MOBILE, Ala. — The two best teams in football will take to the NFL’s biggest stage in 12 days, and so it’s excusable if you haven’t turned the page on 2017 just yet. But there are 30 teams here in the Deep South doing just that this week, with the Senior Bowl unofficially kicking off draft season for the coaching staffs who spend these days getting caught up on what the scouts have been working on all year. And that means everyone’s looking at the quarterbacks.
There are two here with, at least, an outside shot at being the first one taken in April. Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield—both on the North roster, coached by the quarterback-needy Broncos—are chasing UCLA’s Josh Rosen and USC’s Sam Darnold in what’s shaping up to be a four-horse race for positioning inside the top half of the first round.
Rosen and Darnold, as underclassmen, aren’t eligible to play here, and that’ll give both Allen and Mayfield the chance to make a first impression on all the guys who’ll be poking and prodding them over the next three months.
“Baker’s helped himself a lot already, and he can do even more this week, just by looking great doing what he’s done—being accurate, standing in the pocket,” said one AFC college scouting director. “He’s on the same team with the guy some people are expecting to go first overall, and if he looks like the best quarterback on that team with Allen there, it’d be tremendous for him.
“And it’s how Baker interviews too, he can help himself off the field. Allen too. The comparison to [Carson] Wentz is there, but Wentz was so far ahead, he was so smart and such a grinder, Allen’s still working at that. And he can show progress here.”
In other words, starting on the practice field on Tuesday, it’s Game On in this quarterback derby. And those aren’t the only guys to watch. Here are seven more names you might, or might not, recognize that can do themselves some good.
Marcus Davenport, EDGE, Texas-San Antonio: Don’t be surprised if we leave here talking about Davenport as a potential Top 10 pick, like we did with Aaron Donald in 2014. He’s 6' 6", 260 pounds, a physical freak with a premium skill (pass rushing), and this week will go a long way in proving how he’ll hold up against a higher level of competition.
Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State: The receiver class is considered shaky this year, and that’ll provide opportunity for this ex-juco transfer who’s big, long and productive (100 catches as a senior). How well he runs will be a key, as will how he holds up against top competition this week.
Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State: Gesicki was used all over the field in college, which raised one big question: Can he block? If the 6' 6", 249-pounder can prove to be more than just an outsized receiver, he could shoot up from the middle-round territory he now finds himself in.
Da’Shawn Hand, DL, Alabama: Hand was a mega-recruit coming out of high school, had to wait his turn behind a bevy of future NFL d-linemen, then got hurt has a senior. He still has the measureables that made him a coveted commodity four years ago, but has a reputation as a guy those at Bama made excuses for. This week, he gets his shot at putting that narrative to rest.
Desmond Harrison, OT, West Georgia: Harrison has everything you want—athleticism, size, feet and length—and he showcased all of that as a collegian, but at the Division II level. Unfortunately, he won’t be on the field this week as he deals with a knee injury. But his interviews will be important; he was kicked out of Texas three years ago and carries character questions.
Uchenna Nwosu, EDGE, USC: Steady and productive, Nwosu emerged as the Trojans’ top pass-rusher this fall, and is widely seen as a great kid who plays his ass off. That said, he’s a little bit of a linebacker/end tweener, and still has to prove he’s big enough, strong enough and fast enough for his game to translate.
Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State: FBS’s leading rusher is a Day 2 prospect as of right now. Could he sneak in the first round? The details will matter here – one big area where he’ll have to show his ability is in pass protection – as he tries to distinguish himself among a crowded class of tailbacks.
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