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Senior Bowl Watch List: Cornerback Edition

Updated: Feb 4

The Senior Bowl (February 3, 2024 @1PM EST) is just around the corner, and with many fans already looking into April's draft, this Senior Bowl should provide plenty of content. The Reese's Senior Bowl is an annual classic all-star exhibition game for draft-eligible upperclassmen to showcase their skills in front of fans and NFL scouts and executives. This is the first year where both Juniors and Seniors are eligible to participate, so there will be an overwhelming amount of talent with NFL scouts set to take notes.


In this article, I'll point out a few of my favorite Senior Bowl corners to watch for in this loaded cornerback class and what I want to see from them in Mobile.


Khyree Jackson, Oregon

6'3" 195 pounds.

The Alabama transfer posted an 80.5 overall grade in 2023, according to PFF. He had 320 coverage snaps this past season at Oregon. Within those 320 coverage snaps, he only allowed one touchdown, racked up three interceptions, and only allowed 19 completions on 38 targets. This summed up to him posting a season of 41.6 passer rating allowed: one of the better marks among this upcoming CB class.


2023 was his first season with a large sample size in his first season transferring from Alabama. Khyree said he felt that the Ducks and Tide both ran a similar defense, but he felt more free with Oregon because he was able to have more "leeway" in the system. Oregon allowed him to line up and even determine the coverage to be played on that down based on the situation. This allows Khyree to utilize his underrated football IQ and allow him to be around the play more often.



The 77.4 coverage grade (top 25% in his draft class) supports his claim even more. He's also a willing tackler and never shies away from contact. His 6'3" frame allows him to do that freely. This also shows up in the run game, as he posted an 82.2 run defense grade (top 15%), both near the top of this draft class.


Areas I want to see him showcase in the Senior Bowl: Jackson shows physicality and disruption at the catch point. Scouts will also be looking to see how well he can cover the quicker receivers with minimal hand usage. If Jackson can keep up with the better WRs in this class in a clean enough fashion, I think scouts will love it and it will let them focus on his solid football IQ and instincts.


Quinyon Mitchell, Toledo

6'0", 197 pounds.

Mitchell posted a 91.4 overall grade via PFF in 2023, 92.5 in 2022, and 79.7 in 2021. The consistency and sample size are there. In 2023, he played 437 coverage snaps and in those 437 coverage snaps, he was targeted 62 times while allowing a completion percentage of 43.5% (among the top 15% in this class). He also recorded an interception while also not allowing any touchdowns to be scored on him. This all summed up to a 51.1 passer rating allowed in 2023, another one of the better marks in this class.


As I mentioned before, the consistency and sample size is there. He posted back-to-back seasons of under 55.0 passer rating allowed (34.8 in 2022). He also was effective against the run, posting a run defense grade of 77.0, which is top 25% of his class. The 43.5% completion allowed ranks top 15% in his class as well. In 2023, he was also tied for the 3rd-most forced incompletions in the nation at 18.



Areas I want to see him showcase in the Senior Bowl: Mitchell has the numbers to support his excellence in coverage skills and efficacy against the run, but many will question the level of competition he has played due to the program he played for. At the Senior Bowl, there will be a high level of talent there, so Mitchell has a chance to put those doubts to rest in Mobile this year.


Mike Sainristil, University of Michigan

5'10", 182 pounds. (23)

Mike may lack the ideal age and size to be highly coveted as an incoming NFL corner, but man can this guy play. The receiver-turned-cornerback posted an 81.4 overall overall grade in 2023 and an 83.3 overall grade in 2022.


This past season he was on the field for 373 coverage snaps and in those 373 coverage snaps, he was targeted 50 times. In those 50 targets, he recorded six interceptions, which is up from his single-interception season in 2022. He allowed an amazing 71.8 passer rating in 2023 which is an improvement over a solid season in 2022, when he allowed a passer rating of 83.3. With some saying that Sainristil will measure at about 5'9, the slot is his ideal niche. He had 403 snaps in the slot and had 151 outside at the corner position and 100 snaps in the box. He also posted a 65.0 run defense grade. His versatility claims are supported.



He posted a 71.3 coverage grade in the playoffs against Alabama and then a 65.9 coverage grade in the National Championship game against Washington, including a timely interception that was almost returned for a touchdown. There's no doubt he is a playmaker in the making by putting his receiver skills to use.


Areas I want to see him showcase in the Senior Bowl: If Sainristil can showcase that he is more than just ball skills and show that he is an effective tackler and run defender, it can do wonders for his draft stock in hopes of becoming a premier nickel defender in the NFL.


Max Melton, Rutgers

6'0", 190 pounds. (21)

Melton posted a 72.7 overall grade in the 2023 season. That included 338 coverage snaps. In those 338 coverage snaps, he was targeted 44 times and allowed only 24 catches while racking up three interceptions. This all led to an amazing 2023 campaign where he allowed a lowly passer rating of 65.7.


He had a 73.6 coverage grade this past season while also posting a 63.2 run defense grade. What jumps out to me about Melton is both his physicality and his instincts. He has the physicality of a safety when closing in on the flats and in the backfield. He also has the instincts of a ball hawk as his breaks on the ball are some of the best in the class in my opinion. I think he has a chance to showcase that in the Senior Bowl.



Areas I want to see him showcase in the Senior Bowl: When watching Melton's film, there's no doubt that his physicality is there and he is clearly a willing tackler. However, last season was a low for him in terms of tackling as he posted a 39.7 grade in that department last season. However, this can be seen as an outlier because he posted grades of 66.5 and 71.7 in 2022 and 2021, respectively. Melton has a chance to do some serious stock-rising in Mobile this year: one of my favorites in this class.


Josh Newton, Texas Christian University

6'0", 190 pounds. (23)

77.4 overall grade in 2023, 82.0 overall grade in 2022, and 76.9 overall grade in 2021. He's had 413 coverage snaps this season and in those 413 coverage snaps, he was targeted 52 times and only allowed 25 receptions (48.1% completion). He also only allowed one touchdown and came away with an interception as well. This all resulted in him posting a 64.8 passer rating allowed campaign.


We know this isn't a fluke season because of his ability to do it over the past two seasons while also playing approximately 400 coverage snaps each season. He is a solid defender against the run as well, as he has posted a run-defense grade of 64.6+ over the past three seasons.



Areas I want to see him showcase in the Senior Bowl: I want Newton to show that not only can he be a willing tackler, but that he can be sound with his tackling techniques as well. He posted a 72.7 tackle grade in 2022 but was sub-60.0 in 2023 and 2021. He had only 33 tackles last season in 802 snaps and then had seven missed tackles on top of that. If Newton can showcase that during the Senior Bowl, there's no doubt his stock will rise.


Thanks for reading my Senior Bowl Watchlist: Cornerback edition! Stay tuned for the next position group. Follow me on X (@CommanderSZN), and I'll follow you back!


(all grades according to PFF)

 

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