JACKSONVILLE – This is a good year for offensive linemen. Perhaps a really good year.
If there's an early consensus when it comes to the 2021 NFL Draft, that's it – and it's an opinion the 2021 Reese's Senior Bowl confirmed for Bucky Brooks, an NFL Media/Jaguars Media analyst who covered the event for NFL Network. Among Brooks' Senior Bowl takeaways:
The offensive line class is very much as advertised.
"They have a very solid selection of offensive linemen," Brooks said of the rosters for the Senior Bowl, which will be played at Hancock Whitney Stadium on the campus of the University of South Alabama Saturday in Mobile, Ala., at 2:30 p.m. ET.
Included in that group is one of the most intriguing stories of the Senior Bowl – and possibly of the 2021 NFL Draft: Quinn Meinerz.
Meinerz, a two-year starter at Division III Wisconsin Whitewater, was a D-III All-America selection in 2019. But Whitewater's 2020 season was canceled because of COVID-19, making the past three days of practice his first significant football activity in more than a year. Meinerz has been one of the Senior Bowl's standouts, with Brooks saying he may be playing his way into the draft's first two or three rounds.
"He came prepared and has really dominated - despite being a guy who played at a lower level," Brooks said.
Other offensive linemen standing out this week, according to Brooks, include tackle James Hudson of Cincinnati and tackle De'Ante Smith of East Carolina.
"Those three guys have been the headliners that people have been talking about," Brooks said. "
Offensive line was universally mentioned as a position of strength in Mobile this week, with several analysts suggesting tackle as a possibility for the Jaguars with their second first-round selection – the No. 25 overall selection.
"I do think the offensive tackle class has a few that should be coming off the board in that range," Miller said. "It's a deep class."
Brooks also said two wide receivers, Josh Palmer from Tennessee and Kadarius Toney of Florida, have impressed in practice this week. Brooks on Toney, who he said is probably an early-second-round selection: "He has some of that stuff you see the Kansas City Chiefs' wide receivers have – explosiveness and burst."
It was difficult at the Senior Bowl to find analysts who liked the defensive tackle class in the '21 draft, and Brooks agreed that it's among the draft's weaker overall positions. One player at the position who stood out to Brooks: Washington defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike, who opted out of what became a four-game season for the Huskies and who therefore hasn't played since the 2019 season. "He might be the best defensive tackle in the class," Brooks said. "Great hand skills, fast and athletic, high motor. Great character. He's a good player and in a class where you don't have a lot of interior players, he's going to be intriguing. He may go a lot sooner than expected." Many observers expect defensive tackle to be an offseason focus for the Jaguars, who finished 30th in the NFL in run defense last season. "If you need a defensive tackle [in the draft], it's going to be hard," Brooks said.
Brooks on a pre-draft process that not only won't feature an NFL Scouting Combine because of COVID-19 but won't feature pre-draft individual workouts or facility visits for prospects: "Those in the Senior Bowl have a chance to leave a lasting impression on the coaches and scouts. You get a chance to see those guys and to see them in an environment against top players. That helps. You're trying to project how much rust is on their game and what they've done while they've been away from it. Are they better? Have they regressed? It's a very valuable piece of the process."
Toronto Argonauts vice president of player personnel John Murphy on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who many analysts believe will be the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft: "There's really very little reason why you shouldn't pick him. Stylistically, is he going to run and is he going to be what you've seen out of [Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick] Mahomes? Mahomes' arm talent may be just extraordinary and something you can never match, but the things you are seeing [from Lawrence] are the performance consistently under pressure, the ability to bounce back from injury and perform the way he did in big moments … he never made about it himself. The character is what you're looking for. The skill is why we're all talking about him, but the person and the individual? I think you have to be just as comfortable in that part of things. You see every reason to be confident in the person you're drafting. Can he shoulder that load and that burden? From everything you've seen on and off the field, it would seem like his character traits grade as well as his physical traits."