2022 NFL Draft: Felix Davila’s Final Mock Draft

Ikem Ekwonu is the first pick in this 2022 NFL mock draft
Photo Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Fortunately, there only remains a half week of time between now and the 2022 NFL Draft. Mock drafts have been published galore, along with a plethora of rumor mill gossip that sparks headlines. That should only increase as the time ticks away toward Roger Goodell announcing the first selection.

With this being a finalized mock before the big day, the goal here is to predict how NFL teams may select as the night progresses. Based on the small rumblings overheard at the Senior Bowl and analyzed losses via free agency, every pick was calculated with respect to premium positions along with talent.

Additionally, there will not be a single trade in this mock. While it is fun, predicting details and which teams will make a move for what player is simply too difficult, and damn near impossible. These selections, and the draft order, will reflect the selections as of April 25th, barring some crazy trade overnight.

Felix Davila’s 2022 NFL Mock Draft

1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Ikem Ekwonu, Offensive tackle, North Carolina State

This may be denying conventional wisdom of Aidan Hutchinson going first overall, but I think there’s an argument to be made that Jacksonville heavily considers prioritizing the protection of their young quarterback in Trevor Lawrence. New head coach Doug Pederson knows full well how important protecting the passer is after winning a Super Bowl with a backup.

Ikem Ekwonu is a tremendous prospect, with fluidity, smooth feet, power to boot, and a tenacity that’s ideal for any offensive lineman. His ability to recover versus a variety of rush moves is what jumped off the film, and it’ll be useful fending off the quality defenses that exist in the AFC South. Despite retaining Cam Robinson, grabbing the best talent is ideal, and the Jaguars will believe they’ve done that here while placing Lawrence’s ascension as a premium focus.

2. Detroit Lions – Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan

Aidan Hutchinson is absolutely in contention for the number one overall pick, but he won’t wait long on draft night regardless. Given the many needs the Lions have and their head coach’s love for a “biting knee caps” type of toughness, Hutchinson here makes complete sense and provides Detroit a stellar pass rush talent that they have lacked for years.

Hutchinson is built ideally for the position, and plays with the power and motor ideal from a top two selection. But more than that, he is a very athletic player who can string together a variety of moves with body control to shed blockers quick and collapse the pocket. This is a cornerstone franchise type of pick, and Hutchinson remaining in Michigan will be tremendous for the fans. Do not be surprised if his jersey sells out fast.

3. Houston Texans – Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia

There is a strong argument for Kayvon Thibodeaux to be selected here, but when considering the way his stock has seemingly risen and fallen throughout the process, I can see one team who should select him decide to pass. Also, I just cannot see Houston liking his personality when their front office is full of conservative, church-goers who may not like his ego.

Travon Walker has been afforded a more positive outlook, testing off the charts at the combine and possessing an excellent frame for an edge rusher. His athleticism really shines, especially considering his length, and his versatility is a plus that can allow him to rush from anywhere on the line depending on the play call.

Houston is free of the Deshaun Watson drama, and after a poor season last year, look to add a player who at least checks off the ideal traits box to build the foundation of this roster. Lovie Smith will be grateful for adding a fearsome prospect like Walker to start a new era of Texans football.

4. New York Jets – Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon

There’s a strong argument for offensive tackle to go here, but the Jets cannot pass on grabbing a premiere pass rush talent. Thibodeaux has been in the spotlight since his game-wrecker freshman season at Oregon. That spotlight will just get bigger with him landing in New York.

A talented pass rusher with an array of moves, a fiery motor, and an attitude made for the Big Apple, Thibodeaux is a great fit for Gang Green. Head coach Robert Saleh’s defense excels with quality pass rushers, as seen in San Francisco. With Carl Lawson returning from injury, aligning this strong rookie across from Lawson will give the Jets that “New York Sack Exchange” attack.

5. New York Giants – Evan Neal, Offensive tackle, Alabama

There has been a lot of talk about Charles Cross being the Giants’ preferred lineman. I think that is smoke to deter any temptation to move up for Neal. On my board, Evan Neal is the top offensive tackle and offensive lineman in the NFL Draft. I think he’s head and shoulders ahead of Cross. He is a mountain of a man, with tremendous movement skills and smooth feet. His consistency is the only thing I noted as a genuine flaw, but Neal still has an argument for best player in the whole draft.

For the Giants, Neal checks every box for new general manager Joe Schoen and new head coach Brian Daboll. Both have noted wanting to be “in lockstep”. Both have consistently backed quarterback Daniel Jones as having a shot this year to prove himself. The best way to provide him that chance is to protect him and fill a critical spot across from left tackle Andrew Thomas.

This is also a prime trade spot, as teams like the Seahawks and Saints have both acquired draft capital to seemingly move up for a player they like. The Giants are connected to Jones for now, but getting capital for next year would be ideal to have a shot at a better quarterback class.

6. Carolina Panthers – Kenny Pickett, Quarteback, Pittsburgh

The first pick of the night that I will vehemently disagree with will likely be made by Carolina. Head coach Matt Rhule is seemingly on the hot seat, and the Panthers have holes all around their roster. But none as glaring as quarterback. After a failed experiment after trading for Sam Darnold, I can easily see the Panthers reaching for their future quarterback.

