The week of Senior Bowl practices down in Mobile, Alabama, begins on Tuesday with all 32 teams in attendance to evaluate over 100 of the top prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft. Who are some of the most intriguing players to watch? I'll break it down – 10 on offense (well, and a couple of bonus picks), 10 on defense – focusing on the offensive side of the football, position by position.
RB Brian Robinson, Alabama
Robinson is one of a handful of players in this game who took advantage of the NCAA's extra year of eligibility this season after a COVID-shortened 2020. After beginning his career as a backup to Najee Harris, Robinson finally saw the spotlight this fall as a fifth-year senior and helped set the tone for the Crimson Tide offense. At 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, Robinson isn't quite Derrick Henry, but he's a big, physical ball carrier with enough juice to work both inside and outside while being a thumper between the tackles.
WR Calvin Austin, Memphis
One of the most electric playmakers in the class, Austin comes in a small package at 5-9, 162 pounds, but he's an explosive athlete who was a track star at both the high school and college levels. A former teammate of Eagles running back Kenny Gainwell, Austin lined up primarily in the slot with the Tigers and was extremely productive on offense, but he'll provide his future NFL team with a shot in the arm in the punt return game as well. Austin should be fun to watch in one-on-one drills this week.
WR Jalen Tolbert, South Alabama
Tolbert didn't have to go far to make his way to the Senior Bowl, as he played his home games in the very same stadium with the Jaguars. At 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, Tolbert has impressive size but he has giddy-up early in the down to threaten defenders quickly and make plays at each level of the field. Tolbert made some outstanding catches downfield as an experienced deep threat. Expect him to make some highlight grabs throughout the week of practice.
WR Christian Watson, North Dakota State
Like Tolbert, Watson has a very intriguing blend of size and speed. Listed at 6-4, 208 pounds, Watson made an impact at a young age for the Bison, scoring six touchdowns as a sophomore with quarterback Trey Lance at the helm. But don't let the frame fool you, Watson is much more than just a possession threat. The Tampa native was a two-time All-American as a kick returner. He averaged over 20 yards per catch over his career and gained nearly 9 yards after the catch per reception over the course of his time in Fargo. His dynamic skill set is fascinating.
TE Trey McBride, Colorado State
The John Mackey Award winner as the nation's top tight end this fall, McBride boasts a well-rounded skill set as both a pass catcher and blocker. At 6-foot-4, 260 pounds, he's built well enough to make an impact at the point of attack in the run game, but he's also graceful enough athletically to be a factor down the seam. McBride has good ball skills. He rarely put the ball on the ground over the course of his career. Teams are always looking for well-balanced players at this position and McBride fits that bill.
T Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa
The Senior Bowl hosted a UNI lineman last year in Spencer Brown, who went on to become a starter for the Buffalo Bills as a rookie on the right side. Penning comes in even more highly regarded, not only because of what he does in the pass game but because he's an absolute bone-crusher in the run game. At 6-7, 340 pounds, Penning is a mauler up front on the left side who reminds some people of longtime NFL starter Andrew Whitworth.
T Daniel Faalele, Minnesota
He grew up in Australia. He's 6-foot-8, 380 pounds. He came to America having never played football before but has turned into an immovable force up front. No, I'm not talking about Eagles left tackle Jordan Mailata, but meet Faalele! Like Mailata, Faalele came to America but chose to go the college route instead of jumping right into the NFL. He became an instant starter for the Gophers on the right side. A monstrous human being who is a graceful athlete, Faalele has extremely high upside that will be put on display in Mobile.
T Bernhard Raimann, Central Michigan
Like Faalele, Raimann took a non-traditional route to this process. An Austrian native who came to America as a foreign exchange student in high school, Raimann fell in love with the game as a former wrestler and played in high school at wide receiver. He moved on to college and immediately converted to tight end, but just before the pandemic hit he moved to left tackle and never looked back. At 6-7 and just over 300 pounds, Raimann has athletic gifts and natural core strength that make him a very appealing option for teams looking for tackle help early in the draft. His teammate, Luke Goedeke, will be at the game as well and is another intriguing option along the offensive line.
G Zion Johnson, Boston College
Johnson began his career playing in Davidson University's triple-option offense. After mastering that for two years, he made the jump up to the ACC with Boston College and became an immediate starter. At 6-foot-3, 310 pounds, Johnson was excellent as a guard in 2019, moved to left tackle in 2020 (with mixed results), and was set to attend the Senior Bowl last year before deciding to go back to school for a fifth and final season. That decision led a return inside to guard, where he once again proved to be one of the best interior blockers in the country. Johnson is strong, athletic, and effective in both the run and pass games. He's one of the top linemen in the draft.
All of the quarterbacks ... Because all of them are worth watching
I could argue that this is the best group of Senior Bowl quarterbacks since I first attended the game in 2012 because of how deep it is.
Most analysts and evaluators would agree that five of the first six quarterbacks who will be drafted this spring will be in attendance in Mobile, and the week of practices will play a huge hand in who hears their name called first.
Kenny Pickett (Pitt), Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati), and Carson Strong (Nevada) will suit up for the National Team (coached by the New York Jets), while Malik Willis (Liberty), Sam Howell (North Carolina), and Bailey Zappe (Western Kentucky) will suit up for the American Team (coached by the Detroit Lions). Pickett was set to go to the Senior Bowl last January before going back for his fifth year, and he saw his stock explode with a strong senior campaign. Ridder led the Bearcats to a College Football Playoff berth, the first Group of Five team to do so. Strong led a prolific Nevada offense and has one of the stronger arms of the group.
Willis led a dynamic Liberty pass game and was also an electric runner with the football over the last two seasons. Howell jumped into the starting lineup for Mack Brown as a true freshman in 2019 and never looked back, and the tough, athletic passer was the unquestioned leader for UNC every year he was under center. Zappe broke a number of records at Houston Baptist before setting even more with the Hilltoppers in 2021.