The annual Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama serves as an opportunity for NFL Draft prospects to impress NFL scouts and staffs, while learning from pro coaches. Here are three players who stood out to me during the game. All three could be wearing two tone blue next year.
3. DB Cameron Sutton, Tennessee
Many things regarding Tennessee’s Cameron Sutton are uncertain, such as whether he will be a safety or corner in the NFL. What we know for sure is that Sutton is a great prospect, and the Titans will likely be keeping a close eye on him.
Sutton missed six games of his senior season at Tennessee with an injury, but showed nonetheless that he is worthy of being a Day 2 draft pick. Sutton is very athletic, a leader, and has prototypical size for an NFL defensive back. Additionally, he was an All-American punt returner at Tennessee, so versatility is a big plus for him heading into draft season.
Now that he is fully healthy, Sutton will likely be very impressive at the combine and continue to show NFL teams why they should make him a member of their team.
Two of the Titans biggest needs this offseason are a solid defensive back and an explosive kick returner. Sutton fits the bill as both, and has incredible Day 2 value considering all that he can do. Just this week at the Senior Bowl, Sutton has practiced as a safety, a nickel corner, and an outside corner. If he shreds the combine, the excitement surrounding him should continue to rise.
2. WR Zay Jones, East Carolina
I don’t care where you go to college or what competition you face, catching 158 passes for over 1,700 yards and 8 touchdowns is incredibly impressive. Those numbers belonged to WR Zay Jones of East Carolina, who put on a show during Saturday’s Senior Bowl.
Jones did everything on Saturday. He stretched the field deep, made contested catches, and fought press coverage to get off the line of scrimmage. Every time he caught the football, visions of Odell Beckham’s incredibly soft hands came to mind. As NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock continually mentioned during the game’s broadcast, Jones catches everything.
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Perhaps the only reason Jones is currently expected to drop to the fourth round is his lack of speed, similar to Tajae Sharpe last season. However, as I wrote in a piece for another site back in June, speed can be very overrated. Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Mike Evans, and many other similar receivers have seen great success at the pro level, even though they lack top end speed.
At the combine next month, Jones will have to show two things. First, he will need to prove that he has a grasp of what NFL receivers are asked to do and how to properly run routes. He’ll also have to show the ability to break well on routes through agility drills.
Those two things, intelligence, and explosiveness in and out of breaks, are what separates the successful slow receivers from the failures. Jones seems to easily have as much talent as Laquon Treadwell, a first round pick last year.
1. TE O.J. Howard, Alabama
These days, tight ends have become not much more than oversized wide receivers. Only two of the four TE’s in the Pro Bowl, Delanie Walker and Travis Kelce, received an above average run blocking grade by Pro Football Focus. While Alabama’s O.J. Howard is probably not going to be a dominating blocker like Walker, Kelce, or Rob Gronkowski, he is far from simply a big pass catcher.
Howard, the biggest media magnet of Senior Bowl week, repeatedly told reporters two things: 1) he loves football, and 2) he is committed to showing NFL clubs throughout the coming months that he is a capable blocker. His size, toughness, and grit make him a good candidate to do just that.
What is undebatable about Howard is his receiving ability. At Alabama, and at the Senior Bowl, Howard showed the ability to run precise routes off of the line of scrimmage, to get separation from linebackers and safeties, and to make contested catches.
The biggest thing that scares me about Howard is that he could become another Eric Ebron: a tight end who went in the first round because of his great athleticism, but has been incredibly underwhelming in the NFL. I’m not sure that Jon Robinson would be willing to take a TE with one of his first round picks considering that they already have a Pro Bowler at the position on the roster. However, he might just be too good to pass up.