NFL personnel and media members have gathered in Mobile, Alabama for the annual Senior Bowl, where many of college football’s premier prospects will attempt to improve their draft stock.
The showcase features two of the 2018 cycle’s most intriguing quarterbacks and gives small-school stars a big stage to gain exposure. Tape from past seasons matter, but the Senior Bowl is often the springboard for players to ascend draft boards.
We’ve identified a few key storylines and also provided several names who could emerge as late-rising prospects.
Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
The Senior Bowl isn’t going to solve the Josh Allen dilemma, but there will be plenty of arguing either way. He’s nearly 6-foot-5 and boasts outstanding arm strength, and scouts are drawn to quarterbacks who fit the prototypical mold. However, Allen is antsy in the pocket and has questionable accuracy. Nevertheless, he’ll probably stick in the first-round conversation because of his arm talent and widespread defenders in scouting departments and the media. Allen might be the most discussed player in Mobile.
Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State
Whether NFL teams view him as a running back, wide receiver or a hybrid player, Kalen Ballage has an NFL future. Arizona State never seemed to consistently bring out the best of Ballage, who after holding a limited role as a freshman shared the backfield with Demario Richard for three seasons. The 6-foot-2, 222-pounder has the frame for a much larger role as a runner, yet his acceleration and speed are intriguing. That combination is why there’s talk about a switch to receiver, so it’s essential Ballage shows his versatility at the Senior Bowl.
Marcus Davenport, EDGE, UTSA
One of the more popular late-season risers, Marcus Davenport has a chance to back up the growing hype in Mobile. At 6-foot-6 and 259 pounds with an 81-inch wingspan, per Luke Inman of Zone Coverage, Davenport has the physical boxes all checked. And as a senior at UTSA, he tallied 59 stops with 17 tackles for loss, including 8.5 sacks. Davenport has steadily been trending toward a first-round draft selection, and a consistent week of practices could propel him into the middle portion of Day 1.
Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State
The race for being labeled the No. 1 tight end of 2018 is wide open, and a Football Championship Subdivision standout could end up grabbing that position. Although the draft community has gushed about Dallas Goedert, he’s a relative unknown for most NFL fans. But in 2017, he amassed 72 receptions for 1,111 yards and seven touchdowns. Goedert caught 92 passes for 1,293 yards and 11 scores in 2016. The Senior Bowl will be the first real-time exposure to Goedert for many people, and he could leave as the cycle’s most popular FCS player.
Shaquem Griffin, LB, UCF
Shaquem Griffin hasn’t been invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, which is flat-out insulting. Unless that changes — and it certainly may — the Senior Bowl will be the linebacker’s final chance to impress on a national stage. He’ll otherwise only have UCF’s pro day later in the spring. Yet in 2016 and 2017 combined, Griffin racked up 168 total tackles with 33.5 stops for loss, including 18.5 sacks. He forced four fumbles and intercepted two passes. Griffin, who plays with relentless energy, will be motivated to prove his doubters wrong in Mobile.
DaeSean Hamilton, WR, Penn State
As a freshman in 2014, DaeSean Hamilton surged onto the college football scene with 82 catches. Chris Godwin took the spotlight the next two years, but Hamilton re-emerged in 2017 and registered a team-high 857 yards for the Nittany Lions. After an excellent showing at the East-West Shrine Game, he picked up a late invite to the Senior Bowl. Scouts will be drawn to his route-running skills and ability to create separation at the line of scrimmage, so Hamilton has a great opportunity to show he’s a Day 2 prospect.
Kyle Lauletta, QB, Richmond
For many, the Senior Bowl will be their introduction to Kyle Lauletta. He’s a 6-foot-2, 217-pound pro-style quarterback who started for three seasons at FCS school Richmond. Lauletta topped the 3,000-yard mark all three years, highlighted by a career-high 3,737 in 2017. He threw 28 touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions while completing more than 60 percent of his passes. Although he probably won’t have a Carson Wentz-like rise into the first round, Lauletta could solidify himself as a Day 2 prospect.
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
His delayed arrival sparked a non-troversy, and some sections of the NFL world wondered if Baker Mayfield wanted to avoid the weigh-in. It turns out the quarterback was late because of a health issue with his mother. There’s simply no reason Mayfield should’ve prioritized the Senior Bowl over family, and that’s also why he might not participate in the week-ending game. Regardless, he’s the most proven quarterback in Mobile and has the ability to clearly separate himself from Allen, Lauletta and the others. Both on and off the field, Mayfield is a big story.
Brian O’Neill, OT, Pitt
This is an important week for Brian O’Neill, whose performance at Pitt didn’t receive adequate praise. He locked down the left side of the offensive line, rarely allowing pressure and almost never surrendering a sack. O’Neill earned second-team All-ACC in 2016 before attaining first-team honors last season. The Pitt product is a teammate of Oregon’s Tyrell Crosby at the Senior Bowl, but they’re the best two offensive tackles at the game. O’Neill must perform better than Crosby to garner more first-round attention.
Harrison Phillips, DT, Stanford
To eclipse the 100-tackle mark while playing on the interior of the defensive line is truly absurd. Harrison Phillips accomplished that in his last season at Stanford, leading the team with 102 stops. He collected 16.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks, adding six hurries. Nevertheless, some scouts and analysts are still uncertain about his ability to consistently disrupt the passing game at the next level. Phillips is a smart defender, but there are questions about his burst and footwork. A strong showing in Mobile would raise his draft floor.
Chad Thomas, DE, Miami
Though Chad Thomas put together a decent career at Miami, he never quite established himself on the national radar. As a senior, he posted a solid yet unsuspecting 12.5 tackles for loss with 5.5 sacks. However, there’s little doubt NFL teams are going to love his physical tools. The 6-foot-5, 277-pound defensive end has an enormous wingspan. Additionally, Thomas earned a late invite to the Senior Bowl after excelling at the East-West Shrine Game. He can continue climbing the D-end rankings by matching that performance.
Kemoko Turay, EDGE, Rutgers
Kemoko Turay has lingered as a potential-filled edge-rusher because of his tremendous athleticism. The 6-foot-4, 252-pounder has great burst, and coaches will be enticed by that explosiveness. They can teach technique upon arrival, but not that speed. Turay gathered 65 tackles as a senior, chipping in seven stops behind the line of scrimmage with four sacks. Exclusively a third-down rusher as a freshman, Turay has developed into a three-down player. That progression has positioned Turay to let his athletic gifts spark a late rise on draft boards.