The 2016 Reese’s Senior Bowl is set to kickoff today at 2:30 p.m. EST, and after a week of practices, rumors and hot takes, the following list is what I think you should be focusing on during the game. Keep in mind that this list is not all-inclusive. There are a lot of talented seniors participating in today’s game, many of which do not appear below. Take a look at our complete Senior Bowl coverage to get familiar with some of the other players who stood out this week and have a lot to gain today.
Will Carson Wentz deliver?
The North Dakota State quarterback was all the buzz in Mobile, looking every bit the part of a young franchise quarterback. From his size, arm, and overall presence on the field, Wentz made believers out of all those in attendance. He needs to put a ribbon on his week with a strong performance in the game. If he has a good game, the momentum toward the top-10 will be very hard to stop.
Arguably the two best players all week, Spriggs and Spence will get to square off for the first time during the actual game. Spriggs proved worthy of early first-round consideration with his fusion of athleticism and power at the tackle position, while Spence was cat-like with his burst to the edge as a pass rusher. I’ll be watching to see if Spriggs can hold up against Spence’s speed and whether Spence will have a counter if his speed rush is cutoff.
While that may be an unfair expectation — I doubt any linebacker can stick with Ervin in pass protection — it will be important for Ragland to answer the critics (me included) who believe his athleticism left something to be desired during the week of practices. For the record, I believe Ragland will be a very physical and intimidating presence against the run, but I want to see him drop into coverage and prove he is capable for three-down duty in the NFL. If not, he better offer a lot as a pass rusher, which is another aspect of his game to keep an eye on today.
Braxton Miller vs. the pack
No offensive skill player stood out as much as Ohio State WR Braxton Miller during the week of practices, but the game provides one last chance to outshine him. SE Missouri’s Paul McRoberts finished really strong during the second and third days and looks like the one guy who could challenge Miller as a playmaker. Baylor’s Jay Lee is another wideout to watch, along with Georgia’s Malcolm Mitchell. Both pass catchers opened eyes this week and can insert their names into Day Two consideration with a big game. The Miller hype will also give the defensive backs a chance to shine, with talents like Cyrus Jones (Alabama) and Jalen Mills (LSU) looking like strong candidates to frustrate the Buckeye offensive weapon.
La Tech DL Vernon Butler is a big-butted dancing bear, displaying the kind of power to hold his ground along with sneaky quickness to penetrate the backfield. Whitehair, Tretola and Westerman all had some nice moments during practices, but Butler will be their biggest challenge so far. It’ll be fun to watch those guys duke it out in the trenches.
Will the second-best quarterback please stand up?
We all know by now that Wentz is the top quarterback in the game, but the race for who ranks next has not yet been settled. Jacob Coker had a surprisingly good week, but I want to see more velocity on his throws in live action. Dak Prescott did some nice things early in the week but seemed to taper off as the practices went on. Jeff Driskel has appealing traits but is maddeningly inconsistent, while Jacoby Brissett’s natural arm talent is overshadowed by his slow pace of play. Then there’s Brandon Allen, who in my opinion had the worst week of them all. That said, if he proves to be a gamer, the practice warts will clear up a bit.
Is Jonathan Williams back?
Williams was one of the higher-ranked running backs in the class over the summer months, but his injury in August caused him to miss the season. He was OK in practices, but I want to see if he looks like his legs are completely back under him. While he’s likely a Day Three guy, a big game today could cause him to leapfrog some of his peers.
Harvard OT Cole Toner and Western Michigan OL Willie Beavers were two of the smaller school linemen who tried to prove their worth against the big boys with mixed results. Toner was surprisingly good, displaying enough functional strength and athletic ability to win as many reps as he lost. Beavers had a really rough week and was kicked inside in an effort to protect him from the clearly more athletic edge defenders. While neither player will be more than a mid-late Day Three prospect, I want to see if they rise to the occasion today.
Who is going to make a play in the secondary?
Defensive backs are usually noticed when they either give up or make a big play. Guys with a nose for the ball and on-field instincts usually find themselves on the positive side of that aisle, so I’d like to see if Darian Thompson (Boise State), Miles Killebrew (Southern Utah), or Jeremy Cash (Duke) establish themselves as ball-hawking backend defenders.
Which practice setting will prove to be successful?
The Cowboys ran the more intense and, to be honest, better practices to watch. Will it translate into a more prepared product today? We shall see.