TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — As the Reese’s Senior Bowl’s tagline says, “The Draft Starts in Mobile.”
That much is certainly true for Alabama football, who has seven players participating in this year’s event in both on-the-field and off-the-field capacities, each trying to increase their individual NFL draft stock. Of those seven, five are slated to participate in the game on Saturday, with two being sidelined with injuries.
Let’s start with those injured.
While Crimson Tide seniors wide receiver DeVonta Smith and center Landon Dickerson won’t be playing due to injuries, both will be participating most likely to reveal how their recovery and rehab is currently going. Dickerson suffered a season-ending knee injury back on Dec. 19 against Florida in the SEC Championship Game, while Smith dislocated a finger during the College Football Playoff National Championship. Both injuries required surgery, but while both players won’t be able to take to the field on Saturday, both stand to gain something by making an appearance this week.
For Smith, his opportunity starts and ends with the Miami Dolphins. Smith is already widely regarded as a top-10 NFL draft prospect, and his time in Mobile could greatly increase those odds. Dolphins head coach Brian Flores and his staff will be coaching the National Team — the team who has both Smith and Alabama senior running back Najee Harris on its roster. The Dolphins have the No. 3 overall pick in this year’s draft, and with former Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa leading the Dolphins, this week for Smith presents an opportunity to speak with the coaches and let them know why he should be wearing aqua and orange on Sundays this fall.
For Dickerson, his gain from this week revolves around meetings. While Dickerson proved himself throughout the season as one of the top centers in the country — even bringing home the Rimington Trophy — his late-season injury could potentially cause him to drop a few spots in the draft. That being said, it shouldn’t hurt him too much, as he’s proved time and time again why he’s deserving to be a starter on an NFL roster. This week, Dickerson will look to improve his stock in whatever ways he can by meeting with NFL franchises.
Now, let’s break down the Alabama players who will be playing on the field in Saturday’s Senior Bowl.
As stated earlier, Smith and Harris will be on the roster of the National team in this year’s Senior Bowl.
For Harris, the game provides ample opportunity. Harris is currently trying to establish that he should be the first running back taken off the board in the NFL draft, and this week provides him with the opportunity to do so. Smith’s toughest competition in Clemson’s Travis Etienne and Chuba Hubbard of Oklahoma State will not be in Mobile, giving Harris his chance to shine. However, Harris does has some competition joining him.
North Carolina’s Michael Carter and Ohio State’s Trey Sermon both join Harris on the National roster. On the American team’s side, Mississippi State’s Kylin Hill and Larry Roundtree III of Missouri will provide the biggest threat. All four running backs are looking to make the same statement that Harris is. While Harris has the advantage given his stellar senior campaign along with winning the 2020 Doak Walker Award, it won’t be an easy path for Harris to separate himself this weekend.
That being said, he is fully capable of doing so if he is utilized properly by Flores and his staff.
Here is the full roster of the National team:
While the National team only has two Crimson Tide players on its roster, the American roster has five. Along with Dickerson, the American team also has offensive linemen Alex Leatherwood and Deonte Brown, long snapper Thomas Fletcher and quarterback Mac Jones.
Leatherwood stands to quite possibly gain the most out of any Crimson Tide player participating in this year’s Senior Bowl. This year’s draft is packed with talented tackles, and Leatherwood will need to shine if he wants to gain some ground. Participating with him in the Senior Bowl is Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw, USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker, Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins, Michigan’s Jalen Mayfield and BYU’s Brady Christensen — all tackles who could potentially be called onto an NFL roster in the first round.
Leatherwood is currently not projected to be drafted in the first round according to many mock drafts, but a strong showing in Mobile on Saturday could quickly turn that around.
Jones, while a late addition to the team, hopes to secure his spot as a first-round pick. After deciding to not re-sign Cam Newton and a lackluster season from 2020 starter Teddy Bridgewater, the Carolina Panthers are in need of a quarterback. With the Panthers having the No. 8 overall pick, coach Matt Rhule and his staff will have a prime opportunity to view Jones this week in Mobile.
While it is doubtful that Jones will go as high as eight, he still has a shot to prove himself this weekend. One doubt that has followed Jones is the question concerning the talent around him. At Alabama, Jones has a stellar offensive line blocking for him and a deep set of skill players and playmakers. At the Senior Bowl, Jones will have some of his linemen but will have to utilize different skill players than he is used to.
With Wake Forest’s Jamie Newman, Notre Dame’s Ian Book, Texas’ Sam Ehlinger, Arkansas’ Feleipe Franks and Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond joining Jones at the Senior Bowl, it will be a difficult task for Jones to separate himself, but not an impossible one.
Brown and Fletcher will also be looking to increase their stock, but both have mountains to climb. For Brown, he is currently projected to go late in the draft, so while he has nothing to lose and a lot to gain by participating this week, it’s uncertain how much progress can actually be made.
For Fletcher, he aims to be just the second long snapper to be taken in the NFL draft in the last six seasons.
Here is the full roster of the American team: