The Reese's Senior Bowl practice week commences on Tuesday, with representatives from all 32 NFL teams hitting Mobile, Alabama, to assess 110 prospects for the 2022 NFL Draft. This is where money is made and lost in the form of eventual draft position. NFL scouting departments get an opportunity to record measurements at the annual weigh-in, watch the prospects over three days of practice, engage in personal interviews and, finally, take in Saturday's all-star game (2:30 p.m. ET on NFL Network).
Although scouts already have written reports on many players via evaluations gathered at college practices and games, the Senior Bowl provides a unique starting point for follow-up work just a few weeks ahead of the NFL Scouting Combine.
NFL.com spoke to three scouts -- two from the AFC, one from the NFC -- about some of the biggest questions they'd like to see answered at the 2022 Reese's Senior Bowl.
1) Can anyone in the quarterback field break out of the pack?
With the notable exception of Ole Miss fourth-year junior Matt Corral, the top quarterback prospects for the 2022 NFL Draft will all be competing in Mobile: North Carolina's Sam Howell, Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett, Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder, Nevada's Carson Strong and Liberty's Malik Willis. That presents a huge opportunity for clubs that appear in need of a new face at the position -- the Steelers, Broncos, Panthers, Washington Football Team and Saints probably chief among them -- to evaluate what will be a strong overall representation of this draft's QB class. But while the top quarterback in the last few Senior Bowls has been relatively clear from the outset -- Mac Jones last year, Justin Herbert in 2020, Daniel Jones in 2019 -- this year's group enters the practice week as a more muddled picture. There's a lot of money to be made for the QB who emerges as the most desirable, and the Senior Bowl could provide the inside lane in that race if one outperforms all others.
2) How will Sam Howell respond to adversity?
One scout familiar with Howell's career at North Carolina graded his accuracy and ball placement very highly, but noted he has a tendency to get flustered and press after a mistake, sometimes resulting in another. Along with accuracy, Howell checks the box when it comes to running skills and toughness -- two things that aren't so easy to assess in the Senior Bowl practice week because quarterbacks are protected from contact. Poise, however, is on display. How Howell performs immediately following a bad play will be among the key things to watch with one of the draft's top quarterback talents.
3) Just how big is Daniel Faalele, and is he a tackle or a guard?
The massive offensive lineman from Minnesota -- listed by the school at 6-foot-9, 380 pounds -- will be one of the most anticipated players to cross the stage at the Tuesday morning weigh-in. He could well be the biggest player in the NFL the day he's drafted. On the field, identifying Faalele's best position will be a priority for scouts eyeballing offensive linemen. He was a first-team all-conference pick at tackle by Big Ten coaches, but his movement skills suggest that guard could be his best spot in the NFL. One problem there: A 6-9 guard is a lot to see over for quarterbacks, particularly shorter ones, seeking passing lanes. There's more money at the tackle position, so one-on-one pass-rush drills will be crucial for Faalele.
4) How will Malik Willis look in an RPO-less offense?
The dual-threat quarterback ran an RPO (run-pass option) scheme at Liberty and was wildly successful with it. At the Senior Bowl, with just a few practices to prepare for an all-star game, he'll run a very basic pro-style offense with nary an RPO in the playbook. The sideline flash cards Liberty employed won't be at his disposal, either -- he and the other quarterbacks will be asked to learn and convey terminology from the huddle. One scout noted that RPO quarterbacks tend to break out of the pocket and scramble more in Senior Bowl team drills, particularly early in the week. If Willis stands in the pocket with patience right from the first practice, that will be indicative of a high comfort level operating a very different system.
5) What can Jermaine Johnson II prove in one-on-one pass-rush drills?
The Florida State defensive end was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year after piling up 18 tackles for loss and a dozen sacks for the Seminoles. However, one scout questioned the talent level of the offensive tackles he faced in the ACC this past season, noting that, against North Carolina State, Johnson drew only a few reps against elite left tackle prospect Ikem Ekwonu because he spent most of the day rushing against the Wolfpack's right edge. The former Georgia Bulldog has top-shelf athleticism and plays a position that's always in pro demand, so scouts are excited to see him perform in American Team practices. The game against the National Team on Saturday will offer Johnson a chance to face some of the top tackles in the draft, including Faalele, Northern Iowa's Trevor Penning and Central Michigan's Bernhard Raimann.