of a plethora of pass catchers for the Ole Miss offense, Lodge’s absence from the roster is surprising. Lodge’s next-level speed and acceleration could do wonders in a Senior Bowl format along with his acrobatic ball skills and ability out-physical cornerbacks. Despite his inconsistent hands (catching technique), Lodge has the potential to shine in a Senior Bowl environment in a group of receivers that may be lacking firepower outside of Deebo Samuel.
Ben Burr-Kirven, Washington, LB
From Russell Brown in September: “He has a knack for finding the ball and being involved in just about every offensive play. One area that separates him from other linebackers is the range that he displays. BBK has no restrictions when going from sideline to sideline and shows plenty of aggressiveness on every play. There are times that he hesitates when flipping his hips when dropping into coverage but there’s no reason to believe that he can’t contribute in stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback.”
Kingsley Keke, Texas A&M, DT
Playing for an underrated Texas A&M defensive front, Keke thrived as an interior pass rusher for the Aggies this season. Keke ranks second on the team with 10 tackles for loss and six sacks. He shows first step quickness off the ball being able to roll his hips into the offensive line and exerts his strength into the chest of the blocker. His inconsistent strength after the point of attack would make him an intriguing prospect to watch in Mobile considering the one-on-one drills. His subtle quickness to dip his shoulder and fly into the backfield accentuate his ability to penetrate the line of scrimmage as a pass rusher. Keke’s versatility potential and attractive pass-rushing qualities draw plenty of intrigue.
Despite a high volume of underclassmen getting selected in Round 1 (75 percent in 2018), the Senior Bowl still produces first round caliber players with just as much upside as a prospect a year or two younger. The roster to this point has a handful of players with potential to reach first round status.
Top Prospects on Senior Bowl Roster
Josh Allen, Kentucky, OLB
Known as the premier pass rusher in the SEC, Allen’s Senior Bowl journey will be interesting being listed as an outside linebacker. Allen doesn’t pop off the snap with elite-level burst but has the acceleration and prowess to make up for any lost time. His arsenal of pass rush moves has improved throughout the season and his strength looks be improving as well. His dynamic ability to pressure the pocket puts him at the top of the most coveted player currently on the Senior Bowl roster.
Deebo Samuel, South Carolina, WR
Samuel displays a set of skills to make him a WR1 type player. His reliable route running ability, consistent hands, return ability and overall quickness and speed have first round written all over him. The skills he brings to Mobile makes him the best receiving prospect with a Senior Bowl jersey on in the past few years.
Zach Allen, Boston College, DE
A polished player that thrives in both elements of the game, Allen should stand out in a group of solid pass rushers in Mobile. Allen possesses the ability to move people in the run game with plenty of strength to shed off blocks and explode to the ball. His pass rushing ability stems from a good initial burst followed by a string of pass rush moves that can overwhelm tackles. He displays some lower body stiffness that can be exposed but his technical style of play and hot motor find ways to get around the lacking quality.
Jaylon Ferguson, Louisiana Tech, DE
Though less hype at this moment, Ferguson’s status could ring similar to that of 2018 first round pick Marcus Davenport. Ferguson stems from the Conference USA, where he dominated, but he showed up multiple times versus top level opponents throughout his career (2018 versus Mississippi State and LSU combined: 11 tackles, four tackles for loss, three sacks, forced fumble). Ferguson’s brute strength is his most attractive trait. Despite having a toolkit to work with, the senior thrives off rushing the passer with strictly power and wins the majority of the time. Ferguson’s hand and lower body torque should raise eyebrows in one on one drills.
Juan Thornhill, Virginia, SAF
Thornhill has provided experience for Virginia at both safety and cornerback in the past three seasons. His versatility and variety of skills isn’t just within the change of the two positions. Thornhill shows reliable man coverage skills and has the acceleration and quick feet to close on the ball in zone. His reliable tackling skills and range provide the safe pick draft tag. A big week in Mobile should solidify his top 50 draft stock.
The roster is already loaded with potential and talented players but has the chance to become even stronger. A handful of players suiting up to play in the College Football Playoff have yet to react to their invitation. Others are possibly waiting for bowl season to wrap up to make a final decision.
Players that have been invited but yet to accept:
Isaiah Buggs, Alabama, DL
Parris Campbell, Ohio State, WR
Clelin Ferrell, Clemson, DE
Damien Harris, Alabama, RB
Jalen Hurd, Baylor, WR
Bryce Love, Stanford, RB
Christian Miller, Alabama, LB
Montez Sweat, Mississippi State, DE
Jerry Tillery, Notre Dame, DT
Christian Wilkins, Clemson, DT
With further discussion on omissions of the first unveiling of the roster and candidates to fill potential vacancies, listen to the Cover 1 NFL Draft podcast: