From the outside looking in, the Senior Bowl is different this year. As with most sporting events over the last calendar year, COVID-19 has changed it, with not as many media members and different protocols for the players than normal.
As a result of the 2021 NFL Combine being cancelled, however, the Senior Bowl — despite the changes — is even more important than ever.
Here are 8 players the Eagles should be keeping an extra close eye on in Mobile, Alabama this week:
DaVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
Yes, this is an obvious one, but this week is a big one for Smith since there won’t be a Combine. The Eagles might not get another chance to meet Smith in person, or spend actual time with him in a meeting-like setting. The Eagles have an obvious need at receiver and Smith might be the best one in the NFL Draft. If thy do take him at No. 6 it is absolutely critical they get that pick right — and this week could be big in the team deciding if they are comfortable taking Smith.
Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida
Toney is going to be one of the most explosive players at this year’s Senior Bowl, which will certainly catch the Eagles’ attention. Toney, 6-foot, 193 pounds, totaled 1,145 yards and 11 touchdowns on 89 touches last season, doing damage through both the passing game and the run game. The former quarterback and track star is expected to run around a 4.4 40, and could give the Eagles some much-needed speed from their slot receiver.
Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB, Syracuse
A lot of the attention will be on wide receiver this offseason, but cornerback is arguably just as big of a need, as there isn’t much for the team to feel confident about outside of Darius Slay. Melifonwu has great height at 6-foot-3 and is an extremely physical corner, making him a perfect fit opposite Slay, especially against the run. Melifonwu might not be as ready to step in and play as other corners in the draft, but not many have a higher ceiling.
Quincy Roche, DE/EDGE, Miami
The Eagles have Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat and not much else at defensive end moving forward — and no, I didn’t forget about Derek Barnett. Even if you believe Barnett still has potential, the Eagles need to find a young pass rusher in this year’s draft, a position Howie Roseman always likes to address, but is especially important this year. Roche, who spent his first three years at Temple before transferring, has totaled 17.5 sacks in the last two seasons.
Creed Humphrey, OC, Oklahoma
The Eagles need to find their next center, whether it be for the 2021 season or, almost without question, the 2022 season. It is possible they move Isaac Seumalo over from left guard to center, but that then leaves them with a hole at guard. Humphrey could potentially check off multiple boxes for the Eagles, as he projects not only as a center, but could play guard as well if needed. He is not the athlete that Jason Kelce is — few are — but he is more of a ready-to-play prospect than other interior linemen in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Chazz Surratt, LB, North Carolina
Another project at linebacker? The Eagles might be hesitant to do so after taking Davion Taylor last year, but Surratt is a player worth keeping a close eye on this week. Surratt, 6-foot-1, came to North Carolina to play quarterback, but was eventually moved to the defensive side of the ball. The difference between Surratt and Taylor is that Surratt put up huge numbers at North Carolina, totaling 207 tackles, 12.5 sacks and two interceptions in two seasons at linebacker. Needless to say, the Eagles need a playmaker at linebacker, and Surratt projects perfectly as the outside linebacker in their 4-3 defense.
Hunter Long, TE, Boston College
The Eagles and new head coach Nick Sirianni will likely be looking to run a ton of 12 personnel like they did last season. The issue? Zach Ertz might not be back, which means they will need another tight end to pair with Dallas Goedert. Long put up big-time numbers receiving in Boston College, catching 85 passes for 1,194 yards in his final 22 games. He isn’t the top tight end prospect in the draft, but as a mid-round selection, he could be a steal.
Jabril Cox, LB, LSU
Cox has worked his way up from a redshirt freshman at North Dakota State to a starter on LSU’s defense. That speaks volumes about his work ethic and ability to improve. Cox put up good all-around numbers during his only season in the SEC, totaling 58 tackles, one sack, one fumble recovery, eight passes defended and one interception. As mentioned above the Eagles linebacking core needs a complete makeover, and Cox would be a good addition to start that rebuild.
You can reach Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org!