Best 2023 NFL Draft Fits for Senior Bowl, Shrine Bowl StandoutsFebruary 6, 2023
Best 2023 NFL Draft Fits for Senior Bowl, Shrine Bowl Standouts
The 2023 NFL draft cycle is officially under way with both the Senior Bowl and Shrine Bowl behind us. Both games offered a little glimpse into what prospects from the 2023 class can do, but it's the week of practices that are the best evaluation tools.
The opportunity to work out and practice with an NFL coaching staff provided several prospects the stage to show what they can do.
Every year there are those who use those All-Star Games to elevate their stock and capture the eye of scouts. This year was no different.
There were multiple players who drew praise for their weeks in Mobile (at the Senior Bowl) and Las Vegas (at the Shrine Bowl). Here's a look at what teams would make sense for each of those prospects based on their skill set, the team's needs and scheme.
DL Adetomiwa Adebawore, Northwestern
Best Fits: Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Chargers, Detroit Lions
It isn't always easy for a defensive tackle to shine in the Senior Bowl setting. One-on-one pass-rushing drills tend to favor offensive linemen on the interior, and there isn't a lot of run defense that goes on.
Yet, Adetomiwa Adebawore was a standout who made a name for himself against a talented group of offensive linemen on the inside.
The Northwestern product had some outstanding highlights throughout the week. He has serious pop in his hands and the kind of powerful bull rush that can make linemen look foolish if they aren't quick enough to anchor against it.
Even in team situations, Adebawore proved to be incredibly difficult to stop from getting to the quarterback.
At 6'1", 284 pounds, he's undersized at defensive tackle, but he has the length and explosion to work through those shortcomings and become a productive NFL player. His pass-rushing skills he showed at Mobile didn't necessarily always show up on film.
At this point, he's a plus run defender with high upside as a pass-rusher. That's a skill set that plenty of teams could use, but the three best fits here are all three teams that struggled to stop the run and need new blood on the inside.
S Trey Dean III, Florida
Best Fits: Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, Las Vegas Raiders
Versatility is a key trait in the modern-day safety, and Trey Dean III utilized the Shrine Bowl stage to showcase his to NFL teams.
The 6'2", 211-pound safety played a nearly equal distribution of snaps as a deep player and box safety with some time in the slot as well at Florida, per PFF.
At the Shrine Bowl, he showed off the ability to play in those alignments at the next level too. He had the combination of athleticism and strength to stick with tight ends in coverage and work through their body to disrupt bigger-bodied players who may have leverage.
In the game, he did a great job of playing as a deep safety and even netted a tip-drill interception that helped him take home defensive MVP honors.
Ideally, Dean will go to a team that utilizes some three-safety sets that could get him on the field early in his career. With his ability to play in the box, deep or in the slot he could be the third option who comes in and plays wherever the formation dictates.
Teams like the Kansas City Chiefs (fourth), New England Patriots (first) and Las Vegas Raiders (sixth) were fairly heavy in their usage of dime looks that included three safeties, per The 33rd Team.
Each of them could be looking to add a young safety to their ranks based on potential retirements and/or free agents.
Edge Will McDonald IV, Iowa State
Best Fits: Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Rams, Tennessee Titans
The knock on Iowa State pass-rusher Will McDonald IV is going to be his slight frame that makes him a bit of a tweener. At 6'4", 241 pounds, he doesn't have the ideal bulk to play with his hand in the ground, but getting after the passer is his best trait.
That's why the Senior Bowl was an important week for him. He isn't going to be able to do much to combat the idea that he's on the small side for an edge-rusher, but watching him consistently dominate the one-on-ones against his peers is going to make some teams overlook his lack of size.
McDonald has an impressive first step and the speed to bend the edge on the outside. He isn't a pure speed rusher, though. His inside spin move is a legitimate counter that can be deadly when paired with his pure athleticism.
The pass rushing is impressive, but one of the most important things he flashed in Mobile was adequate ability to drop into coverage.
McDonald primarily lined up outside or on the tackle at Iowa State in their three-down linemen alignments. That's going to change in the league. The team that drafts him is going to have to get creative with how they deploy him.
Someone like the Steelers with a long track record of developing outside linebackers would be an ideal landing spot. A defensive coordinator like Raheem Morris who will look to run a blitz-heavy defense with a base 3-4 could also use him.
Edge Caleb Murphy, Ferris State
Best Fits: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots
The Shrine Bowl can be a huge opportunity for those trying to crack NFL rosters from the lower levels of college football. Small-school prospects get the opportunity to compete in live drills for a week against their Division I counterparts.
Few small-school prospects did more for themselves than Caleb Murphy from Division II Ferris State. The pass-rusher was ultra-productive with 25.5 sacks and 39 tackles for loss for the national champions in his final season.
