Pro Football Weekly was in Mobile, Ala., last week to observe the Senior Bowl, where many of the nation’s top draft prospects practiced in front of hundreds of front-office executives, scouts and coaches representing all 32 NFL clubs.
Deshaun Watson, Jonathan Allen and Taco Charlton, among other high-profile players who declined invites, weren’t in attendance, watering down the talent pool and, frankly, some of the buzz surrounding this year’s event. Nonetheless, as is the case every year, future NFL stars, some mostly unknown heading into the week, were on display.
Although many players improved their stock in the early stages of the pre-draft process, as a general rule of thumb, participants in college All-Star games aren’t downgraded by NFL evaluators based off their showings – injuries and new and significant off-field red flags emerging during interviews notwithstanding.
Thus, the following are 10 players Pro Football Weekly saw help themselves during the week. We didn’t include studs like Alabama TE O.J. Howard and offensive linemen such as Indiana's Dan Feeney and Western Kentucky's Forrest Lamp, as they all validated their already-strong standing entering the week.
Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina (6-1 7/8, 202): Even before catching the game’s final touchdown, and narrowly missing two more impressive scores, Jones was one of several small-school receivers whom higher-pedigreed South team DBs had a hard time covering throughout the week. His speed, competitiveness and dependable hands all flashed consistently from the time he step foot on the grass at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
Haason Reddick, LB, Temple (6-1½, 237): The strong and explosive Reddick spent the bulk of his time with the Owls on the edge, but demonstrated in Mobile the ability to play on his feet with quickness and fluidity, also still heating up the edges as a rusher.
Evan Engram, TE, Mississippi (6-3, 236): It didn’t take long for the athletic “move” tight end to break out of his teammate's and perhaps the week’s lone surefire first-rounder, Howard’s, massive shadow. Engram’s quickness as a route runner, soft hands and exciting post-catch ability portend him becoming a mismatch piece in the right NFL offense.
Obi Melifonwu, S, Connecticut (6-4, 219): A safety with Obi’s size and length is rare in and of itself; a safety not only with his length but the agility of a smaller safety, well, it’s clear the force, and plenty of intrigue from NFL evaluators, is with this hard hitter with ball skills and coverage chops.
Kareem Hunt, RB, Toledo (5-10½, 208): Running routes, catching passes and, of course, carrying the ball, Hunt showcased ample speed, strength, burst and a surprising amount of wiggle. A huge producer in the MAC, Hunt not only fared well alongside the likes of bigger-name peers from the B1G and ACC, he looked like the week’s most well-rounded back.
Tarell Basham, EDGE, Ohio (6-3 5/8, 259): One of the more explosive pass rushers in Mobile, Basham also showed flexibility around the edge, pass-rush instincts and at least some degree of comfort and understanding when retreating.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington (6-1½, 198): It’s not like Jones and Kupp don’t boast eye-opening collegiate production; Kupp is the most prolific pass-catcher in NCAA history, with 428 catches, 6,464 yards and 73 touchdowns. Yet, seeing his pristine route-running and easy separation skills against stud power-five defensive backs might’ve put him on the early Day Two radar.
Cameron Sutton, CB, Tennessee (5-11, 182): Sutton entered the week with a strong reputation for ball skills, as evidenced by his Vols record 37 passes defensed. He left Mobile after adding to his résumé an ability to adapt, as he played safety and both corner spots and looked good doing it.
Nate Peterman, QB, Pittsburgh (6-2½, 225): Amidst a roster full of developmental quarterbacks, Peterman’s polished mechanics, accuracy, sufficient arm talent and sound decision-making helped him easily ascend as the week’s best passer.
Jaleel Johnson, DT, Iowa (6-2 7/8, 309): With explosive get-off and physical finishing ability, Johnson was at times a one-man wrecking crew in team drills. He tallied plenty of behind-the-line production with the Hawkeyes and it certainly carried over to Mobile, where few offensive linemen could handle his combination of power and quickness.