For the first time since I started covering sports, I found myself wandering around the Senior Bowl. I would say covering, but wandering seems more appropriate. That is the only way I can explain finding myself standing behind NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah as he called the game and riding in an elevator with the defensive MVP Cam Sample. It was an incredible, and fruitful experience.
Once I arrived at Hancock Whitney Stadium my goal was to scout some players that could potentially help the Chargers. Fortunately for me, it seemed like positions of need for the Chargers could not help standing out. Players who were not even on the radar of many chose this week to make their mark. Some guys surprised me more than I surprised a South Alabama basketball coach when I accidentally ended up at their locker room trying to get my credentials.
The Senior Bowl has evolved over the last couple of years from a glorified all-star game, to a legitimate showcase for real talent. Highly touted players like Mac Jones, DeVonta Smith, Kyle Trask, and Ian Book all accepted invites this season. Last year some guy named Justin Herbert won the MVP award of the game. Like many other years, it was mostly the lesser-known guys who stood out the most this time around. These are the guys who took full advantage of their opportunities and would look good in Bolts.
Dillon Radunz – OT/G – North Dakota State
There are not many players that put themselves on the radar this week more than Radunz. Heading into the game, he had much to prove after North Dakota State played just one game in the fall of 2020 due to COVID-19. He did not show much rust after showing up in Mobile and consistently won his one-on-one matchups in practice. He followed that up in the game on Saturday punishing defenders in the run game and while pass-blocking. Radunz added a couple of pancakes as well on his way to another standout performance.
One of the great things about Radunz is that he looked good at tackle and guard at the Senior Bowl. His work earned him the “Overall Practice Player of the Week” award. The reason his performance should interest the Chargers is that help on the line is desperately needed. Last season the line protecting Justin Herbert ranked near the bottom of the league in both pass and run-blocking efficiency.
If Radunz was the only lineman taken by the Chargers it would be a failure, but if he slips through the cracks he might tempt them to double-dip at the position. With needs at tackle and guard, his versatility would be a tremendous boost to the team’s porous unit.
Benjamin St-Juste – CB – Minnesota
Many of the corners at the Senior Bowl had a tough week in practice, but St-Juste saw his stock rise. One-on-ones with receivers are a matchup in practice that favors the offense but he more than held his own. The Minnesota corner had multiple passes defensed during the week and added a couple more in the game. St-Juste has great size (6’3) and length and showed above-average ball skills.
The Chargers have an aging cornerback group and surely took notice. He is not a very physical tackler and did struggle at times to get off of blocks but was a solid tackler in space. One of the biggest concerns was his long speed but was able to recover nicely against Josh Palmer on a deep ball. St-Juste might not single-handedly fix the Chargers secondary but could be a solid mid-round target.
Demetric Felton – RB/WR – UCLA
Felton is a tough player to evaluate after playing mainly receiver his first several seasons, while in 2020 he was primarily a running back. You could tell that he knows his future in the NFL is as a receiver though as that was his only position during the Senior Bowl. In a group that featured some blazers, Felton stood out in his one-on-ones against corners and safeties. He is a blur off the line and is electric with the ball in his hands. He showed it on his lone touchdown in Saturday’s game. With the defender playing off-coverage Felton was able to make an easy catch and easily beat his defender for the score.
Felton is quicker than he is fast, and that’s saying something. It will be interesting to see what his 40-time is at his Pro Day. As a smaller receiver, Felton is best-suited in the slot and has shown the ability to create quick separation off of the line-of-scrimmage. He would also bring value as a punt-returner, another area the Chargers need to see improvement. The other important factor is new Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. The Saints are the best team in the league at using utility players and I think Lombardi could see some Deonte Harris in Felton.
Los Angeles doesn’t have a dire need at receiver with the breakout years of Jalen Guyton and Tyron Johnson, but no one on the roster has Felton’s skillset. His rising stock could make him a little rich for the Chargers on draft day, but most teams could use a weapon like him.
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Cam Sample – EDGE – Tulane
One of the reasons that the Senior Bowl is great is that it brings to light players that have been outside of the spotlight of the Power 5 conferences. It also gives smaller school players the chance to test their mettle against some of the best players in the country. With limited opportunities against the powerhouses of college football, Sample took advantage of his week against the big dogs. Players such as Patrick Jones II and Rashad Weaver were the headlining names at the event, but it is hard to say they outplayed Sample. The Tulane pass-rusher was one of the big winners during practice and kept it going when the lights were brightest.
He led all players in the game with 7 tackles and was credited with .5 sacks. What impressed me the most was his work against the run. The offensive line won the battle of the trenches during the week, but Sample refused to give ground. On Saturday, he used his strength and quickness to escape blocks and used great hands to free himself up for tackles.
I think the Chargers should prioritize addressing offensive line and cornerback early in the draft. The pass-rush has underperformed the past two seasons, and they need to add depth at the position. I believe that Joey Bosa and Uchenna Nwosu will be more effective under Staley, but who is the next man up? With the injury history for both players, Sample could be a nice rotational piece to consider on Day 2 or 3 of the 2021 Draft.
Robert Hainsey — C/G — Notre Dame
This was another player that was not on my radar when the Senior Bowl week began. In a very talented offensive line group, Hainsey found a way to stand out. In practice Hainsey made his mark winning almost all of his matchups. He showed great balance and an impressive anchor in his pass-sets that frustrated many defenders. I was impressed by his ability to mirror quicker players and his footwork to stay squared up with his opponent. In the game, he showed his physicality, pairing up with Radunz to muscle Michael Carter across the goal line.
With Dan Feeney and Forrest Lamp headed to free agency, the Chargers have a need at center and guard. Hainsey represents a later option in the draft that could help at both positions. He may not rock the mullet like Feeney but he does know a thing or two about keg stands.
Ben Mason – FB – Michigan
One thing I was not expecting during Senior Bowl week was to be impressed by a fullback. Mason was a wrecking ball at practice consistently blowing up linebackers at the second level. Almost every time there was a big collision Mason was the perpetrator. The more surprising part was his ability as a pass-catcher. Mason lined up with the tight ends at times this week and showed great hands and fluidity for a skull-cracking fullback.
It’s unclear whether a fullback will even be employed by the Charger’s new offensive philosophy. Lombardi did have some good fullbacks in New Orleans, and I think he would suit the role better than the incumbent Gabe Nabers. I also think he would be a solid special teams player, an area where the Chargers are lacking. If the team wants a player that will give them a mean streak and a chip on their shoulder, they should hit up Ben Mason.