Alabama TE O.J. Howard – Photo by: Getty Images
It’s a somewhat quiet town just beyond the Florida-Alabama border on I-10 in between Pensacola and New Orleans. For most of the calendar, the city keeps to itself.
But for one week every year, Mobile becomes the hub of football fandom, both college and pro, by transforming into one of the biggest NFL Draft spectacles of the season, second only to the NFL Scouting Combine.
When you watch players at the Senior Bowl, you just know you’re watching future NFL stars. Some of these players go into the week as projected first round picks, others use the week to make that one team fall in love with them to jump start their carer.
Though Bucs fans won’t be able to see prospects like Corey Davis, Mike Williams or James Conner this week, this is their chance to get familiarized with a few new names, names we know will be heard on Sundays for years to come.
So which prospects in the 2017 Senior Bowl have the most potential to see their names in pewter and red in 2017? Here are ten prospects we think you should keep your eyes on this week, because we believe general manager Jason Licht, Dirk Koetter and the rest of the staff will be doing the same.
TOLEDO RB KAREEM HUNT – 6-0, 225 – NORTH
It’s no secret that the Buccaneers are looking to upgrade their running game. Whether that’s because Tampa Bay’s rushing numbers were far below average in 2016 or the fact that Adrian Peterson expressed his interest in becoming a Buccaneer if hits the open market. The talk of what to do at that position is already fired up.
Toledo RB Kareem Hunt – Photo by: Getty Images
Kareem Hunt is a running back prospect not many people know of due to him playing in the MAC – although, PewterReport.com readers know him very well from our in-depth scouting report. However, the Senior Bowl could be Hunt’s coming out party.
As one of the most feared offensive weapons in the Mid-American Conference, Hunt produced nearly 5,000 rushing yards and 44 rushing touchdowns during his four-year career. His game tape shows a rare combination of both athletic ability and body control. His main knock at this point seems to be people not believing in his production against lower-level competition. This week we get to see him side-by-side with some of this draft class’ top prospects.
ALABAMA TE O.J. HOWARD – 6-6, 250 – SOUTH
O.J. Howard seems to be the top tight end prospect in this draft class according to those both inside and outside NFL circles.
Howard passes the eye test with flying colors. His 6-foot-6 frame at 250-pounds make him a physical specimen, but then when you get to watch how he moves with that body size, you come away even more impressed.
His numbers from his time at Alabama aren’t great. Following a 208-yard, two-touchdown performance in last year’s National Championship Game, you would’ve thought his usage would have increased. But, that didn’t, Howard actually ended up with less receiving yards than he had the year before. However, all of that had a lot more to do with his use in the gameplan than it did a lack of skill or ability to be a factor.
Not only can Howard run and catch, but he can block, too. He’s a guy who can move in a split-zone blocking scheme behind the line of scrimmage, and can block both defense ends and linebackers with good strength. Because of this, he’s going to go in the first round. If Tampa wants him, they’ll have to grab him at No. 19 overall.
How he performs this week will either make that more or less possible. A good week might boost him into the Top 10.
TEXAS A&M WR JOSH REYNOLDS – 6-4, 190 – SOUTH
Reynolds is the kind of prospect whose draft stock will be higher than his production numbers.
In an offense that featured Christian Kirk, Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil, Reynolds still managed to get over 1,000 yards receiving last season. He led the Aggies in receiving yards, receiving touchdowns (12) and yards per catch with an average of 17.0.
Texas A&M WR Josh Reynolds – Photo by: Getty Images
Though smaller in overall weight, Reynolds is what NFL teams look for in a big-time tall receiver. He has the ability to out-muscle defenders for the ball when it’s in the air, and shows good body control when battling for position, often using his length and height to its maximum advantage.
EASTERN WASHINGTON WR COOPER KUPP – 6-2, 215 – NORTH
When you usually think of slot receivers – thanks to the New England Patriots – you usually picture a sub-6-foot player who weaves his way around defense with that smaller stature.
Kupp changes that narrative a bit. At 6-foot-2, Kupp has a lot of success in that slot position. He recorded over 1,000 yards receiving in every single season of his college career, including when he played as a true freshman. He averaged over 100 yards per game every year, and recorded 63 touchdowns over the span of his four-year career.
The Senior Bowl is his chance to prove those production stats weren’t just because he played in the Big Sky conference. The week scouts, GMs and coaches will keep a close eye on this stat stuffer, and if he performs well, he could move up to a Day 2 pick.
Though Tampa Bay has Adam Humphries already, no position on the team is exempt from a possible upgrade if there is one – at the right price.
