The Senior Bowl is nearing, and with over 120 players invited to play, it could be a little overwhelming trying to find players to key in on. Washington has a few holes on their team that they could address via the draft, as they have eight projected 2023 draft picks. Six of their picks are their own, and they are projected to have an additional third-rounder and sixth-rounder from compensatory picks.
While there are only a handful of potential first-round picks playing in the Senior Bowl, this is still a collection of many of the best players in college football. So while it may not be a game of interest for some common fans, it’s almost like a holiday season for draft scouts and analysts. This is especially true for Martin Mayhew and the Washington Commanders, who used five of their eight draft picks last offseason on players in the 2022 Senior Bowl.
2022 #NFLDraft breakdown by team… The @Commanders selected FIVE Senior Bowl alums #HTTC @PhidarianMathis @BrianR_4 @Sam7Howell @KingCole_Turner @BigChrisPaul #TheDraftStartsInMOBILE™️ pic.twitter.com/mskGXqYA6K — Reese's Senior Bowl (@seniorbowl) May 23, 2022
The Commanders will have coaches at the Senior Bowl to help coach the players throughout the week, and in the process, get to know them. Washington will have their running back coach Jennifer King, their assistant offensive line coach Travelle Wharton, and their assistant defensive line coach Ryan Kerrigan. They will also be sending their assistant special teams coach Ben Jacobs, which is a unit Ron Rivera has taken pride in.
Let’s take a look at few players to keep an eye on during the Reese’s Senior Bowl.
RB Evan Hull, Northwestern University
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Another running back?!”, but just hear me out here. Teams do not only draft to address current needs, but they also draft to add depth and development so that it doesn’t become a need soon. With that being said, I believe there is a strong reason why Coach King is working with the running backs on the National team in the Senior Bowl. Both J.D. McKissic and Antonio Gibson will be free agents after the 2023-24 NFL season, and Washington may be looking to address the running back room.
Washington will most likely try to look for a back that has great vision, burst, and receiving skills to be a change-of-pace back. I just don’t think they’ll take a running back on Day One or Day Two, since it’s not a dire need at the moment and the fact that running backs are not usually picked that high anyways. Texas RB Roschon Johnson had been amazing at practice and was probably seen as the best running back there, but two other names have emerged: Tyjae Spears from Tulane and Evan Hull from Northwestern. Hull is a back I believe has impeccable vision, balance, and extremely reliable hands.
I have an early crush on Evan Hull 👀 Not a home run hitter BUT Nimble Feet ✅ + Vision ✅ Tough. MEAN. Runner with ++ contact balance. The 1st tackler RARELY brings him down. 👑pic.twitter.com/CwHwIJFZYD — Derek Brown (@DBro_FFB) January 23, 2023
He is currently only seen as a projected third down back due to questions about pass protection, which decreases his draft stock. However, that is perfect for Washington as they will probably only look to use a late-round pick on a running back, should they choose to do so. Hull could serve as a potential third-down back next to the emerging Washington bell cow, Brian Robinson Jr. Plus, Hull has special teams experience (which Coach Rivera loves) and has been seen fielding punts in practice. This also means Hull will be working with both Coach King and Coach Jacobs.
OT Wanya Morris, Oklahoma University
The Commanders’ offensive line is a unit that I think most of the Washington community knows needs to be addressed, if not overhauled. There is not a single position on the line that cannot be immediately upgraded this offseason. They also need to get younger. The best way to do that is through the draft, especially in a class as stacked as this year.
Dawand Jones is an eye-popping right tackle due to his physical profile and unreal brute strength. Washington’s pocket was seen several times being pushed back in little-to-no time on almost every other play. This unit could use someone with a mean streak. Dawand is currently evaluating whether he will play or not in the Senior Bowl, so in case he doesn’t play, keep your eyes on Wanya Morris.
Morris is regarded as one of the most athletic tackles in this class, and has experience at both right and left tackle. He has been seen dominating his team and individual reps and has already turned heads during the first two Senior Bowl practices this week. He is currently projected as a Day Three pick, so he is currently flying under the radar with an opportunity to improve his stock.
Wanya Morris had good moments against Hall pic.twitter.com/s1dtRIo6Va — Billy M (@BillyM_91) February 2, 2023
OL Steve Avila, Texas Christian University
One player that Commanders fans should definitely keep an eye on is an interior offensive lineman from TCU, Steve Avila. According to Josh Taylor, the Commanders have already had an opportunity to talk with Avila. After only a few seconds of watching the film on Avila, it’s not hard to see why the Commanders and others will be interested. The footwork, grip strength, and amazing base balance create an unmovable anchor that has already been seen during the first two Senior Bowl practices this week.
TCU IOL and two time All-American Steve Avila says he had a “very interesting conversation” with the Washington Commanders as they showed a lot of interest in him. Definitely a name to keep an eye on. I’ll be breaking down tape soon. #HTTC FULL INTERVIEW: https://t.co/ILgadFbMaE pic.twitter.com/sfyEPkoktc — Josh Taylor (@JoshTaylorFB) February 2, 2023
He has dominated individual reps against some of college football’s best interior defensive linemen like Cameron Young and DJ Dale. Another appealing aspect that comes with Avila is his versatility. He has played mostly at guard but was also seen taking reps at center. That kind of versatility could surely come in handy, especially for a team like Washington who has several holes on the line and has been plagued by injuries at different positions the past few years. This would not be the first time Mayhew spends a late round pick on an interior lineman, as the Washington front office might have found a gem in rookie guard Chris Paul with one of their seventh-round picks last year.
Great balance and base from Steve Avila. Jump and anchor. pic.twitter.com/MZvjOo5Scp — Cory (@realcorykinnan) February 2, 2023
DL Keeanu Benton, University of Wisconsin
The defensive line has been the identity of this era of Washington football, and they have big decisions this offseason regarding one of their key members in Daron Payne. Whether or not the Commanders and Payne can come to an agreement, the depth of the defensive line is something Washington has valued in the near past. However, they recently lost Matt Ioannidis and Tim Settle to free agency. They recovered some of that depth by drafting Phidarian “Phil” Mathis from Alabama last year and picking up John Ridgeway III from Arkansas, an un-drafted rookie free agent that was previously with the Cowboys.
Mathis had shown signs of potential this past year before his rookie season was cut short due to injury, and it looks like Ridgeway might have a chance to stay here in Washington, but should they choose to make personnel changes on the defensive line, keep an eye on Zacch Pickens and Keeanu Benton in the Senior Bowl.
I also think there is a reason that Washington Defensive Line Coach and franchise all-time sack leader, Ryan Kerrigan, is working as the defensive line coach at the Senior Bowl. Getting to know the best defensive linemen in the draft may not be a bad plan, in case Payne doesn’t return.
Ryan Kerrigan teaching some arc work with the iDLs. Wisconsin DL Keeanu Benton here. pic.twitter.com/O4Y9keumy2 — Barnabas Lee (@pkjblee) February 1, 2023
Benton, who is coached by Kerrigan on the National team in the Senior Bowl, is an absolute freak of nature. He has been seen in Senior Bowl practices this week causing mayhem to some of college football’s best offensive linemen. His stock was originally low due to his relatively short height and 312-pound frame, but over the past week, his stock has been climbing. He brought out new pass rush moves against some of the nation’s best linemen that showcase his deceptive quickness and power. Like Settle and Ioannidis, Benton will likely be a Day Three pick and someone Washington could take a look at.
Violent & explosive hands from Keeanu Benton. Kid can move @ 312. pic.twitter.com/Su5dKwyACP — Ryan Fowler (@_RyanFowler_) January 31, 2023
QB Clayton Tune, University of Houston
Going into the 2023 off-season, it is very likely that Sam Howell will be the only quarterback on the roster from last season. Clayton Tune is probably my favorite quarterback in this class behind Bryce Young and CJ Stroud. He just doesn’t have the hype surrounding him to increase his draft stock. However, with a solid Senior Bowl performance, we could see him elevate to an early Day Three pick.
My favorite part of Tune’s game is how he performs in the pocket. He’s constantly moving and resetting his feet, so he’s rarely seen making off-platform throws unless required to. He presents a strange sense of composure in the pocket, to the point where it doesn’t seem like he’s even aware of the pressure. This composure is seen on display in his comeback win against the University of Memphis, where he was able to lead his Cougars to a big come-from-behind win.
He also possesses amazing arm strength and underrated mobility. Another thing I love about Tune is his ability to precisely throw receivers open and throw in anticipation. That displays a certain level of knowledge and confidence in his abilities and the offense. This makes him exceptional at extending plays and improvising. Those are qualities that translate well in the NFL. He has struggled a bit early in practices, but it does look like he and the receivers were not on the same page a lot of the time.
This is a pretty ball from Clayton Tune #SeniorBowl pic.twitter.com/DFckRZ2JZs — Tyler Browning (@DiabeticTyler) February 1, 2023
This is a player that will most likely outperform their draft stock and could ultimately end up as this year’s “Brock Purdy”. One of Tune’s knocks early on has been his habit of checking down, as scouts want to see more from him. I personally think checking down should not be a negative thing, especially when you’re taking what the defense gives you. Adding Tune to the Washington QB room adds depth at a low risk with the upside of a quarterback competition in the preseason.
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