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Senior Bowl Preview: Potential Risers

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The Georgia Bulldogs are still reveling in their national championship, but now it’s time to start turning our attention toward NFL Draft prep – and that begins in earnest next week at the Senior Bowl.

Every year, we see players come into Mobile and have a week that shoots them up draft boards. Most of the time, it ends up being a quarterback. We saw it last year with Mac Jones and in previous years with Carson Wentz and Daniel Jones.

What the Senior Bowl provides to these young athletes is a platform to show their skills against the best in the country. Some of them come from the lower levels of football (Kyle Dugger, Ali Marpet, Ben Bartch) and rise to become day two selections. Others come from the big-time schools that have an opportunity to shine in a way they weren’t able to before. Each position group has one player that has a chance to stand out above everyone else and I break down why they are likely to do so.

Quarterback: Liberty’s Malik Willis

Undoubtedly the most polarizing quarterback in the class, Willis has all the talent you could want out of a quarterback. He has a missile of an arm, can make plays with his legs, and thrives outside of structure. What Willis lacks is consistent mechanics, pocket presence, and struggles mightily with accuracy. His arm talent is likely to wow scouts and he has the most to gain from being in Mobile, as every player down here will be better than what he played with at Liberty.

Running Back: Georgia’s James Cook

The younger brother of Dalvin, James was a cog in the Georgia running game machine. While he never was the main guy, the Bulldogs don’t use a traditional workhorse back like other programs. They field a committee that runs four deep. While fewer touches is a detriment to being able to showcase your stuff, it also means less tread on the tires. Cook provides a wide range of skills that will be valuable at the next level. He has excellent vision, above-average athleticism, good contact balance, and has shown a dynamic ability as a pass catcher. Currently, Cook is firmly a day three selection. With a good week, we could see him rise into mid-day two, especially for a zone rushing team.

Wide Receiver: NDSU’s Christian Watson

NDSU has done a really good job of producing pro prospects the last decade. How has an FCS school developed this kind of track record? They have found recruits that slipped through the star system and have given them the platform to flourish. At 6’5/208, Watson has been used as the Bison’s X-receiver and burned defenses in the Missouri Valley throughout his career. Don’t let his career stats fool you. 104 receptions in a Bison offense that prioritizes multiple run concepts and play-action deep shots is a pretty good number. Pair that with his rumored 4.3 speed and Watson has a chance to climb boards in a rapid fashion.

Tight End: Colorado State’s Trey McBride

If you watched a lot of Colorado State football this year, you know how much McBride meant to the Rams offense. He was the engine behind the success that they had. After catching just 22 passes last season, McBride was a monster, catching 90 passes for 1,121 yards and one touchdowns. He did it in just about every way imaginable, catching screens, intermediate and deep passes, and even rushing for a 69-yard touchdown. A dominant player in every sense of the word, McBride could elevate himself to the consensus top TE in the class with a great week in Mobile with an outside chance to sneak into the top-40 selections.

Offensive Lineman: Central Michigan’s Bernhard Raimann

A foreign exchange student from Austria, Raimann has stood out like a sore thumb playing for Central Michigan. A member of Bruce Feldman’s freaks list, Raimann is a hyper athlete that played his first two years for the Chippewas at TE. This is a path we have seen many players take. Minnesota’s Brian O’Neill was a TE his first two seasons as well and he’s getting All-Pro votes just four years into his NFL career. He doesn’t just broad jump 115.5″ and run a 10-yard split. He’s also a double major in actuarial science and statistics, which has made him the darling of the analytics community among other reasons. Raimann has already generated some first-round buzz and a great week here could solidify him as a top-32 selection in April’s draft.

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Defensive Lineman: Minnesota’s Boye Mafe

One thing you will find that quite a few of these players have in common is being a member of Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List. Mafe is one of many on that list. The son of Nigerian immigrants, Mafe lived in Minnesota his whole life, but his parents sent him to boarding school in Nigeria for a year to learn more about his families roots. This experienced helped shape him as a man and in turn a better football player. Mafe’s profile is reminiscent of Danielle Hunter‘s coming out. He runs a sub-4.6 second 40-yard dash and has jumped 43″ in the vertical. Mafe has 15 sacks in his Gophers career and will likely wow scouts with his athletic profile and strength in one-on-ones.

Linebacker: Florida’s Jeremiah Moon

After accepting an invite to last year’s Senior Bowl, Moon decided to return to the Florida Gators after an injury plagued 2020 season. Moon played a lot of roles for the Gators but mainly played the BUCK position. He has the ability to set the edge, rush the passer, drop into coverage, and tackle in the open field. In his six seasons in Gainesville, Moon racked up 150 tackles, eight sacks, and one forced fumble on a defense that always had a lot of talent. If Moon is given an opportunity to rush the passer in one-on-ones, he can rise up boards in a deep edge class.

Defensive Back: Auburn CB Roger McCreary

The star player for the fourth-ranked defense in college football last year, McCreary was a dominant force on the outside. He was a key player in locking down receivers on the outside for the Tigers. In his career, McCreary 32 passes defended (14 last season) and six interceptions using his ball skills. One-on-ones setup for receivers to dominate, but a great cornerback can really stand out. A fringe first-round prospect currently, McCreary has a chance to possibly sneak into the top 15-20 with a great week.

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