Essentially, the Senior Bowl is an all-star game, but it has become a critical event for scouts and general managers’ perception of an athletes’ physical and mental abilities. 1 vs. 1s are stressed in practice and gives those in attendance a notion of confidence or lack thereof in the player’s ability to win those crucial battles, whether it is lineman in the trenches or receivers and corners on the boundaries. Mental fortitude is imperative in the NFL, and this is the first opportunity for the players to showcase their ability not only to listen, process, and generate the techniques that are being coached but also show how quickly they can adapt. Players can answer lingering questions about their play, confirm or change opinions of them in just a week, which is both exciting and daunting for incoming draft prospects
The Falcons have holes to fill at defensive line, offensive guard, cornerback, linebacker and running back. Below are candidates to keep an eye on that could be available during Atlanta’s first three picks (16, 47, 55).
C/OG – Lloyd Cushenberry
Cushenberry may soon see his draft stock rise after an impressive Senior Bowl. With an eye-popping win in 1 on 1s over future first-rounder Javon Kinlaw, he answered questions about his ability to hold up against top-level defensive line talent. Though the team still has the ever-reliable Alex Mack, his contract expires after this season. Center is arguably the most important job on the offensive line, requiring athleticism, intelligence, and the ability to diagnose then communicate defensive shifts, stunts, and twists. Cushenberry hasn’t missed a game since earning the starting center job at LSU, displaying everything a general manager could want in a center. He would compete immediately for starting guard and serve as a high-quality back up for Mack before eventually replacing him.
DL – Javon Kinlaw
The aforementioned Kinlaw has been unbeatable in 1 on 1s thus far at the Senior Bowl (aside from the rep against Cushenberry). He is a physical specimen, similar to how Jadeveon Clowney was viewed coming out of South Carolina. Based on size and athleticism alone, Kinlaw will be in the discussion at the 16th pick should Thomas Dimitroff decide to stay put. He is best when attacking 1-gap but can play the 2-gap as well. In my opinion, he is best suited for a 4-3 defensive front at the 3 technique. Pairing Kinlaw and Grady Jarrett could prove to be a deadly pairing for interior lineman. Unfortunately, he is done for the week in Mobile because of tendinitis in his knee, but that seems to be precautionary as he prepares for the Combine and then the draft.
DL – Jason Strowbridge
Strowbridge is likely a day 2 selection due to his underwhelming lower-body size, hindering him from playing full time on the defensive line. He does have value in situational matchups, and his lateral quickness will allow him to be a disruptor through stunts and twists. Strowbridge is a developmental player with high upside, but this is exactly why he is a day 2 selection.
LB – Akeem Davis-Gaither
Davis-Gaither is the prototypical future linebacker of the NFL’s pass driven league. He has as much if not more range than Debo. This pair would be the most dynamic duo in the league at their respective positions. With the speed and instincts that he has displayed, a question mark would be whether or not the Appalachian State product can transition his skill set to the next level. Though Davis-Gaither has shown his hand-usage ability in beating blocks, the knock is that scouts would like to see him engage at the point of attack in the run game. Regardless if he pans out as a starting three-down linebacker, he possesses value as a special teams contributor.
CB – AJ Green
Ideally, Kristian Fulton would be the cornerback I would highlight, but due to family reasons, he is not in attendance in Mobile. AJ Green is the next best fit, schematically, for Dan Quinn’s defense. Green is equally experienced in press-man coverage and bail technique. He can play inside or outside leverage, and his ability to open his hips and run after an outside released receiver is superb. With a good break at the top of routes, he is the most well-rounded prospect at the Senior Bowl.