Rhule and Pickett have an established history, so this ties into the pick. But additionally, Pickett has been talked about as one of the more competent quarterbacks in this class since the start of the process. Not that I agree, but his stock has not seemed to fluctuate like the other passers. I think this will result in him going higher than most think.

7. New York Giants (from Chicago Bears) – Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, Cornerback, Cincinnati

Current starter James Bradberry is likely on the move, making this pick even more important. Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner has trended up ever since the conclusion of the 2021 college football season, contending with another stellar talent in Derek Stingley Jr. While Stingley would be a great pick as well, Gardner is tailor-made for new defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale’s system.

Gardner is smooth as silk in his backpedal, transition, and trigger. He plays with ferocity, contributing in the run game often, and is physical in press. But most impressive is his stoicism outside. When facing Alabama speedster Jameson Williams, Gardner limited his impact tremendously and never wavered or panicked on film. His game will transition smoothly in New York.

8. Atlanta Falcons – Kyle Hamilton, Defensive back, Notre Dame

A safety going this high would be a surprise — if his name was not Kyle Hamilton. Hamilton is a well-built safety with fantastic athleticism, despite his 4.6 forty time. He is one of the most versatile players in this draft, handling single-high responsibilities, two-high, man, zone, and even some nickel opportunities he excelled in.

For Atlanta, this is merely a “best player available” move. Hamilton is easily one of the best in this class and will be an immediate impact player on a defense devoid of talent, especially on its backend.

9. Seattle Seahawks (from Denver Broncos) – Malik Willis, Quarterback, Liberty

This is a no brainer pick in my opinion. Malik Willis is the top passer on my board and has generational tools for the position. He is crazy explosive, possessing fantastic agility and speed to go along with a powerful arm that can launch passes from a variety of angles and off platform.

While his accuracy and ability to read defenses is constantly questioned, the Seahawks just traded their cornerstone quarterback. They have to swing for the fences to acquire his replacement. Some of the concerns with Willis are a bit overblown to me. Him landing on a roster with Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, and Noah Fant is a tremendous place to start his career.

10. New York Jets (from Seattle Seahawks) – Jameson Williams, Wide receiver, Alabama

With their second pick, the Jets select a strong receiver talent who immediately upgrades the position. Much like the Thibodeaux pick, the Jameson Williams selection provides the Jets a cornerstone piece that will help quarterback Zach Wilson grow as a player. One of Wilson’s strengths coming out was his downfield passing and improvisational skills. Having a player like Williams with game-changing speed will open the field up for Wilson to be more aggressive. Williams is the first receiver to be taken in this mock NFL Draft.

11. Washington Commanders – Garrett Wilson, Wide receiver, Ohio State

Washington is in a unique situation given that they are not wanting for many positions. And given that the Commanders traded for quarterback Carson Wentz, they are seemingly set under center as well. This influences the selection most as head coach Ron Rivera will want to make Wentz as comfortable as possible by providing him the weapons to succeed.

Garrett Wilson is an electric play-maker at the receiver position, and an impressive athlete. His ability to control his speed while route running, to cut or throttle down, gives him easy separation skills. Additionally, he has fantastic body control, able to contort and adjust to passes. These traits, along with his good speed and high pointing ability make him an ideal target for Wentz, who loves taking downfield shots. Pairing Wilson with Terry McLaurin is a dream scenario for Washington.

12. Minnesota Vikings – Derek Stingley Jr., CB, Louisiana State

Stingley to Minnesota is a dream pick for the Vikings. He is an insane talent whose stock has fluctuated because of his injury history and a lacking 2020 performance. But overall, Stingley possesses the traits ideal for the position, strong tape, and fantastic testing numbers. He can play man or zone and handle any responsibility thrown at him. For Minnesota, this gives them a young, premium talent who can learn from Patrick Peterson and finally reinforce their defensive back room.

13. Houston Texans (from Cleveland Browns) – Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State

The Texans need help all over the roster, and what better way to improve it than to use their first two picks for premium positions? Charles Cross is graded lower than this spot on my big board, but that does not mean he is not worth it. Cross is a strong pass protector with decent run blocking skills who can maul defenders across from him. Setting up both sides of the line of scrimmage is a great start for Houston’s rebuild.

14. Baltimore Ravens – Jordan Davis, Defensive tackle, Georgia

The Ravens make a surprising selection by going inside their defensive front rather than grabbing an edge like Jermaine Johnson. But setting the tone inside is critical to a team that faces Nick Chubb, Najee Harris, and Joe Mixon twice a year each.

Davis is my top ranked defensive tackle in the NFL Draft namely because of his balanced game. He’s a massive human, with plus athleticism, and shows a consistent ability to collapse the pocket on passing downs. That balance will provide the Ravens a three-down player who will also complement another freak defender in Odafe Oweh.

15. Philadelphia Eagles (from Miami Dolphins) – Jermaine Johnson, EDGE, Florida State

Wide receiver is no doubt a need for the Eagles, but I do not believe they expect Jermaine Johnson to last this long. He’s a no-brainer pick here. Johnson has slowly risen over the course of the draft process, and for good reason: most criticisms seen on tape were addressed by his training for the draft. At the Senior Bowl, Johnson was a menace, destroying nearly every opposing blocker in every drill. His athleticism at his length is insane, and a perfect fit for an Eagles team lacking an alpha edge rusher.

