2022 Senior Bowl Stock Watch
Which players helped their stock throughout the week of practices at the Senior Bowl?
A week of turbulent weather turning into a beautiful day for football provided scouts, coaches and media analysts a unique platform to evaluate the top players in the 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl.
As happens each year, some players moved up boards while others provided a spark that will lead to further evaluation to determine if their week of practices is matched up with traits that were seen on tape.
I’m often asked why an all-star game can move a player up a draft board; there are a few reasons:
The player was put into a better position (i.e. scheme or position) to showcase their abilities
The player is healthy after a season that included injuries
The player has improved through pre-draft training
The players listed below have improved through one of the above-mentioned reasons, and now they head into the next three months with a chance to ride this momentum and pin their stock higher on draft boards.
Quarterback Malik Willis, Liberty
Willis came into the Senior Bowl week with a reputation as a great traits player but someone who held the ball too long and struggled with accuracy. But in fairness to his evaluation, no one had ever seen Willis throwing to NFL-caliber receivers. His best target at Liberty was a 5’8” walk-on freshman, afterall. Watching Willis develop throughout the week is exactly what scouts (and myself) wanted to see. He was impressive Day 1 with his arm strength and velocity, but his accuracy was all over the place. On Day 2 we saw him home in his ball placement as his timing and chemistry with receivers improved. By Day 3 he was the clear-cut most impressive quarterback on either roster. No player did more to raise their stock in Mobile than Willis.
Offensive Tackle Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa
If you like physical offensive line play, Trevor Penning put himself on your radar this week. After every rep—and I mean every rep—he was a tenacious finisher. I once spent considerable time alongside a high-profile NFL offensive line coach and he told me they’d immediately knock a player if he didn’t have pancake blocks on his tape. Penning must have got that memo, because he was burying dudes on every snap. Some observers on Twitter were turned off by this, but I loved Penning’s aggressiveness. He also impressed with his mobility, length use and strength. At an event where every player is looking for a way to leave a lasting impression on scouts and coaches, Penning did exactly that with his toughness.
Safety Jalen Pitre, Baylor
The NFL is still obsessed with finding matchup players in the secondary and Baylor’s Jalen Pitre is exactly that. Following a career in Waco that saw him dominate playing a nickel safety position, Pitre displayed a top-level ability to play that same role against the best seniors in the nation. Pitre’s skillset allows him to matchup against tight ends, slot receivers and running backs in the passing game. He’s also a willing and able tackler when stepping down into the box. And while he won’t grade out as highly as 2020 draftee Antoine Winfield, Jr.; his game is very similar.
Defensive Tackle Devonte Wyatt, Georgia
Wyatt headed into the Senior Bowl as my top-ranked defensive tackle prospect following a very good senior year at Georgia. His week was cut short due to an ankle injury that I reported on Friday, but his play before that was stunning. Wyatt is a quick-moving 310 pounder who can line up in any gap and execute as a pass-rusher. With teammate Jordan Davis not participating in the Senior Bowl, Wyatt took advantage of his opportunity and secured his status as a first-rounder on my board.
Defensive End Boye Mafe, Minnesota
You couldn’t watch practices without noticing the first-step quickness of Boye Mafe. He’s an example of someone who I thought was put into a much better situation to showcase his athletic traits during the week of practices and capitalized on it. Going back to my notes on Mafe’s tape, I didn’t think he was quite as fast or explosive as we saw in Mobile. And this is why evaluating players in person is so important. Being able to add context to his athleticism answered one of my few questions on Mafe’s tape. He’ll move up my board because of it.
Wide Receiver Christian Watson, North Dakota State
I was a fan of Christian Watson before the Senior Bowl, but in person he wowed with his rare speed and size combination. At 6’4” he turned in a GPS time of almost 21 miles per hour in the open field. That’s ridiculous speed. One NFL scout texted with me during practice that Watson was the fastest skill player at the event—and that’s hard to dispute. His speed combines so well with his jump ball skills and ability to go over the top of defenders for the ball. In a class of mostly smaller receivers, Watson is moving toward Round 2 lock status.
Defensive End Jermaine Johnson II, Florida State
The first impression during Tuesday’s open practices was that Jermaine Johnson II isn’t messing around. The Florida State pass-rusher was winning every rep with his first-step quickness, speed-to-power combinations and ability to bend around the edge. In a group of very good edge-rushers, he was the first to pop during practices and make plays that landed him into my notes. Johnson entered the week a potential first-rounder and even after sitting out the final day of open practices, Johnson made himself money in Mobile.
Defensive Tackle Travis Jones, UConn
Outside of Devonte Wyatt, this wasn’t a very acclaimed defensive tackle class. Travis Jones may have changed that by operating as a human bulldozer throughout practices and the game. Jones, who is an ideal 1-technique or nose tackle prospect, was a crushing force along the defensive line in both individual drills and in team work. And unlike many nose tackle prospects, the 6’4”, 336-pounder was moving with excellent athleticism and agility. He was a fringe Round 3 player on my board headed into the week and easily moved up.
Running Back Dameon Pierce, Florida
This was an underwhelming group of running backs from a rankings perspective once Georgia’s James Cook dropped from the Senior Bowl, but that presented opportunities for the backs in attendance to impress. Florida’s Dameon Pierce did that with his tough running style, field vision and balance. More so in the game than in practices, Pierce showed he can be a lead back in an NFL backfield. The scheme fit will matter, but his toughness reminded me of Michael Carter last year—who parlayed a good week into a Round 4 selection and more importantly a starting running back job.
Offensive Guard Zion Johnson, Boston College
If you play offensive line and accept a Senior Bowl invite, you must embrace being asked to play out of position. Especially if you’re an interior offensive lineman. Boston College guard Zion Johnson was asked to play center this week and stepped in doing an admirable job as a snapper. He’s also a mauler as a run blocker and showed his pass-rushing chops well in space, too. Johnson was already on the fringe of a top 50 ranking on my board and did nothing throughout the week to change that perception.