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Senior Bowl features intriguing NFL prospects


The Senior Bowl hosts some of the upcoming draft's top talent. Everyone from surefire first-rounders to potential late-round steals will be on display in the game Saturday in Mobile, Ala.

In 2016, the Bears locked in on South Team offensive lineman Cody Whitehair and selected him in the second round. The same year, they were also impressed by an inside linebacker on the North Team, and used their fourth-round pick to select Nick Kwiatkoski.

Here are some of the top prospects in this year's game:

Kyle Dugger - S - Lenoir-Rhyne

The 2019 season started with 13 former Division II defensive backs on an NFL roster, including former Pro Bowler Malcolm Butler. The question is not whether Dugger will increase that number by making an NFL roster but rather if we will do so as a safety.

Dugger's size splits the difference between typical safety and typical linebacker (6-1, 217). He has impressed scouts with his athleticism and instincts, despite the lower level of competition he faced in college. ranks Dugger as the 107th best prospect in the draft, while The Athletic's Dane Brugler ranks him 74th.

With a solid week of practice (entirely at safety), Dugger may have improved his stock enough to be taken in the second round.

Jared Pinkney - TE - Vanderbilt

Different outlets have very different appraisals of Pinkney. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. ranks him second among tight ends and Pro Football Focus ranks him as the best tight end in the draft and an early second-round pick. Brugler doesn't rank him in his top 100 players, which includes five tight ends.

One of the reasons for the divergence may be the severe drop in Pinkney's statistics from his junior to senior seasons. After Vanderbilt switched offensive coordinators and lost starting quarterback Kyle Shurmur to graduation, Pinkney, who also struggled with a wrist injury, went from catching 50 passes for 774 yards and seven touchdowns in 2018 to 20-233-2 this season.

However, Pinkney still has ideal size and athleticism. He could reward a team that chooses to chalk up his senior year drop off to external factors.

Van Jefferson - WR - Florida

The conventional wisdom around Jefferson entering this week was generally underwhelmed by his performance at Florida and Ole Miss and skeptical of his size (6-2, 198), strength and speed. This year's draft is receiver-heavy, and plenty of players have more compelling stats than Jefferson's 49 catches for 657 yards and six touchdowns for a good--but not great--Florida team.

However, the week provided scouts with an opportunity to get a close look at Jefferson's defining skill: his route-running. According to several scouts, Jefferson's precision makes his speed play up and creates enough space that his biggest weakness, a lack of strength and physicality, rarely comes into view.

Jefferson is projected as a late-round pick, something that is unlikely to change given the depth in front of him (Brugler places 18 receivers in his Top 100). Still, Jefferson has proven he has low-risk, high-reward potential.

Antonio Gibson - WR/RB - Memphis

Gibson's time in Memphis did not overlap with Anthony Miller, but he is the beneficiary of the same high octane offense, despite a very different profile from the Bears' 2018 second-round pick. Gibson's size (6-2, 221) allowed Memphis to utilize him as a receiver (38 catches for 735 yards and eight touchdowns), rusher (33 carries for 369 yards and four touchdowns) and kick returner (28 yards per return, one touchdown).

Gibson only became a fixture in the Tigers offense during his senior year after arriving as a junior college transfer. His relatively short track record and the level of competition in the AAC may stunt his draft stock.

Darnay Holmes - CB - UCLA

Holmes has been covering Jefferson for most of the week, and it's one of the rare battles where both sides have come out looking good. Holmes doesn't have ideal size (5-10, 200) but has a reputation as a scrappy player and competitor.

Holmes was one of the top-rated players in the nation coming out of high school, but his college career got swallowed up a bit by UCLA's tumultuous transition from Jim Mora to Chip Kelly. Still, Holmes played 33 games in three seasons and projects as a third-round pick.