NFL draft: 5 noteworthy facts about 2020 Senior Bowl watch list

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The Senior Bowl is the premier pre-draft event that draws the eyes of hundreds of NFL talent evaluators each January in Mobile, Alabama. Although we are more than 150 days away from the event, it doesn’t feel too far off in the future now that the watch list for the 2020 prospects — 474 of them in all — has been released.

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Here are five interesting notes about the watch list:

Arkansas has as many players as Alabama

At first, we were surprised to see the same number of watch list players — seven apiece — from Alabama as from Arkansas. On the surface, this is stunning considering Bama has sent 83 draft picks to the NFL over the past decade while the Razorbacks have netted 34.

Yes, the Crimson Tide remain one of college football’s deepest wells of talent. But when we listed Bama as our deepest program for potential 2020 NFL draft talent, we were figuring in the school’s incredible crop of underclassmen. Let us not overlook their seniors, of course, as DL Raekwon Davis, CB Shyheim Carter, CB Trevon Diggs and LB Anfernee Jennings, among others, are highly regarded prospects.

It’s nice to see the Hogs join the Senior Bowl fun at the same level as their SEC rivals. Of the Arkansas players listed, a few we’ve liked so far in our analysis include DL McTelvin Agim, TE Cheyenne O’Grady (even though the coaching staff reportedly motivated him by giving him second- and third-team reps in camp) and LB De'Jon Harris.

Hail to the Victors

One school had far and away the most players on the 2020 watch list. That would be the Michigan Wolverines, with a whopping 15 — matching the number the school had entering the 2016 college football season.

Michigan had only one player (RB Karan Higdon) at the event last season and a total of five players drafted in April, four of whom were underclassmen. So it’s clear that Jim Harbaugh’s strong senior class talent shows from a team that started well last season before fading but is being projected as Yahoo Sports’ preseason No. 7-ranked team.

Michigan QB Shea Patterson made the Senior Bowl's 2020 watch list but must play better for the Wolverines. (Getty Images)
Michigan QB Shea Patterson made the Senior Bowl's 2020 watch list but must play better for the Wolverines. (Getty Images)

(We also playfully will mention that Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy is a graduate of Michigan.)

Here’s the breakdown of the schools with the most 2020 Senior Bowl watch list players:

  • Michigan — 15

  • Auburn — 13

  • Ole Miss, South Carolina — 11

  • Georgia, LSU, Mississippi State, Ohio State — 10

  • Florida, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Tennessee — 9

  • Missouri, Purdue, Vanderbilt — 8

  • Alabama, Arkansas, Oregon, Texas — 7

  • Utah, Iowa, Iowa State, Maryland, Nebraska, North Texas, Syracuse — 6

And for the record, powerhouse Clemson had only four invitations. Most of its best players are underclassmen, with many of them following the Deshaun Watson plan of attending and graduating in three years, which seems to have worked out fairly well for Dabo Sweeney’s program.

Plenty of quarterbacks

Among the watch list players, there were 29 quarterbacks listed.

Some are well-known to college football fans, such as Oregon’s Justin Herbert, Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts (an Alabama transfer), Missouri’s Kelly Bryant (a Clemson transfer), Michigan’s Shea Patterson and Arizona’s Khalil Tate.

Others — such as UT-Chattanooga’s Nick Tiano, Florida International’s James Morgan, Northern Colorado’s Jacob Knipp, Illinois State’s Brady Davis and Liberty’s Stephen “Buckshot” Calvert — are perhaps less so.

Clearly, Herbert is the crown jewel of this class. With the Senior Bowl able to attract eventual high picks in recent years such as Carson Wentz, Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, Daniel Jones and others, it will be interesting to see if Herbert attends the event in five months.

