The Hottest NFL Draft Prospects Coming out of Senior Bowl Week
For many collegiate prospects, the continuous NFL show-and-tell interview process starts in Mobile, Alabama, at the Reese's Senior Bowl.
Last week, all 32 teams got a look at the talent available—how the players moved with pads on and competed against some of the best athletes nationwide. The Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals were able to assess the prospects up close, coaching the North and South squads, respectively.
Last year, edge-rusher Montez Sweat and wide receiver Deebo Samuel generated buzz after strong performances during the one-on-one drills and team practices. The former went 26th overall to the Washington Redskins, while the latter landed with the San Francisco 49ers at No. 36.
Following last week's action, several prospects have gained momentum before the NFL Scouting Combine, which begins Feb. 23 in Indianapolis. Some may have further solidified their first-round stocks, while others jumped onto the radar.
Who raised their draft stock in Mobile? Where could the hottest prospects from the Senior Bowl land in April?
QB Justin Herbert, Oregon
Justin Herbert won the Senior Bowl MVP honor, completing nine of 12 passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. Like in his practices leading up to the game, he displayed his arm strength and mobility. Danny Kelly of The Ringer also saw the Oregon product take command under center:
"The Ducks passer looked comfortable directing traffic, a good sign for a relatively quiet guy who scouts worry could be a bit too passive in the huddle. I didn't see any signs of that―he looked like the clear leader of the South squad, made sure to congratulate his receivers when they made a play, and went to pick up those who made a mistake or missed an assignment."
Oftentimes, we overlook a prospect's intangibles, but the psychological makeup of a quarterback holds significance during the evaluation period. Pro signal-callers have to lead their teammates in high-pressure situations, remain confident even in bleak moments and essentially become field generals as extensions of their head coaches.
Footage of Herbert's throws made its rounds on social media, but his demeanor in the huddle checks another box. He'll likely go into the combine as the No. 2 quarterback on some big boards, pushing Tua Tagovailoa another spot behind presumptive No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow.
RB Joshua Kelley, UCLA
Finishing 4-8, UCLA didn't draw a lot of attention during the 2019 term. Joshua Kelley put together solid back-to-back years, but his name doesn't generate the same buzz as D'Andre Swift, J.K. Dobbins or Jonathan Taylor.
Swift, Dobbins and Taylor are all underclassmen, so they weren't eligible for Senior Bowl invites. While Kelley isn't likely to surpass them in draft projections, he owned the spotlight in Mobile.
NFL Network's Bucky Brooks (via 247Sports' Sam Hellman) discussed Kelley's traits and his ability to gain something out of dead-end plays.
"He's been really impressive. It's one thing to be a running back. It's another thing to be a pro running back, meaning that you have to have vision and balance and body control to really create when there's nothing there. Josh [Kelley] has shown this week that he's creative. He's also tough. He's really helped himself with the way he's performed."
In the Senior Bowl, Kelley ran for 105 yards on 15 carries, hitting holes with urgency and ripping off chunk yardage. Lions head coach Matt Patricia praised the running back for his even performances over the last week.
"He's consistent," Patricia said, per Chase Goodbread of NFL.com. "He's the same guy every day. We can work with that."
Perhaps the Lions will take Kelley early on Day 3 to help spell running back Kerryon Johnson, who's battled injuries in his first two seasons, missing 14 of 32 games.
WR Van Jefferson, Florida
With a father who played 13 NFL seasons and now serves as a wide receivers coach for the New York Jets, Van Jefferson had a head start at his position. Still, he can't rely on his bloodline to generate buzz. The Florida product put in the work during Senior Bowl week, winning one-on-one matchups with exceptional footwork and technique.
Dane Brugler of The Athletic said Jefferson "owns a master's degree in route running" after watching him in practice. The NFL draft expert also thinks the 23-year-old made a noteworthy jump from a Day 3 prospect to a potential Day 2 pick.
"It felt like Jefferson was going to be squeezed out of the first two days of the draft because of the vast depth at receiver in this class," Brugler wrote. "But talking to scouts at the end of the week, the words 'third round' were mentioned, as opposed to a month ago when it was 'fourth or fifth' round."
Along with his sharp cuts and his ability to stack on top of defensive backs for separation, Jefferson flashed incredible body control while adjusting to a deep pass downfield on a scrimmage rep.
Jefferson doesn't have impressive collegiate box-score stats. He didn't eclipse 657 yards or six touchdowns in a single term. Yet, at 6'1½", 197 pounds, with refined footwork, he may receive a boost on big boards based on his potential to blossom into a complete playmaker.
OT Josh Jones, Houston
The 2020 draft class will feature plenty of solid prospects at offensive tackle—likely through the first two rounds. Josh Jones may have boosted his stock into top-32 territory.
The Houston product looked light on his feet in mirror drills, where he was tasked with staying in front of a pass-rusher and keeping him away from the pocket. He had a good rep against Syracuse's Alton Robinson, who recorded two sacks in the bowl.
Furthermore, Michael Renner of Pro Football Focus highlighted Jones' ability to shift from the perimeter to the interior and still wall off defenders.
