NFL Draft and free agency news and rumors from the 2021 Senior Bowl

Hello from Mobile, where I’ll bring you the latest NFL Draft and free agency news and rumors from the 2021 Senior Bowl. But before we jump into that, I have to say that there’s a sense of relief. That’s the best way to describe being in Mobile for Senior Bowl week, the 2021 version.

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One of the most important pre-draft scouting events will be one of the only pre-draft scouting events this year as we move towards the April event. This year’s Senior Bowl week will be unlike any other I’ve attended, and I’ve missed just a single padded practice since 2000. However, we’ll adjust and have you covered from every angle all week.

Latest NFL Draft news and rumors from the 2021 Senior Bowl — January 28

Editor’s note — this post will be updated as soon as new information comes in.

The final day of Senior Bowl practice saw a significantly diminished crowd of NFL personnel. However, we did see some good performances on the field. The hot topic among those still in attendance was the current state of pro days in the lead up to the draft.

What’s happening with pro days?

Coming back around to the saga of pro day events, several people at the Senior Bowl tell me there’s a real possibility only two or three schools from the Pac-12 actually hold a pro day workout on campus. The belief here is no California school will be allowed to have a pro day. This removes USC, UCLA, Stanford, and Cal from the schedule. 

Given the current situation, no one expects the Oregon schools to move forward with pro day, and while University of Washington is publicly saying they will go ahead with pro day, behind-the-scenes people are being told it won’t happen.

Whether the league changes the rule which disallows schools to hold pro day workouts in places other than their campus (in my opinion, an asinine rule during these extenuating circumstances), remains to be seen.

What are the latest NFL Draft rumors on Justin Fields and Zach Wilson?

Those who love analytics will love this — or maybe they won’t. One team who has already broken down every pass thrown by Justin Fields in 2020 said in private conversations he looked off the primary target on just seven throws.  That’s under three percent of his passes.

Now — the question begs to be answered — is it because Fields’ primary target got open on all but seven occasions? Or was it because he locks on to receivers? While he threw some bad interceptions in 2020 — primarily against Northwestern in the Big Ten title game and during the regular season contest against Indiana, Fields did not throw a lot of interceptions. He tossed six interceptions last season with five of them coming in the games I mentioned.

Regardless, this will give fuel to the fire for those who prefer Zach Wilson. Remember, two months ago during the Draft Insiders podcast, as Zach Wilson was flying up draft boards, I mentioned the main reason so many like the BYU passer is his ability to quickly process what’s happening on the field. And as I said back in November, many feel Wilson processes the game faster than Fields.

Latest NFL Draft news and rumors from the 2021 Senior Bowl — January 27

Day 2 of Senior Bowl practice is complete and there’s just one day left which, historically, has been the most important of the week. Here are the rumors and buzz from Tuesday at the Senior Bowl.

Scouting Stanford QB Davis Mills

For the past few weeks, Stanford quarterback Davis Mills has been working out at South Alabama in preparation for his pre-draft workout. Today, he tailored his workout to be a pro day-style event and Mills looked terrific.

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The Stanford junior threw about 90 passes for onlookers and Mills displayed a next-level arm and outstanding physical skills. He spins the ball with ease, pretty much threw tight spirals with each delivery and his throws had terrific speed as well as velocity. Mills drove deep passes as well as the outs, and also delivered several terrific fade patterns with touch.

Of the 90 passes thrown, I counted only two or three which were out of the pass-catching radius of targets. The workout receivers continually complimented Mills on his throwing ability and the passes he delivered to them.  

Mills made a variety of throws from the pocket, throws on the move, and also a couple of passes where he would spin 180 degrees then fire off the ball. The next-level arm talent is there — no doubt.

Interviewing the Cardinal QB

I spoke with Mills at length afterward. He confirmed what I first reported yesterday — Stanford has canceled their pro day workout in March. The school is now looking at holding the workout in either Dallas, Houston, or Atlanta. A separate source told me this may be an issue, as the league told the school the Stanford Pro Day workout must be held on the Stanford campus.  

Mills told me he intends to participate in the workout — wherever it is.

I also asked Mills why so many underclassmen from Stanford entered the draft. Seven underclassmen (three offensive linemen, two receivers, one QB, and one CB) left early and opted for the draft.  And this from a team who did not play in the Pac-12 title game and had no aspirations of being a national title contender.

Mills assured me each player made individual choices based on their best interests and there’s no internal problem with the Stanford program.

Later in the day, I spoke with a West Coast source who told me Mills is the hidden gem at the quarterback position in this year’s draft. Though many on the outside are ignoring him, this source tells me he expects Mills to continually climb draft boards as teams come to know him. Presently, I grade Mills as a third-round prospect.

The ripple effects of Robert Saleh joining the Jets’ organization

Will the hiring of Robert Saleh make the New York Jets a more appealing franchise to free agents? The answer from just about every agent I’ve spoken with here was a resounding, “Yes!”

As Adam Gase finished his disastrous tenure with the team, several articles were written with quotes from agents saying they purposely tell their clients not to sign with the Jets due to the disastrous nature of the franchise most of the past decade.

That seems to have changed on a dime.

Several agents told me outright, Saleh alone makes the New York Jets more marketable for their free agent players. One agent, who presently represents a starting defensive player on the team, said players love Saleh and love playing for him.

Odds and ends from Mobile

I was told unequivocally today that tight end Zach Ertz will not play for the Philadelphia Eagles next year. There appears to be some hard feelings how Ertz, a big contributor to the team during their Super Bowl run, was treated last season.  

