Players report to Mobile for the Reese’s Senior Bowl on Jan. 30. Included among the players will be six of the seven highest-rated quarterbacks in this year’s draft. The lone exception is Ole Miss’s Matt Corral, who isn’t eligible for the game because he’s a junior who hasn’t yet graduated.
The quarterbacks who will be in town are Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, North Carolina’s Sam Howell, Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe, Nevada’s Carson Strong and Auburn transfer Malik Willis of Liberty.
The order of those quarterbacks being drafted will be a major storyline of this year’s draft and Senior Bowl.
But an even more intriguing story for football fans in Mobile will be how many players from Mobile will be coming to play one last time before beginning their NFL careers.
Here’s a rundown of the Mobile players who will be competing at Hancock Whitley Stadium on Feb. 5, plus a couple of others who are ready to make their NFL dreams come true.
Jalen Tolbert, South Alabama wide receiver. The former McGill-Toolen multi-sport star will leave college as the best player in USA history. In his final season, he had 82 catches for 1,474 yards and eight touchdowns.
Tolbert should always be remembered as more than a great player. Last summer he was given the opportunity to transfer to a higher-profile program, including one in this state with a new coaching staff and a dearth of wide receiver talent. But Tolbert stayed true to his South Alabama teammates.
In a very deep draft for wide receivers, Tolbert definitely will be drafted. How he plays in Mobile for a final time will go a long way in determining how high he will go.
Neil Farrell Jr., LSU defensive lineman. The former Murphy Panther will return home with a national championship ring from the 2019 undefeated LSU season. During that championship campaign, Ferrell was one of the Tigers’ most productive defensive linemen, making 46 tackles, seven tackles for loss and three sacks. For his career, Farrell started 21 games.
The 6-foot-4, 325-pounder will be trying to show scouts his athleticism is sufficient for an NFL interior defensive lineman.
Velus Jones Jr., Tennessee wide receiver. The former Saraland star is a graduate of both Southern Cal and Tennessee. At both of those Power 5 programs, he was known as much for his explosive skills in the return game as he was as a wide receiver. Over six years, Jones played in 60 games with 20 starts. He scored 13 career touchdowns in three different ways (10 receiving, one rushing and two on kickoff returns). He finished his college career as the kickoff return yardage active leader.
One plus for him in Mobile will be his ability to star on every special team, including as a punt coverage gunner.
Roger McCreary, Auburn defensive back. The former Williamson star had worked his way into becoming a likely first-round pick. In high school, McCreary was a longtime commit to South Alabama before former Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele recognized his talent.
It’s a deep draft for quality cornerbacks, but McCreary is in the conversation to be the first one off the board in the first round along with Cincinnati’s Ahmad “Sauce” Garner, LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr. and Florida’s Kaiir Elam.
The cornerback draft got a little deeper last week when former St. Paul’s star Jalyn Armour-Davis announced he would be leaving Alabama with a year of college eligibility remaining.
Armour-Davis was Alabama’s best defensive back during another march to the SEC championship and national championship game. But Armour-Davis was sidelined for four of the last five games (and played only limited snaps in the national semifinals against Cincinnati) because of a hip injury. It’s unclear how much he will be able to work out for scouts before the draft. But I expect him to be back home during Senior Bowl Week.
Former Saraland star Cordale Flott also has a chance to be chosen in the NFL draft. Flott was rated the No. 640 prospect in the country coming out of high school. But the LSU staff saw something they liked. Flott rewarded them with a three-year career that included being a key player on the 2019 national championship team. He played in 35 career games with 21 starts. He compiled 99 career tackles and excelled playing as the slot corner.
The NFL Draft Starts in Mobile. That’s a well-deserved slogan used by the Senior Bowl.
But the draft process begins in Mobile even before then. Every Friday night during the fall there are great high school football players on display with hopes of playing at the ultimate level. This year’s Senior Bowl will again showcase much of that talent.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 19 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on Sports Talk 99.5 and the free iHeartRadio app.
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