It has been a crazy week in the football world. The Bengals make it to the Super Bowl, Tom Brady retires, Brian Flores is suing the NFL, and Jim Harbaugh is considering a return to the NFL. However, there is a big event that is going under the radar due to all the other news we have been swamped with this week: the Senior Bowl.
The rosters this season are probably better than they have ever been at the Senior Bowl, as every position is stacked with talent. Here are five players from both the National Team and the American Team that Steelers fans need to pay the closest attention to as practices begin this afternoon.
Carson Strong — QB — Nevada
Keep an eye on how well Strong moves inside the pocket. Mobility is the biggest concern with him, but part of that issue may be due to a knee injury he has seemed to recover from. Arm strength and deep ball accuracy are his biggest strengths, but he will need to prove that he can get through his reads quickly.
Daniel Faalele — OT — Minnesota
Faalele is one of the biggest linemen to come out in years, standing at 6’9”, 380 pounds. He moves well for a man his size, but can he get low enough as a run blocker? Can he mirror bendy edge rushers in pass protection? Those will be two key questions for him to answer as we turn our attention to Mobile.
Bernard Raimann — OT — Central Michigan
Raimann is a long-framed tackle who has displayed an ability to effectively get to the second level of the defense as a run blocker. In pass protection, he is well-balanced on his feet, but adding additional weight will help him defend the bull rush more successfully. He is also 24 years old, which means that, ideally, you would expect him to be NFL-ready and a contributor as a rookie. He will be going up against several high-level edge rushers this week.
Trevor Penning — Northern Iowa
Penning is a potential first-round prospect who displays an insane amount of athleticism. At 6’7”, 340 pounds, Penning is a fluid mover who will be looking to show off his schematic versatility in Mobile. The biggest concern with him is balance, as lanky edge rushers have given him fits in college. Let’s see how he performs against some of the nation’s most talented players.
Travis Jones — Connecticut
Jones should be on the watch list of every Steelers fan that wants the team to draft a nose tackle. Jordan Davis’ price may be too steep for some, but if Jones fell to the Steelers’ pick in round three, he would be tough to pass on. At 6’4”, 328 pounds, Jones displays excellent quickness off the snap, good hand usage, and a solid pad level. He had some sack production at Connecticut, but the level of talent he is going up against this week will be much higher than what he faced in college.
Others to watch: Romeo Doubs (WR — Nevada), Jesse Luketa (EDGE — Penn State) Joshua Williams (CB — Fayetteville State)
Malik Willis — QB — Liberty
Willis has the best arm in the quarterback class, the best mobility in the quarterback class, and one of the highest IQs in the quarterback class. A poor offensive line caused Willis’ turnover rate to rise in 2021, but he is not a quitter, and he will give it everything he has until the final whistle is blown. The biggest thing to watch for this week is how well Willis plays in an NFL-style offense. If he plays well, his stock is going to rise in the weeks ahead.
Lecitus Smith — G — Virginia Tech
Smith is an athletic road-grader who can absolutely flatten defenders. He has displayed success when pulling, and he has experience in a zone-heavy scheme, which is what the Steelers are trying to instill into the current offensive line. He was not tested too much in 2021, but his talent will be on full display this week.
Velus Jones, Jr. — WR — Tennessee
The Steelers lack a true burner at wide receiver, and it is something that needs to be addressed this offseason. Jones’ 2022 season was his sixth of his collegiate career, and it was his most productive season yet. How crisp are his routes, though? Will he consistently catch balls from quarterbacks he has never played with before? Those are two questions we will get the answers to over the next 48-72 hours.
Jalen Tolbert — WR — South Alabama
Tolbert brings a nice combination of size and speed to an offense, and he enjoyed plenty of production at South Alabama, catching 82 passes for 1,474 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2021. However, he is often tight-hipped when running routes. I expect that to be something the Lions coaching staff points out to him during practices.
Leon O’Neal — S — Texas A&M
We will see what happens with Terrell Edmunds in free agency, but if the two sides cannot reach an agreement, the Steelers may be in the market for a new strong safety. O’Neal does not have a thick build, but he loves coming downhill and making big hits. Making some sort of splash play during the game on Saturday would go a long way toward securing his spot inside the top 100 picks.
Others to watch: Phidarian Mathis (DT — Alabama), Connor Heyward (FB — Michigan State (Cam’s brother)), Braxton Jones (OT — Southern Utah)
There is a brief rundown of who I believe Steelers fans should pay the closest attention to during Senior Bowl week. If you have any thoughts on the Senior Bowl, the aforementioned prospects, or just the NFL Draft in general, be sure to share them in the comment section below!