After a season unlike any other, the Raiders are preparing for a Senior Bowl that will be much of the same.
We are less than 24 hours away from kickoff in the 2021 Reese's Senior Bowl, hosted in the new Hancock Whitney Stadium on University of South Alabama's campus. With the combine and pro days looking vastly different this year due to COVID-19 protocols, this may be the most valuable time to scout for any NFL team. This year's Senior Bowl will be stacked with talent, including three out of five of the Heisman finalists (DeVonta Smith, Mac Jones and Kyle Trask — Trask and Najee Harris recently withdrew).
Last year, Clemson's John Simpson was selected by the Raiders after playing in the 2020 Senior Bowl. After Simpson's productive season filling in when needed on the banged-up offensive line, the Raiders will definitely try to find more talent able to bring a Commitment to Excellence to Las Vegas.
Here are a couple of guys on the national media's radar that may make sense given the Raiders' draft needs.
Marlon Tuipulotu, DT, USC
Big, fast, physical – exactly what the Raiders defensive line is looking for.
Marlon Tuipulotu was one of the more underrated prospects going into the 2021 NFL Draft, but after some stellar Senior Bowl practices, he's slowly putting himself more on the radar. The 6-foot-3, 305-pound nose tackle is one of the strongest and most versatile players coming out and has been a star for a Trojan defense that has strongly improved in the past couple of years after some dormant seasons in the Pac-12. He has compiled 8.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss in his four years at USC.
Tuipulotu is currently projected to go in the second or third round, and if the Raiders have the decision to go after him, he could potentially be a steal. No. 51 has showcased his ability to plug the middle and stop the run, which the Silver and Black are in need of. If he has a dominant showing in Mobile this Saturday, his value may creep up even more.
Jonathan Cooper, DE, Ohio State
Coming off a national championship game appearance, the Ohio native is looking to continue to make a name for himself Senior Bowl weekend.
Cooper had massive shoes to fill for the Buckeyes after Chase Young was the No. 2 pick taken in the 2020 NFL Draft by the Washington Football Team. Cooper led the way for Ohio State in his redshirt senior year, capping off his final season in Columbus with 25 tackles, 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble in a shortened season.
Cooper has great size, burst, and explosiveness to get to the ball quick. He also has experience in a 4-3 scheme that the Raiders currently run. Ohio State edge rushers have also had great success being productive in recent years with Joey and Nick Bosa, Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard and Chase Young.
DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
The Raiders probably don't have a realistic chance of the 2020 Heisman and Biletnikoff winner sliding to them at No. 17. However, this report is highlighting players to watch out for in the Senior Bowl, and arguably no one will have more eyes on them in Hancock Whitney Stadium than this man.
DeVonta Smith's encore from a 215-yard first half in the National Championship Game will be Saturday in the Senior Bowl. After breaking multiple SEC and school records this past season, Smith doesn't really have much left to prove. His speed and immaculate route-running abilities make him a top-tier player, and I wouldn't be surprised if he finds a way to embarrass more cornerbacks on the Gulf Coast this Saturday. Only thing that might make it difficult for him is the hand injury he suffered in the National Championship game. The injury has kept him out of practices and workouts this week.
I will be one of many who will have my eyes on the Slim Reaper this Saturday, thinking about what a Crimson Tide reunion with him, Henry Ruggs III and Josh Jacobs would look like in the desert.
A man can dream, can't he?
Tarron Jackson, DE, Costal Carolina
Tarron Jackson might have the most to benefit out of anyone here at the Senior Bowl this Saturday.
Jackson had arguably the best statistical and most decorated season out of any of the defensive linemen playing in the Senior Bowl this year. The Aiken, South Carolina, native went from being a two-star prospect coming out of high school, to leading the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers to an 11-1 season and a Sun-Belt Conference Championship in the program's first season in the FBS. Jackson earned All-American honors and won the Sun Belt defensive player of the year racking up 54 tackles (14 tackles for loss), eight and a half sacks and four forced fumbles his senior season.
With a great physical build, instincts and ability to change a game, Jackson's biggest drawback has to be him being a small-school prospect. This game will be extremely important to Jackson to show that he can compete with the best in college football that come from Power 5 schools. With the success of fourth-round pick Maxx Crosby from FCS Eastern Michigan, the Raiders are keen to recognizing talent and a high motor when they see it, regardless of what school they've come from. With that being said, make sure you keep the Teal Monster on your radar this Saturday.
Keep an eye out for these draft prospects participating in Saturday's 2021 Senior Bowl.