— By Rob Rang, NFLDraftScout.com —
MOBILE, Ala. — It happens all the time. Somebody during Senior Bowl week takes a momentous step toward earning a first-round selection.
A year ago, Temple edge rusher Haason Reddick, a former walk-on, put on an eye-opening performance at the prestigious all-star game attended by hundreds of NFL scouts, coaches and front office personnel. He followed up with a dominant showing at the Combine, leading to the Arizona Cardinals taking him with the 13th overall selection of the draft.
In 2016, former North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz erased any doubts about his ability to handle the jump in competition to wind up the No. 2 overall pick by the now Super Bowl-bound Philadelphia Eagles.
The heavy focus this year will be on hotly debated quarterbacks Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) and Josh Allen (Wyoming). Love ’em or hate ’em, their raw talent — and the NFL’s need at the position — all but guarantees that each will hear his name called among the first 32 picks. So, we are digging deeper.
Who are this year’s top candidates to enjoy a Senior Bowl bump on their way to becoming household names and future first-round picks?
Players are listed alphabetically, with their anticipated jersey numbers and Senior Bowl affiliated team:
Tyrell Crosby, OT, Oregon, #73, North
Quarterbacks get all of the attention, but the NFL is every bit as desperate for help among pass blockers. The physically imposing Crosby, who was voted the Morris Trophy winner by Pac-12 defensive linemen as the best blocker in the conference, did not allow a sack in 2017 after missing almost off of the previous season with a broken foot. Agile, powerful and tenacious, the 6-5, 320-pounder checks in as NFLDraftScout.com’s sixth-rated tackle and No. 58 prospect.
Marcus Davenport, DE, UT-San Antonio, #93, South
Davenport will be facing a significant jump in competition after earning Conference USA’s Defensive Player of the Year award, setting school records with 17.5 tackles for loss, including 8.5 sacks, among his 55 tackles. A former basketball player with the combination of length, burst and bend that project well to the next level, the 6-5, 255-pound Davenport needs an impressive week in Mobile to justify — and perhaps boost — his current late first-round status on NFLDraftScout.com’s board as the No. 27 overall prospect, fourth among defensive ends. Watch for his showdown with Oregon offensive tackle Tyrell Crosby in game action.
Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State, #86, South
The 2018 draft isn’t nearly as loaded at tight end as last year, when three players — OJ Howard (No. 19, Tampa Bay), Evan Engram (No. 23, New York Giants) and David Njoku (No. 29, Cleveland) — earned first-round picks, the first two cementing their stock in Mobile. The 6-3, 255-pound Goedert is NFLDraftScout.com’s top-rated senior at the position, checking in behind only Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews, the reigning Mackey Award winner as the nation’s top tight end. The physical and athletic Goedert (pronounced God-urt) caught 72 passes for 1,111 yards and seven touchdowns in 2017.
Will Hernandez, OG, Texas-El Paso, #76, North
It isn’t easy to earn a first-round pick from a team that finished winless, but that is precisely what the powerful Hernandez is attempting to accomplish after an 0-12 season with UTEP. Hernandez (6-3, 330) is a classic mauler with the girth, power and agility to generate rave reviews this week in the pit, which usually make for some of the more entertaining one-on-one battles of the Senior Bowl practices. Teams were once hesitant to use first-round picks on interior linemen, but that trend could be changing. Hernandez checks in second among guards behind Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson — arguably the top overall prospect in the draft — on NFLDraftScout.com’s board, 31st overall.
Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State, #20, South
Somehow Heisman Trophy (and Doak Walker) panelists failed to vote him among the awards’ finalists, despite the fact Penny led the country with 2,248 rushing yards. Don’t expect NFL scouts to show a similar disregard for Penny’s value. Boasting a prototypical combination of size (5-10, 220), vision and breakaway speed (eight runs of 50-plus yards in 2017), Penny is rated higher on NFLDraftScout.com’s board than SEC stars Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Kerryon Johnson, checking in third among running backs and 41st overall.
Harrison Phillips, DT, Stanford, #66, North
On field and off, Phillips was a difference-maker for the Cardinal, remarkably leading the team in stops from his defensive tackle position with 103 takedowns, including 17 tackles for loss. To top it off, he was one of 11 players in the FBS named to the AFCA Good Works Team, one of the most coveted off-field awards in college football. Phillips is not as flashy an athlete as some of this year’s other freakish defensive linemen, but no one incorporates strength, quickness, technique and instincts better. He enters Senior Bowl week as NFLDraftScout.com’s No. 23 prospect.
Kemoko Turay, DE/OLB, Rutgers, #58, North
Turay lacks the strength and nastiness teams would prefer against the run and did not produce the kind of sack numbers (just six in 2017 and 15.5 for his career) most expect out of a first-round edge rusher. That said, the long-armed, explosive 6-4, 252-pounder possesses the initial burst and agility scouts want to see off the edge, making him one of this week’s most intriguing prospects. Further, he enjoyed some of his splashiest performances against top competition, suggesting that Turay could be this year’s breakout Senior Bowl star. Turay ranks ninth among defensive ends on NFLDraftScout.com’s board — with some projecting him at outside linebacker — and 71st overall.