16. New Orleans Saints (from Philadelphia Eagles via Indianapolis Colts) – Drake London, Wide receiver, Southern California

The Saints are no doubt looking for a receiver, especially after their trade with the Eagles that moved them up the board just a little bit. They are in perfect range to grab one of the top five players at the position. Drake London fits well for New Orleans given his ability to play inside and out, along with a long frame that he used to demolish opposing corners by high pointing over their heads.

17. Los Angeles Chargers – Trevor Penning, Offensive tackle, Northern Iowa

Much like the earlier teams who acquired a tackle prospect, the selection of Trevor Penning here is all about protecting the team’s most important player in quarterback Justin Herbert. Penning is a phenomenal athlete for the position who possesses a real mean-streak. I mean, really mean. That attitude no doubt wows some scouts, and will serve well in such a competitive division where keeping Herbert upright is paramount.

18. Philadelphia Eagles (from New Orleans Saints) – Chris Olave, Wide receiver, Ohio State

Despite not selecting a receiver, the Eagles still luck out with Garrett Wilson’s teammate Chris Olave falling to them at the 18th pick. Olave possesses a great blend of speed, agility, and smoothness that makes his movement seem effortless. He is tremendous in stacking and creating separation with good foot quickness that gets him changing directions immediately. It also helps that he has soft hands and nice burst to explode after the catch. Olave is a great fit in Philadelphia, and will complement DeVonta Smith tremendously as players who can line up all over the formation.

19. New Orleans Saints (from Philadelphia Eagles) – Daxton Hill, Safety, Michigan

Here is a shocker. While the Saints desperately need to improve their tackle spot, they select way too late in the draft to pick up any of the players who may be worth a first round selection. If they remain with the “best player” approach, it would not be surprising to see them go after a versatile player like Daxton Hill, who is very much underrated in my opinion.

The safety spot is pretty lacking for New Orleans, given that Marcus Maye is dealing with both an injury and potential suspension. Outside of Maye, there is CJ Gardner-Johnson, who handles the slot. Acquiring a player like Hill who can also handle slot duties gives them a chess piece defensive back who can provide depth at both safety spots.

20. Pittsburgh Steelers – Zion Johnson, Interior offensive lineman, Boston College

The Steelers will not be going after a quarterback without a trade up, and I cannot see them grabbing up any passer not named Malik Willis. In this situation, I see them grabbing one of the best players available on the board in Johnson.

I love Johnson’s game, and I believe his versatility is a major plus for a team transitioning the quarterback position. Johnson worked out at center plenty during the Senior Bowl and even made a spot start at tackle during his career. His upside is tremendous in my opinion, and I think Pittsburgh will love adding this hog molly to the roster.

21. New England Patriots – Devin Lloyd, Linebacker, Utah

This is a prime trade spot given the Patriots history with moving picks. But no trades here. Devin Lloyd is the selection and the fit is impeccable. Adding a swiss army knife defender like Lloyd just seems like a Belichick thing to do. With Donta Hightower still a free agent, the Patriots need a dynamic linebacker. And provided Lloyd’s stock continues to slowly drop, it is very realistic to think he would fall here.

22. Green Bay Packers (from Las Vegas Raiders) – Treylon Burks, Wide receiver, Arkansas 

Green Bay is on the board with their first of two selections and land a premium player at a serious position of need. After moving Davante Adams, the Packers acquired Sammy Watkins, which gives quarterback Aaron Rodgers a newcomer veteran to pair with Allen Lazard. And that is about it. Burks provides the Packers a big framed player with excellent speed and athleticism who can create in the open field. Burks will be a quality player on this offense that Matt LeFleur can use in a variety of ways.

23. Arizona Cardinals – Trent McDuffie, Cornerback, Washington

Ever since the departure of Patrick Peterson, the Cardinals have lacked a bit in their cornerback room. Byron Murphy Jr has grown into a solid starting corner but there is not much else talent wise at that position. McDuffie may not compare to the top corners of this class, but he is a great athlete that flashes excellent mirroring skills to handle man cover responsibilities. Adding that type of player to a defense boasting both Chandler Jones and JJ Watt is big for their playoff hopes and defensive talent.

24. Dallas Cowboys – Kenyon Green, Interior offensive lineman, Texas A&M

The Cowboys once boasted one of the best offensive lines in the league. That has since changed due to departures, retirements and various injuries to the position. Kenyon Green makes complete sense here, especially with the other vaunted offensive lineman off the board. Green has potential as a tackle prospect, but should dominate early by sliding into guard. Dallas will be lucky to have this versatile piece, especially to protect Dak Prescott and help reestablish Ezekiel Elliott’s prowess in the ground game.

25. Buffalo Bills – Kaiir Elam, Cornerback, Florida

This NFL Draft is coming down to the wire, with much of the top tier talent off the board to this point. For Buffalo, this is a position to grab whoever they like the most, even at a position of need. I have them grabbing Kaiir Elam to add a starting cornerback right away.

