With just a little over 100 days until the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland, NFL teams are preparing for what is truly going to be an unprecedented draft cycle. A recent report, placing the NFL Combine in jeopardy due to the coronavirus means that the Senior Bowl has emerged as the only guarantee for players in this year’s draft class to get measured, compete and perform, with hopes of boosting their draft stock.
We also received word today that the Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers are the two teams announced as the coaching staffs in Mobile, Alabama for the premier all-star event. With four picks in the top 100 and nine selections overall, the Dolphins are in prime position to build off of their 10-win season. They have committed to Tua Tagovailoa as their franchise quarterback and will look to build around him, as he enters year two, his first as the consensus starter. Meanwhile, the Panthers, who used all seven of their selections a year ago on defensive players, are in position to build off the momentum that first-year head coach Matt Rhule has generated.
In the meantime, the first of the ‘Big Three’ all-star games gets underway this week, as the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl virtual event kicks off on Wednesday. Players chosen for the 10th annual event will not have the traditional benefit of physically participating in-game week due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they will receive recognition for being identified as a top prospect by the NFLPA Bowl scouting department, in addition to the NFL Players Association providing an educational program that helps players transition to the pros.
Several key speakers will be part of the event, hosted by Maria Taylor and Ryan Clark of ESPN, including former NFL GM John Dorsey, NFL legends such as Michael Vick, Terrell Davis, Brian Dawkins and Deion Sanders. It’s all part of the NFLPA initiative to prepare players for the next level and introduce them to the NFL Players association early on in the process. The East-West Shrine Bowl, the other staple game of the all-star circuit, will also be conducting their own virtual event next week. Be sure to check back next week for a more elaborate update.
This week, we highlight some notable prospects who have accepted their invitation to the 2021 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl:
MOUNTAINEERS SIGNAL-CALLER CLIMBS UP DRAFT BOARDS
Appalachian State signal-caller ZAC THOMAS [6002/200] is viewed as one of the premier senior quarterback prospects for the 2021 draft class. A three-year starter, Thomas finished his Mountaineers career with nearly 7,000 passing yards and 69 touchdowns, to just 23 interceptions, while completing 63% of his passes. Thomas helped establish a winning culture for the football program, while providing great leadership and demonstrating excellent maturity. His cerebral awareness and knowledge of the playbook are through the roof, which equates to a strong foundation for him to build off, as he pursues an NFL career. Thomas should have a lot of appeal on Day Three to organizations looking to develop a quality backup quarterback.
WOLVERINES RUNNER LOOKS TO CLAW HIS WAY TO PROS
A four-star recruit coming out of high school, Michigan running back CHRIS EVANS [5096/216] didn’t quite live up to the hype but there is no denying the exceptional athleticism and overall talent he possesses. Evans is an elusive open-field runner, able to make defenders miss and pick up yards after contact. He has also proven to be an adequate pass-catcher out of the backfield and while he was limited to just 25 touches (160 yards) for the Wolverines this past season as a senior, his skill-set should warrant him a look as a priority free agent and potential third-down back at the next level.
CARDINAL O-LINEMAN MAKES LIKE A TREE AND LEAVES
Stanford offensive lineman FOSTER SARELL [6061/315] is coming off a stellar senior campaign for The Cardinal, helping them get back to their winning ways in 2020. Sarell was dominant at times this past season manning the right tackle position and finishes his Stanford career starting 17-of-18 games at right tackle, including 15 consecutive starts to finish. His technique, fundamentals, strength and smarts, more than compensate for his athletic shortcomings. In fact, there is a buzz amongst NFL circles, that Sarell could in fact be selected ahead of his more highly publicized teammate WALKER LITTLE, once considered to be a first-round prospect prior to injuries. While Sarell is currently flying under the radar amongst the mainstream media, NFL front offices are not. Don’t be surprised to see him go onto a long, successful NFL career as a starter.
C-USA DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR OFFERS VERSATILITY
Marshall linebacker TAVANTE BECKETT [5100/215] is no stranger to adversity after transferring from Virginia Tech-to-Marshall to finish up his collegiate career. He did so with a bang, earning Conference USA 2020 Defensive Player of the Year honors, racking up 90 tackles (seven and a half for loss), two and a half sacks and two forced fumbles in nine games played. While he may be viewed a bit undersized to man the linebacker position at the next level, Beckett has experience playing at safety and in the nickel. His versatility and instincts bode well for his next level aspirations and he loves to lay the lumber when presented with the opportunity. Look for Beckett to receive every opportunity to earn his way onto a 53-man roster as a late-round selection/priority free agent; special teams will be his ticket in.
SMALL SCHOOL PROSPECT OFF TO THE RACES
Central Arkansas was in action early and often during the college football season, an impressive feat for an FCS program during the COVID-19 pandemic! One of the biggest beneficiaries was senior cornerback prospect ROBERT ROCHELL [6013/197], who created a bit of a buzz for himself with his electric speed, nose for the football and excitement generated with the ball in his hands going the other way. The Shreveport, Louisiana native was constantly around the football, finishing with 27 tackles, creating a forced fumble and scooping up another for a 35- yard return. His resume includes 10 career interceptions and nearly 40 pass breakups during his 38-game Bears career. Blessed with prototypical height and premier speed, Rochell stands a very strong chance to be one of the few small school prospects to hear his name called during draft weekend.
Be sure to check back next week for our latest scouting watch report, as we count you down to the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland!