With Reese's Senior Bowl practices getting underway on Tuesday, 100-plus prospects for the 2021 NFL Draft are in the midst of a crucial job interview. NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah and Chase Goodbread provide a look at standouts from Day 1, as well as notes from player and coach interviews.
Tune in for one-hour 2021 Senior Bowl Practice recap shows Tuesday, Jan. 26-Thursday, Jan. 28 at 8 p.m. ET on NFL Network and watch the Senior Bowl game live on NFL Network at 2:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, Jan. 30.
Daniel Jeremiah's five stars from Day 1 of Senior Bowl practice
Carlos "Boogie" Basham, DE, Wake Forest. I knew Basham had one of the best nicknames of any player in this year's draft, but I was eager to learn more about him as a prospect in the competitive Senior Bowl environment. Well, he made a pretty darn strong opening statement. He was excellent, especially in team drills. Boogie made it clear that he knows how to work through the edges of offensive tackles. His power was too much for the offensive linemen today. I'm excited to see how he finishes the week.
Levi Onwuzurike, DT, Washington. Onwuzurike opted out of the 2020 season, so it had been 402 days since he last competed in a helmet and shoulder pads. Naturally, I thought he might be a little off his game on Tuesday, but he showed zero signs of rust when I watched him. He looked quick and was able to generate knock-back power in one-on-ones and run periods. His quickness and leverage remind me of Atlanta Falcons Pro Bowl DT Grady Jarrett. They have different body types, but Onwuzurike plays with that same type of effort and motor. I'm a big fan of what he brings to the table, which is why I have him ranked No. 23 among my top 50 prospects for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Josh Palmer, WR, Tennessee. The former Vol star helped himself as much as any prospect on Tuesday. He looked smooth and fluid in one-on-ones. He was able to get over the top of coverage and tracked the ball well. There wasn't a lot of buzz about him coming into the week, but I thought he was really consistent today. I have him penciled in for the Rounds 3-4 range right now.
Larry Rountree III, RB, Missouri. It's hard to get a gauge for running backs at the Senior Bowl until we get to game day, when every play is live and full speed, but I was impressed with what I saw from Rountree on Tuesday. He ran the ball really well, especially in 9-on-7 drills. He showed excellent vision and decisiveness and seems poised to continue the momentum he built during a 14-touchdown campaign (seventh-most in the FBS) in his final season with the Tigers.
Shi Smith, WR, South Carolina. Smith made the catch of the day, diving to make a grab on a corner route. We've seen some talented wideouts come out of South Carolina over the last couple years in Deebo Samuel (who had a great Senior Bowl week in 2019) and Bryan Edwards. Smith is next in line. He will be a Day 1 starter as a slot receiver in the NFL. He reminds me a little bit of the New York Jets' Jamison Crowder, so a team looking for someone like that is really going to like Smith.
News and notes from Tuesday's practices
-- By Chase Goodbread
Heightened importance for this year's Senior Bowl: Since Ian Book previously stepped on a football field for a College Football Playoff semifinal against Alabama, the NFL has announced a different format for this year's scouting combine that defers his formal workout for NFL clubs to Notre Dame's pro day. The league also has announced that teams won't be permitted to host 2021 draft prospects for visits to their facilities.
That ramps up the importance of the Fighting Irish pro day workout, which Book said hasn't yet been scheduled, and makes his performance at the Senior Bowl all the more crucial.
"It's a weird year. Every day you're just kind of waiting for some news, like something being canceled, or not (canceled)," Book said. "As for the Senior Bowl, I'm really happy they could get this going. I talked to (executive director) Jim Nagy and thanked him that we could get this thing rolling. The next thing is pro day -- no combine, no visits -- that just makes every little thing more important. This is more important, the pro day is more important, and it's about taking every rep one at a time and going out and competing."
Book is one of three quarterbacks, along with Sam Ehlinger of Texas and Feleipe Franks of Arkansas, competing on the National team at the annual all-star game.
Book fired some impressive throws at Tuesday's practice, including a well-timed deep out to Wake Forest's Sage Surratt that drew a buzz from Miami Dolphins coaches, who are instructing the National squad this week. Book said his top priority this week is to quickly absorb the Senior Bowl playbook and show teammates and the Dolphins staff an ability to command the huddle with confident leadership.
"There are some things I did today that I'll want to go in the film room and change," he said. "It's a good friendly competition (with Ehlinger and Franks). These guys want to work. We've been studying, they've pushed me, and I've pushed them, but it's a competition."
Borland on Meyer: Ohio State's Tuf Borland believes former Buckeyes and new Jacksonville Jaguars coach Urban Meyer will have no trouble transitioning to the NFL, even though he's never coached on Sundays before. The linebacker prospect spent the first three years of his OSU career playing for Meyer, who stepped down after the 2018 season.
"Coach Meyer is an unbelievable coach who has been around a long time," Borland said. "I think he's studied the (NFL) game in his time away, and I think he's going to do an awesome job.
"You talk to every player that's ever played for coach Meyer, and all his players respect him, they love him. He's going to do an amazing job."
Meyer's new club has two first-round picks in the 2021 NFL Draft with which to rebuild the roster, including the No. 1 overall selection.
Flores not sweating Smith's size: Alabama star WR DeVonta Smith did not participate in the weigh-in on Tuesday, although he intends to be weighed and measured for height at Alabama's pro day. Smith, the explosive Heisman Trophy winner, is listed at just 175 pounds on the Alabama roster. The Dolphins' Brian Flores, who is coaching Smith's National team this week, indicated little concern, however, about Smith's size.
"If you're a good player -- I mean, you can nitpick all you want about a guy's size -- good players are good players are good players," Flores said. "I think we all can see that, and this guy's a very good player. He made a lot of plays in college, he made a lot of plays in the big games -- biggest games of the year. You can nitpick all day about things on people but he's a very good player. It's been good getting to know him, too. He's a good kid, too."
Smith is unavailable to play or practice due to a finger injury sustained in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
Noteworthy: Alabama's Landon Dickerson, unavailable to play or practice with a knee injury, was nevertheless on the field and strongly attuned to instruction from Carolina Panthers coaches. Dickerson was working on technique with fellow interior offensive lineman David Moore, of Grambling, between reps. … North Carolina RB Michael Carter was impressive with the ball in his hands, but struggled in pass protection drills. … Virginia LB Charles Snowden missed practice with an injury and watched from the sideline in a walking boot.