Elam is a player I like a lot, and can see his appeal to multiple defensive schemes. His athleticism was on display at the combine, but it pops off the tape as well. A highly touted high school prospect, Elam has lived up to that hype and could immediately start in Buffalo alongside Tre’Davious White. Adding a corner is a priority given the Dolphins recent acquisition of Tyreek Hill to go along with Jaylen Waddle, and the Jets earlier Williams pick.

26. Tennessee Titans – Boye Mafe, EDGE, Minnesota

At this point, the premium players are gone, but there is quality talent still left and I can easily see teams grabbing guys they like as justification for a first round selection. Mafe is one of those players I think fits the bill. He possesses the frame, athleticism and power to play right away, featuring a balanced game versus the run and pass. Much like Elam, I see Mafe as an overlooked player who could start day one with the right team. Tennessee is not in desperate need of pass rush help given both Bud Dupree and Harold Landry on the roster. But Mafe helps to round out that position well, and you can never have enough pass rushers.

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Devonte Wyatt, Defensive lineman, Georgia

Tampa Bay does not have many huge needs but one area of focus could be their interior defensive line. Vita Vea and William Gholston form a solid duo, but Ndamukong Suh is still a free agent. Outside of the former pair, there is little talent for depth. Given the Buccaneers reliance on that dominating middle, adding a defensive tackle that brings pass rush talent is ideal. Wyatt has fantastic first step quickness and active hands that help him fit the bill nicely.

28. Green Bay Packers – George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue

Karlaftis has experienced a pretty steep fall from the very early mock drafts that featured him going top ten. But Karlaftis still possesses the talent worth a first round pick. He has a solid pass rush toolkit, featuring a strong bull rush and long arm. The Packers could use an additional pass rusher after losing Za’Darius Smith. Having an explosive, high motor player like Karlaftis is a solid pick at this point.

29. Kansas City Chiefs (from Miami Dolphins via San Francisco 49ers) – Jahan Dotson, Wide receiver, Penn State

Back-to-back picks for the Chiefs here. Despite signing JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marques Valdez-Scantling, the Chiefs are lacking an elite level receiver after trading Tyreek Hill. They are also missing that game-changing speed in short areas that can explode small passes into large gains. Dotson can do that. He has excellent twitch and tremendous body control to attack the ball from anywhere on the field and make a big play. Patrick Mahomes would generate a tremendous rapport given his knack for mind-boggling deep throws and Dotson’s separation skills.

30. Kansas City Chiefs – Kyler Gordon, Cornerback, Washington

Provided the Chiefs see cornerback as their biggest need and are not enamored with any pass rushers, Gordon is the pick here. Despite his lackluster combine, which was reportedly a result of his being under the weather, Gordon is still a solid man cornerback with good athleticism, smooth movement skills and active hand use. Barring a trade for a player like James Bradberry, this would be one of the more logical picks of the NFL Draft.

31. Cincinnati Bengals – Lewis Cine, Safety, Clemson

The Bengals spent a ton of money in free agency to reinforce their offensive line, which was by far their greatest need. This gives the Bengals a bit of freedom to pick the best player available. They could use a corner, so maybe Andrew Booth from Clemson is an option here. But when looking at the roster, the Bengals definitely need to backup their safety position given Jessie Bates is a franchise player and Vonn Bell is their only other starting caliber safety. That is why Cine goes here.

Cine is a first round caliber player, and graded out as a high second rounder for me. He is dynamic, with excellent athleticism and is a tremendous, tone setting tackler. Adding a player with his caliber, who can contribute right away but not have to start provides an opportunity for him to grow and insurance for a potential loss of Bates if a new contract cannot be negotiated.

32. Detroit Lions (from Los Angeles Rams) – Desmond Ridder, Quarterback, Cincinnati

Finally the end of the 2022 NFL Draft is here. The Lions definitely could use a quarterback, but none are worth a top two selection and getting Aidan Hutchinson is a quality consolation prize. But with this second first rounder, the Lions take a flier on Desmond Ridder.

For a while, Ridder was receiving praise for his talents but his accuracy issues and streaky play got the best of his stock. However, he still brings more to the table than Jared Goff. Ridder has plus athleticism, a great arm, and has a resume of starts suggesting a competent player that can step in and test Goff right away.

Senior Bowl Winners and Losers: Day 3, American Team

Bailey Zappe led the American team of winners and losers on Day 3 of the Senior Bowl
Photo Credit: Jeff Hanson

The final day of practice is complete! While closed to most of the media due to weather concerns, the broadcast and film access afterwards were able to clearly demonstrate the performances of many players today. Around The Block sent multiple scouts to assess the talent here in Mobile, Alabama. One of those scouts, Felix Davila, highlights his Senior Bowl winners and losers from Thursday’s indoor practice.

Winners

Bailey Zappe

When it comes to the quarterbacks on the American roster, Bailey Zappe was certainly one of the Senior Bowl winners. Concluding the third day of practices, Zappe tossed with much more confidence than previously seen this week. His ball placement was frequently in a desirable spot for his receivers and the velocity on his passes remained strong.

However, most impressive to me were his feet. Zappe’s base was consistent and his footwork to move, adjust, and deliver was machine-like. In speaking with Zappe early Wednesday, he told me he models his game after Drew Brees. That was on display today with his sound mechanics and surprising arm. He was easily the best quarterback present not named Malik Willis today.

