Wed. Feb 21st, 2024

The stage is set for Super Bowl LVIII, which means that one game stands between the end of the NFL season and sole focus shifting to the talent acquisition portion of the offseason. Preparation for the 2024 NFL Draft has already begun, especially for those participating in the Reese’s Senior Bowl this week. 

Here is an early look at some of the storylines from Mobile:

How to watch and what to know

Date: Saturday, Feb. 3 | Time: 1 p.m. ET
Location: Hancock Whitney Stadium (Mobile, Alabama)
TV: NFL Network | Stream: fuboTV (try for free)

A year ago, the annual college football showcase pitting NFL hopefuls featured over 100 prospects who were drafted from the game. A week of practices and interviews leading up to the game draw over 900 NFL personnel from all 32 teams. 

Underclassmen welcome

The Reese’s Senior Bowl has always accepted juniors who met graduation requirements but the game is now an option for all underclassmen prospects who have declared for the NFL Draft regardless of whether or not they have completed degree requirements. 

There are roughly a dozen junior prospects that have been invited and accepted an invitation to the 2024 NFL Draft, including Oregon center Jackson Powers-Johnson, Texas defensive tackle Byron Murphy II, Kansas edge rusher Austin Booker, Miami safety Kamren Kinchens and BYU offensive tackle Kingsley Suamataia. Murphy is CBSSports.com’s highest rated junior participant.

Top prospects in this year’s game

UCLA edge rusher Laiatu Latu is CBSSports.com’s top rated prospect in this week’s game. After registering 10+ sacks for the second consecutive season, Latu arrives in Mobile as a potential Top-10 overall selection. Other prospects ranked in the Top-50 overall include:

Oregon State offensive tackle Taliese Fuaga Toledo cornerback Quinyon MitchellPenn State cornerback Kalen KingMissouri cornerback Ennis RakestrawMissouri cornerback Kris Abrams-DraineHouston offensive tackle Patrick PaulTexas defensive tackle Byron Murphy IIWashington quarterback Michael Penix Jr.Oregon quarterback Bo NixWashington offensive lineman Troy FautanuDuke offensive lineman Graham BartonOklahoma offensive tackle Tyler GuytonOhio State defensive tackle Michael Hall Jr. TCU cornerback Josh Newton

Several others are on the fringe of such recognition and could use this week in Alabama to boost their stock. 

Quarterbacks on the move?

Michael Penix Jr. and Bo Nix will square off for the third time this season. While the in-season meetings determined who would represent the Pac-12 in the College Football Playoff, there is more on the line for each quarterback personally this week. USC’s Caleb Williams, North Carolina’s Drake Maye and LSU’s Jayden Daniels, in no particular order, are considered the top quarterback prospects in this year’s draft. Then, there is a trio of others (Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy, Penix and Nix) jockeying for that fourth spot, which could equate to a first-round selection or bleed over into Day 2 of the NFL Draft. It is a valuable week for talent evaluators in the quarterback market granted the opportunity to scout the arms of Nix and Penix next to each other this week. 

South Carolina’s Spencer Rattler and Tulane’s Michael Pratt have thrust themselves into that potential Day 2 conversation as well. 

Potential risers

Kansas edge rusher Austin Booker is one of the juniors participating this week. He has desirable length and size, plus the flexibility to become a difference maker rushing the passer. The Minnesota transfer had eight sacks for the Jayhawks this season. 

Alabama defensive tackle Justin Eboigbe was on track to become another one of those Crimson Tide interior defenders to be taken on Day 2, like Christian Barmore, Phidarian Mathis, Byron Young and Raekwon Davis. Eboigbe has remarkable strength and does a great job of controlling the line of scrimmage.

Many covering the NFL Draft may have been unfamiliar with Kentucky linebacker Trevin Wallace because he is one of those juniors that was not expected to declare. He looks like an NFL linebacker and will test well, but he is raw. Teams in need of help at the position may be open to buying stock low given that it is relatively weak linebacker class and with the understanding that his best football could still be ahead of him.

Western Kentucky wide receiver Malachi Corley is not sneaking up on anyone. He is much more likely to fly by in a blur. Over the past two years, he has registered 9.2 yards after the catch per reception, according to TruMedia. The Hilltoppers primarily used the him at or near the line of scrimmage but Corley is hoping to show that he can be a threat vertically as well. 

Washington State’s Jaden Hicks is a bigger safety who consistently stuffs the stat sheet. As NFL defenses attempt to be more multiple in order to defend more personnel fluid offenses, Hicks is a player that is capable of fulfilling multiple roles in coverage and down in the box. 

Small school standouts

There are 22 non-Power 5 prospects slated to take part in this week’s festivities, but there are four less heralded than the others: Houston Christian pass rusher Jalyx Hunt, New Hampshire running back Dylan Laube, Virginia State cornerback Willie Drew and Southeast Missouri State wide receiver Ryan Flournoy. 

Drew may be the first taken among that group, but few players have been as productive over the past two years as Laube, who has 3,083 combined rushing and receiving yards. 

Of note, Rice wide receiver Luke McCaffrey is the younger brother of Super Bowl bound running back Christian McCaffrey and the son of former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey. The Owl had 71 receptions for 992 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. 

Who is coaching the American and National teams?

For the second consecutive year, the Reese’s Senior Bowl is using a format called ‘Coach Up’ where coaches are elevated one rung higher on the ladder than their current position. For example, a defensive backs coach will get the opportunity to serve as defensive coordinator. It is an effort for those coaches to gain experience in new roles. Previously, the full coaching staffs of the teams with the worst records that did not get fired would coach the game.

Here are the coordinators and head coaches for each squad:

American

Head Coach – Tennessee Titans assistant head coach/defensive line coach Terrell Williams  Offensive Coordinator – New England Patriots wide receivers coach Troy BrownDefensive Coordinator – Cleveland Browns defensive backs coach Ephraim BandaSpecial Teams Coordinator – New York Giants assistant special teams coach Mike Adams

National

Head Coach – New York Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich  Offensive Coordinator – New York Giants quarterbacks coach Shea TierneyDefensive Coordinator – Minnesota Vikings pass game coordinator/defensive backs coach Daronte JonesSpecial Teams Coordinator – New Orleans Saints assistant special teams coach Phil Galiano

The 2024 NFL Draft will take place from April 25-27 in Detroit. More draft coverage can be found at CBSSports.com, including the weekly updated draft order, mock drafts and a regularly available look at the eligible prospects

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