MOBILE, Ala. - After the first day jitters and nerves, players are expected to show consistency and improvement at the Senior Bowl. I’ve seen day-one superstars that went missing in action in subsequent practices which only serves to torpedo their draft stock.
Other times, players who don’t have the notoriety of a powerhouse university turn out jaw-dropping performances and become sleepers in the NFL draft. Now that I’ve been in on-location for a couple of days, I was finally able to home in on three prospects from Wednesday's practices that could immediately fill the Denver Broncos' roster needs.
Here are the key observations from my Day 2 notebook.
Unusual Belle of the Ball
If you google Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater center Quinn Meinerz, the first thing you’ll see is NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah describing him as his “favorite player at the Senior Bowl.” The 6-foot-3, 320-pound Wisconsin native significantly capitalized on his momentum from Day 1's practice with ferocious energy on Wednesday.
With long, flowing hair protruding from his helmet and his rolled-up jersey revealing an unusually strong core, Meinerz proved that talent can come from anywhere, including small schools. He has been observed in back-to-back practices pancaking multiple defensive linemen and linebackers.
Meinerz has an elite level of awareness that allows him to utilize his raw strength to move grown men against their will. Many times, the former Warhawk commanded the huddle and set the tone for the entire practice. In the pit where offensive and defensive linemen work multiple drills including one-on-ones, Meinerz dominated in almost every aspect from pass protection to run blocking.
His powerful punch, hand replacement, and lower body drive allow him to not only absorb larger defenders but keep them at bay. In team drills, it was evident that all of the National Team’s running backs preferred to run behind center during inside handoffs.
Meinerz has a lot of similarities to Colorado native and Super Bowl-bound Tampa Bay Buccaneer center Ryan Jensen. Meinerz has a lot of versatility and could easily play guard in addition to center.
Meinerz’s fundamentals and technique are impressive, but it’s his controlled aggression and high motor that have the scouting community buzzing. This reinforces the fact that talent can come from anywhere, including from universities and players that you might not have heard of.
Sideline-to-Sideline Coverage LB? Check
Every player at the Senior Bowl has their own experiences and a unique road traveled that got them an invitation to Mobile. But I haven’t seen any player endure the same tribulations that Ohio State LB Justin Hilliard has.
The 6-foot-2, 233-pound linebacker spent six seasons with the Buckeyes after receiving extended eligibility from the NCAA in 2019. Hilliard had two separate torn biceps in 2015 and 2016 in addition to suffering a partially torn ACL in 2019.
Nonetheless, he returned to the field in 2020 and played in six games logging 33 total tackles (20 solo), five tackles for a loss, one interception, one forced fumble, and three fumble recoveries.
As one of three Ohio State linebackers attending the Senior Bowl, Hilliard’s performance on Wednesday separated him from the pack. His fluid hips and precise footwork allow him to cover tight ends, running backs, and even some wideouts.
Hilliard has an impressive ability to change direction quickly and utilizes his speed from sideline-to-sideline matching receivers’ stride for stride. While some in the scouting community have described him as a 4-3 SAM linebacker, his innate athletic ability and awareness suggest that he could thrive in a 3-4 system as well.
Zone coverage would give him the freedom to cover opponents in open space and break on the ball rather quickly. Hilliard also showed during one-on-ones against offensive tackles in the team period, displaying a surprising set of pass rush moves as well.
I currently have Hilliard projected as a Day 3 selection in the draft which is appropriate given the questions surrounding his injury history. However, if Hilliard can put together a full-week of consistent coverage, effort, and demonstrate his ability to be coached, his stock could elevate towards the top of the third-round.
Tone Setter and Insider Thumper
Before he was blasting his way through the powerhouse SEC Conference at LSU, Jabril Cox had humble beginnings. The 6-foot-2, 233-pound Kansas City native had to prove his abilities at North Dakota State. The former Bison football star played in 45 games at NDSU, where he revealed his monster style of play as he was credited with 258 career tackles (158 solo), 32 tackles for loss, and 14 sacks.
Not only was he a thumper and tackling machine, but he proved to have a knack for turnovers logging six interceptions, three fumble recoveries, and one forced fumble. It didn’t take long for Cox to implement his aggressive playing ability at LSU last season where he starred in 10 games and recorded 58 tackles (37 solo), 6.5 tackles for loss, one sack, three interceptions, five passes defended, one fumble recovery, and defended five passes.
For a second straight practice, I witnessed Cox putting offensive linemen on their back. The powerful run stuffer showed an exceptional ability to diagnose run plays and maneuver around or knock down opposing blockers.
Cox understands the significance of attacking the ball-carrier with low core gravity. Although tackling is not permitted in the Senior Bowl, Cox issued a vicious set of hits that caused incompletions without hurting or taking the receiver down.
Even in positional and stretching periods, Cox can be observed punching or ripping the football out of anyone’s hands that are holding it. I currently project Cox as a third-round linebacker, which would be an ideal spot for the Broncos to pick up the snot rattling hitter.