Calvin Austin III

Measuring in at just a hair under 5-8 and 173 pounds, Austin is exactly what you’d expect from a smaller player at an all-star game: blazing fast. He’s as shifty as they come, but demonstrates exceptional straight line speed that really stood out on several routes over the week.

Today, however, he flashed such excellent control in his route running, proving to be a pretty polished receiver rather than just a speedy threat. Austin had a solid week, but today was particularly great — including a bonkers route to get open in the end zone. Austin made himself some money this week and was one of the winners from today. 

Isaiah Likely

The American tight end group as a whole may not be as good as the National team’s, but Isaiah Likely can be considered in the conversation with that group. All week he’s demonstrated some solid all-around game, with smooth routes, soft hands and solid blocking through the week.

However, today was particularly exceptional. Likely showed he could be a dominant receiving threat, getting open consistently and making nice catches even with tight coverage. Overall, Likely continued to show some good blocking ability, putting the icing on the cake of his good week. He was definitely one of the Senior Bowl winners.

DeAngelo Malone

Very similar to my love for Dominique Robinson after Wednesday’s practice, I felt really pleased with Malone’s performance today due to the violence and athleticism he displayed. What has been very impressive, though, is Malone showing out at two inches and 20 pounds less.

Malone flashes an awesome burst off the line of scrimmage and a good tendency to remain lower than the opposing lineman in order to win the leverage game. I think his hands are active and he does well to continue driving his feet when converting speed to power. Ultimately, Malone did well to show up as a potential EDGE player that NFL teams will keep an eye on during day three of the draft. Malone left today as one of the Senior Bowl winners defensively.

Roger McCreary

McCreary had himself a solid day refuting his measurables. Posting sub-30 inch arms, McCreary still managed to remain sticky in coverage, long-arming receivers he was responsible for and disrupting their timing. He’s feisty in all the right ways for a defensive back, and that’s going to be necessary for the NFL.

Additionally, McCreary demonstrated an ability to stay sticky and on a receiver’s hip, showing excellent movement skills to stay with anyone. He’s silky smooth and makes his movements with ease. McCreary had a solid week overall, but his game today was demonstrative to his potential despite, such concerning measurables.

Losers

Spencer Burford

Burford was facing an uphill battle coming into this week considering his small-school pedigree and size. Measuring at just under 6-4 but weighing in at 293 pounds, he’s smaller than ideal for the position to start. But in each practice this week, he’s presented a concerning lack of anchor in which he’s pretty easily outclassed on a majority of his reps. Today was no exception.

Burford had several reps where he could not handle any power moves or bull rushes. DeAngelo Malone, in particular, blew through Burford despite being nearly 50 pounds lighter. Burford has to show out on game day if he wants to ensure a more positive outlook on his week. 

Braxton Jones

Yet another offensive lineman that struggled facing some talented defenders all week. Jones has an intriguing body type with a great wingspan and nice length. But Jones consistently loses the leverage battle. Time and time again he failed to engage his lower half enough to anchor, although not nearly as badly as the aforementioned Burford.

Additionally, however, Jones gives up plenty of ground even when he’s able to engage his lower half and lock down a rusher. Jones, like Burford, will need a strong game day to convince scouts that this was just a string of practices muddled by the spotlight of the moment.

Velus Jones Jr.

Velus Jones Jr was an enticing prospect coming into this game, possessing a good frame at 5-11 and 203 pounds. He has flashed some solid route running skills and agility, but he’s had some very blatant drops that are just unacceptable. Yesterday’s weather could be held liable for drops. But that continued into today.

It’s quite possible that Jones is struggling in the spotlight, but teams can’t help but note the amount of passes that he hasn’t reeled in despite them hitting his hands. 

If you missed who stood out from yesterday’s practice, you’re in luck. Here’s our scout coverage of both the American and National teams from day one.

Senior Bowl Practice Stars: National, Day 2

Senior Bowl Practice Star Perrion Winfrey
Photo by Jeff Hanson

The second day of practices for the 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl are complete, but not without getting everyone completely soaked at first. Both teams continued installing scheme and working in several individual drill periods to showcase their ability. However, the weather set the stage for players to be Senior Bowl practice stars.

Just like yesterday, Around The Block has several scouts on site to checkout the prospects, with Mitchell Wolfe covering the American team, while Felix Davila covered the National team. Below is Felix’s observations of the standouts for the National team’s second day of practice.

Winners

Tyler Badie 

On this second day of practices, Badie is definitely one of my Senior Bowl practice stars. Overall, he demonstrates good instincts when navigating space, particularly when running inside. He flashed the same wiggle and agility seen on film and continued into Wednesday finding yards in small spaces with good speed downhill.

One of my favorite plays involved him avoiding a backside rusher by cutting upfield, then slightly side-stepping a linebacker to tear the defense for about 10 yards. He hasn’t been shy when it comes to contact either, and his balance was particularly impressive when dealing with the elements on Wednesday. If he can continue this pace, Badie has undoubtedly made himself some money. 

Braylon Sanders

Sanders is an intriguing name to watch that has flashed some excellent route running ability and steady hands. But it was entirely on display today with the rain pouring down. His cuts and hip sinks were effortless, allowing him to stay up and maintain good speed without slipping. As a matter of fact, Sanders has been one of the fastest receivers on the field in Mobile for two straight days now, which is even more impressive.

