Imagine you’re starting a football roster from scratch. You’re in a three-team professional league that’s starting up in 2021, and the talent pool from which you can pluck players is all down in Mobile, Ala. this week.
OK, that’s a very specific scenario, and one completely rooted in fantasy. But it’s a pretty fun exercise when you think about it.
So when fellow NFL draft analysts Fran Duffy and Dane Brugler asked me to jump on their “Journey To The Draft” podcast and conduct this exercise in fiction, I was all in.
The 2021 Senior Bowl starts Tuesday, and the three of us drafted teams completely comprised of players who will be there this week. We ruled out any injured players who will not be attending the event but allowed picks of injured players — such as Alabama’s DeVonta Smith and Najee Harris — who are going through the process this week for the experience.
The other rules were simple: Construct the best 22-man roster with the players on the Senior Bowl roster and assign them to each of the 11 starting positions on both sides of the ball. It’s basically fantasy football conducted by draft nerds, and the result was a gas.
It was fun to put on our GM hats, even if only for an hour. Brugler earned the first pick, Duffy the second and I got the third slot. We then alternated the draft order (like a fantasy “snake” draft) each successive round.
The strategy for this is fascinating. There might be half a dozen (or fewer) first-round picks at this year’s game. Should the approach be to snag them early and sacrifice certain positions? Or is it best to target top-heavy positions and go for balance?
Here are the first seven rounds — you’ll have to check out the pod to hear the rest of the selections:
Dane Brugler, The Athletic
Fran Duffy, PhiladelphiaEagles.com
Eric Edholm, Yahoo Sports
WR DeVonta Smith, Alabama
QB Mac Jones, Alabama
DT Levi Onwuzurike, Washington
WR Kadarius Toney, Florida
CB Ifeatu Melifonwu, Syracuse
LB Chazz Surratt, North Carolina
CB Aaron Robinson, UCF
WR Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State
C Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma
EDGE Carlos Basham Jr., Wake Forest
OT Alex Leatherwood, Alabama
TE Hunter Long, Boston College
S Richie Grant, UCF
RB Najee Harris, Alabama
QB Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
OG Deonte Brown, Alabama
DT Osa Odighizua, UCLA
EDGE Rashad Weaver, Pitt
OT James Hudson, Cincinnati
DT Marlon Tuipulotu, USC
OT Spencer Brown, Northern Iowa
So who got off to the best start? And, if you listened to the entire pod, who finished the strongest?
But before you answer, let me lay out what I was thinking ...
Pre-Senior Bowl draft strategy
My initial thinking at quarterback was: Mac or bust. With the news that Florida QB Kyle Trask was nursing an ankle injury he suffered late in the year and would not be at the Senior Bowl, there was a clear dropoff from Jones to the next-best QB. Once Jones went at No. 2, I decided to wait.
Did I panic by taking Mond in Round 5? Maybe. But I liked him enough more than the remaining quarterbacks that I felt compelled to make that leap. Truth be told, had I not taken Mond there, I would have gone offensive line (OG Deonte Brown was my guy) and would have taken either Jamie Newman or Ian Book with my final pick.
I used a similar position-relative strategy with my first few selections. In my mind, Onwuzurike and Surratt were far and away the best players at their respective positions, and I didn’t want to be left with scraps. That very much applied at defensive tackle, although less so at linebacker quite honestly. (I also drafted Surratt’s brother, wide receiver Sage, later on.)
It was a similar approach with my next two picks. The Senior Bowl will be lean on quality centers with experience at the position this week, which made Humphrey an easy call, even if it wasn’t a sexy pick. Likewise, Long is my clear favorite at tight end in this group, with the remaining TE prospects in Mobile all well below his level.
The clear concern for my roster: Prioritizing lower-priority positions. Not grabbing Tony or Western Michigan WR Dee Eskridge — a draft favorite of ours — hurt in retrospect. Perhaps I had the right idea with the value approach but took it to too far an extreme.
Did it work out overall? Hard to say. The other analysts were able to add more explosive playmaking ability and perhaps a little more high-end talent at certain key spots, such as the secondary and along the offensive line.
Maybe I am a little stronger in the front seven and have a more balanced roster, top to bottom. It’s hard not to love Brugler’s playmakers on both sides of the ball or Duffy’s OL and offensive diversity, though.
All three of us explained our general overview of our rosters on the pod after the completion of the draft. Let us know what you think: Who put together the best 22-man Senior Bowl roster?
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