BRIGHAM YOUNG RB JAMAAL WILLIAMS – 6-2, 220 – SOUTH
Knowing that the running back position could be wide open for the Bucs, taking a look at one of the few potential “three-down” backs in this class is something you can expect from their front office and coaching staff this week.
Williams has impressive power and an ideal build to take hits and run through them at the NFL level. Also, if you put stock in genetics, his mother was a standout sprinter at UCLA, which gives reason to his above average speed and acceleration.
His blocking skills do need some work, but that’s the case with almost every running back that comes out, even at his size. What’s encouraging, though, is that he shows a willingness to always take on incoming defenders. He just needs to clean up how his does it with better technique which will improve his balance and get the most out of his strength.
What scouts are going to key on with Williams this week is how he’ll look as a pass catcher. He wasn’t often used as one at BYU and how natural he looks doing that could boost that “every down back” appeal NFL teams have.
WESTERN KENTUCKY WR TAYWAN TAYLOR – 6-1, 195 – SOUTH
Everyone knows about Washington’s John Ross, but if Ross’ price tag becomes too high come draft day, Taywan Taylor will be a very good backup plan for that type of receiver.
Over the last two seasons, Taylor has recorded over 170 passes for 3197 yards. But those aren’t the only number that Taylor boasts. It’s reported that he can vertical jump 39 inches and can run in the low 4.3’s in the 40-yard dash.
Against Conference USA competition, Taylor was out of his defenders’ league. This week we’ll get to see how well he fairs against some of the more notable defenders in this draft class. If he can show anywhere near the same dominance he did over the last two years, he’ll be on the Bucs radar.
AIR FORCE WR JALEN ROBINETTE – 6-4, 215 – NORTH
After a fantastic week of practice at the East-West Shrine event, Robinette got his call up to the Senior Bowl.
Air Force WR Jalen Robinette – Photo by: Getty Images
Robinette’s insane 24 and 27 yards per catch averages over the last two seasons were verified last week as he was being used on all kinds of routes for the West team. His big frame made him tough to cover, and his overall athleticism allow him to get separation off press and in the air.
He was the star receiver last week, and now we’ll get to see how he looks compared to the likes of Kupp, Taylor and Reynolds.
ARKANSAS TE JEREMY SPRINKLE – 6-6, 255 – NORTH
After losing a receiving weapon like Hunter Henry, one would think the production from the Hogs’ tight end position would take a hit. That wasn’t so when Jeremy Sprinkle was on the field in 2016.
Sprinkle had a lingering ankle injury this year, but finished the regular season with 33 catches for 380 yards and four touchdowns. NFL scouts were already excited about him before the season began, and his potential for red zone production is easy to like.
Unfortunately for Sprinkle, he will probably be asked many times about his off-the-field shoplifting incident that happened on December 29th of 2016 where he was cited for “unlawful concealment.”
It seems to be a blip on the radar for him, but he’ll have to answer those questions from almost any team or media member who interviews him nonetheless. With an impressive group of tight ends in Mobile this year, Sprinkle will have the chance to either stand out or get lost in the clutter.
OLE MISS TE EVAN ENGRAM – 6-3, 225 – SOUTH
Engram is another athletic, pass catching tight end who will get to show his stuff in a highly competitive position class.
In an offense that featured two gun slinger quarterbacks, first Chad Kelly then Shea Patterson, Engram led the Rebels in receiving yards (926), receptions (65) and receiving touchdowns (8). He does most of his work out of the slot, and has proven to be a tough mismatch for inside defenders, often requiring a strong safety in coverage to keep up with him.
Again, this will be a good chance for him to stand out, if he can. Blocking drills will be key for Engram as well. The Buccaneers need their tight ends to be solid in protection before they can be trusted to go down the field and catch.
SAN DIEGO STATE RB DONNEL PUMPHREY – 5-9, 180 – SOUTH
Ladies and gentleman, I give to you college football’s all-time leading rusher.
Pumphrey’s stats over the last four years have been insane. In his four years with the Aztecs, he recorded 6,405 rushing yards on 1,059 carries for 62 rushing touchdowns. All of that while never failing to play less than 13 games in any season.
Despite being just 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, Pumphrey plays like an all-purpose back. He has the vision, the awareness and the skill to take any play for big yards with the ball in his hands.
Hi time in Mobile will be important. It’s going to be a big week to see how well Pumphrey can do against the next crop of NFL athleticism. If he can continue to make defenses look silly and respect every aspect of his game like his has during his career, it doesn’t matter what his measurable are, some NFL team is going to give him a chance to be dynamic.
Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: email@example.com
Trevor, nice job, but I don’t understand why no OL? Is it because there are no OL that got your attention?
