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2017 Senior Bowl: Top prospects to know in Mobile

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Alabama tight end O.J. Howard is the top player at this year’s all-star game, but the talent runs deep.

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With a week between the NFL’s conference title games and the Super Bowl, all football eyes will be on Mobile, Ala. and the Senior Bowl.

Leading up to Saturday’s game is a week of practices run by the coaching staffs of the Chicago Bears and the Cleveland Browns. The Bears get the North team while the Browns will coach the South.

One of the players the Browns won’t get to coach is Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, who turned down the event. He’s not the only one to say no thanks. Alabama stars Jonathan Allen and Reuben Foster won’t be there, nor will Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis, UCLA pass rusher Takkarist McKinley, Ohio State interior offensive lineman Pat Elflein, and Oklahoma wide receiver Dede Westbrook.

Even without them, there is plenty of top talent taking part in the Senior Bowl. Here are the rosters and top players to know.

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Offense

Quarterback

North: C.J. Beathard (Iowa), Sefo Liufau (Colorado), Nate Peterman (Pittsburgh)

South: Josh Dobbs (Tennessee), Antonio Pipkin (Tiffin), Davis Webb (California)

None of the quarterbacks participating in this year’s Senior Bowl do much to create excitement, but Peterman and Webb are the top two. Peterman is an efficient quarterback who completed just over 60 percent of his passes in 2016, and threw five touchdown passes in Pittsburgh’s win against eventual national champion Clemson. Webb is intriguing largely due to his 6’5 frame and big arm. He’s a product of offenses at Cal and Texas Tech that often lead to a slow development in the NFL. But his tools should shine in this type of environment. Liufau was inconsistent as a passer, but he has solid tools as well.

Running back

North: Corey Clement (Wisconsin), Kareem Hunt (Toledo), De'Veon Smith (Michigan)

South: Matt Dayes (North Carolina State), Donnel Pumphrey (San Diego State), Jamaal Williams (Brigham Young)

At the Senior Bowl, Hunt and Pumphrey will be there on a mission to prove they’re more than change-of-pace runners. Hunt finished his Toledo career with 4,945 yards while Pumphrey set an NCAA record with 6,405 yards. Pumphrey was an effective receiver all four years at San Diego State as well, while Hunt was finally involved in the passing offense as a senior. Both are quick backs, and Hunt at 6’0 and 225 pounds has the size advantage. With a good week, he could establish himself as a possible third-round pick.

Clement never quite became the next great Wisconsin running back some expected, but as a prospect he displays good foot quickness and patience before making his move through the hole. Smith impressed last week at the Shrine Game and was called up to the Senior Bowl.

Wide receiver

North: Amara Darboh (Michigan), Amba Etta-Tawo (Syracuse), Zay Jones (East Carolina), Cooper Kupp (Eastern Washington), Jalen Robinette (Air Force), Jamari Staples (Louisville), Trent Taylor (Louisiana Tech)

South: Travin Dural (LSU), Josh Reynolds (Texas), Fred Ross (Mississippi State), Artavis Scott (Clemson), Ryan Switzer (North Carolina), Taywan Taylor (Western Kentucky), Chad Williams (Grambling State)

For the North team, wide receiver is easily the best part of the offense. Believe it or not, Kupp is the best player in the bunch. Kupp excels working out of the slot thanks to his smooth route running and good hands. It’s hard to find a receiver more productive than Jones, who had 158 receptions this season. That included 22 against South Carolina alone. Jones won’t dazzle with size or speed, but he knows how to get open.

The South receivers feature several big names and bigger schools, but Taywan Taylor is the name to remember. He’s got speed and big-play ability. Ross will be attractive to teams looking for a physical wideout who will attack the ball. Dural is a player who can help himself after LSU’s poor quarterback play.

Tight end

North: Mike Roberts (Toledo), Jonnu Smith (Florida International), Jeremy Sprinkle (Arkansas)

South: Evan Engram (Ole Miss), Gerald Everett (South Alabama), O.J. Howard (Alabama)

Without his Crimson Tide teammates participating, Howard is the best player at the Senior Bowl. He’s a potential first-round pick thanks to his size and all-around talent. Engram and Everett are potential top-100 picks thanks to their skill as receivers. Engram is basically a wide receiver listed as a tight end. Roberts earned a call up from the Shrine Game, and really turned the heads of scouts last week. He’s not a No. 1 tight end, but he has value as a dependable target.

Offensive tackle

North: Zach Banner (USC), Adam Bisnowaty (Pittsburgh), Julie’n Davenport (Bucknell), Taylor Moton (Western Michigan)

South: Antonio Garcia (Troy), Conor McDermott (UCLA), Justin Senior (Mississippi State)

In a draft lacking offensive tackles, Garcia is a player who could see his stock skyrocket this week. He may be the best pass blocker in the entire draft this year. What he needs to show in Mobile is an ability to dominate in the run game. That’s where a player like Banner can stand out. He’s a hulking right tackle lacking the foot quickness to warrant a high pick as a pass blocker. Bisnowaty is the best combination of the two. He could establish himself as a sure top-64 player this week.

