5 B1G players who helped their NFL Draft stock during Senior Bowl
The value of a player’s draft status is typically determined throughout the course of a career or a season at the college level. It’s not common that a team would select a player based on a performance from one game or one week.
But that doesn’t mean a player’s status is locked in once the college football season comes to an end. The annual Senior Bowl is a great example of some of the sport’s most talented seniors getting a full week to improve their draft stock.
In 2021, 15 B1G players took part in this week’s Senior Bowl practices and Saturday’s game. Some had better performances than others, therefore helping their stock ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Here are the five players that helped their draft stock the most while in Mobile, Alabama this past week:
Nico Collins, WR, Michigan
Because Collins opted out of the 2020 season, there hasn’t been much talk about the Michigan wide receiver until last week. He made a splash during Senior Bowl workouts, though, and reminded everyone why he was such a dangerous player while in Ann Arbor.
Following a solid week in Mobile, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. says Collins could go as early as the 2nd round of the 2021 NFL Draft because of his ability to beat defenders deep, play through contact and haul in difficult passes. He can create separation with his speed and is able to make the tough catches along the sideline, as demonstrated throughout Senior Bowl week.
Nico Collins with one of the best reps of the day
— Inside release, forearm pull to get rid of the jam by the CB
— Lean in to stack, enough of a hip shift at the top of the route to make the CB hesitate
— Track the ball over the shoulder and toe-tap on the sideline #SeniorBowl pic.twitter.com/xAbIg6u4fc
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) January 27, 2021
Michigan WR Nico Collins will be a boundary vertical threat in the NFL. So much size/athleticism and knows how to use it. No wasted time against press, feels the CB in good position down the field so gets his body in-between the catchpoint. High points, strong tuck #SeniorBowl pic.twitter.com/AkSvYADkEU
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) January 28, 2021
Those skills aren’t anything new if you’ve watched Collins throughout his career in Ann Arbor. The receiver averaged more than 17 yards per catch for his career with the Wolverines, a ridiculous statistic for a player on a deep that has struggled to find deep threats under Jim Harbaugh.
Collins was out of sight for the 2020 season, so he was out of mind. He had no trouble reminding us that he’s an excellent receiver with next-level talent. He may have gone from a mid-round selection to an early Day 2 pick.
Benjamin St-Juste, DB, Minnesota
One of the names that circulated most during Saturday’s Senior Bowl game was St-Juste, who had a few pass break-ups in the contest and locked down receivers when he was on the field. Because Minnesota’s defense played so poorly throughout the 2020 season, the cornerback was a player who flew under the radar this past season.
Back on the field in competition on Saturday, St-Juste made the most of his opportunity. Scouts liked St-Juste’s production in the game, but also like his size, length and athleticism. There’s an opportunity for him to not only play cornerback but could switch to safety in the right situation.
That would make him more attractive during the NFL Draft in a few months.
— Black and Gold Nation – Steelers Draft Season (@B_GNation1) January 30, 2021
Highlight: #Gophers Benjamin St-Juste's pass break up in Senior Bowl on Saturday. Rangy 6-foot-3 cornerback with suffocating press coverage to deny slant.
Sounds like he’s improved his draft stock this week, including NFL Network commentator on how he might play safety in NFL. pic.twitter.com/Bd7OoJDIGk
— Andy Greder (@andygreder) January 30, 2021
St-Juste had an outstanding season at Minnesota in 2019, totaling 45 tackles, 10 pass break-ups and 1.5 tackles for loss in 13 games. However, his production was overshadowed by star safety Antoine Winfield Jr. This year, St-Juste added 14 stops and 3 pass break-ups to his career totals.
Entering the Senior Bowl, St-Juste was a late-round projection, typically between the 5th and 6th rounds. It’ll be interesting to see how much he climbs after this past week.
Jonathon Cooper, DL, Ohio State
After missing most of the 2019 season with injury, Cooper bounced back with a strong 2020 season, leading Ohio State with 3.5 sacks and totaling 24 tackles and a forced fumble. Throughout the year, he proved to be a problem for offensive linemen in the B1G.
Cooper brought that same talent to Mobile during Senior Bowl week. Facing some of the most talented and experienced offensive linemen at the college level, the former Buckeye was consistently showing off his strength, speed and technique.
The defensive end made a big play in Saturday’s game, sacking quarterback Jamie Newman on the first play of the 4th quarter.
Jonathon Cooper sacks Jamie Newman on the first play of the 4th Quarter pic.twitter.com/i5gY2SkWCx
— The Victory Bell (@VictoryBellOSU) January 30, 2021
Jonathon Cooper loves these speed-to-power rushes
Cooper is a no-nonsense rusher. Straight line attacks. Power rushes. Inside moves. Cooper isn’t looking to run around OTs – he wants to go through them!
Adrian Ealy had his hands full pic.twitter.com/iXtk3z3ahI
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) January 29, 2021
Cooper isn’t quite as dominant as other former Buckeye defensive linemen like Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa and Chase Young, but he’s certainly a player who can make an impact at the next level. Cooper spent a lot of time learning from defensive line coach Larry Johnson and will take a lot of experience to the next level.
Derrick Barnes, LB, Purdue
Another defensive player who didn’t get much recognition because of his team’s poor performance on that side of the ball was Barnes, who has been one of the better players for the Boilermakers over the last three seasons.
Barnes has been one of Purdue’s top three tacklers over the last three years, leading the team in 2020 with 54 stops in 6 games. For his career, the linebacker has piled up 25 tackles for loss, forced 2 fumbles and intercepted a pass. Still, he hasn’t been mentioned much in the draft conversation.
That could change.
Purdue LB Derrick Barnes is interesting. Has played a lot of off ball LB but has good reps in the Big 10 as a power rusher off the edge. Playing LB this week. Great job mirroring the route from K Herbert here. All over it. #BoilerUp @BoilerFootball @derrickbarnes21 pic.twitter.com/TA1lZI23Cf
— Fran Duffy (@EaglesXOs) January 27, 2021
Derrick Barnes/Purdue has been one of the better LBs at the #SeniorBowl few are talking about. Dominant in blocking drills and looks very athletic in coverage drills. Outstanding film as well. Going to be a middle round steal in April.
— Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) January 28, 2021
Barnes showed that he’s a little more athletic than scouts originally thought and proved he could shed blockers and keep up in coverage, as well. To make the transition to the next level, that’s a must-have skill set.
Is Barnes going to leap into a high-round selection? Probably not. But the linebacker put himself in a good position to secure his draft status and may hear his name called as early as the middle rounds of the NFL Draft after this week.
Ben Mason, FB, Michigan
Mason is an old-school player who does a lot of dirty work on the field, stuff that sometimes gets underappreciated. But a strong showing in Saturday’s Senior Bowl game may have changed the outlook for Mason.
While it may not have been on full display in Ann Arbor, Mason brings a lot of athleticism and power to the field. He can serve as a strong lead blocker in the run game while also having the ability to catch passes or tote the ball a few times out of the backfield.
It was Mason’s blocking that primarily earned him recognition this week.
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) January 30, 2021
You ain’t the only fullback running 7-routes these days! @JuiceCheck44
Ben Mason 👀 pic.twitter.com/RuFJNna3IN
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) January 28, 2021
Making some impressive catches against great defense was also a discovered talent for the former Wolverine while in Mobile.
There are a lot of different things Mason brings to the field and he can be an asset at the next level. It’s going to be interesting to see where he falls come Draft Day, but there’s no question he helped his stock throughout the week and in the game on Saturday.