The NFL Draft process truly starts in Mobile when the top Seniors in the country come together for a week of practice. For some players like Florida WR Kadarius Toney or UAB DE Jordan Smith, it is a chance to solidify their status as top 40 players in the draft. For others such as Alabama QB Mac Jones, it is a chance to show that they are not just a product of their surroundings. For the small school players though, it is a chance to show they belong on the same field as some of the big named stars of the FBS.
The Senior Bowl has a history of showcasing some of the best small-school players in the country as notable NFL players such as Ali Marpet, Cooper Kupp, and David Johnson. This year seems to be different though as the small school players below the FBS level are dominating this week and are showing no signs of rust after not having a season due to Covid-19. With that being said, let’s look at some of the top small school players who have helped their draft status at this year’s Senior Bowl.
Quinn Meinerz, IOL, Wisconsin Whitewater
One of the biggest storylines coming into this week was how well would Division III’s Quinn Meinerz hold up against FBS defenders in the trenches. The answer? Pretty darn well. In a Senior Bowl group that features Alabama guard Deonte Brown and Tennessee guard Trey Smith as the big names, Meinerz has easily been the most impressive.
He measured in at a sturdy 6’3” 320 pounds and looks every bit of it out there on film. He has been powerful at the point of attack and his ability to switch hands while hand fighting without losing ground has been equally impressive. His best rep of the week in my opinion was this one rep against Notre Dame DL Daelin Hayes where he flashed his left hand early (much like Quenton Nelson likes to do) before getting his hands inside for the win. He has made himself a lot of money this week.
Quinn Meinerz was outstanding all day today. Look at this rep against Daelin Hayes. Flashes his hand to make the pass rusher commit and then works his right hand back inside to win the rep. Super impressive week so far. pic.twitter.com/DB67H6bG7r— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) January 28, 2021
David Moore, IOL, Grambling State
Even more impressive than Meinerz may be the week that David Moore is having. I don’t recall seeing anybody in NFL media talking about this player and quite frankly, I had no clue who he was prior to Tuesday. Well, that has changed in the course of three days as most are scrambling to check out this behemoth on the interior.
At a massive 6’1” 350 pounds this week, that size and strength have been apparent in every practice. After struggling with some speed in the one on ones in day one, he seems to have rebounded and has been dominant to close the week. Where he has really stood out is in the team sessions as he is simply driving defenders off the ball and out of the way. His most impressive rep came against Florida State’s Marvin Wilson where he simply dominated the rep from start to finish. He has become a must-watch for me going forward.
Best center on the American team is Grambling IOL David Moore. Locks up Marvin Wilson with ease. Look at his power at the point of attack pic.twitter.com/vBtzw1QmKl— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) January 28, 2021
Dillon Radunz, OT, North Dakota State
One of the top-rated prospects coming into this event has not disappointed in any way. Radunz was projected as a top 50 player going into this Senior season at NDSU before Covid hit and the FCS year was canceled. As a result, we weren’t able to see him go up against a stout Oregon defensive line in week one or see him much at all since last year’s FCS Championship game.
Well, the rust hasn’t shown whatsoever for Radunz who has moved all around the offensive line from center to guard to his natural spot at tackle. There have been some ups and downs but for the most part, he has looked very strong all week. He is clearly on another level athletically and his strength mixed with that makes him look like the top tackle prospect we all expected. While he may not have climbed up boards at this event, it was nice to have the FCS film affirmed with a strong showing in Mobile.
North Dakota State OT Dillon Radunz getting after Notre Dame EDGE Daelin Hayes.— Boom or Bust: The Draft Show (@BoomOrBustDraft) January 27, 2021
Radunz and Hayes were both big winners from Day 1 but Radunz gets the win here. pic.twitter.com/ngvbJW2Xad
Cade Johnson, WR, South Dakota State
Another huge surprise this week at least in my eyes has been the play of Cade Johnson out of South Dakota State. One on ones are slanted heavily in favor of the receiver but even with that in mind, Johnson has stood out. It isn’t necessarily his speed or athleticism but his polish and route running that are catching my eye.
While he’s not blowing by defenders with blazing speed like others in Mobile, he is winning almost every one of his reps with his quickness and savvy. He reminds me a lot of DaeSean Hamilton a few years back who came to Mobile and impressed enough as a route runner to climb up to a fourth-round pick. The highlight of his week, and maybe the entire week in general, was his easy one-handed catch down the sidelines on day two.
Elerson Smith, DE, Northern Iowa
Last but certainly not least is a player who I actually had on my radar prior to the week. Smith stood out on film in a match-up against Dillon Radunz back in 2019 but much like Radunz and other FCS players was hurt by the cancellation of their season. The rust showed on day one as he struggled to disengage from most blocks to start the week.
That did change on day two however as the twitch and speed that popped on film showed up in the one on ones and team session. While I still don’t think he has propelled himself to a day two pick, I do think that he has proven to be an intriguing day three developmental option for a team. His speed and explosion are very intriguing.
While Chris Ballard does love himself some Senior Bowl players, he typically doesn’t draft small school players come draft time. However, he was able to fall in love with a little-known linebacker out of South Carolina State named Darius Leonard a few years back at this event and that has turned out fairly well for both parties.
The Senior Bowl truly is one of the best events in the sport though as you can spend all season talking about these stout FBS players and then come this week the best two interior offensive linemen at the event are from Wisconsin Whitewater and Grambling State. It is just a great week to see these players on display and this year, in particular, the small school players are showing out.