With a reduced program, the 2021 Senior Bowl unofficially kicks off the start of the NFL Draft season. The Senior Bowl presents an opportunity for sleepers prospects and players from small schools to make an impact on a bigger stage. Let’s take a look at 5 sleepers and a couple of small-school prospects who could increase their draft stock at the Senior Bowl.
5 sleepers at the Senior Bowl
Which five relatively unheralded players could be set to stand out at the Senior Bowl in Mobile?
D’Wayne Eskridge, WR, Western Michigan
As one of the smallest receivers on either Senior Bowl roster, D’Wyane Eskridge is the perfect name when considering sleepers. While he may not stand out for the right reasons when it comes to the weigh-ins and measurements portion of the week, he has a chance to stand out on the field. Eskridge’s speed should put him in good company. However, his ability to compete at the point of the catch, despite his small stature, is also an element to look out for.
Larry Rountree III, RB, Missouri
The lack of national spotlight on Larry Rountree is more due to Missouri’s program than his talent. However, a lack of national spotlight often makes for the best Senior Bowl sleepers.
Rountree has posted solid numbers throughout his career with Missouri but has never been widely recognized. Rountree is an exciting, explosive back, who can beat defenders with his vision, but he’s also willing to put his shoulder down and break tackles. He lacks the traditional size and speed that is looked for in a running back, but a good week at the Senior Bowl could quell the concerns around his size.
Payton Turner, EDGE, Houston
While Houston is not a school generally in the national spotlight, we have seen players from there considered highly as prospects. Ed Oliver went in the first round out of Houston, and while Payton Turner is not of the same caliber as Oliver, he has plenty for NFL teams to be excited about.
Turner has moved from an interior defensive lineman onto the edge and has proven to be an explosive edge rusher. He backs up his athleticism with ample speed and power. While none of his traits are elite, if he can put up a good week against some of the best offensive linemen in this class, he can see his draft stock soar.
Jordan Smith, EDGE, UAB
Jordan Smith has had a winding story in reaching the Senior Bowl, making him a perfect option among sleepers.
A naturally talented athlete, he started his college career with the Florida Gators before getting to UAB via a JUCO pathway. The natural talent that saw him highly recruited should serve him well. He is a raw prospect entering the Senior Bowl. However, he has all the tools to impress under NFL coaching and could increase his draft stock.
Tyree Gillespie, S, Missouri
The Senior Bowl week could be huge when it comes to sleepers out of Missouri. In the SEC, Tyree Gillespie is used to facing some of the best talents in college football. On tape, Gillespie does many things well, but playing at Missouri has limited his spotlight.
He lacks the speed to be considered a top-end prospect. However, the other areas of his game make up for it to some extent. His ceiling is limited, but he certainly has the ability to improve his stock in Mobile.
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Small-school sleepers to watch for at the Senior Bowl
Which players from outside of the FBS could make a name for themselves at the Senior Bowl?
Cade Johnson, WR, South Dakota State
Cade Johnson offers the potential to stand out as both a wide receiver and a potential kick returner. The speedy wide receiver out of South Dakota State could catapult himself into a position where he is an early Day 3 pick. In the NFL, he has the potential to make a name for himself early on special teams.
OL: Spencer Brown, Northern Iowa/Quinn Meinerz, Wisconsin-Whitewater/David Moore, Grambling State
The Senior Bowl presents an ideal opportunity for three small-school sleepers on the offensive line. Spencer Brown is perhaps the most esteemed as a potential Day 2 pick. A strong week at the Senior Bowl could see him solidify that position or potentially even push him up into the second round.
Quinn Meinerz is the least known of the three offensive linemen and is currently projected with a late Day 3 pick ceiling. A good week in Mobile could see him move up into potential fifth or sixth-round consideration, if not higher. David Moore is another player set to be a Day 3 pick on the offensive line. Moore could improve his stock to the back end of Day 2 with a strong showing.
DB: Bryan Mills, North Carolina Central/Robert Rochell, Central Arkansas
Two defensive backs who will be looking to make an impact are Bryan Mills and Robert Rochell. Rochell is the better-known of the two and is currently projected as a Day 3 pick. He needs a good showing at the Senior Bowl to cement that position. A noteworthy performance could see Rochell sneak into the reckoning as a Day 2 pick.
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