Considered the premier "all-star" game for NFL prospects, the Reese's Senior Bowl has started handing out invites to players across the country, and it's time to catch you up on which of the Underdogs will be spending time in Mobile come January.
Temple and Louisiana Tech each have three players who have accepted invites, highlighted by star seniors Tyler Matakevich and Kenneth Dixon.
The recently named Nagurski Award winner, given to the nation's best defensive player, has become the leader of the top defense in the American Athletic Conference. One of only seven players in FBS history who has recorded over 100 tackles in each of his four seasons, Matakevich who is also up for the Bednarik Award at tonight's Home Depot College Football Awards has established himself as one of, if not THE premier defensive player in the country. Even with all of that, you rarely find him in the first couple rounds of mock drafts, and so, he will certainly be a player with a lot to prove down in Mobile.
Kenneth Dixon-Louisiana Tech
We at Underdog Dynasty are very aware of Kenneth Dixon and what he has accomplished in his career at Louisiana Tech. But for those who don't know, the senior running back for the Bulldogs is currently tied for the all-time NCAA record for touchdowns scored (83) with current Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds and former Wisconsin running back Montee Ball. He also is the active-leading rusher in career rushing yards and with just 32 yards in their bowl game he would become the first player in school history to have three 1,000 rushing yard seasons. The first team All-C-USA back has had a historic career, and like Matakevich, will be looking to prove he belongs in the top rounds of the NFL draft.
Vernon Butler-Louisiana Tech
The first team All-C-USA defensive tackle has racked up 48 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, and 3 sacks in his senior season. He has been projected as high as a second round pick in the latest NFL mock drafts and has been a force to be reckoned with on Tech's defensive line all season.
Byard is Middle Tennessee State's all-time career leader in interceptions with 19. He will have to prove himself somewhat though with a stacked safety class this year, but expect Byard who has great instincts and ball skills to find his way into the third or fourth round. A chance to play in the Senior Bowl will only help him try and separate himself from the pack.
Jeff Driskel-Louisiana Tech
The former consensus number one pro-style quarterback prospect and Gatorade National Player of the Year in high school, Driskel transferred to Louisiana Tech in 2015 in hopes of proving to scouts that he has what it takes to succeed in the NFL regardless of his struggles in Florida's anemic offense the last few seasons. While his completion percentage still will not overwhelm you, he passed for almost 300 yards a game and had 24 touchdowns to 8 interceptions this year. He will more than likely end up a late round pick in the mold of Garrett Gilbert who flamed out at Texas and transferred to SMU to complete his career.
The senior defensive lineman from Temple received All-AAC First Team honors this season after contributing 10.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks to the number one defense in the conference. A late round projection, Ioannidis will be looking to show the rest of the country what he is capable of in the coming months.
William Jackson III-Houston
The second team All-AAC cornerback for Houston helped lead the defense of the AAC conference champion Cougars with three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns and 21 pass break ups. The former JUCO transfer has solidified himself as a potential second to third round pick, and will look to continue to impress scouts as he goes up against some of the best wide receivers in the country down in Mobile.
While it is rare for a player to be drafted from any of the service academies, Navy long snapper Joe Cardona was selected in the fifth round last year by the New England Patriots and has been able to balance his starting job with the Pats with his day job as a naval officer assigned to the Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, Rhode Island. This could potentially pave the way for more Navy players to be drafted in the future, and Swain may have a shot at a late round selection this year. Rated in the top 5 of fullback prospects in the country, the second team All-AAC senior has accounted for 847 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns with two games left to play. He has a chance to become a 1,000 yard back, and his quickness and burst are underrated attributes that when combined with his size will make NFL scouts take a long, hard look at him down in Mobile.
Bryce Williams-East Carolina
In case you missed it, you should check out Jeremy Adcock's great story on the journey of Bryce Williams here. The two-time former walk-on has risen from the depth chart to starting tight end to positioning himself for an NFL career. He is a true underdog of underdogs story. The second leading ECU receiver after star Isaiah Jones, Williams earned first team All-AAC honors at tight end this year after hauling in 58 catches for 588 yards and 4 touchdowns for the Pirates. He has a shot to be a solid mid-round selection in the NFL draft and that is truly remarkable given where he started. Here's to hoping Williams uses his trip to Mobile to continue to prove the doubters wrong.
The senior defensive back out of Oxon Hill, MD who led the AAC his junior season with 153 interception return yards on 4 interceptions stepped up as the leader of the cornerbacks this year for the best defense in the conference. Young shined in Temple's matchup against Notre Dame, spending most of the day covering star receiver Will Fuller and helping limit him to just 43 yards receiving. While the jury is still out on where Young could wind up in the draft, he will get plenty of opportunities to continue to showcase his abilities at the Senior Bowl.