Similar to the tight ends, this a fairly unheralded group arriving at the Senior Bowl this year. There is no consensus on who the top prospect at the position is, but scouts do seem to agree that none of them are worthy of first-round consideration. The group took a further hit when Jaylan Ford, Ty'Ron Hopper and Michael Barrett all did not show up this week. I don't mean to disparage the whole group, because there are a few prospects I am really excited about.
Payton Wilson is in the mix to be the first player from this group in Mobile selected by the time the draft rolls around. The former North Carolina State star racked up tackles at a ridiculous rate, leading the ACC in stops. Perhaps most impressively, Wilson racked up 30 tackles for loss in his final two seasons. There will be some medical concerns given that Wilson missed most of the 2021 season, but his play will keep teams more than intrigued. His biggest competition to be selected first from this crop of players is actually a potential riser up draft boards in the coming weeks. He had a down season after a strong 2022 campaign, but his athletic traits should help him turn heads.
This group is not lacking experience. Tommy Eichenberg just wrapped up his third straight year starting for Ohio State. He missed some time this year due to injury but played well when healthy. He is a bit undersized but has a nose for the football and good speed. Similarly, Cedric Gray was a three-year starter at UNC. His production was impressive as he racked up 23 tackles for loss and six sacks over the past two seasons, both really good marks for an off-ball linebacker. Edefuan has been around for a while, this was his sixth season for college football. However, this was his first full season in a starting role after missing significant time due to injuries in 2021 and 2022. He is looking to flush a tough finish to his career with Washington and remind scouts that he is a quality player.
If you are looking for a little bit of a throwback at the position, the FCS level has you covered. Jalyx Hunt out of Houston Christian is 6'3.5" and 250 pounds with long arms and big hands. He is exactly what scouts are referring to when they bring up "height, weight, speed" prospects. He spent 2019 and 2021 playing at Cornell before landing in the Southland Conference. His role with the Huskies saw him used in a lot of blitz situations, racking up a 7.5 sacks and five forced fumbles over the past two years. He figures to be an outside backer with the flexibility to play in coverage or get after the passer.
This is a huge week for Trevin Wallace. The Kentucky linebacker is taking advantage of the new NFL rules that allow underclassmen to compete in the all-star circuit. Wallace is a true junior still coming into his own. I don't think many expected him to declare this year, so this could be a good introduction for many not familiar with his game. On the opposite end is Jackson Sirmon, who is coming off his sixth season of college football. However, his final season was cut short due to injury. It is hard to build momentum while not on the field, so Sirmon will want to remind scouts of his talents and show that he is back to full strength. Sixth-year backers is kind of a theme. Jontrey Hunter out of Georgia State is another elder statesman in Mobile this week. It will be interesting to see where he works out. After spending five seasons at outside linebacker, he kicked inside this year for the Panthers.
There are plenty of others hoping to stand out. Tyrice Knight led Conference USA in tackles this year with 140. JD Bertand is unheralded, but put together a solid career at Notre Dame. He and his former teammate Marist Luifau are hoping for likely fringe Day 2 picks that should turn some heads this week. Nathaniel Watson is a Day 3 player with good size that deserves some attention as well.
Much like the edge rushers this year, this group of corners at the Senior Bowl faces a tough task matching up with an incredibly deep receiver room. The group as a whole took a bit of a hit with Mike Sainristil, Josh Newton and Caelan Carson all not showing up despite accepting invites. Still, there are plenty of contenders to succeed in 1-on-1s.
The top prospect from this year's crop in attendance is undoubtedly Quinyon Mitchell. The Toledo star had great ball production in 2022, with five interceptions. He only had one pick in 2023, but that also had something to do with teams being hesitant to throw his way. He has the size, length, and speed to play his way into the first round with a good week. Max Melton and Kalen King figure to be in the mix as well for the top corners of the week. Melton is a long corner with tons of experience from his time at Rutgers. King struggled a bit this year, notably against Marvin Harrison Jr., but his game should still translate well to the NFL.
If you are a fan of big, long corners, like myself, two guys you have to watch this week are Oregon's Kyree Jackson and Notre Dame's Cam Hart. Jackson has had an interesting journey, playing in 2019 in community college and then not playing football in 2020 before landing at Alabama. After two seasons with the Tide, he transferred to Oregon and blossomed as a full-time starter. He measured in at 6'3.5" with 32-inch arms. That length coupled with his willingness as a tackler will make him popular with teams. Hart had a much more straightforward journey to this point, spending his entire college career in South Bend. He is a crafty corner with the longest arms of any corner at the Senior Bowl. He will be must-watch in 1-on-1s.
Nehemiah Pritchett out of Auburn is another candidate to start on the outside down the line at the NFL level. He put together a strong season at Auburn despite only playing in nine games. He has the size to thrive on the perimeter. Sticking in the SEC, Andru Phillips and Kris Abrams-Draine are both guys who could line up outside or in the slot. Phillips moved around a lot and is a very effective blitzer. Abrams-Draine played mostly on the perimeter, but I wonder if he is a candidate to move to the slot at the next level. Both will be closely watched this week.
This year's D-II star looking to raise his profile is Willie Drew. The Virginia State product has decent size and length coming off an utterly dominant season. He led the CIAA with six interceptions and has really good instincts. We all love to see the small-school guys ball out and Drew figures to be a fan favorite.
There are quite a few slot-specific players as well that I want to highlight. Johnny Dixon out of Penn State is a dynamo with good ball skills, but needs to improve his tackling. DJ James and Carlton Johnson are both slight players who either need to fill out their frames or face a move inside. James at 170 pounds and Johnson at 169 pounds would both be in the first percentile at the position.
The last few names to keep an eye on include Elijah Jones, Jarvis Brownlee Jr. and Chau Smith-Wade. All three project as Day 3 candidates heading into the week and will be determined to stand out and get on the radar in a good way.
This is quietly one of the best position groups at this year's Senior Bowl. It is loaded with future starters and likely Day 2 picks. Miami's Kamren Kinchens leads the way as a fringe first-round prospect. He has great range and flies around the field making plays. His former teammate is not quite as highly regarded but will be one of the most interesting prospects in Mobile. James Williams was actually listed as a linebacker on the accepted invites list. Whether that was a mistake or not, his measurables read like a linebacker more than a safety. I think he could be an interesting chess piece at the next level given his size and athleticism.
There are a number of collegiate safety duos in attendance. In addition to Kinchens and Williams, Kitan Oladapo and Evan Williams both hail from Oregon State, Tykee Smith and Javon Bullard starred together at Georgia, while Utah standouts Sione Vaki and Cole Bishop are both in attendance. Vaki is the one likely to draw the most buzz, given his two-way ability. Injuries forced him onto the field as a running back this season in addition to his regular role as a defensive back. Bishop lacks ideal measurables, but has a knack for making key plays. Smith is undersized at only 5'9", but he could be a slot corner at the next level. Bullard is slightly more imposing, but not by much. His impressive ball skills should see him get on the field early in his career. Oladapo flies around the field making plays while Williams showed good form as a situational pass rusher, racking up 4.5 sacks this season.
Beau Brade out of Maryland is one of the most-improved players in this class from his 2022 tape to his 2023 tape. He will be looking to build off a strong season. He and Auburn's Jaylin Simpson are two good candidates to rise up draft boards this week. Josh Proctor will not wow folks with his physical traits, but he is a high IQ player with really good quickness and a ton of experience starting at Ohio State. Malik Mustapha should round out the group. He is a good tackler who should help in the run game from the moment he steps on the field.