Each week during the season, On3 catches up with Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy to identify 2024 NFL draft prospects whose draft stock is on the rise.
Here are nine players generating buzz among Nagy and the Senior Bowl staff coming out of Week 1 (listed alphabetically):
Cincinnati defensive lineman Jowon Briggs
Briggs posted four tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack as Cincinnati limited Pittsburgh to 262 total yards and 83 rushing yards during a 27-21 win over the Panthers. Briggs, who is listed by the school at 6-foot-1, 305 pounds, was a first-team All-AAC selection last season. He finished last year with 60 tackles and three sacks.
“Had some disruptive flash plays versus Pitt,” Nagy said. “Aligned at left defensive end and NFL scouts will key in on this game because of the head-to-head matchup versus Pitt left tackle Matt Goncalves, who is also on the Senior Bowl Watch List. Wins with active hands and power. Has hit 31 reps on the bench press and he can push the pocket inside. Made Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List and his athleticism showed up playing laterally down the line and re-directing to finish plays behind the line of scrimmage. Was unblocked but showed good upfield burst, making a play five yards deep in the backfield in a key goal-line situation. We’ve had eight Bearcats play in the Senior Bowl over the past two years, so we’ve seen Briggs play live before, but he never got our attention like he did on Saturday at Heinz Field.”
Conyers tallied four catches for 17 yards during a 27-15 loss to Oklahoma State. He also had two rushing attempts. Last season, the 6-foot-4, 270-pound Conyers finished with the most receiving yards from an Arizona State tight end since 2013. Of his 422 yards, 228 came during the Sun Devils’ final six games. The 228 yards ranked as the fourth-most among FBS tight ends from Week 7 through the end of the the season last year.
“Still flying under too many NFL draft radars at the tight end position,” Nagy said. “Liked his junior tape over the summer but we were even more impressed with this live look. Mismatch player in the passing game who does some good stuff with the ball in his hands. Easy natural catcher and has more juice than we thought he had off tape. The Sun Devils smartly take advantage of his run skills by using him as a jumbo Wildcat QB in short yardage and goal line situations. Showed better strength sustaining blocks than a year ago. Projects as an F tight end who could be a factor out of the slot early in his pro career.”
Crawford recorded five tackles during Texas’ 34-24 win over over Alabama. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Crawford played in 11 games for the Longhorns last year with one start. He finished last season with 25 tackles.
“Crawford was a guy whose practice energy got our attention three weeks ago when we visited Austin,” Nagy said. “Spoke to his safeties coach, former Texas star player Blake Gideon, during pre-game and he thinks Crawford will get drafted and make a 53-man NFL roster based off his special teams prowess alone and we agree with him. Crawford made an immediate impact on the first punt of the game, showing off his 10.6 100-meter speed to save a ball from going into the end zone and forced Alabama to start its opening drive at the 3-yard line.
“Played more on defense than we’ve seen in many games and stood out with his closing burst, both as a run defender and blitzer. Came fast from depth on one blitz and forced Tide QB Jalen Millroe to step up in the pocket for a sack. NFL teams are looking to find proven special teams aces in rounds 5-7 and Crawford will be one of those guys this year. He has logged over 600 special teams snaps over his Texas career with 100+ on all four units (102 kick return, 277 kickoff, 130 punt return, 101 punt).”
Gabriel finished 19 of 27 for 176 yards with four touchdown passes and no interceptions in a 28-11 win over SMU. The 5-foot-11, 207-pound former UCF transfer posted 3,168 passing yards, 25 touchdown passes and six interceptions in his first season with the Sooners last year. Gabriel led the nation with an average of 357 passing yards per game in 2020 at UCF.
“Very efficient performance on Saturday versus SMU,” Nagy said. “Does a nice job operating OU’s up-tempo scheme. Rhythm and timing passer. Undersized but he’s started a lot of games at the college level. Navigated the pocket well versus SMU. Did a nice job keeping his eyes downfield and going through his progressions when flushed from the pocket. Threw a nice soft catchable ball field level during pre-game. Arm strength was certainly good enough to play at the next level. Not a big arm by any means but have seen plenty of guys make it in the NFL with similar zip and velocity. Smart decision-maker that consistently checks down. Sometimes you’d like to see him force the issue and test tight windows more frequently.”
Through two games in Mississippi State’s new offense, Marks ranks No. 1 nationally among Power Five running backs with an average of 170.5 yards from scrimmage per game. During the Bulldogs’ Week 2 victory over Arizona, Marks ran for 123 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. Marks, who has verified measurements of 5-foot-9 4/8, 204 pounds, also had four catches for 32 yards. Last season, Marks rushed for 582 yards and nine touchdowns while also catching 48 passes for 288 yards.
