This week, the entire Cover 1 NFL Draft staff will be in Mobile, Alabama, for the 2020 Senior Bowl. Outside of the actual NFL Draft, it’s my favorite time of the year. Being able to go to Mobile has so many benefits as a national scout. It’s not just being able to network and meet some of my favorite writers and evaluators in the business but it’s about being able to watch the practice habits of these players. Meanwhile, you can interview each player and see how they do in that type of environment or what type of knowledge they have on the game.
Trust me, it’s a lot to take in during your first trip.
Now on my third trip to the Senior Bowl, I know what to expect and I know where to sit. When I get into Ladd Peebles Stadium, you’ll find me in both end zones and at the 50-yard line about 25 rows up. Getting to watch as many groups is key but also keeping an eye on the consistency of certain players is just as important. Regardless of how the week goes, here are three players that I think will improve their draft stocks for the 2020 NFL Draft.
Van Jefferson, WR, Florida – Senior (RS) – 6’2″ 197 pounds
Starting with one of my favorite players for the entire event, Van Jefferson is easy money. He’s got great size for the position and is such a good route runner. Route running is his biggest improvement from the 2018 season to now. After transferring from Ole Miss, Jefferson found success instantly with the Florida Gators. He had over 1,100 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns for the Gators.
Some people will have a problem that Van Jefferson (Florida WR 12) will be 24 years old during his rookie season (people are weird). But he's going to be so fun to watch in person this month at the @seniorbowl. His draft stock will 📈 after a week in Mobile. Cannot wait! pic.twitter.com/5sC2T3bkVk
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) January 7, 2020
Seeing how he matches up in one-on-one situations against some of the best defensive backs in the country is going to be a ton of fun to watch. Jefferson isn’t the top wide receiver in the class but he could certainly establish himself at the Senior Bowl and push his draft stock into the second day.
Darrell Taylor, EDGE, Tennessee – Senior (RS) – 6’4″ 255 pounds
When talking about running hot and cold, Taylor does just that like your kitchen sink. When he’s consistent, he generates pressure with ease. Other times, he lacks that consistency and struggles at the point of attack. Some people might say he takes plays off but he just hasn’t figured out exactly how to put it all together. From his pass rush plan to his hand usage, Taylor can clean some of that stuff up and become a solid edge rusher for whatever team selects him.
Darrell Taylor (Vols EDGE 19) didn't load the stat sheet vs. UGA but faced tough task vs Isaiah Wilson (RT 79) & Andrew Thomas (LT 71). Gotta give Taylor credit, though. He battled all game. Dig this rep vs Wilson (6'7" 340). Lower pad level + push-pull & Wilson can't do anything pic.twitter.com/hgT1Pv6i8r
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) January 15, 2020
At the Senior Bowl, it will be incredibly important for him to win the majority of his reps in one-on-ones. This will allow him to showcase what he does and with some NFL coaching, he should be able to get some advice on where to improve. However, like I said, he still has contributed at a high level. Over the course of his career, he has 26.5 tackles for loss and 19.5 sacks for the Vols. Teams should also value his 27.9% high pressure rate for the 2019 season, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). It’ll be interesting to see exactly where he lands for the 2020 NFL Draft but it all starts for him during the week of the Senior Bowl.
Kenny Willekes, EDGE, Michigan State – Senior – 6’4″ 260 pounds
Watching every single one of his college snaps, Kenny Willekes might be in for one of the biggest weeks out of any player for the Senior Bowl. The 6-foot-4 edge rusher has one of the most intriguing stories on getting to Michigan State. He is a former walk-on and earned himself a scholarship. Beyond that, he also won the 2019 Burlsworth Trophy, which is given to the nation’s most outstanding player who began his career as a walk-on. The work ethic that Willekes possesses will be very noticeable the moment he walks into the door of the Renaissance Hotel in Mobile.
Loving this years class of defensive lineman (obviously) but cannot wait until we get into next year and we all talk about Kenny Willekes from Michigan State pic.twitter.com/L18R1D0Vh2
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) February 16, 2019
Willekes is the all-time leader in tackles for loss at Michigan State with 51. Meanwhile, he’s a two-time first-team All-Big Ten honoree. The success didn’t just follow him to East Lansing, he earned it with his relentless motor and ability to disrupt backfields everywhere. He’s far from perfect, though. He can do better with his block recognition and become more consistent with his hand usage. If he can do that, he could end up playing like a Round 1 player for a team that takes him on the second day of the 2020 NFL Draft. Don’t be surprised if his stock soars after the Senior Bowl.