If we thought the draft process was unusual last year, we are in for a treat in 2021. Last year, really on pro days were affected with the draft going virtual. This year, however, the NFL Scouting Combine was all but canceled. That means no centralized location for teams to get all the information they can on 300+ prospects. That also means the 2021 Senior Bowl just became that much more important for some prospects to showcase their skillsets to the NFL.
The Senior Bowl is the premier all-star game of the offseason where every NFL is highly represented. It is where all the top senior draft prospects get one last chance to play with their college logo on the side of their helmets. More importantly, however, it’s the first true chance for draft prospects to work closely with an NFL coaching staff. Naturally, every prospect that shows up in Mobile has something to prove to scouts across the league. That being said, there are definitely prospects with more to gain with a good week of practice. Here are the five 2021 NFL Draft prospects with the most to gain at the 2021 Senior Bowl:
Jamie Newman, QB, Georgia
Jamie Newman became one of the more highly anticipated transfers after transferring from Wake Forest to Georgia last summer. Fans and draftniks alike were curious to see how Newman would perform in Todd Monken’s pro-style offense. That never happened, however, as Newman decided to opt-out of the 2020 college football season due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Newman has all the physical tools you look for in a quarterback: size, arm strength, and athleticism. The areas he needed to improve the most were his mental processing and accuracy. While no one can blame him for opting out of the season due to health concerns, Newman could have really used the season to show his improvement in those areas. Now, with no Scouting Combine, the Senior Bowl is Newman’s best chance to show NFL teams his full array of skillsets before the draft. All eyes will be on Newman in Mobile. With a good week of practice, he could propel himself into Day 2 as a developmental quarterback.
Amari Rodgers, WR, Clemson
Amari Rodgers enjoyed a highly successful career at Clemson. Rodgers had a career year in 2020 now that he was fully recovered from his ACL injury two years ago. He showed that he got back his quickness and play speed that had eluded him in the immediate season after the injury. Right now, he is largely considered a mid-round prospect. He could enjoy a nice pre-draft rise similar to that of another Senior Bowl alum: Terry McLaurin.
McLaurin went into Mobile a few years and showed off the speed, quickness, and route running to get separation whenever he wanted throughout the week of practice. Literally, nobody could stay with him. It was his performance at the Senior Bowl that gave the NFL the first glimpse of the player that has become an ascending star for Washington in just his second season.
I fully expect Rodgers to enjoy a similar week in Mobile. He possesses a similar skill set that made McLaurin a hit a few years ago. Don’t be surprised if Rodgers works his way into the Round 2 conversation after the 2021 Senior Bowl.
Dillon Radunz, OT, North Dakota State
Dillon Radunz was a big part of the dominance North Dakota State has enjoyed the past few years at the FCS level. But therein also lies the rub. While Radunz was the definition of dominant throughout his career, it was against lesser competition for the most part. He struggled the most in his game against fellow FCS stud and 2021 Senior Bowl participant Elerson Smith. Now, Radunz will get to show he deserves first-round consideration by going up against a good group of edge rushers in Mobile.
Radunz shows good size, strength, and athleticism on tape. He completely manhandled the lesser competition and consistently took guys out of the play. Radunz did struggle a little bit with speed off the edge or defensive linemen that could match his strength. Radunz now needs to prove he can handle better competition in Mobile against athletic pass rushers like Daelin Hayes, Shaka Toney, Quincy Roche, and Patrick Jones II. With a good showing throughout the week of practice, Radunz can solidify himself as a first-round pick.
Elerson Smith, EDGE, Northern Iowa
Much like the aforementioned Dillon Radunz, Elerson Smith is another FCS product that dominated the lower level of competition. Smith is not considered a fringe first-round prospect like Radunz, however. He also didn’t get even one game to showcase his talent during the 2020 college football season.
Smith has prototypical size while being listed at 6-foot-7 and 245 pounds. He shows solid strength and good quickness in his game. He is still quite raw, however, as he needs to show improvement in his pad level, hand usage, and burst at the snap. Smith will have the opportunity to go up against some big names like Liam Eichenberg, Alex Leatherwood, and even his Northern Iowa teammate Spencer Brown. A solid week against a very good group of offensive linemen should move Smith up boards as an exciting developmental pass rusher.
Hamsah Nasirildeen, S, Florida State
Like most of the players on this list, Hamsah Nasirildeen had limited chances for exposure to NFL scouts during the 2020 college football season. He missed all but two games due to recovering from a serious knee injury he suffered late in 2019. Naturally, medical checks will be just as important for Nasirildeen at the Senior Bowl than his on-field performance. Especially with no Scouting Combine medical checks this year.
Nasirildeen is a big, ultra-athletic safety who can line up all over the field and affect the game in a lot of different ways. He is very similar to former Seminole Derwin James in that way. There is little that Nasirildeen can’t do on the football field. The biggest things for him in Mobile will be showcasing his excellent athletic ability and proving he is fully healthy from his knee injury. If he can do that, don’t be surprised if Nasirildeen thrusts himself back into the first-round and top safety conversations when it’s all said and done. At worst, he can at least answer the big questions about his health and solidify his current second-round status.