The NFL Draft isn’t until April, but one of the first major steps in the process takes place this week in Mobile, Alabama, where dozens of of college football’s top prospects are in town for Saturday’s Senior Bowl.
Practices for the game are ongoing, serving as both a chance for players to work with NFL coaching staffs and to work out in front of league personnel.
Which players do you need to watch Saturday? Here are 10.
Nathan Peterman, QB, Pitt
While Cal’s Davis Webb has received most of the buzz among quarterbacks, a source told FOX Sports that Peterman is gaining more and more interest among league personnel. Peterman has the solid build of an NFL quarterback and has the production(27 TD passes this season) to back it up.
He doesn’t project to be a future NFL starter like Deshaun Watson, DeShone Kizer or Mitch Trubisky. However, Peterman could be a serviceable backup capable of stepping into an occasional starting role, much like former Pitt signal caller Tom Savage did in Houston this year.
O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
Howard has been widely regarded as one of the most under-utilized players in college football over the past four years, but that shouldn’t keep him from being a potential difference-maker at the NFL level. At 6-foot-6 and over 250 pounds, he has more than ideal size to play the position in the pros, with above-average athleticism.
And while Howard wasn’t utilized a ton by former Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, he played his best in the Crimson Tide’s biggest games. Howard tallied over 200 yards and two touchdowns in the national championship game two seasons ago, then added 106 yards and a TD this year against Clemson.
What Banner is trying to show this week is that he really loves the sport of football, something he discussed at length with FS1’s Colin Cowherd earlier this month. That has been questioned for years (so, too, has his weight). For Banner, it’s about impressing teams off the field as well on the field.
Tyus Bowser, LB, Houston
Bowser might have the most interesting story of any player in Mobile. He put up really good stats at Houston this season (8.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss), but he did all that while missing five games. If you project Bowser’s stats out to a full 13 games (instead of the eight he played in), he likely would have been among the national leaders in both categories.
That might throw the casual fan for a loop, but NFL front office folks are fully aware. Don’t be surprised to see Bowser all over your screen Saturday, and don’t be surprised to see him sneak into the second or third round on draft weekend.
Dalvin Tomlinson, DT, Alabama
If Bowser has the most unique story in Mobile, Tomlinson might be the most unique character. He was known as the “renaissance man” in Tuscaloosa -- a guy who was smart enough academically to attend Harvard and who doubled as a state wrestling champ that no one in the Alabama locker room messed with.
Oh, and he was pretty good on the field, too, tallying 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks this season for college football’s best defense.
Eddie Vanderdoes, DT, UCLA
Vanderdoes is basically the opposite of Tomlinson: a former five-star recruit who never really found his niche at UCLA. He missed all but a few snaps of the 2015 season with a knee injury and returned in 2016 to put up respectable -- if not spectacular -- stats (29 tackles, 1.5 sacks).
To many in NFL circles, Vanderdoes has been living largely off reputation. He needs a good showing this week in Mobile to prove the scouts wrong.
Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin
Like Vanderdoes, Clement has struggled with injuries in his career (missing half of the 2015 season after undergoing hernia surgery). Unlike Vanderdoes, he bounced back nicely in 2016. Clement finished this season with 1,375 yards, and he rushed for mroe than 100 yards in seven of the Badgers’ final nine games.
Clement’s production -- plus the relative NFL success of former Wisconsin backs -- make him worth watching. He once served as Melvin Gordon’s backup in Madison, the same Melvin Gordon who earned Pro Bowl honors this year.
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Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington
No Senior Bowl preview would be complete without mentioning at least one small-school guy, and Kupp might just be the best in Mobile this year. He was a four-time consensus All-American at Eastern Washington and took home the Walter Payton Award (the FCS equivalent of the Heisman) in 2015, before finishing as the runner-up in 2016.
White arrived in Mobile with first-round buzz and has done nothing to change that, according to the folks in Alabama. The second-team FOX Sports All-American had two interceptions while also serving as a dangerous special-teams threat (one punt return for a touchdown) this season.
Jeremy Sprinkle, TE, Arkansas
Sprinkle earned national notoriety for all the wrong reasons during bowl season when he got caught shoplifting from Belk during a promotional event prior to the Belk Bowl. As you can imagine, most of Sprinkle’s hard work will be done behind the scenes in Mobile, trying to convince NFL personnel that he’s not a total knucklehead.
If he can do that, he’s an intriguing NFL Draft prospect as a 6-foot-6 tight end who caught 33 balls this season. Former Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry’s success as a rookie in San Diego this season (36 catches, eight touchdowns) certainly can’t hurt Sprinkle's cause.