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Senior Bowl preview: Three Day 3 draft prospects to watch for the Chiefs

Let’s examine three Senior Bowl players who may not be picked until Day 3 — but could find a role with the Chiefs.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 15 New Orleans Bowl - Appalachian State v UAB Photo by John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One of the draft season’s biggest events — the Reese’s Senior Bowl — will be played on January 30. So we’re looking at some players (and position groups) the Kansas City Chiefs could be watching in Mobile, Alabama.

In the first installment of our preview series, we looked at players with the most to prove. Now we’ll shift to some late-round prospects — players who don’t have the hype of top-100 prospects.

While the late rounds of the draft don’t attract the most attention, Day 3 picks make up the majority of most teams’ picks — and the Senior Bowl is one of the best places to see how the league may see some of these players. This is because NFL coaching staffs run the practices, allowing us to get an idea of how pro coaches see these players translating to the NFL.

We’re focusing specifically on the Chiefs and their specific personnel weaknesses — interior offensive linemen, wide receivers, pass rushers and perhaps linebackers. But remember: even at positions of great need, you can’t necessarily plan on late-round picks starting right away. Instead, teams are looking for specific skill sets that may be effective in situational football — or at least show the potential to develop in the future.

Day three sleepers

Austin Watkins | WR | University of Alabama-Birmingham

Watkins is the cousin of Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins — and was the third player in UAB history to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards in a season. Checking in at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, he has a little size over his older cousin — and at the next level, could profile very well as an X-wide receiver.

Watkins is a big-bodied wideout who understands how to use his size and power. His ability to elevate and control his body in the air makes him a dangerous receiver at the catch point. That body control also helps when working in and out of breaks; he’s able to drop his hips low and flip them on a dime. For a guy of his size, Watkins is very fluid on hard-breaking routes, which allows him to operate very well in the intermediate areas.

Lately, we’ve seen how difficult it is for big-bodied, contested-catch wide receivers to survive in the NFL — but Watkins shouldn’t be labeled as such. Even if his deep speed may only be average, he’s incredibly explosive both linearly and laterally, giving him the ability to escape defenders on his breaks. Watkins may not ever be a league leader in separation statistics, but he’s more than capable of creating throwing windows.

When his explosiveness and size, Watkins is a very intriguing NFL wide receiver prospect. Neither his hand usage or footwork are well polished — which will play a part in driving him down the draft boards — and his vertical ball tracking leaves something to be desired, too. But there would be plenty of time for Kansas City to develop his skills in these areas. Even if he’s never elite in these areas, the things he does well would fit the Chiefs’ needs.

Aaron Banks | IOL | Notre Dame

Banks was part of a dominant Notre Dame offensive line — and has often been credited with a large part of its improvement as he became a starter in 2019. At 6-feet-5 and 330 pounds, he has the physical profile and movement skills that are often prized in the NFL.

You have to start with Banks’ size. And not just his weight, but his width, too — along with his ability to maximize that width. He’s able to utilize his hands outside of his frame, stay square and slide his feet; rarely does a defender get the chance to work through a narrow frame. And like any player of his size, he can move bodies and generate space.

Banks may not be the most powerful player in terms of his initial punch or core strength, which would help him torque defenders around him — but given his mass, he can generate movement. He has good grip strength to attach to defenders — and can continue to drive his legs driving to clear out rushing lanes. He’s also able to stay light on his feet so he can mirror defenders laterally while he’s attached. For a player his size, his ability to recover and adjust is impressive, allowing him to be useful in multiple blocking schemes.

Along with his average power, another area where Banks doesn’t profile well is his limited range. He shows functional movement skills while reaching shaded defenders, pulling around the horn or climbing to the second level, but he’s not overly impressive in any of these areas. In fact, there may not be an area in which Banks truly excels — but with his unique size-athleticism profile, he’s functional across the board. His size — and his ability to generate movement — does align with the direction the Chiefs appear to be taking along the offensive line.

JaCoby Stevens | Safety | LSU

Stevens is one of my absolute favorite players in this draft class — a sentiment that many seem to share. Given LSU’s coveted number seven jersey in 2020, Stevens was categorized as their best playmaker — and was considered their leader both on and off the field. He’s often hard to find in the film because he will line up all over the field.

Stevens is listed at 6-feet-2 and 230 pounds, so he definitely has the size of a linebacker — and probably moves more like a linebacker than a true safety. But that didn’t stop the Tigers from playing him as a deep centerfield safety — and everywhere else on the field. Stevens not only played nearly every nearly position imaginable but was also the player responsible for relaying the defensive play-calls and making adjustments. He’s a smart player — both pre- and post-snap — which allows him to make up for his moderate athleticism.

Whether lining up in the box or fitting the run from a deep position, Stevens is a very good run defender. He triggers downhill quickly — usually taking good angles — and fills gaps with authority. For a safety, he’s also quite well-versed in block identification and deconstruction.

In coverage, Stevens is a bit of a short strider — which limits top-end speed — but his burst and change-of-direction skills are more than adequate. He has the ability to identify plays quickly and demonstrates quality footwork, which allows him to make up for some athletic limitations — and sometimes make high-caliber plays on the ball. Even while being used as a chess piece, Stevens has shown the ability to play in man, shallow and deep zone coverages.

Stevens could survive at the next level as a box safety in specific schemes — mostly operating as a robber or deep-half player. But to maximize his strengths (and limit his weaknesses), it likely makes the most sense for him to transition into being a full-time linebacker. With the Chiefs, Stevens could provide an instant improvement as a dime linebacker; he has a physical profile and IQ required for the role — and his skillset translates almost perfectly. We’re already hearing that at the Senior Bowl, he’ll be used mostly — if not exclusively — at linebacker. And that’s why Chiefs fans should keep their eyes on him.

Arrowhead Pride will continue to bring you Senior Bowl coverage all the way through the week of practice and the game. Make sure to watch for the next installment of this series.