The Senior Bowl is one of my favorite events of the entire offseason. It’s the last true football we get to see for quite some time so it is a bit sad, but it’s also a proving ground for future NFL stars. Three years ago, LA Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald literally moved up draft boards with every single snap. I saw him do things to offensive linemen that were just unfair. Last year, four quarterbacks were featured that started as rookies in 2016 - Carson Wentz (Philadelphia), Cody Kessler (Cleveland), Jacoby Brissett (Patriots - Texans fans remember him) and a true MVP candidate in rookie Dak Prescott (Cowboys).
The Texans drafted six players in 2016 and five of the six spent the week in Mobile - Nick Martin, Braxton Miller, Tyler Ervin, K.J. Dillon and D.J. Reader. Two years prior, C.J. Fiedorowicz and Jay Prosch participated. Suffice to say, there’s a future Texan on his way to Mobile next week. Here are just a few key guys I’m keeping my eyes on next week.
Let’s start with the quarterbacks, and by starting with the quarterbacks, I’m keeping this relatively short. This group has no true star power, unlike last year’s group with Wentz and Prescott, in particular. Nathan Peterman (Pitt) had a strong senior campaign and Davis Webb (Cal) has size and arm strength. I actually like the quarterbacks at this week’s Shrine Bowl more so than the ones in Mobile. In essence, I’m not a huge fan of this senior quarterback class at this point, whereas I loved last year’s group.
The Texans already have a plethora of young receivers in the building, but the group in Mobile is strong, including one of the best players in FCS - Cooper Kupp (Eastern Washington). He caught 117 passes for 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns in 13 games in 2016. His career numbers are ridiculous, as he had a MINIMUM of 93 receptions, 1,431 yards and 16 touchdowns in all four of his years at Eastern Washington. And, don’t think he did it all against FCS competition. He lit up Washington State for 12 catches for 206 yards and three touchdowns. This is another chance to solidify a Day 2 draft slot for Kupp. Production was never an issue for the North team receivers. Kupp, Zay Jones (ECU) and Trent Taylor (La. Tech) hold myriad NCAA season and career receiving records.
The offensive line will have my rapt attention for many reasons. Forrest Lamp (Western Kentucky) is one of my favorites in this draft class, whether at guard or tackle for the South squad. Zach Banner (USC) is going to get tested at tackle against a strong North pass rush group, but he was a multi-year starter at USC. Taylor Moton (Western Michigan) has bounced between guard and tackle in his career but it appears he’ll get a look at tackle in Mobile. He’s as physically impressive as any player I’ve studied this year. One of my Day 3 sleepers is Justin Senior (Mississippi State). He provided protection for Prescott and opened holes for future star quarterback Nick Fitzgerald.
Local schools will be featured as well, including Lamar University’s Brendan Langley. The former Cardinal is a rangy, long cornerback with the ability to run back punts and kicks. He certainly looks the part and now has to play like it this week for the North squad. Defensive end Daeshon Hall, safety Justin Evans and wide receiver Josh Reynolds will represent Texas A&M. I’m a big fan of Evans and know many that are fans of his complete game. Linebacker Tyus Bowser will represent the University of Houston for the South squad. Baylor’s Kyle Fuller is one of two centers for the North squad. Defensive end Josh Carraway had an outstanding season for TCU and he’ll line up opposite Hall and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jordan Willis (Kansas State), who played in the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl.
I’ll have my observations from practice for as long as I’m there and if you read them last year, you know that I talked about D.J. Reader all week. He then became a Texan. Who will it be this year? It all starts on Tuesday.