LSU’s C Ethan Pocic and Western Kentucky’s OT/OG Forrest Lamp are the best offensive lineman there. Both are on the South team. I’ll be sure to write about them or any of the offensive lineman who stand out – I expect them to. I just didn’t have them in the preview because I really don’t think the Bucs are going to be investing as much into the offensive line this draft as fans think they will/should.
OK, thank you. I didn’t realize our OL was that strong.
Injuries really hurt the chemistry this year. I’m just giving you (and other Bucs fans who have asked) the heads up that the front office is pretty content with their big guys.
Wonderful. Another season of Joe Hawley getting demolished, Donovan Smith giving up constant pressure like it’s his job, and below average starting LG play (from whoever is there, Sweezy or Pamphile).
Id love to take half that list and not look back! I like OJ but I heard of a soon to be free agent TE in Seattle that I think we take a look at. Luke Willson has good size and 4.5 speed. Keep the eyes open on him.
It’s going to be interesting to see the way the board falls come April. If Davis is gone and the team doesn’t care for John Ross much (I don’t), it wouldn’t surprise me at all for us to be thinking WR maybe in round 2 or 3. There are a couple handfuls of guys who look like interesting prospects, including several who could provide the speed and YAC potential Koetter so clearly craves. I think we’re very unlikely to draft Howard, but I’d be giddy if we were able to grab him in round one and a receiver like the one I’m talking about on day two of the draft. Although, obviously, that would mean no Corey Davis, no interior line help, no highly drafted CB, and none of the several stud safeties who are coming out this year.
There are lots of directions we should be able to go to significantly improve the team in April. It’s gonna be interesting! I’m just hoping to avoid any moments like the one from the second round last year in which I yelled at the TV for 10 minutes in shock after we spent two valuable draft picks on a kicker.
Trevor, I hope guys like Benenoch step up, and do well, but I hope the Bucs aren’t set with who they got. Hawley is a free agent, and we could use an upgrade there. Dotson was a liability at times last year to say the least, he couldn’t stay healthy, and won’t be getting better with time. Pamphile did a decent job, but you could also argue for an upgrade at LG. If they have a high grade on a center like Pocic, would it be so bad shoring up the middle of your O line, and pairing with Jameis for years to come. Not a sexy pick, but with a draft stocked with RB’s, and WR’s, maybe it’s the smart pick.
Always enjoyed the Senior Bowl. No doubt many of the players who will be hyped up by the telecasters will go on to have ho hum careers, while others who are barely mentioned, will exceed all expectations. Since Horse is raving over the giant center from LSU, I’ll pay close attention to see if he is able to bend enough to get any sort of leverage in a low man wins battle and to see if the QB in the pocket can see over the big guy.
Enjoyed the information Trevor,I agree with you why take a OL man when this is about the weakest position this year.
I do have a question about the Center from Ohio State is he in the draft this year? If he is would he be a player to look at later in the draft? Also on the Bucs PS is Josh Allen I saw him play in pre.season looks gd. 6’3 315 lbs.
Pat Elflein? Yes he is in the draft. Was invited to the Senior Bowl but declined. If they were going to look that direction, yes, he is very solid. However, again, I don’t see it happening in the first or second round where they’d have to draft him.
I have said we should take Howard if we stick at 19 and the response has been it’s too high for the Bucs to take a pass catching TE. Then his write up calls him a complete TE lol I’m not sure how any TE that plays for TE can be classified as pass catching only but Im glad that was corrected in this write up. Address WR in FA and with later round picks but Howard gives us a complete TE to pair with the pass catching Brate which can help us eliminate some guys wasting roster spots like Myers and Stocker who can’t seem to stay healthy. Coach Koetter has made it a point to state that he wants explosive players and Howard represents that from the TE spot.
IMO address what you can in FA, maybe a DE, DT and S. This draft is loaded at WR and RB, we can easily pick up a starter on day 2 if not day 3 depending how everything falls. I also read somewhere exactly what Trevor said in the Bucs won’t spend a high pick on the O line. Maybe a pick on day 3. Also I really hope they can find a return man in the draft.
As long as we don’t take a kicker, LB or a QB in the first round, BPA is the way to go. Pick the guy who’s left that has the best opportunity to be a stud and our team is being better. No kickers Jason!
Being = getting..
That photo of O.J. Howard shows him carrying the ball like the great Jimmie Giles did back in the day. People often said he carried it, “like a loaf of bread”, but I always carry my bread by the end with the twist tie.
Taywan Taylor wants to be in Tampa! he played with my nephew at WKU and they’ve hung out while he’s in town training… really wants to play with Jameis & Dirk’s offense
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