“We were curious what Mississippi State’s new offense would look like this year. And in the first two games, it runs through Marks,” Nagy said. “Possesses almost ideal compact, low-to-the-ground running back body type. Sturdy runner who bounces off would-be tacklers and creates the kind of yards after contact that NFL scouts want to see. High volume runner (24 carries on Saturday and next closest for Mississippi State was only five carries), which makes him unique in today’s college game. Showed good hands during pre-game and looked comfortable catching the ball out of the backfield in the game. There are actually similarities here to the last Bulldogs running back to play in the Senior Bowl, former Green Bay Packers seventh round pick Kylin Hill.”
Muasau, a former transfer from Hawaii, led UCLA with 91 tackles last season in his first year with the Bruins. Muasau, who has verified measurements of 6-foot 2/8, 237 pounds, has 15 tackles and four tackles for loss through two games this season. He had six tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack and an interception during UCLA’s Week 2 win over San Diego State, which led to him being tabbed as the Senior Bowl’s defensive player of the week.
“According to our West Coast scout, Muasau was ‘everywhere’ on Saturday night against San Diego State,” Nagy said. “Possesses a good proportioned NFL linebacker body. Was on our radar last year and finished the season around the cut-line for a Senior Bowl invite with a mid-Day 3 grade. Has some violence to him as a striker versus both blocks and ball-carriers. Plays downhill better than most college off-ball ‘backers. Enough size and strength to handle bigger people in the box. Didn’t make as many sideline to sideline pursuit plays last week but we’ve seen him do that plenty over the past two years of tape study. Alert short zone player and made a key interception off a tipped ball in a goal-line situation on Saturday.”
Robinson, who was one of Nebraska’s co-defensive linemen of the year last season, didn’t play during the first half of the Cornhuskers’ loss to Colorado because of a Week 1 targeting penalty but tallied two tackles in the second half. Robinson, who is listed by the school at 6-foot-6, 310 pounds, finished last year with 24 tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks.
“Good-looking developed NFL frame,” Nagy said. “Throwback type. Big, strong, tough and competitive — these guys figure out a way to stick on NFL rosters. Good, instinctive football player that grows on you the more tape you watch. Scheme versatile with length to fit as a 4i in a 3-4 or a 1-tech in a 4-3. Got our attention on Saturday and definitely someone we’ll keep close tabs on the remainder of season.”
The former ACC Rookie of the Year is off to a strong start in bouncing back from a tough 2022 season. During Miami’s 48-33 win over No. 23 Texas A&M, Van Dyke threw for 374 yards and became the first QB in program history with five touchdown passes against a ranked opponent while also finishing without any interceptions. Behind Van Dyke, who has verified measurements of 6-foot-3 4/8, 224 pounds, Miami posted its highest point total against a ranked opponent since 2002.
“The former draft media crush, who appeared in numerous mock first round drafts two summers ago, played his best game over the past two seasons (against A&M),” Nagy said. “Scored 48 points on Saturday vs. Texas A&M after putting up only nine points against the Aggies last year. Our scout thought TVD looked more comfortable and poised in only his second game under new offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson than he ever looked last year. Miami’s improved offensive line — with the return of Jalen Rivers from injury and portal adds Matt Lee and Javion Cohen — is a key reason behind Van Dyke’s success too. TVD had ample time to throw from a clean pocket, proving if you protect him, he can be good. Looked like Texas A&M’s plan was to rush four and drop eight and he picked them apart. When the Aggies did start sending extra people, he showed improved decision-making under duress than a year ago.
“Hit a couple big shots down the field and hit guys in-stride so they could do something with it (after the catch). This is a crowded QB class and there will be some hard decisions for Senior Bowl invites but TVD will be in the mix if he keeps playing like he did on Saturday.”
Vann has nine tackles and three sacks through NC State’s first two games. During the Wolfpack’s loss to Notre Dame on Saturday, he finished with four tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble, which led to him being selected as the Senior Bowl’s defensive “Stock Up” player of the week. Vann, who has verified measurements of 6-foot-1 4/8, 270 pounds, tallied 33 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks last season. He had 26 tackles and four sacks in 2021.
“Clearly made a jump from the junior tape we watched over the summer,” Nagy said. “Tweener-ish measurables but falls into the ‘just a good football player’ category. NC State uses him across the defensive line, from 0-tech nose tackle to wide 9-technique. Twitchy athlete who can really run. Not surprising he was on Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List. Former high school state champ heavyweight wrestler and also had the third-longest discus throw in the United States his senior year of high school. Made a couple of impressive wow-type plays (against Notre Dame) re-tracing and making tackles on wide receiver screens. On the shorter side but has good arm length and disproportionately long wingspan (81 ½ inches) to compensate.
“Shows good natural lower leverage and upper body strength at the point of attack on run downs. Uses good initial quickness to get on a blocker’s edge when they move him inside over guards in sub-packages. NC State staff raves about his leadership and overall character. We see him as a guy who could make name for himself in Senior Bowl offensive line/defensive line one-on-one pass rush drills.”