I was also impressed by his physicality. Sanders plays with a nastiness that is very desirable in receivers, especially facing tight man coverage. It’s allowed him to fend off the more handsy defensive backs and create more separation in his routes. Sanders looked like he was shaken up and walked with a slight limp during the latter part of practice but hopefully will be alright to continue boosting his stock.

Troy Andersen

The linebacker out of Montana State, Troy Andersen, has flashed some impressive athleticism ideal in today’s NFL. I witnessed several times where he dominated running backs and tight ends in one-on-ones, using good speed-to-power or a shoulder dip to create pressure. He plays violently and with an attacking mindset, which shows on every snap and drill.

Additionally, Andersen flashes some excellent movement skills in space, handling coverage duties in every way. Even if he’s out of position, he’ll sprint to the opposing receiver to play through action and attempt a deflection. Overall, Andersen is one of the more surprising Senior Bowl practice stars, and he helped his stock today. 

Perrion Winfrey

Winfrey was a no brainer choice for this list. One of the more physical, violent, and aggressive defenders in Mobile, Winfrey was on another level today. He destroyed blocks consistently and used an array of moves to make life hell for opposing offensive linemen.

His capacity for destroying a blocking scheme really showed in the 11-on-11s drills, where he was nearly instantaneous off the snap with his rush plan and overwhelming strength. Winfrey stood out all practice and is absolutely a name to watch come tomorrow’s practice and the big game Saturday.

Dominique Robinson

A player who has pleasantly surprised is Dominique Robinson, the pass rusher out of Miami (Ohio). Measuring in at a shade under 6-5 and at 254 pounds, Robinson is a chiseled prospect that wears his weight well. He’s incredibly nimble and has good flexibility to run the arc off the edge, which flashed on back-to-back sacks on Kenny Pickett in drills today.

But most noticeable is his 82-inch wingspan, which helps him tremendously in setting the edge, too. Robinson has flashed some great playmaking and has played with his head on fire thus far. However, in today’s elements, he became one of the Senior Bowl practice stars for the second day of practice.

Losers

Andrew Stueber

Stueber had a solid day yesterday but today was a different story. Shifting between the guard and center positions, Stueber lost multiple times, at each position, very quickly. From bull rushes to swim moves, he was moving backwards too often to feel comfortable. There were also snaps where he’d eventually anchor a defender to stall them, but not without giving up three or four yards of real estate in the pocket first.

If Stueber wants to elevate his stock, he has to be more consistent in his performance by attacking inside more quickly and establishing a base fast. I’ve seen him bend defenders backward here in Mobile, so it’s not impossible, but I’m curious if he can just hit that form faster. 

Brian Asamoah II

A stellar athlete, Asamoah looks the part of an NFL player that can fly around the field, but he hasn’t been comparable to any of the Senior Bowl standouts that Around The Block has featured. He hasn’t flashed in any particular aspect of his game, has played clean up in tackling on a few plays and was stonewalled a few times by both running backs and tight ends in one-on-one drills today.

Maybe it was the weather, but an athlete of Asamoah’s caliber should be popping off the tape more than he has to this point. He has the means to overcome these struggles and string together a bunch of big plays, so hopefully Thursday’s practice and the game Saturday provide ample opportunity for Asamoah to showcase his potential. 

The Quarterbacks

Considering the pouring rain Wednesday, this choice comes with an asterisk. Still, it was difficult pinpointing one quarterback who did worse than the others when all of them didn’t particularly flash. Desmond Ridder demonstrated some good velocity in the rain, but the inaccuracy continued. Carson Strong also had good power, but his ball placement was affected, and he struggled to throw off-platform on the wet field.

Kenny Pickett looked the best overall, but only by a hair since his throws were accurate and on target, but lacked the zip seen from the other passers. Not to mention, Pickett’s small hands (which weren’t measured to start this week) could be the reason he fumbled earlier in the day and missed a few passes. Each player has their work cut out for them heading into the final practice of the week, so hopefully there’s stronger performances tomorrow. 

If you missed who stood out from yesterday’s practice, you’re in luck. Here’s our scout coverage of both the American and National teams from day one.

Senior Bowl Standouts: National, Day 1

NDSU WR Christian Watson stood out on day 1 of Senior Bowl practices
Photo Credit: Jeff Hanson

One of the most important events of the offseason for NFL teams kicked off on Tuesday with the first practices of the Reese’s Senior Bowl. The New York Jets and Detroit Lions coaching staffs ran through a rigorous set of drills, run-throughs, and brief scrimmages to test each prospect’s skill set. Unsurprisingly, the test brought out the best and worst of many players in attendance. Here’s a list of Senior Bowl standouts, both good and bad, from the first day of practices here in Mobile, Alabama.

Winners

Christian Watson

Felix: If I was forced to select one Senior Bowl standout from today’s practice sessions, it was Christian Watson. Measuring at an even 6-4 and 211 pounds, he played as if he was smaller, showing nice fluidity to make some great catches, good speed in and out of his breaks, and a varied release package that allowed him to burn several defensive backs that were present today.

I was particularly impressed with his dipping his hips to break his routes despite having such a long frame. He possesses soft hands and had some great concentration catches through contact, too. Overall, he’s my favorite receiver from today, which isn’t a surprise based on our watchlist heading into the week.