"No offensive tackle had a higher win rate in the one-on-ones than Jones' 64 percent this week," Renner wrote. "Even flipping from left to right to guard, Jones showed he's every bit a first-round talent."
Jones will likely line up at his natural position of left tackle at the pro level. With that said, his ability to play multiple positions, at least on the practice field, shows a blend of power, quickness and good leverage against players with various sizes and strengths.
As Renner suggested, Jones may have entered the first-round conversation if he wasn't in that discussion already.
DT Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina
Javon Kinlaw didn't participate all the way through Senior Bowl week. For precautionary reasons, he pulled out of the event after Wednesday's practice because of a left leg ailment, per Chris Burke of The Athletic.
But the South Carolina product still showed off his potential.
According to Reese's Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy, the opposing players voted Kinlaw as a South Team Practice Player of the Week.
Clearly, he earned the respect of his peers, which is enough to take a second look at his tape. The chiseled 6'5⅛", 315-pound defensive tackle's collegiate numbers don't tell the full story. He logged 82 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in three terms. Yet, NFL.com's Lance Zierlein saw so much more in the former Gamecock.
"Kinlaw isn't the most skilled rusher at this point, but it was hard to look at him operate and not start to see similarities with Kansas City Chiefs standout Chris Jones," Zierlein wrote. "Kinlaw always had the traits, but the way he dominated the competition here in Mobile likely propelled him into the middle of the first round."
Coming into Senior Bowl week, Kinlaw had first-round buzz. Despite his abbreviated showing, he could be a top-15 selection in April.
EDGE Bradlee Anae, Utah
The pass rush can be the key to turning around a defense or the essential component to a dominant group—just look at the 49ers' eighth-ranked scoring unit, which ranks fifth in sacks. General manager John Lynch acquired edge-rushers Dee Ford and Nick Bosa to form a juggernaut.
Over the last week, Bradlee Anae made a name for himself as a relentless pass-rusher, which translated to in-game production Saturday.
NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah captured Anae's smooth moves and hand technique off the edge during Thursday's practice. The Utah product went on to wreak havoc in the Senior Bowl, racking up three sacks and several pressures.
As ESPN's Michael Rothstein tweeted, the Lions, who coached the North squad, had a front-row seat to Anae's destruction of the South squad's offensive line: "Bradlee Anae, from Utah, is having a great game at the Senior Bowl. Continually in the backfield in the second quarter, getting to Jalen Hurts. Really liked what he's shown as a pass-rushing set of moves as well. Lions are going to have a good book on him come draft time."
In 2019, the Lions finished 29th in sacks and 28th in quarterback pressures. Perhaps general manager Bob Quinn and Patricia take a look at Anae in the second round to bolster the pass rush. Based on his collegiate tape and recent performances, he's a pure disruptor at the line of scrimmage.
EDGE Josh Uche, Michigan
On the North Senior Bowl squad, Anae had a partner who helped him chase down quarterbacks, forcing them into errant throws—one of which resulted in an interception of Colorado product Steven Montez.
Josh Uche made his way into the opponent's backfield multiple times Saturday. Like Anae, he has a knack for collapsing the pocket.
At 6'1⅜", 241 pounds, Uche uses his speed to beat offensive linemen. As a quick-twitch athlete, he could handle third-down pass-rushing situations. The Michigan product also displayed his coverage skills, staying with Brycen Hopkins—one of the top tight end prospects—on a practice rep.
Uche's quickness and footwork could help him transition to a 3-4 outside linebacker, and the former Wolverine flashed his flexibility and motor, per Eric Edholm of Yahoo Sports.
"… It's clear that Uche has pass-rush ability that shouldn't be wasted because he doesn't fit an ideal prototype," Edholm wrote. "Uche had a fantastic practice Wednesday, racking up wins all day. He has great twitch and wiggle, and great upfield quickness to stress bigger tackles. Every time I looked up, Uche was in the backfield."
A creative defensive coordinator will find a way to use Uche's strengths and turn his athleticism into production. Although he's not a first-rounder, the 21-year-old may have elevated his stock into the mid-second-round to early third-round range.
CB Troy Pride Jr., Notre Dame
At 5'11⅜", 193 pounds, Troy Pride Jr. won't bank on size to draw interest. Instead, he needs to lock up wide receivers in coverage and show off his ball-hawking skills. The Notre Dame product checked both boxes during Senior Bowl week.
Austin Gayle of Pro Football Focus took note of his ability to win one-on-one matchups:
"No defensive player had a better week than Notre Dame's Pride. A former track star who weighed in at 5-foot-11, 193 pounds, Pride said he wants to run in the 4.2s at the NFL combine and showed in one-on-one drills that he very well could hit the mark with his ability to stick with any receiver in Mobile down the football field. Pride was sticky in press man all week and rarely got beat."
In one particular rep during practice, Pride shadowed his man 10 yards downfield. He didn't allow any cushion or separation and then closed on the football to break up the pass in a textbook press-cover scenario.
Thanks to consistent pressure up front, he capped an impressive week with an interception, picking off Montez in the third quarter.
Pride's smaller stature may cost him a spot in the first and second rounds, but his stock is on the rise after a standout showing in Mobile. He's a potential top-75 pick with upside.
Player height and weight measurements provided by 247Sports.