Players to Watch in the 2021 Senior Bowl

Mobile, Ala. – Practice week is officially over – the buses have safely left the stadium and the end zones have been painted and primed for Saturday’s showdown between the 2021 National and American Senior Bowl teams. You’ve hopefully been following our daily recaps, so you should know how we felt about the contrasting coaching styles between the Dolphins and the Panthers. The new stadium at Hancock Whitney is one in which players finessed and impressed. But we decided to put together a list of guys you might not know you need to watch in Saturday’s game.

Michelle Bodkin,

Quincy Roche started his career at Temple and finished up with the Miami Hurricanes in 2020, recording 27 solo tackles, 18 assists, 14.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. Needless to say, Roche’s play launched him to the Senior Bowl where he’s been impressive but quietly so. The defensive end has shown he is great at sealing the edge in drills and has a motor that allows him to break off of engagement and go after the ball if needed. Practice limitations make it a little hard to fully showcase that talent but I expect him to go off Saturday afternoon in a live game situation where he will be free to get after the quarterback.

Photo by Kim Montuoro

Jamie Newman technically transferred to Georgia, but ultimately decided to skip the 2020 season due to the Covid-19 pandemic. That didn’t stop him from catching the eyes of Jim Nagy and the rest of the Senior Bowl evaluation team. In three seasons at Wake Forest, Newman completed 306 passes of 506 attempts for 3,959 yards, 35 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Newman also added 826 rushing yards to his stat sheet off of 245 attempts and 10 touchdowns. Practice situations can sometimes take away a dual threat quarterback’s legs so I am looking forward to seeing Newman’s full talent scope on display Saturday afternoon. 

Photo by Kim Montuoro

Emily Van Buskirk, Sideline Sass

Camryn Bynum hails from the 2018 Cal secondary that ranked second in the nation in interceptions per game, garnering national attention and earning the nickname “the Takers.” Bynum saw success in Berkeley, posting career totals of 188 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss (-16 yards), 0.5 sacks (-5 yards), six interceptions that he has returned for a combined 20 yards, 29 pass breakups and 35 passes defended, with his 29 career pass breakups ranking fifth in school history and his 33 passes defended tied for fourth among active FBS players. He also led Cal in both pass breakups and passes defended for three consecutive campaigns from 2017-19. He popped up on several preseason watch lists in 2020 but the shortened Pac-12 season means he will rely on the Senior Bowl for extra looks. Bynum was reunited with his former defensive back coach Gerald Alexander, now with the Miami Dolphins and he said Alexander is helping keep his energy up. The California native coach said that Bynum should have no trouble transitioning his game to the next level, emphasizing the cornerback’s coachability. 

Photo by Kim Montuoro

Elerson Smith is a guy I had on my watch list prior to arriving in Mobile and he did not disappoint. The Northern Iowa pass rusher stood out both days and not just for his physicality which was on prominent display, particularly during chippy moments after plays. It’s true, the 2021 NFL Draft has a deep pass rush class, but the way Smith catches offensive tackles off balance with his push/pull moves is sure to entice an NFL team to take a chance on an FCS kid. In 2019 Smith led the Missouri Valley Conference in both sacks (14) and forced fumbles (5). With the Panthers season moving to the spring, the Senior Bowl is vital to Smith’s draft stock making him even more important to watch on Saturday.

Photo by Kim Montuoro

Frank Darby might just possess the best vibes in Mobile – the Arizona State wide receiver is universally talked about by coaches and scouts here as one of the most fun and positive guys, both on and off the field. Darby finished his career in Tempe with 1,317 receiving yards on 67 receptions with 13 receiving touchdowns. The Sun Devils clearly have an eye for standout wide receivers with both N’Keal Harry and Brandon Aiyuk balling out in the League. Darby’s reps on Tuesday drew audible gasps from those in the stands and the videos of his catches made their way around the interwebs. But it’s his footwork and rout-running for me. And his infectious smile. 

Photo by Kim Montuoro

Grant Stuard has the best hair at the Senior Bowl. Period. He also has the biggest heart – the Houston Linebacker was the recipient of the Alabama Power Community Service Award, given to a player who demonstrates a selfless commitment to assisting others. Last December, Stuard organized a food drive for the Houston Food Bank that brought in 800 pounds of food. He also put together a school supply drive last summer in his home town of Conroe, Texas. On the field, his selfless spirit continues to be one of his biggest assets, making him a very vocal leader. He is also not afraid to get physical despite his smaller stature. His quick first step and massive wingspan helps him fight off opponents’ hands and his speed makes him nightmare on the outside. One of the Houston coaches said Stuard “plays hard as shit” and “is legit fast.” That same coach believed special teams will be Stuard’s ticket into the League.

Photo by Kim Montuoro

Cam Sample is quietly one of my favorite players in this year’s Senior Bowl because Tulane products are well-coached and well-oiled machines. Several of the Green Wave’s offensive players said that Sample was a nightmare to play against in practice. He proved that Thursday when he won 1-on-1 reps against three different SEC lineman, garnering some attention on social media. As a senior, Sample put up career-highs in every tackling category in 2020, with 52 total tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 5.0 sacks. The truth is that Cam Sample comes with the thickness – he’s disruptive, versatile and developed into a dangerous pass rush threat this year. He will be a problem for the National team’s offense on Saturday.

Photo by Kim Montuoro

Crissy Froyd, USA Today SMG/Pro Football Network/Draft Network

Sam Ehlinger came into the Senior Bowl with a lot to prove. We’ll get one last chance to come to a conclusion as to whether or not he’s done that after he was up-and-down during practices this week. One thing to note is that Ehlinger has reworked his delivery in a way that’s noticeable. But that’s just one piece of the animal, and things like decision-making and accuracy need to be more consistent. It’ll be interesting to see what he looks like on Saturday.

Photo by Kim Montuoro

Ian Book certainly doesn’t stand near the same category as the Trevor Lawrences and Zach Wilsons of the draft, but he certainly impressed in yesterday’s practice. Book looked excellent in terms of escapability, mobility and overall nimbleness — things his high school and youth football coaches commended him for. But Book looked equally competent as a pure passer, with an impressive level of accuracy on Thursday. He could very well continue improving his draft stock on Saturday.

Photo by Kim Montuoro

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