Winners From The 2021 Senior Bowl

1/27/21 Practice SeniorBowl | Photo by Jeff Hanson
1/27/21 Practice SeniorBowl | Photo by Jeff Hanson

Winners From The 2021 Senior Bowl

Yesterday, I wrote about the four best offensive tackles that partook in this year’s Senior Bowl. I wanted to specifically mention them in their own article because offensive tackle is such a big need for the Chargers, who haven’t invested top tier draft capital in the position since they drafted D.J. Fluker all the way back in 2013. 

The Chargers could take Alex Leatherwood in the first round, but I would prefer it to come in a trade down situation. James Hudson and Dillon Radunz are options for them in the second round, although Radunz might not last until pick number 45. D’Ante Smith would be really intriguing as a third-round pick for them as well. Overall, I thought the offensive linemen had a very solid week down in Mobile. Now, let’s get to some other Senior Bowl winners.

Quinn Meinerz – Interior Offensive Lineman – Wisconsin-Whitewater University

Any conversation about Senior Bowl winners has to start with Meinerz. There is a rich tradition of small school prospects going to Mobile and shining. Last year, Jeremy Chinn helped make a name for himself and ended up being one of the best defensive players in the entire 2020 rookie class. It goes way back to Ali Marpet, who had a fantastic week at the Senior Bowl, and has made a great career for himself – including a trip to this year’s Super Bowl.

Like many other small school prospects, Meinerz’s 2020 season was canceled due to Covid. So there was essentially zero buzz about him until he got invited to the Senior Bowl. He was even a late addition to the game, his roster spot originally belonged to Alabama’s Landon Dickerson.

Meinerz went out and took complete advantage of the situation. Not only did he play well, but there were times where he looked like the best offensive lineman on the field. Given the kind of talent around him, that is really saying something. Due to his performance, there are some analysts who are saying that he might even challenge Dickerson, and Oklahoma’s Creed Humphrey (who also had an excellent week of practice by the way), as the best center of this class. 

Meinerz going from the ranks of the unknown to being talked about as potentially the best center in the class is the type of rise that you love to hear about from the Senior Bowl.

Tre’ McKitty – Tight End – Georgia

If Meinerz is the biggest winner of this week, the second-biggest winner has to be McKitty. This 2021 tight end class is frankly a little underwhelming. At the top, you have Florida’s Kyle Pitts, who is really too versatile for the tight end label. Then you have Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth and Miami’s Brevin Jordan. Other than that, there hasn’t been much buzz about any of the other guys. This means that one of the seven tight ends that participated in the Senior Bowl had the opportunity to stand out and drastically improve their draft stock.

Despite only having six catches this season for Georgia, McKitty was able to show enough to earn an invite to Mobile, and he thrived this week in practice. He looked fluid and explosive as a route runner. He was constantly creating separation and making plays for his quarterback. Add in his 6’5, 245-pound frame and his high-level athleticism, he has all the makings of a potential matchup nightmare in the NFL. Why Georgia didn’t use him more this season as a versatile playmaker is beyond logic.

With the lack of depth in this group, McKitty is the perfect kind of developmental prospect that teams can target with the hope of them turning into a high-end starter. The Chargers have used this several times with players like Ladarius Green, Donald Parham, and of course Antonio Gates. And with the uncertainty surrounding Hunter Henry’s contract, they might be in the market to follow that path again.

Cameron Sample – Defensive End – Tulane

The NFL is always looking for versatile pass rushers, particularly ones that can rush from the inside. There were a few of those types of players on display this week, Carlos Basham really stood out, but he was already looked at as a likely day two selection. I want to highlight Sample here because he was consistently winning on his reps. Tulane plays a 3-4 defense, so Sample is also a name that Chargers fans should become familiar with because the Chargers really do need to overhaul their defensive line in order to fit Brandon Staley’s vision. 

Sample spent the majority of his reps at the Senior Bowl lined up as the three-technique defensive tackle, but he also took several reps on the edge as well. He excelled in both spots.

Sample is not the best athlete, and he doesn’t have the longest arms in the world. But what he does have are really violent hands, and an extremely quick get off. Whether it was bolting past opposing blockers with a swim move, or violently moving them off their spot with what Joey Bosa calls the double swipe, Sample spent a lot of time in the backfield this weekend. 

Sample would be a great fit in a 3-4 scheme, where he could continue to rush the passer against guards to take advantage of his quickness. While he is adequate against the run, he is only listed at 280 pounds, so he might have to bulk up a little bit in order to be an every-down player in the NFL. Overall, Sample showed enough this week to merit potential fourth or maybe even third round consideration. 