Rather than cut Ertz, expect the Eagles to try and trade him. Ertz has two years remaining on his contract.

For what it’s worth, a Miami-based source here in Mobile confirmed with me the report from yesterday — the Miami Dolphins are super high on Najee Harris.

Latest NFL Draft news and rumors from the 2021 Senior Bowl — January 26

The first day of Senior Bowl practice is in the books for 2021 and it was an eventful day. Unlike years past, there is almost no activity at the players’ hotel. Access is restricted and much of the hotel is closed off due to health and safety protocols. Therefore, NFL Draft rumors and buzz have been a little tough to come by this year. That said, here’s the latest we are hearing in Mobile.

Jets have interest in one of the top free agent offensive linemen on the market?

During last year’s Senior Bowl, I mentioned the New York Jets would pursue Joe Thuney hard once the free agency period began That was the team’s intention in 2020, but those plans were put to an abrupt halt after the Patriots put the franchise tag on Thuney.

Thuney, one of the league’s premier guards, will hit the free agent market this year. Will the Jets be players for Thuney this time?

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A person in the know would not tell me directly if the Jets would be one of the teams in hot pursuit of Thuney. Rather, he said it will come down to money offered and the contract. The Jets are expected to have a lot of money available under the cap once free agency commences. So, as was implied to me by the source, draw your own conclusions.

With one pro day already canceled, are there more to follow?

Yesterday in this article (scroll down), I mentioned the concern by many over the league throwing the onus of pre-draft workouts on colleges across the nation. By canceling the 2021 NFL Scouting Combine, the league is essentially relying on school organized pro day workouts. Today, the first of many shoes fell as Stanford announced they have canceled their pro day in March. There is now talk the Stanford pro day may move to Dallas.

We will have a lot more on this NFL Draft news tomorrow.

Vanderbilt standout Dayo Odeyingbo’s injury and what it means for his future

Finally, the situation regarding Dayo Odeyingbo bears watching. The Vanderbilt defensive lineman projects as a Day 2 selection and is expected to participate in this week’s Senior Bowl. That was until he suffered a major injury, reportedly an Achilles injury, during combine training. Odeyingbo will be out at least 8 months in all likelihood.

Word at the Senior Bowl is that Odeyingbo may take the extra year of eligibility extended by the NCAA and return to Vanderbilt for the 2021 season rather than entering the NFL Draft and being a likely day three pick.

NFL Draft rumors: Najee Harris drawing the attention of two teams?

While much of the talk on social media this morning centered around DeVonta Smith’s refusal to step on the scale, one of his Alabama teammates is drawing praise from scouts even before the first practice.

Running back Najee Harris measured just under 6’2” this morning and tipped the scales at an impressive-looking 230 pounds. His arm length (33 3/8 inches) and hand measurement (10 inches) also stood out. The latter evidence, in part, explains why Harris is such a good receiver out of the backfield.

Sources say Harris is here for interviews and not expected to take part in practice this week. In the early going, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins have shown a lot of interest in Harris.

This makes sense as both teams draft in the bottom half of Round 1, exactly where I presently grade
Harris on my board. The Alabama senior is a perfect fit for the Steelers’ offense; he also fits a major need for the Dolphins’ offense.

Deshaun Watson to the New York Jets?

League insiders at the Senior Bowl confirm the reports we’ve been hearing the past two weeks on Deshaun Watson — he wants out of Houston.

While it’s been framed that Texans QB Deshaun Watson is unhappy about the choice of Nick Caserio as general manager and not having input in the decision, many here say Watson is more upset over losing out to executive vice president of football operations Jack Easterby.

In essence, the Texans chose Easterby over Watson. This NFL news should come as no surprise as I mentioned during the Draft Insiders podcast immediately after Bill O’Brien was fired, the franchise was putting Easterby in charge.

So who is the frontrunner for Watson? Speculation, and I repeat — speculation — by league decision-makers at the Senior Bowl has smart money on the New York Jets.

News and rumors from the 2021 Senior Bowl — January 25

Here are more NFL Draft and free agency news and rumors I am hearing on the ground level at the Senior Bowl. Be sure to check back daily as we’ll be updating this post throughout the week.

Many concerned about pro day workouts

LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase has been working out with former NFL receiver Terance Mathis. He will soon be traveling to Dallas for preparation of his pro day workout. This assumes Chase and the rest of the draft-eligible prospects have a chance to work out for teams before the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft kicks off in April.

There’s been a lot of discussion and debate here in Mobile on the draft news about the league’s decision to cancel NFL Combine workouts and just go with pro day events, throwing the onus on colleges. The bigger programs such as Alabama, Texas, Clemson, and LSU, the former stomping grounds for Ja’Marr Chase, have better chances to pull off pro day workouts.

It’s the colleges outside the Power 5 who may feel the brunt of the burden

But teams here at the Senior Bowl express a lot of concern the smaller and even middle of the road programs won’t have pro day workouts. This will leave a lot of unknowns moving towards the draft.

The situation regarding medical exams for prospects is even more disconcerting for teams, who may not get to examine all the players they want and need to examine before the draft.

Speculation at the 2021 Senior Bowl suggests things are still up in the air as far as workouts and exams are concerned, and there could be last-minute news about changes once April rolls around.

Want to know more about prospects? Want to do your own mock draft?

Dive into PFN’s Free NFL Mock Draft Simulator and test your own drafting acumen. Continue to visit Pro Football Network for NFL news and in-depth analysis. Also, be sure to follow us on Twitter (@PFN365) to stay in the loop on all things college football and the NFL Draft landscape.

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