His performance in Vegas last week only served to bring validity to those eye-popping numbers.
The 6'3", 254-pound edge-defender doesn't have a refined set of pass-rushing moves, but his athleticism and quick-twitch change of direction were enough to run around the tackles at the Shrine Bowl.
It's going to take time and coaching for Murphy to develop into an NFL-caliber quarterback hunter, but he showed at the Shrine Bowl that his athleticism is going to translate.
He needs to go to a team with established veterans and a knack for developing pass-rushers.
WR Jayden Reed, Michigan State
Best Fits: Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks, Baltimore Ravens
Jayden Reed's 2022 campaign at Michigan State didn't help his draft stock. He followed up a 1,000-yard season in 2021 with just 636 yards in 2022.
But Reed reminded everyone at Mobile that his downturn in production had more to do with a Michigan State offense that was a mess than the receiver's skills.
Reed constantly frustrated defensive backs in practice. They voted him the Practice Player of the Week as his route running and speed often left them in the dust.
The Michigan State receiver only had one catch for 25 yards in the actual game, but it was enough to show that the speed and separation skills transfer from practice to the game.
The best-case scenario for Reed is that he becomes an undersized outside receiver who can become a No. 1 like Stefon Diggs. The Bills' alpha receiver is only 6'0", 191 pounds, but he wins with excellent routes and strong hands.
Reed is slightly shorter at 5'10" but has a similar build. At worst, he's a slot receiver who is still able to win underneath.
So anyone who could use a route winner on the inside with the possibility of blossoming into an outside threat should be in on Reed.
CB Darius Rush, South Carolina
Best Fits: Las Vegas Raiders, Green Bay Packers, New York Giants
South Carolina cornerback Cam Smith has gotten plenty of love already in the predraft process, but fellow Gamecock corner Darius Rush spent the week showing he's deserving of his own hype too.
Coming in at 6'1", 196 pounds with 33¾" arms was certainly a strong start for Rush, but it's what he did on the practice field that should have scouts and executives excited.
Rush showed the long speed to stick with receivers downfield, but more importantly, he showed the agility to shadow quick breaks from receivers. With his size, that's going to be the skill set coaches want to see.
Rush showed a strong feel for receiver routes and the ability to jump in front of them and make plays on the ball. His opponents seemed to agree he had a great week, as he was voted the Practice Player of the Week for the American team's defensive backs by the wide receivers who saw him all week.
Rush's performance at the Senior Bowl doesn't necessarily match his game tape from South Carolina. He only had three interceptions over his last two seasons in Columbia and doesn't always show the same ability to make plays on the ball.
It might take some time for Rush to develop the consistency to play like he did last week all the time. Still, for teams that need a developmental cornerback with the size to play press and contend with big-bodied receivers, Rush should have moved up their board this week.
C John Michael Schmitz, Minnesota
Best Fits: Buffalo Bills, Washington Commanders, Seattle Seahawks
John Michael Schmitz came into Senior Bowl week as the second-highest-ranked interior offensive lineman and No. 1 center on the Bleacher Report Scouting Department's big board. Nothing he did in Mobile should have those rankings in doubt.
Instead, all he did was potentially elevate his stock into the first round.
Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network was a big fan of the week Schmitz had going against defensive tackles at the Senior Bowl. The analyst called him "the most consistent player" in Mobile and noted that he impressed teams with his interviews.
That last part could be incredibly important. Playing center goes beyond just being a good blocker. They are generally in charge of the communication on the offensive line and must be able to relay rapidly changing calls based on what's in front of them.
Teams getting an opportunity to not only see Schmitz on the field but also in the meeting room is likely to elevate his already-high draft stock.
A team like the Buffalo Bills, who could make Mitch Morse a cap casualty but need a plug-and-play center, should be taking a good long look at Schmitz.
RB Tyjae Spears, Tulane
Best Fits: Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles Rams
Few players generated as much buzz last week as Tulane's Tyjae Spears. The running back showcased the same burst, speed and balance that saw him rush for 205 yards and four touchdowns against USC in his final collegiate game.
Not only did Spears remind scouts that he is a violent runner with the ability to hit the big play, but he also showcased his skills as a receiver. He has natural hands and the ability to turn a short route into a touchdown any time he touches the ball.
Dane Brugler of The Athletic named him the top-performing back at practice in the Senior Bowl, noting that his performances in the team sessions gave him the edge over Oklahoma's Eric Gray.
The biggest red flags for Spears are going to be his size and injury history. The back measured at 5'9", 204 pounds, making him one of the smaller backs at the event. He also had an ACL tear in 2020.
But he was able to bounce back from the injury and have two productive seasons at Tulane. Still, his best situation is a place where he can be part of a committee early on as a pass-catching change-of-pace back before potentially getting a shot to carry a backfield on his own.