Zion Johnson

Mitch: Zion Johnson was probably the most impressive Senior Bowl standout among the offensive lineman in Mobile today. He took reps at both guard spots, along with playing some center. He was more inconsistent with that latter but had some good reps. Nevertheless, he was truly dominant when playing guard, displaying an excellent anchor with strong hands that lock up his opponent.

He also exhibited excellent movement skills when asked to execute Reach blocks during the team drills period. Johnson has a chance to solidify himself as the top offensive guard in this class and Tuesday’s practice put him on pace to achieve that goal.

Travis Jones

Mitch: One player gave Zion Johnson trouble, especially at center: Travis Jones. The defensive tackle from UConn, measuring in at 6’4” and 326 pounds, used all of his strength to demolish his opponents, including Johnson. He moves remarkably well for a man of his size and possesses a relatively diverse arsenal of moves to get by blockers.

Jones could be a viable backup option for a team that misses out on a run-stuffing nose tackle like Jordan Davis. Despite his past level of competition, he showed he belonged with these players on the field today, earning him the distinction of being a Senior Bowl standout. 

Myjai Sanders

Felix: For someone that was billed to be long and lean, Myjai Sanders looked every bit chiseled for his frame and could potentially pack on more weight. But regardless of size, he flashed some excellent reps winning not only with burst and leverage, but demonstrated some great lean as well. He moved very smoothly and played with urgency, often blowing up running plays from the backside. I was also impressed with his active hands.

Sanders had several coaches eyeing him from what I saw, including New York Giants legend Jessie Armstead. Sanders was absolutely one of the Senior Bowl standouts.

Tariq Castro-Fields

Felix: Penn State defensive back Tariq Castro-Fields stood out on the field with his fluidity and build. He absolutely looks the part at 6-0 and a solid 194 pounds that he wears well. He demonstrated some good movement skills and was solid in his matchups in man coverage, never burnt outright and fought at the catch point. Overall, he put together a solid day, even coming up with a spectacular interception in the end zone on a deep ball that he stripped as they went to the ground.

Losers

Cole Strange

Felix: Cole Strange flashed a few times in practice, so he could hang his hat on some solid tape, but he had some drastic mistakes. He was manhandled by UConn’s Travis Jones and blatantly whiffed a couple of times at center. His hand placement and footwork were inconsistent, and he struggled to maintain a solid base under him. His overall frame seemed small, so I have some concerns and will watch him over the next couple of practices. 

Gregory Junior

Felix: One of the Senior Bowl standouts for the wrong reason, Gregory Junior is feisty, but almost too feisty. He was burnt a few times with a lack of speed on the top of routes to keep up, but more noticeable was how grabby he could get when fearing separation. I counted three times where he grabbed some jersey and/or pads. He’ll have to show more patience in contention with opposing receivers for the rest of this week. The fluidity is there, but the speed and hands concern me.

RBs catching the ball and TEs false starting

Mitch: Given that this was the first session of the first day of practice, mistakes were expected. Quarterback Carson Strong even admitted that he had some plays backward in his head. But the players that routinely experienced mental lapses were the running backs and tight ends. The backs gravely struggled to catch the ball out of the backfield, dropping very catchable balls that hit them in the hands.

Furthermore, the tight end group was very out of sorts with the snap counts. Every tight end on the field went early at least once during the first practice session. It’s not the biggest issue but if these problems aren’t corrected tomorrow, it could be cause for concern.

Awkwafina is an unnecessary bump in Marvel’s diversity road

Awkwafina stands in full blaccent persona with Eddie Huang.
Awkwafina with Eddie Huang / Photo Credit: Awkwafina/Facebook

Awkwafina. You may know her, or not. But her name has a bit more spotlight with the coming release of Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Marvel boasts a unique powerhouse film universe with heavy profits that no one has seen before. Everyone enjoys their cinematic projects, but that success cannot remove how Marvel continues to suffer from a major diversity problem. You may recall that prior to Shang-Chi, the minority actors/characters are always sidekicks and minor roles. That is, until Black Panther. These characters never own a significant role until the white hero takes a stand or heads in a direction for them to follow.

Remember…

Iron Man has Don Cheadle’s Rhodey/War Machine. 

Captain America has Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson/Falcon (who ultimately takes the mantle).

Thor has brief moments of Idris Elba’s Heimdall and Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie.

Hulk has… Well, no one. And the rest of the Avengers desperately needed sunscreen and seasoning in their food until Black Panther arrived in Civil War to finally add melanin to the equation. Oh, and there’s Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury.

The films have shown improvement through recent years, and the release of Shang-Chi’s solo film is an example. Asian representation is finally getting its spot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). But Awkwafina’s choice as the lead romantic interest of the titular character shows the diversity problem remains. It’s just a bit shrouded.

The obvious issue with Marvel’s diversity

Being representative of the world around us should be easy, especially by a billion dollar entity like the Disney/Marvel marriage. At least to start, there’s an explanation for the initial trajectory courtesy of an old, conservative white man in power. The Marvel universe continues to make brilliant strides under new creative head Kevin Feige today. But, even then, it’s not enough, because there are still plenty of hiccups.