Guard

North: Dion Dawkins (Temple), Dan Feeney (Indiana), Kyle Kalis (Michigan), Jordan Morgan (Kutztown)

South: Isaac Asiata (Utah), Jessamen Dunker (Tennessee), Danny Isidora (Miami), Forrest Lamp (Western Kentucky), Nico Siragusa (San Diego State)

If Howard isn’t the best player at the Senior Bowl, Lamp gets that distinction. He’s likely moving from tackle to guard as a pro. He’s a technician who some think will be this year’s version of Zack Martin. Morgan is also moving from college tackle to pro guard. The experienced Feeney is the draft’s top natural guard. As long as he plays as expected this week, he should get picked in the first two rounds.

Center

North: Kyle Fuller (Baylor), Tyler Orlosky (West Virginia)

South: Ethan Pocic (LSU), Jon Toth (Kentucky)

Pocic has been on the NFL radar for a couple seasons thanks to his ability to zone block and get out on the move. Whether or not he’ll be able to show that in one-on-one drills is to be seen. Orlosky may be better suited for practice sessions because he’s known more as a power blocker.

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Defense

Defensive end

North: Tarell Basham (Ohio), Isaac Rochell (Notre Dame), Dawuane Smoot (Illinois), Chris Wormley (Michigan)

South: Josh Carraway (TCU), Keionta Davis (UT-Chattanooga), Daeshon Hall (Texas A&M), Tanoh Kpassagnon (Villanova), Jordan Willis (Kansas State)

At this time last year, people were talking about Smoot as being a possible 2017 NFL draft first-round pick. But from a week-to-week basis he lacked consistency as a senior. Based on his physical appearance, no player this week will look better than Kpassagnon, who is listed by Villanova as being 6’7 and 290 pounds. He’s in Alabama for more than that, however. He knows how to use his natural length to maneuver blockers and use his power. Willis starred at left end for Kansas State, and can get into the backfield and stop the run.

Defensive tackle

North: Ryan Glasgow (Michigan), Jaleel Johnson (Iowa), Larry Ogunjobi (Charlotte), Stevie Tu'ikolovatu (USC)

South: Montravius Adams (Auburn), Tanzel Smart (Tulane), Dalvin Tomlinson (Alabama), Carlos Watkins (Clemson), Eddie Vanderdoes (UCLA)

Coaching this group is what can really help the Browns with the South roster. They need a three-technique defensive tackle, and Adams and Watkins both fit the mold. They’re two of the better overall players at the Senior Bowl thanks to their quickness and power on the inside. Vanderdoes missed much of last season, and subsequently doesn’t get the recognition he probably deserves. Because he plays with quick hands and power, he could have a lot of splash moments during practice. The talent on the South will overshadow Johnson on the North team. He has good technique to shed blocks.

Inside linebacker

North: Ben Gedeon (Michigan), Connor Harris (Lindenwood), Jordan Herdman (Simon Fraser), Haason Reddick (Temple)

South: Alex Anzalone (Florida), Ben Boulware (Clemson), Harvey Langi (Brigham Young), Duke Riley (LSU)

Reddick is the player to watch in this group. He was recruited as an end, moved to outside linebacker (where he had 9.5 sacks last season) and is listed as a middle linebacker. Expect Boulware to quickly establish himself as the vocal leader of the South defense. If he can display enough athleticism in coverage and working in space, teams will really take notice of his play. This is a huge prove-it week for Harris and Herdman.

Outside linebacker

North: Vince Biegel (Wisconsin), Carroll Phillips (Illinois), Derek Rivers (Youngstown State)

South: Ryan Anderson (Alabama), Tyus Bowser (Houston)

Scouts will be keenly following Rivers’ progress this week as he goes from usually being a hand-down end to a stand-up linebacker. The transition could ultimately determine where he lands in the draft. He has possible top-50 talent. Anderson could go from being the overshadowed Alabama linebacker in this year’s draft to a possible first-round pick. He’s good against the run and blitzing. This week he needs to show he can be great at one of them. Teams that run 4-3 defenses will be looking closely at how well Biegel can move around in space and cover tight ends.

Cornerback

North: Rasul Douglas (West Virginia), Desmond King (Iowa), Brendan Langley (Lamar), Jourdan Lewis (Michigan), Aarion Penton (Missouri)

South: Corn Elder (Miami), Damontae Kazee (San Diego State), Ezra Robinson (Tennessee State), Cameron Sutton (Tennessee), Marquez White (Florida State), Tre'Davious White (LSU)

Welcome to the biggest overall strength of the entire Senior Bowl. Among several big names, White may be the best cornerback at practices this year. He was used a lot as a press cover corner at FSU, and those skills should translate to the practice field. The brightest futures for King and Lewis are playing on a team that runs a lot of zone coverage. Both have instincts to make a play on the ball and are willing tacklers.

Douglas should win the weigh-in process today, but he has the talent to back up his physical stature.

Safety

North: Nate Gerry (Nebraska), Lorenzo Jerome (Saint Francis), John Johnson (Boston), Obi Melifonwu, (Connecticut)

South: Justin Evans (Texas A&M), Johnathan Ford (Auburn), Rayshawn Jenkins (Miami), Jordan Sterns (Oklahoma State)

The safety talent at the Senior Bowl this year is a little light, but Evans and Gerry are both good free safety prospects because of their coverage skills. Evans can be inconsistent with his tackling, but he can really lay a hit at times. If the safeties get a chance to show how they can break on the ball near the line of scrimmage, look for buzz to grow around Melifonwu.