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2021 Senior Bowl: American Team players to watch

Top 10 players on the American Team to watch during practice this week

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 30 Goodyear Cotton Bowl - Florida v Oklahoma Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl week is here. With the 2021 NFL Scouting Combine canceled due to COVID-19, the week of practices and the game which make up the Senior Bowl is the biggest single event in this year’s draft process.

This week provides a chance for the NFL’s front offices to get a look at the nation’s top senior prospects — some of whom will be looking for a chance to shine against top competition. It also gives them a chance to get business done (or started) that could culminate in draft-day trades.

The New York Giants have a long history of scouting the Senior Bowl heavily and paying close attention to the players who stand out.

Every year there are players who seemingly come from nowhere to create a buzz at the Senior Bowl, so we always advise to watch and see who jumps off the screen during practices. But here is an early list of players to watch on the “American Team” (coached by the Carolina Panthers) during the week of practices.

  • Kyle Trask (QB, Florida) - We have to start with the big quarterback from Florida. Trask wasn’t particularly highly regarded coming into this season, but a great year has teams taking notice. He benefits from having his explosive receiver — Kadarius Toney — with him this week, but scouts will want to see how he performs when he doesn’t have Kyle Pitts to throw to.

UPDATE: Trask has pulled out of the Senior Bowl due to an ankle injury.

  • Robert Rochell (CB, Central Arkansas) - The NFL has seen some very good players come out of the FCS ranks in recent years, and Rochell has the potential to be the next man up. He has good size and is a player our own Joe DeLeone has been highlighting as a player to be a riser over the draft process. Rochell stands a good chance of making some noise — and money for himself — this week.
  • Hamsah Nasirildeen (DB, Florida State) - Nasirildeen is one of the most intriguing prospects in this year’s draft from a height/weight/speed perspective at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds with impressive athleticism. There will certainly be comparisons between Nasirildeen and fellow FSU product Derwin James — both between the players’ physical traits and their issues staying healthy.
  • Jabril Cox (LB, LSU) - Cox is one of the players I’ve tried to keep an eye on this year. A graduate transfer from North Dakota State, Cox wanted to prove that he could compete in the SEC after dominating the FCS. He has prototypical physical tools with size (6-foot-4, 235), athleticism, fluidity, and range, but he needs to play with more consistency.
  • Richie Grant (DB, UCF) - Grant is definitely going to be a player to watch, and one who already has plenty of under-the-radar buzz. He is a versatile player who has experience at every position in the defensive secondary and can play anywhere a defensive coordinator needs. It’s also noteworthy that he’s an Alabama transfer, carrying with him that Football Factory pedigree.
  • Kadarius Toney (WR, Florida) - It’s going to be hard to not watch Toney this week. While Kyle Pitts is Florida’s best prospect, Toney is an explosive playmaker in his own right. It would not be a surprise to see him embarrass a defensive back and run away from the defense at some point this week. Particularly since he’s on the same team as his college quarterback, Kyle Trask.
  • Ifaetu Melifonwu (CB/S, Syracuse) - Younger brother of Obi Melifonwu, Ifaetu is similarly big and ridiculously athletic. But there’s some question as to whether he is a cornerback or a safety at the NFL level, but some team will absolutely take a chance on his physical tools.
  • Quincy Roche (EDGE, Miami) - Gregory Rousseau has gotten the lion’s share of the attention to date, but Roche intrigues me. Slightly undersized (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) Roche is a modern EDGE with pass rush ability and the versatility to be productive out of multiple fronts. He could be an intriguing value for Patrick Graham’s defense.
  • Carlos Basham Jr. (DL, Wake Forest) - Basham Jr. is a popular name among Giants’ fans looking for an EDGE player to bolster the Giants’ pass rush. Basham should benefit from the Senior Bowl’s 4-3 defensive format, but hopefully practices will show whether his traits translate to the Giants’ multiple defense. The 6-foot-5, 275 pound Basham Jr. could also appeal to Dave Gettleman, who certainly likes his linemen big.
  • Deonte Brown (OG, Alabama) - Speaking of big lineman, the Alabama guard is going to be hard to miss. At 6-foot-4, 335 pounds he certainly qualifies as a “wide body” lineman. He is a good lineman in his own right, and could have appeal if the Giants aren’t satisfied with Will Hernandez or Shane Lemieux, or plan on parting ways with the highly-paid Kevin Zeitler.

Bonus: Mac Jones (QB, Alabama) - Of the two Alabama stars, Jones and DeVonta Smith, Jones has much more to prove. Teams looking for a quarterback will want to know if Jones can play outside of Alabama’s scheme and stacked roster. Jones isn’t one of the top QB prospects yet, but he can make himself a lot of money if he shows that he can perform in an unfamiliar situation.