There’s a tokenism in Marvel that’s grown from the few diverse hires that reach the cinematic slate. When a breakthrough character comes along, the entire film is dedicated to that race. Don’t get me wrong, that’s phenomenal for representation, but it’s a testament to the lack of willingness on Marvel’s part to organically include a minority into a greater role at all. Diversity in Marvel seems to cling to those very same heavy profits that propel the entire franchise forward by featuring more diverse characters starring in movies surrounded by people that look only like them. It’s almost like those minority characters have to exist within their own ethnic bubbles to be a focus. T’Challa is the lone exception.

The bubble doesn’t apply to just the script

To that point, the heroes who take the lead within their ethnic bubbles are conveniently latched onto a movement.

Black Panther was marketed heavily alongside the #BlackLivesMatter movement in 2018. Captain Marvel was hyped up during the #MeToo movement. Shang-Chi happens to be coming during a time where #StopAsianHate is a trending, and necessary, hashtag. Weird right? Marvel knows how to market but it’s a bit insincere to push the branding along next to the real-world issues.

Regardless, Shang-Chi’s release is a major milestone: a film featuring a predominantly Asian cast. Casting Simu Liu, known for his role in Kim’s Convenience, is a brilliant move, showcasing Marvel’s intent to find an actor that’s a great fit for the role, not just a big name for the sake of diversity.

And then they chose Awkwafina. Goddamn it. 

Culture vulture success

Awkwafina, who is actually Nora Lum from Forest Hills, Queens, first earned notoriety for being a “rapper” and posting YouTube videos of her music that garnered her millions of views. She now has acting chops via Crazy Rich Asians, which was a blockbuster hit and the female-led Ocean’s 8 movie. She even owns a Golden Globe for Best Actress for her lead in The Farewell. Now, she’s on the Marvel stage and it just doesn’t quite hit right.

As one can judge by her stage name STILL being her call sign for acting work, Awkwafina has awkwardly nurtured and maintained a career despite the fact that she’s essentially hijacked black culture, in the most stereotypical way, and has held onto that for dear life. She’s boasts “blaccents” with her rap persona and in most of her roles up until her Golden Globe project.

Funny how easily discarded that accent was.

What even is the point of still being “Awkwafina”?

She could easily remove her stage name, especially now that she has a strong acting career. Awkwafina also no longer raps (last album in 2018) nor hosts her former show Tawk (yes, even her little show followed the trope), so moving on is more logical! Hell, even Dwayne Johnson doesn’t go by “The Rock” anymore. Instead, she’s doubling down, even moving into the second season of a television series loosely based on her life, still embracing the Awkwafina name. 

User @LeahCsMovies comments on Awkwafina’s blaccent.

The intent here isn’t to solely slam Awkwafina. It’s more to point to Marvel’s need to strike diversity authentically and with a measured approach. One can’t help but realize that Awkwafina is still profiting off of a likeness she has no connection to, especially considering her upbringing in a well-off suburb in Queens, New York and not Brooklyn, as her rap persona claims. Her “culture vulture’ schtick has single-handedly sparked her rise to fame, and even though it’s problematic as hell, she’s not budging.

User @BrandonLBradfor comments on how he handles the Awkwafina issue

What could have been…

Overall, there are so many Asian actresses that are fantastic for this role. Each undoubtedly would’ve killed the role as the female-lead in a Marvel project. Each definitely would have found chemistry alongside Simu Liu and a host of legendary Asian actors like Michelle Yeoh and Tony Chiu-Wai Leung. 

But Awkwafina got the gig. I applaud Awkwafina for her constant focus on representation. It’s beautiful to see someone mindful of what her representation can mean to her community. It’s desperately needed to have voices that seek to uplift minorities to greater platforms. But it’s disingenuous to claim such pure intentions while abusing a stereotype of other minorities. This is the same person that said she won’t “ever go out for auditions where I feel like I’m making a minstrel out of our people” in an interview with VICE a few years back.

I’ve walked out of auditions where the casting director all of a sudden changed her mind and asked for accents. I refuse to do accents. And I think like—so far, like a lot of the parts I’ve gone out for have been really real characters and being Asian is not part of their plotline. I’m OK with having an Asian aspect if it’s done in a genuine way. I’m not OK with someone writing the Asian experience for an Asian character. Like that’s annoying and I make it very clear, I don’t ever go out for auditions where I feel like I’m making a minstrel out of our people.

Awkwafina in her interview with VICE, May 2017.

So making a minstrel of black people is cool? Got it. 

Does she avoid the topic?

Awkwafina can address this issue too. But she seemingly avoids the controversy altogether. There has yet to be a tense moment where that question is directly asked of her. It’s never thrown right into her face during an interview. The closest she’s come to that direct questioning was via an interview with Yahoo! Movies UK. The actress claimed she’s open to the discussion. But that was three years ago.

Hmmm…

If Marvel needed to select an Asian actress that would’ve provided a similar or superior jolt of acting chops with comedic timing, they could have easily done that without her. They could’ve done that by selecting someone that didn’t make a mockery of black culture/behavior to earn their keep.

So, shout out to you Awkwafina for getting the bag and repping your people. And shout out to Marvel for trying. The movie will likely be a hit and Awkwafina will continue a prestigious career. But it doesn’t make it any better.