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Cover 3: How 2021 Senior Bowl impacts NFL Draft

COVER-3-GRAPHIC

In this edition of Cover 3, the Giants.com crew breaks down the 2021 Senior Bowl and how it could impact the draft.

John Schmeelk: With the NFL Combine not taking place in Indianapolis, the Senior Bowl is going to be the only close look the public is going to get at draft eligible players this off-season. It appears the wide receiver class is extremely strong again, and perhaps even better and deeper than last year's class.

It might be an overstatement to say the changing style of college football allows slot receivers to grow on trees, but there is certainly no scarcity of them this year and a number of them impressed at the Senior Bowl.

D'Wayne Eskridge, Shi Smith, Amari Rodgers, and Cade Johnson appeared as though they will get open at the NFL level from the slot. Other receivers played inside and outside - Kadarius Toney, Cornell Powell, Marquez Stevenson, and Tylan Wallace come to mind. Then you have your perimeter wide receivers, including Dez Fitzpatrick, Austin Watkins, Frank Darby and Josh Palmer.

You also saw some bigger-bodied wide receivers in Mobile, Alabama. Nico Collins (6-4, 215) showed the ability to separate deep, track the ball and make contested catches down the field. Sage Surratt (6-2, 215) is a physical receiver and Trevon Grimes (6-3, 217) made some tough back-shoulder catches.

UCLA's Demetric Felton (5-8, 189) is a modern-day NFL weapon. He was used as a receiver and running back at UCLA, but may play receiver more often in the NFL. Cornerbacks could not stay with him coming in and out of his breaks, and he was extremely elusive with the ball in his hands. He appears to be a better receiving version of Darren Sproles and will be an exciting player to watch on the next level.

The depth of this receiver class will make NFL teams think long and hard about this position. If high-talent players can be found in the second round, is it worth selecting one in the Top 10 or 15? It is a decision many NFL teams are going to have to make this year. Whatever they do decide, multiple receivers with starting potential will be drafted on Day 2.

Dan Salomone: Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy joked on the “Giants Huddle” podcast that all a defender needs in Mobile is three or four good rushes in 1-on-1 drills "because then you've got defensive line coaches around the league, if they see it once or twice, they think they can get that out of the guy consistently." The same can be said for any position, and plenty of players turned heads and boosted their stock last week.

But the big takeaway from the 2021 Senior Bowl is what happened behind the plexiglass. Without a traditional NFL Scouting Combine this year due to the pandemic, the Senior Bowl provided what might be a prospect's only chance to get real face time with NFL decision-makers, albeit in a retrofitted setting.

"The guys that are up the decision-making chain weren't out at games this Fall because they couldn't go to a college game on Saturday and then re-enter their team's bubble and go to their game on Sunday," Nagy said going into the game. "Most of those guys travel with the team and went to their team's game, so this will be the first opportunity those guys have to really lay their eyeballs on players, which is a really underrated part of the evaluation process – actually sizing up a guy in person and then sitting across from them. I think we're all getting used to Zoom calls by now, but I think there's something to be said for in-person, human interaction."

Lance Medow: Even though the Senior Bowl showcases a select group from the 2021 draft class, it's still fair to say this year's event solidified the fact that wide receiver is one of the deepest positions. Between the three days of practices and the game, a number of wideouts stood out, especially in the slot. Clemson's Amari Rodgers has playmaker written all over him as he led the American team with four catches, including a touchdown. Rodgers is more than capable of creating separation, thanks to his speed and shiftiness. He could also serve as a return man. Shi Smith of South Carolina is another player worth keeping an eye on as he led the American team with 57 receiving yards on three receptions and comes from a program that produced a NFL receiver in each of the last two years (Deebo Samuel – 2019, Bryan Edwards - 2020).

On the National team, Louisville's Dez Fitzpatrick led all receivers with six catches for 90 yards. He has a bit more size than Rodgers and Smith and showed some flashes, thanks to his ability to make contested catches. Frank Darby of Arizona State and UCLA's Demetric Felton, who is transitioning from running back to receiver, had very productive weeks during practice.

As far as the other positions, whichever team lands North Carolina running back Michael Carter will be adding a very tough player to the backfield. Carter led all backs in the game with eight carries for 60 yards and a touchdown, thanks to his extra-effort push. He seems to be a three-down back who can run between the tackles, handle goal-line duties and - once he gets in space - good luck trying to bring down that combination of power and speed. On the defensive side, Washington corner Keith Taylor showcased strong coverage skills and helped force an interception in the game, courtesy of a deflection to teammate Damar Hamlin of Pittsburgh.

For intrigue? Wisconsin-Whitewater offensive lineman Quinn Meinerz put on a clinic all week. For a player who couldn't take the field this season because of the coronavirus pandemic, he showed no signs of rust and don't let his belly fool you. Meinerz has been pancaking trees in the wilderness in Ontario, Canada, in order to prepare for the pros. He means business and proved a Division III player is more than capable of holding his own against some of the best players in the nation.

NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah updated his ranking of the top 50 prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft for the final time before the start of the draft.

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