(We recently wrote about what Herbert and next year’s draft’s top QB prospects must do to improve their draft stocks this coming season)

Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts has won the Oklahoma starting QB job and is on 2020 NFL draft radars. (Getty Images)
Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts has won the Oklahoma starting QB job and is on 2020 NFL draft radars. (Getty Images)

Hurts — who recently won the Sooners’ starting job — also will be a fascinating player to track this season. With Mayfield and Kyler Murray going first overall the past two seasons, Oklahoma’s reputation as a QB factory under Lincoln Riley has seen a major bump. And with Hurts returning to the state of Alabama, where he led the Crimson Tide to a national title and a 26-2 record as a starter, there would be a lot of attention on him that week should he attend.

There also are a few other QB names of note, including Towson’s Tom Flacco (younger brother of the Denver Broncos’ Joe Flacco, who made a name for himself at the 2008 Senior Bowl); Northwestern’s T.J. Green (son of former Pro Bowl QB Trent Green who is in a fascinating battle for the Wildcats’ starting job); and Houston’s D’Eriq King, who has some Murray-esque skills and stands a very similar 5-foot-9.

The best of the best on the list

The 2020 NFL draft is expected to be underclassman-heavy, with as much as three-quarters of the first round potentially composed of non-seniors. That doesn’t mean there are not some elite prospects who could end up in Mobile.

High on that list include Herbert, Diggs, Davis, LSU CB Kristian Fulton, Auburn DL Derrick Brown, TCU OT Lucas Niang, South Carolina DL Javon Kinlaw, Notre Dame EDGE Julian Okwara, Virginia CB Bryce Hall, Minnesota WR Tyler Johnson, Oregon LB Troy Dye, Texas WR Collin Johnson, Washington OT Trey Adams, Tennessee EDGE Darrell Taylor, Cal S Ashtyn Davis, TCU CB Jeff Gladney and Vanderbilt TE Jared Pinkney.

Herbert has the look of a top-10 pick, and possibly first overall. Fulton was better than Greedy Williams before getting hurt last year and has a chance to be one of the top corners drafted. Johnson is one of our favorite receivers despite lacking top-end speed. Davis, Kinlaw and Brown highlight what could be a strong DL crop. Pinkney might be our favorite TE prospect in this year’s crop early on.

This appears to be a very good senior group entering the 2019 season, but it might not be one of the best we’ve seen in recent years.

Small-school wonders

Every year there are some players who emerge from the woodwork in Mobile amongst the big boys. Nagy and his scouting staff did an excellent job procuring the best smaller-school prospects possible last season, with Alabama State OT Tytus Howard (Houston Texans first-rounder), Delaware S Nasir Adderley (Los Angeles Chargers second-rounder) and Western Illinois DT Khalen Saunders (Kansas City Chiefs third-rounder) topping last year’s group.

Liberty Flames WR Antonio Gandy-Golden is a top small-school NFL prospect. (Getty Images)
Liberty Flames WR Antonio Gandy-Golden is a top small-school NFL prospect. (Getty Images)

Among the top smaller-school players we see on this year’s list include: Flacco, Calvert, Knipp, Tiano, Liberty WR Antonio Gandy-Golden, Montana’s Dante Olson, Lenior-Rhyne S Kyle Dugger, Northern Arizona QB Case Cookus, UC-Davis QB Jake Maier, Illinois State RB James Robinson, James Madison CB Rashad Robinson; Portland State TE Charlie Taumoepeau, Duquesne RB A.J. Hines, Jacksonville State S Marlon Bridges and East Tennessee State EDGE Nasir Player.

Flacco is not the only NFL blood on the list. This might be a name you recognize: South Dakota State PK Chase Vinatieri — yes, that’s Adam’s nephew. Can you imagine an uncle-nephew combination kicking at the same time in the league?

Chase has been one of college football’s best kickers over the past three seasons, making 38 of his 52 attempts, including 27 of 35 the past two seasons with a long of 57 yards. The converted wide receiver and quality athlete even has rushed three times for 37 yards and two scores.

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