Richie Grant – Safety – Central Florida

Settings like the Senior Bowl are not traditionally ones where defensive backs shine. With all the emphasis on one on ones and seven on seven drills, it’s a challenge for defensive backs to stand out. That was not the case for Grant this week, however. Not only did he stand out, but he also showed great versatility by taking several reps with the safeties and cornerbacks. He was one of the few players that was able to stay in front of the aforementioned McKitty, and also showed the ability to make life difficult for the opposing wide receivers like Florida’s Kadarius Toney and Clemson’s Amari Rodgers.

That type of versatility as a lockdown cover man should pay dividends for his draft stock. Add the ability to find the football and create turnovers like he showed off on several occasions in the team settings, and you get a very well rounded safety prospect. There isn’t an elite Derwin James or Jamal Adams type of prospect in this safety class, but there are some really solid prospects. With his performance at the Senior Bowl, Grant might have vaulted himself up to the top of the pecking order. 

Demetric Felton – Playmaker – UCLA

Our Bruins readers are well versed in just how special Felton is as a playmaker, but he was able to introduce himself to the rest of the scouting world this week at the Senior Bowl. Felton is an incredibly versatile player, hence the playmaker tag. He spent the week in Mobile playing exclusively at wide receiver. He did this despite playing running back for UCLA. Obviously, he did catch the ball a lot during his career but he also comes with more than 230 carries to his name, and he took on a much larger role this year in Joshua Kelley’s absence. 

Felton’s performance this week is eerily similar to what Antonio Gibson experienced last year, albeit in reverse. Gibson went to Mobile as a running back, despite only having 33 carries to his name. Gibson has become one of the better young running backs in the league for The Football team, and Felton could experience a similar rise. 

NFL teams will salivate at having that kind of versatility and athleticism on their team. Think of what Deebo Samuel has meant to the 49ers, as someone who can run every route and also move into the backfield and tote the rock from time to time as well. It’s easy to see Felton excelling in the league, and he did himself a huge favor by taking those reps at receiver this week.

Mac Jones – Quarterback – Alabama

A few years ago, a different Jones went down to Mobile, had an excellent week, and ended up being selected by the New York Giants sixth overall. While I doubt that Mac Jones will rise all the way up to warrant a selection at the sixth pick, he did really help his case as an early first-round pick by being the best quarterback at the Senior Bowl. 

It seems like the top three quarterback spots are spoken for with Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, and Zack Wilson. But the conversation between Trey Lance and Jones has become quite interesting now that Jones spent this week dominating the Senior Bowl practices. The two players are completely different stylistically, Lance rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2019 and Jones is hardly the most athletic quarterback in the world. But a team with a need for a decisive and accurate playmaker at the quarterback will watch the tape from this week and talk themselves into selecting him much earlier than the general public thinks. 

This of course is fantastic news for the Chargers because this now means there is the potential for five quarterbacks being taken before they pick at number 13 overall. It also opens up the possibility of potentially trading down and stockpiling more picks with a team that does need a quarterback. 

Keith Taylor – Cornerback – Washington

Jimmy Lake and the University of Washington have been making a recent push for the title of DBU, and Taylor is the latest lockdown corner to come out. Taylor has excellent length at the position and has been a shut-down defensive back ever since he stepped on campus in Seattle. He was the best cornerback in Mobile, on either side, and that carried over into the actual game. Taylor had a few pass breakups on Saturday, one of which led to an interception. 

The lack of ball production for Taylor is a little bit of a concern, he hasn’t had an interception since he was in high school. But the name of the game in the NFL is still coverage, and Taylor is one of the best cover men in this draft.

Desmond Fitzpatrick – Wide Receiver – Louisville

There were a few other wide receivers who stole headlines during the week of practice, like Rodgers and Toney. But Fitzpatrick was solid all week and had the best game of any skill player on Saturday. He has really good size for an outside receiver, coming in at 6’2 and 210 pounds. He uses that frame to his advantage when pressed and when given the chance to make plays down the field.

He’s also really fluid as a route runner and has a great release package. Daniel Jeremiah said on the broadcast that he had the best hands of any of the receivers participating in Mobile. He reminds me a lot of Buffalo’s Gabriel Davis. He might not be the most athletic player in this kind of setting, but all he does is consistently get open and make plays. He’ll be a great mid-round target for NFL teams.

Let me know in the comments if anyone else stood out to you!