The Reese’s Senior Bowl is a great place to get a closer look at top-tier college talent around the country. While the 2019 draft class is riddled with underclassmen, there are a few seniors and even juniors who have graduated already that are on display at the 2019 all-star game. Each player garners the invaluable experience of being coached up by NFL coaching staffs in advance of making the jump to the league. With the North team being under the direction of Jon Gruden and the Oakland Raiders, here are a few standouts that have emerged.
G Beau Benzschawel, Wisconsin
The Wisconsin offensive lineman is part of a pair of Badger trench-dwellers that could be an interesting prospect for the Buccaneers. Benzschawel says he’s most comfortable at right guard, a position that has been fluid for the Buccaneers this past season with both Evan Smith and Caleb Benenoch splitting time there and rookie Alex Cappa still developing into the role. New Head Coach Bruce Arians has said already that he will rely on a solid run game to help develop quarterback Jameis Winston in his offensive system and a big part of that run game will be the offensive line’s ability to block and open up running lanes for backs. Benzschawel was part of a unit that led the Big Ten in rushing and ranked No. 6 nationally. He was also part of a senior class at Wisconsin that went 42-12 as he started 49 consecutive games for the Badgers, including 43 at right guard.
“I’m most comfortable at right guard, but I’ve played other positions, too,” Benzschawel said. “Wherever I can play is fine with me. I’m a bit longer for a guard, taller guy, so it just helps me get on guys that much faster and shut it down.”
Benzschawel, along with left guard Michael Deiter, have a little bit of a leg-up coming from a Power Five program that runs a pro-style offense. It should help them be ready to go at the next level and be immediate contributors, which is absolutely what the Bucs would need to solidify the right guard position.
“We ran very similar offenses to what they run in the NFL, pro-style, so the transition will probably be a little bit smoother for me and Deiter compared to teams that ran spread and stuff like that.”
G Michael Deiter, Wisconsin
Deiter is cut from the same cloth as Benzschawel and helped anchor the middle, making 54 consecutive starts for the Badgers. He, however, didn’t specialize as much in one position, though is last 24 starts came at the left guard position. He also made 16 starts at center and 14 at left tackle, showcasing his versatility, which can be extremely important for an offensive lineman at the next level.
“I’m hoping to work some center, some right guard and show that I can do both,” Deiter said of what he wants to accomplish this week. “Just showing that I can snap and make calls, then also kick out and play guard and even if I have to play right guard, that’d be cool, too.”
What both Deiter and Benzschawel will have to contend with more than just the running game is also pass protection. With high-powered offenses that put emphasis on big plays, the amount of time the quarterback will need to spend in the pocket grows as he waits for plays to develop. Keeping him unbothered falls on the offensive line and it’s something both Wisconsin offensive linemen recognize.
“You have to be able to pass protect,” Deiter said. “You have to be able to pass protect for a while. We’re throwing a lot in college and you have to sit down there and lock guys out. That’s what you expect and it’s not easy but that’s what your job is.”
S Nasir Adderley, Delaware
He may be out of FCS-Delaware, but Adderley isn’t a step below on talent. He had an interception in the day two practice on quarterback Daniel Jones out of Duke. He’s six-foot, two-hundred pounds and looked really athletic and smooth in drills during the Day 1 practice open to media. He's got some ability to stick on receivers, playing nickel corner as well as safety during practices here in Mobile. It means he not only can man-up with slot receivers but he can also recognize routes and make plays in space, something that's needed in the secondary at the NFL level.
He's been garnering some first-round projections, albeit later ones. NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah has him coming off the board at No. 22 to the Baltimore Ravens. That was pre-Senior Bowl practices. With his showing so far this week, the Delaware-product may have helped his case even more, meaning the Bucs would have to grab him early because he likely won't last into the second round.
QB Drew Lock, Missouri
Lock came in with a lot of buzz surrounding him. It’ll only help him this week getting to be coached up by a QB guru like Jon Gruden. During the introductory press conference, Lock was one of two players to come to the podium and he was right at home. His elbows on the table, mic in between his hands, he had the media laughing right along with him. As a senior, he expressed no regret in returning an extra year to school and said that he feels like he's "ten times more ready" to level up in his football career as compared to this time last year.
Lock looked good on Day 1. You can tell he's smart. Though it was the first practice, where things can be confusing and new, Lock looked right at home. He seemed to get through his progressions well and looked to be by far the most comfortable of the four quarterbacks out there for the North. Something he mentioned he'd like people to notice this week is his feet and his under-the-radar mobility. Sure enough, if the check down wasn't there, he was able to scramble outside the pocket enough to buy himself a little bit more time. He was accurate, too, and looks as NFL ready as he's been touted to be.
The Bucs of course, have Jameis Winston for 2019, so drafting a quarterback in the first round may not be the first priority. But if Lock should stick around and with quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Griffin become free agents, Lock would serve as a very viable backup for next season.
DT Khalen Saunders, Western Illinois
There are a few off-the-field reasons that Saunders jumps out at you; one being his backflip skills, which he showcased after practice on Tuesday. Yes, the 320-pound defensive tackle out of Western Illinois had a path cleared for him by his new teammates, and with a running start, executed a perfect round-off, back tuck on the field. It was a sight to behold. That kind of bounce and athleticism at his size almost seems impossible.
The flip may have gotten him noticed but his play is what ended up upping his stock this week. He's shown great power, more than holding his own against big-time offensive line prospects in one-on-ones, especially. He's the do-it-all big man and even caught a touchdown pass against Youngstown State this past season. It was his first career reception. That versatility could see him work well even on the outside as a 4-3 defensive end. He would seem to do really well outside in a 3-4, too because of his agility and size combination. That versatility along the defensive line will be important for the Bucs with a new staff in place and Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles having run both 4-3 and 3-4 defenses in his career.
Saunders is dedicated, too. While he was practicing and flipping on Tuesday, his fiance was giving birth to their daughter, a difficult decision he was forced to make. He elected to stay at the Senior Bowl to make sure people took notice of his talent coming out of a smaller school in Western Illinois. And they certainly have.