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2021 NFL Draft check-in: Senior Bowl Top 250 watch list

Let’s take a look at some of the Senior Bowl prospects the Chiefs should be watching this season.

LSU v Alabama Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Under general manager Brett Veach, the Kansas City Chiefs haven’t targeted Reese’s Senior Bowl players as much as they did under former GM John Dorsey. But Veach and his team still like to dip into the waters of the annual event in Mobile, Alabama.

In 2018, budding star Juan Thornhill had a strong showing, while Khalen Saunders became a psuedo-household name for his personality, on-field play and off-field gymnastic routine. Armani Watts and Dorian O’Daniel also both participated in the Senior Bowl. Veach and his scouting staff clearly still value the environment — and the extra time they can get with top college prospects each January.

This season — perhaps more than any other — the Senior Bowl will be a crucial opportunity for players to showcase their final development before the NFL Draft. Officials are working on ways to turn into a more useful multi-week event — but regardless of how it plays out, it’s going to be a must-see event for draft fans.

On Thursday, Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy and the Reese’s team released their list of the top 250 Senior Bowl-eligible players. For draft nerds like me, this list helps us to begin narrowing down a prospect watch list; because NFL teams tend to show interest in these players, the Top 250 list is a great place to start.

So let’s continue our series looking forward to the 2021 draft by digging through the list, picking five offensive players we — and the Chiefs — should be watching this season.

DeVonta Smith | WR | Alabama

One of the top prospects is Alabama wide receiver Devonta Smith. If his senior season goes as well as his junior year did, he likely won’t even have to show up in Mobile.

Where he wins: Smith is an excellent route runner who combines high-level quickness and fluidity with an even-higher route IQ. His ability to not only attack leverage — but also create it — is very similar to former Alabama wideouts like Jerry Jeudy and Calvin Ridley. Where Smith separates himself from those two is his ability to be a three-level threat who can be trusted in the toughest one-on-one matchups on the outside.

Where he can improve in 2020: Currently, Smith is listed at 6-foot-1 and 174 pounds. Unless that frame comes with elite speed, it’s simply not enough density for the NFL. Smith is fast — but not game-breaking fast — so he’ll most likely need to add more mass to handle the next-level physicality.

Big 2020 matchups: With the SEC planning to play their fall season, Smith will have plenty of big matchups to showcase his ability. The two biggest will be against Georgia — which will have three defensive backs who have early-draft potential — and LSU, where Smith will have a rematch against college football’s best cornerback: Derrick Stingley Jr.

Alex Leatherwood | OL | Alabama

Another player hoping to maintain his Round 1 draft status is Alabama left tackle Alex Leatherwood.

Where he wins: Leatherwood’s biggest appeal comes with the high-level starting experience at both offensive tackle and guard. He is incredibly light on his feet, showcasing an ability to mirror and match most pass rushers — even without making contact with them. Whether working to the second level or out in space, he’s extremely quick — and knows how to fit his hands into a defender’s chest from a variety of angles.

Where he can improve in 2020: Leatherwood struggles against head-up power; he needs to continue to add lower body mass. He has a relatively aggressive style of play, but doesn’t have quite the oomph to go along with it. So some NFL teams are going to feel more comfortable with Leatherwood on the inside rather than the outside.

Big 2020 matchups: Like Smith, Leatherwood will have plenty of big SEC matchups. Both Georgia and Kentucky have a handful of powerful rushers who utilize their length well and can threaten Leatherwood on the edge — or give him the chance to showcase growth in his game.

Nick Eubanks | TE | Michigan

As in most seasons, there isn’t a lot of top-end tight end talent in the 2021 class. But with some digging, you find Nick Eubanks, who was a backup tight end for Michigan in 2019.

Where he wins: Eubanks’ usage has been pretty varied, with reps in-line, at H-back and even split-out wide showcasing a wide variety of skills. He’s a good mover — one with with natural speed and explosion. His body control — and ability to attack the ball no matter what adjustment is needed — really catches the eye. He’s a quality momentum blocker — whether on the move or pulling — but showcases the hip fluidity and strength to turn defenders at the line of scrimmage.

Where he can improve in 2020: Unfortunately for Eubanks, he plays in the Big Ten, which has cancelled their fall season. He has the option to go back to school; there’s a chance that the Big Ten will allow its schools to schedule some out-of-conference games in the fall season. If he opts to come out, Eubanks could use the Senior Bowl to showcase a more filled-out body and more experience against one-on-one coverage. He’s currently a relatively big, relatively athletic tight end who can play every position; there just isn’t a lot of tape available.

Big 2020 matchups: Without any games established, the next time to see Eubanks will be at the Senior Bowl. Looking at the Top 250 list, there should be no shortage of quality matchups to face in Mobile.

Tylan Wallace | WR | Oklahoma State

Where he wins: When he’s called upon to do so, Wallace is lightning-quick getting in and out of breaks. He pairs that ability with good long speed and a great feel for space in a defense. This allows him to be a threat both underneath and deep; he has the athletic traits to separate in coverage or make players miss when he has the ball in his hands. But despite his average size, where Wallace may shine the most is his ability to attack the football — whether working back to it or high-pointing it in traffic.

Where he can improve in 2020: For all of the traits Wallace has that should make him a great route runner, he just hasn’t had the chance to show it off very often; the OSU offense has limited him to a lot of vertical routes and bubble screens. If he wants to be trusted as an NFL route runner, Wallace also needs to improve his release moves off the line of scrimmage. But more importantly, he has return to form after a season-ending knee injury in 2019.

Big 2020 matchups: The Big 12 plans on playing out their fall schedule, but the conference’s softer zone defenses won’t challenge Wallace much more than they already have. The season finale against TCU is one to watch; they always play a physical brand of football. The early-season matchup against Tulsa will likely provide Wallce his greatest challenge against man coverage.

Dillon Radunz | OT | North Dakota State

Where he wins: Radunz is a polarizing prospect — and the hype may not even be big enough. He’s a very fluid mover with loose hips he can use to not only pull across the formation but also skip-pull outside to seal the edge. You’ll be hard pressed to find a week he doesn’t run 40 yards downfield to help finish a block. In the running game, Radunz fires off the ball with intensity and power, helping move bodies on the first level before seamlessly climbing to the second. Rarely challenged as a pass protector, he showcases the lateral agility and hand technique to excel.

Where he can improve in 2020: Radunz really just needs to be challenged more often in pass protection to see how he reacts to plus athletes. While defenders rarely take advantage, we do see some missteps — along with some reps where he’s late out of his slide. He could also use refinement to his punches; once in the NFL, the athletic gap between himself and other players will close.

Big 2020 matchups: While the Missouri Valley Conference has cancelled its fall season North Dakota State has announced a game against Central Arkansas. It’s also rumored that the conference has given teams permission to schedule three out-of-conference games on their own. If those happen, they could be big for Radunz. If the Bisons can land a game against a Power Five school with quality edge rushers, that will be must-see television for numerous players — Radunz included.

In the next article of the series, we’ll look at defensive prospects to watch from the Senior Bowl’s Top 250 list.

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