The 2018 Senior Bowl kicks off this week in Mobile, Alabama. The Sideline Pass will be live on site for practices and to document one of the biggest Senior Bowls in the past decade. As the week gets started, here is a preview of the biggest storylines of this year’s game:
North Team - Coached by the Denver Broncos
Josh Allen QB Wyoming – The top story of the week heading into Mobile is the sky-high expectations for Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, who graduated early from school in order to play in this game. A big, mobile, strong-armed, cold-weather quarterback, Allen is the current favorite among league insiders for the No. 1 overall pick. For a player whose consistency, production, and statistics have all been questioned, this will be an opportunity to have a Philip Rivers-moment and lock himself in as a Top 5 pick based on his performance in Mobile.
Baker Mayfield – The other quarterback who has the opportunity to have a Rivers-esque Senior Bowl pre-draft rise would be Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield. Since the season ended Mayfield has been training with former Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson, who now tutors quarterbacks in advance of the draft. Mayfield’s transition to playing under center and in a pro-style offense will be under a close spotlight all week and promises to play a large role in how early and where he gets drafted in April. In addition, given Mayfield's history off the field and the known "chip on his shoulder" that he plays with, teams will be looking forward to sitting down and meeting with him in person.
Jaylen Samuels – This week it was announced by the Senior Bowl that Jaylen Samuels, the dual-threat dynamo for North Carolina State, would be designated as a Running Back for the game, and not as a traditional Fullback (see the change also in our 2018 Player Rankings). The change in designation is a very encouraging sign for the 5’11, 230 lb stud athlete, both schematically and financially. He is going to play in the NFL regardless, however a scouting designation as a running back and not a fullback shows that enough NFL teams see his unique and rare value as a potentially transformational player for an offense at the next level. Usually running backs are converted to fullback as they gain weight and lose speed – rarely do you see a player built to play fullback own enough speed for a scouting industry to reach a consensus to move him to a faster position. Or maybe, it’s that the fullback position has become nearly obsolete in today’s game.
Harrison Phillips – A one-man wrecking crew along the interior of the Stanford Cardinal defense, Harrison Phillips is a physically-imposing 6’3, 295 lb bowling ball of a defensive tackle. Among my favorite prospects in the draft, Phillips graduated early from Stanford, making him eligible to play in the game, despite being a redshirt-junior at college this fall. A stout run-defender who picked up 102 tackles, 16.5 TFL, and seven sacks this year, Phillips is my #31 player in the draft entering the Senior Bowl. I would expect to see him perform well and lock himself in as a Top 50 pick in April’s Draft.
Brian O’Neill – At 6’5, 305 lbs, Pittsburgh’s Brian O’Neill is a player whose name has received a lot of buzz after he declared for the 2018 Draft. His inclusion in this game shows how highly the scouting community thinks of him. In a game that always produces big winners from the offensive line, I know O’Neill is a player who I will have my eye on.
South - Coached by the Houston Texans
Dallas Goedert TE South Dakota State - Rarely does a player from an FCS school enter the Senior Bowl as one of the favorites to be the first player taken at his position, but such is the case for SDSU tight end Dallas Goedert. After hauling in 164 passes for 2,404 yards and 18 touchdowns over the last two seasons, Goedert enters the Senior Bowl as arguably the top receiving tight end in the draft, and will have every opportunity to showcase his abilities in front of the entire league this week. If he can display a complete skill set as a receiver and blocker against higher competition, he will give himself a great chance of being the first tight end drafted this spring.
Rashaad Penny RB San Diego State - Following the decisions of Bryce Love (Stanford) and Damien Harris (Alabama), San Diego State's Rashaad Penny has fewer competition to be one of the first running backs off the board after Saquon Barkley. Penny, a 5'10, 220 lb hammer of a back who is blessed with smooth, nimble feet and quick acceleration at the second level, has the opportunity to climb draft boards on teams looking for a balanced, complete prospect at the position. The leading rusher in the country in 2017 (289 carries, 2,248 yards (7.78 ypc), and 23 touchdowns), Penny is a player that has the tools to star as a feature back for a team in the NFL next season. This week will be a big opportunity to show his abilities against a higher level of competition.
Marcus Davenport - The Senior Bowl is well-known for providing a spotlight that can put attention on high-end small-school players. Going back to DeMarcus Ware's dominant performance as a pass rusher out of Troy, there have been dozens of smaller school player who have broken out at the national level thanks to big Senior Bowl weeks. Among those small-school prospects who will be drawing plenty of attention is Texas-San Antonio defensive end Marcus Davenport. A 6'6, 250 lb rush end, Davenport tallied 55 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, broke up four passes, and returned a fumble for a touchdown this season. A late-bloomer who weighed 215 lbs as a freshman at UTSA, Davenport has the type of talent that will have scouts stopping and watching this week. A strong performance in Mobile could get Davenport into the first-round mix heading into the Scouting Combine next month.
Shaquem Griffin LB Central Florida - One of the bigger story lines that will be followed at the Senior Bowl is Shaquem Griffin, the linebacker that helped lead Central Florida to an undefeated season in 2017. Griffin was born with one hand, however that did not stop him from making 166 tackles, 33.5 TFL, and 18.5 sacks over the past two seasons. Griffin will have some scouting scratching their heads as to how his one hand will limit him schematically, however what is certain is that Griffin has the athleticism to play in the NFL, and with this opportunity (he was a late-invitation by the Senior Bowl) he has the chance to showcase that speed and range with which he plays with.
Da’Shawn Hand DE Alabama - Among the most underachieving players in the country who will be playing in this week's game is Alabama senior pass rusher Da'Shawn Hand. Formerly the top recruit in the country coming out of high school, Hand never developed into the type of edge-setting presence that opposing offenses feared, as most expected him to as a prep. For Hand, this week's Senior Bowl will give him the opportunity to showcase his talent and answer questions related to his maturity and inconsistency; in 2017, Hand produced just 27 tackles, 3.5 TFL, and three sacks. A strong week of practices would do a lot to silence the skeptics, however a poor week would only inflame them further.
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