Joe Schoen spent Thanksgiving watching the Bills, his former team, comfortably defeat the Saints, 31-6, in New Orleans. With Buffalo on its way to another AFC East title, no one would have thought twice about the then-assistant general manager taking a seat on the team plane and flying home to enjoy the long weekend, which is hard to come by during the grind of an NFL season.
He turned it down.
Schoen had a game to scout in Alabama … but not at Alabama. There's a difference. The South Alabama Jaguars hosted the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers the day after Thanksgiving at Hancock Whitney Stadium, the new home of the Senior Bowl. Jim Nagy, the executive director of the annual college all-star game taking place right now in Mobile, Ala., spotted him there.
"A lot of guys at Joe's level, being the No. 2 guy of an organization, they have a bunch of scouts going through to see those players, the Sun Belt players, right?," Nagy said on the “Giants Huddle” podcast about the Giants' new general manager. "They've got area scouts, regional scouts, so Joe could have just sat in his hotel and finished up reports for the week or done whatever he wanted to do. But the fact that he got in the car and drove a four-hour round-trip … the fact that he was motivated enough to do that, I just don't think a lot of guys that sometimes elevate to the level that Joe's at would have taken that initiative. It's just a little anecdotal piece, but I feel it speaks to who Joe is and how he operates."
Both men will be busy again this week.
The 2022 edition of the college showcase kicked off Tuesday with the first of three practice days before Saturday's game. This week will go a long way in setting up draft boards around the NFL as last year's Senior Bowl featured a record 106 players selected in the draft, representing 41 percent of the entire 2021 class.
"I think this  group rivals that group," said Nagy, a former NFL scout who was part of six teams that reached the Super Bowl (including four winners). "I'll be interested to see where the numbers end up shaking out."
Nagy said the 2022 class is deep at tight end, offensive tackle, running back, and edge rusher. Because of players who opted out due to the pandemic and received an extra year of eligibility, the Senior Bowl had a much larger pool to choose from this year. Typically, they have 500 names on the board. This year, they had 700.
"It didn't really affect the top of the board," Nagy said. "It really affected Day 3 grades. Fifth through seven [rounds], the numbers were much greater. That made it a lot more of a challenge."
'DISRUPTIVE' EDGE CLASS
There could be five-to-seven edge defenders selected in the first round coming out of the Senior Bowl, according to Nagy. The group includes former conference defensive players of the year DeAngelo Malone (Western Kentucky, Conference USA), Cameron Thomas (San Diego State, Mountain West), and Jermaine Johnson II (Florida State, ACC).
Nagy also mentioned Kingsley Enagbare (South Carolina), Arnold Ebiketie (Penn State), Amare Barno (Virginia Tech), Dominique Robinson (Miami-Ohio), and Myjai Sanders (Cincinnati) as players to watch.
"Guys are going to have a really hard time getting a hand on this guy in terms of snap anticipation and his get-off," Nagy said of Sanders. "The sack numbers weren't there this year, but the pressures were. His pressure rate and volume of pressures were off the charts. … That group from top to bottom, you're going to find good pass rush help all through Day 2."
'DIFFERENT FLAVORS' OF TIGHT ENDS
Nagy described the tight end group in Mobile as "really deep" with "a lot of different flavors." The "hot name in the league right now" is Isaiah Likely (Coastal Carolina). Grant Calcaterra (SMU) is a "big, fluid guy that can get down the seam." Greg Dulcich (UCLA) is a player "if you hit him on the move, he can run away from you."
In terms of the big-frame tight ends who can play with their hand in the dirt, Nagy said look no further than Jeremy Ruckert (Ohio State) and Charlie Kolar (Iowa State).
"Both those guys have more in the pass game than I think they showed in college, especially Ruckert," Nagy said. "I think he's going to have a really big week down here"
Trey McBride (Colorado State) is probably at the top of the group, according to Nagy, and "whoever drafts McBride, that's their starter next year." Jake Ferguson (Wisconsin) and Daniel Bellinger (San Diego State) also provide versatility.
Nagy said they usually struggle to field six tight ends at the Senior Bowl. This year, they have strong group that runs nine deep. And it could have been more, Nagy said.
As Nagy pointed out, the 2019 Senior Bowl produced 10 first-rounders – and five were offensive linemen. So, the college all-star game isn't just about the middle or late rounds of the draft.
"I think this group rivals that group," Nagy said. "Actually, we have more higher-graded guys coming into our week [this year]. I think a lot of those guys [in 2019] became first-rounders. We had like four guys out of that group that really came down here and just became first-round picks by the way they performed."
Here are some names to watch:
Trevor Penning (Northern Iowa): "It's going to be exciting to see how high he can climb. I think the last box he needs to check is can he do it against NFL people because you always want small-school players to look dominant on tape. Trevor is dominant. He's going to have a big week."
Darian Kinnard (Kentucky) and Daniel Faalele (Minnesota): "Both those guys are huge human beings. Both are light on their feet for being so big."
Abraham Lucas (Washington State): "Doesn't get a lot of buzz because he's in the Pac-12….but makes it look easy in the Pac-12."
Zion Johnson (Boston College): "Top-rated guard in draft…extremely intelligent guy. I think he'll be Pro Bowl-level guard."
Cole Strange (UT-Chattanooga): "A name the league really loves"
Specifically about the Giants, Nagy said they "should easily be able to find two starters out of what they see here in Mobile."
WR-CB MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Like training camp, the 1-on-1 matchups at the Senior Bowl are a must-see every year. Here are some skill players to watch:
WR Danny Gray (SMU): "Just scratching the surface. You put on the tape, super explosive, big-time playmaker. We have three SMU skill players in this game. It's one of those offenses where they have to spread the ball around a bunch, but Danny, when he gets the ball in his hands, he's a big play waiting to happen."
WR Jalen Tolbert (South Alabama): "He's going to be somewhere in that Top 100 mix. I think he'll elevate. I think Jalen is going to play early as a pro."
WR Alec Pierce (Cincinnati): "He really took off this year" and "became a go-to guy."
DB Roger McCreary (Auburn): "Really good [in the] slot."
DB Tariq Woolen (UTSA): "A guy that right now is under the radar. I think by the time we get to April, he's going to be a household name if you're a draft person. He's almost 6-4, 210-pound kid that's going to run in the low 4.3s from UTSA. He's going to be one of the top height-weight-speed prospects in this draft, and he's a guy that converted from wideout to two years ago. You watch his 2020 tape, you love the fact that he's aggressive and he's willing to put his face on people and strike people. Obviously new to the position, he had a lot of instincts things and technique stuff to clean up. This year, he comes back and is coached by a former NFL player there, and he did clean up a lot of those things."
View photos from Joe Schoen's first days on the job as the new general manager of the Giants.