With the announcement of the NFL Draft Combine going virtual this year, the importance level of the Senior Bowl is amplified. For some of these (now former) college football players who are already stars, this game is simply a draft stock booster. For others this is the last shot to show they have what it takes to play in the NFL.
The Senior Bowl is the perfect stage to showcase their abilities, as the rosters are lead by NFL coaches. They put the players through a multitude of drills while seeing how they stack up against other prospects. The practice days leading up to the game ultimately are where the players can separate themselves as being NFL worthy.
The Senior Bowl practices will air this week on NFL Network from Tuesday to Thursday in the afternoon. The game itself takes place on NFL Network as well this Saturday at 2:30 PM ET. Let’s take a look at some players who have a lot to gain from this Senior Bowl process:
1. William Bradley-King – EDGE, American Team
Bradley-King’s transfer from Arkansas State to Baylor really helped him find an identity. In 2019 at Arkansas State, he collected 8.5 sacks by lining up however he pleased. Most of his success came from the backside as a standup edge rusher or a hand in the ground defensive end.
At Baylor, he lined up primarily as a defensive end and worked both sides. When he was on the strong side he wasn’t nearly as successful. Too many times he got engaged in blocks and couldn’t fight them off.
Bradley-King will be best served as a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL, who can pin his ears back in pass rush situations. He won’t be an every down starter because his pass coverage skills will need touching up. Also, his read and react skills need a little work, and that’s why he’s best served as a pass rush specialist.
Bottom line is that at 6’4” and 255 lbs, he is a force off the edge. He can push offensive lineman back into the pocket when he bullrushes. When he goes to his more successful speed rush, he can blow right past blockers and into the backfield.
2. Elijah Mitchell – Running Back, American Team
Mitchell has been consistent throughout his whole career for Louisiana-Lafayette. He averaged over six yards per carry every year except for 2019, which was at 5.8. That slight average difference is directly related to receiving so many goal line carries.
Mitchell comes in at 5’10” 220 lbs, but if you watched him at all, he played as if he was 240. He is a problem to get to the ground once he gets a full head of steam. On many occasions Mitchell has carried multiple defenders past first down markers and goal lines.
When not running downhill, he is a very meticulous and patient runner. He can run outside zones, dives or tosses and once he sees the lane he hits the gas. That one cut ability will make him successful in zone running schemes at the next level.
Mitchell should be able to find a spot in the NFL with a good showing this week. Predecessors like Frank Gore and more recently Damien Harris have paved the way for backs just like Mitchell. As long as he displays that power to run through players in practice this week, he’ll be off the board in the mid rounds.
3. Justin Hilliard – Linebacker, National Team
The unbelievable journey Hilliard has been on is why he’s on this list. He was a five star linebacker and highest rated recruit in the state of Ohio…for the class of 2015. He’s a sixth year senior who finally got his chance to shine and made the most of it.
Hilliard lost his first two seasons at Ohio State due to two torn biceps injuries and a meniscus tear. After his recovery from those injuries, Hilliard finally saw action in 2018. In the spring of 2019 he partially tore his Achilles and almost called it quits, but pushing through may have saved his whole career.
Once he fully recovered in 2019, Hilliard made crucial plays for the Buckeyes to seal wins against Wisconsin and Penn State. This year he found ways to make huge plays in key situations. He intercepted a would-be Northwestern TD pass in the Big Ten Championship Game, then pounced on a crucial fumble in the Sugar Bowl against Clemson.
Hilliard is a linebacker that can tackle running backs, tight ends or wideouts in space. He has the speed to run with running backs out of the backfield and the hands to make interceptions. He should come out in drills this week and make it known that like many years ago as a five star out of high school, he’s a can’t miss prospect.
4. Tylan Wallace – Wide Receiver, National Team
Wallace had a little bit of a journey himself, but is still cemented as a definite draft pick. He played wideout for coach Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State and really could have left last year. He was a Biletnikoff finalist (best wideout) as a sophomore with nearly 1,500 yards and 12 TDs, but lost the award to Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy.
In 2019 as a junior Wallace tore his ACL near the end of the season. At the time of the injury he was leading the Big 12 in receiving yards. He attributed his aspirations to win a Big 12 title as why he chose to return for his senior season. Even though his quest fell short, his return solidified his draft standing.
Wallace has impeccable ball tracking skills and regularly makes ridiculous catches. He never deploys his hands to catch the ball until the last possible second, making it impossible for defensive backs to react. He also has springs for legs, which allows his six foot frame to play at about 6’4”.
This week Wallace just needs to show he can work underneath and beat the press. Once NFL coaches and scouts see his ability to work at all levels against the defense, his stock will continue to go up. That just means he displays versatility as he can be used in the slot or on the outside.
If you’re unfamiliar with the event, the Senior Bowl forces teams to be very bland with play calling. No five man blitzes are allowed on the defensive side of ball. On offense, teams aren’t allowed to have more than three wideouts on the field at a time.
Look for a ton of one on one matchups across the field in the secondary and in the trenches. The consistent winners of these battles are the ones who really boost their stock.