The week of Senior Bowl practices down in Mobile, Alabama kicks off on Tuesday, and while this event is one of the biggest on the pre-NFL Draft calendar, this year's may be the most important ever. Why? Because with no NFL Combine or private workouts this spring due to COVID-19 concerns, these prospects are getting a unique opportunity to work up close with NFL teams. Outside of the Senior Bowl, the only chance they'll get is at their respective Pro Days in the coming months.
Who are the most intriguing players to watch? I'll break it down - 10 on offense, 10 on defense. In this piece, we'll focus on the offensive side of the football, position by position.
QB Mac Jones, Alabama
A Heisman Trophy finalist and first-team All-American in 2020, Jones finished his career 16-1 as a starter (he went 3-1 in relief of Tua Tagovailoa in 2019) with an impeccable final campaign this fall. A structured passer with top-end accuracy, ball placement, and touch to all areas of the field, Jones isn't the most dynamic athlete at the position, but he executed a highly schemed offense as well as can be expected and was an outstanding game manager (which is NOT a negative term) for the National Champions. Can he propel himself into the first round of the draft? That will be one of the big topics of the week in Mobile.
QB Kyle Trask, Florida
Another Heisman finalist, Trask has one of the most unique stories in recent NFL Draft memory. He was recruited to the Gators as a three-star prospect out of Texas despite not even being a starter on his high school team! After backing up teammate D'Eriq King (who will return as Miami's starting quarterback in 2021), Trask went to Florida and was inserted as a starter in the middle of the 2019 season due to an injury and never looked back. Like Jones, Trask is not overly fleet of foot, but he can put the ball wherever he wants and throws a good ball. He was extremely productive for the Gators this year, and is also working to put his name into the first-round discussion in April.
RB Najee Harris, Alabama
Harris turned in an outstanding senior campaign for the champion Tide, and he contributed in a handful of ways. Not only can he be a hammer downhill between the tackles, but at 230 pounds, the California native has light feet to navigate through traffic and was also prolific on third down. Harris is a good blocker but is also very underrated as a pass catcher, where he was used at every level of the field in the Alabama offense. The senior finished off 2020 by tying former Eagle Tim Tebow's career record for touchdowns scored in the SEC, and was one of the final additions to the Senior Bowl roster after pledging to the event in the middle of this past week.
WR DeVonta Smith, Alabama
The belle of the ball, DeVonta Smith is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, one of a boatload of awards the senior took home this fall after one of the most prolific seasons in the history of the sport. Smith will not participate in practice due to a hand injury suffered in the National Championship Game against Ohio State, but he will be in attendance to meet with NFL teams and take part in meetings. While his production was through the roof this fall, the number that concerns people the most is the one that will show up when he steps on the scale. Smith was listed somewhere in the range of 175 pounds this year with Alabama, which is a bit worrisome. Still, Smith has outstanding hands and a toughness and competitiveness that you can't coach. He is one of the top prospects in the country.
WR Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State
Wallace first popped on the national radar in 2018 as a sophomore when he finished as a finalist for the Fred Biletnikoff Award as the top receiver in college football. He caught 86 passes for nearly 1,500 yards and 12 touchdowns that year. He was productive once again as a junior in 2019, but a torn ACL cut his season short and cast doubt on what he would look like to start his senior campaign. Wallace passed that test, earning first-team All-Big 12 honors while leading the conference in receiving. The senior is a slick athlete and, like Smith, plays much bigger than his frame would indicate. Wallace is as tough and competitive as they come, and he's got sticky hands with a nose for the end zone.
WR Sage Surratt, Wake Forest
One of a handful of players heading to the Senior Bowl who did not play a snap in 2020, Surratt was a late addition to the roster for the game, but scouts will certainly be anxious to see him in action. At 6-3, 215 pounds, Surratt (who has a brother playing in the game as well on the defensive side) was a big-time basketball player and those hardwood skills show up between the lines as a wideout. Surratt was an "above the rim" receiver at the catch point. He showed the ability to navigate through press coverage like he was beating a defender off the dribble at the top of the paint, and he was a finisher at the rack as well, ending his sophomore season with 11 touchdowns in 2019.
TE Hunter Long, Boston College
The best tight end in this class is Florida Gators star, and Philadelphia native, Kyle Pitts. But the guy who put up the biggest numbers at the position behind Pitts was Long, who flourished for the Eagles this fall. Long was featured as a pass catcher much more often in the improved offensive scheme utilized by BC under the new coaching staff, and his ability to win at the top of the route is impressive. But keep in mind, he earned All-ACC honors a year ago as well because of his role as a blocker in their previously run-heavy scheme. Long is a two-way player at the position, giving him a good shot at starting potential in the NFL.
LT Alex Leatherwood, Alabama
Our last Alabama star on the list, Leatherwood has started each of the last two seasons at left tackle for the Tide after being the starting right guard in 2018 as a sophomore. That versatility will serve him well, as some analysts believe he may be a better fit on the inside at the next level. Regardless, Leatherwood will be playing tackle this week in Mobile after leading an excellent Crimson Tide unit that won the Joe Moore Award as the top offensive line in college football this season. Leatherwood's strength, smarts, and versatility paint him as a future starter in the league.
G Trey Smith, Tennessee
There are a lot of people out there who fall in love with prospects who made an immediate impact in their college career. Well, if that's the case, then you have to go and watch just how dominant Trey Smith was as an 18-year-old freshman going up against the best of the best in the SEC on a weekly basis back in 2017. The Tennessee native stayed home as a five-star recruit and was tough not to notice on a bad Vols team as a true freshman left tackle. Since that point, Smith has had to face a ton of adversity, as a condition that resulted in severe blood clots forced him to the sideline for a chunk of 2018 and he missed a lot of time throughout the following offseasons. However, he was able to play in every game in 2019 and returned as one of the most respected people in the entire conference. Smith is aces from a character standpoint, brings the "bully" mentality you want in the trenches, and has proven versatility at guard and tackle. He's certainly a name to watch.
C Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma
Humphrey is one of a handful of juniors heading to Mobile after he earned his degree in four seasons on campus in Norman. At 6-5, 325 pounds, he is a stark contrast from the type of center that the Eagles currently have in Jason Kelce, and he goes about his business in a different way. Humphrey wins with size and strength that does more than enough to create space for backs to work in the run game and helps set a strong pocket for whichever quarterback is taking the snaps behind him.