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Reese’s Senior Bowl standouts who fit the Ravens

The annual premier all-star game featured some impressive performances from prospects at positions of need.

Reese’s Senior Bowl Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

One of Baltimore Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta’s favorite mantras is that the NFL Draft is the “lifeblood” of the organization’s front office as it pertains to roster construction each year.

One of the best in-depth scouting opportunities that they utilize during the pre-draft process is the impressions that some prospects make at the annual all-star games. The Reese’s Senior Bowl is the premier event of the entire circuit and provides a pool of top collegiate talent that the Ravens pull from more regularly than the majority of other teams in the league.

There were four rookies who participated in the 2023 event that spent time on their roster between May and the end of their playoff run, three who were drafted, and one who was signed off another team’s practice squad. Last year’s crop included fourth-round outside linebacker Tavius Robinson who played a rotational role on early downs, fifth-round cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly who didn’t make the final roster, seventh-round offensive guard Andrew Vorhees who missed the entire season recovering from a torn ACL, and undrafted quarterback Malik Cunningham who was signed off the New England Patriots’ practice squad on December 12.

The 2024 Reese’s Senior Bowl took place on Saturday afternoon down in Mobile, Alabama and there were several players at positions that the Ravens could use reinforcement, pending the results of free agency, who stood out and are certainly on DeCosta’s radar.

DT Braden Fiske, Florida State

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: FEB 01 Reese’s Senior Bowl Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The former Seminole went from dominating the week of practice on the American team to doing the same in the game for the National team in a rare game-day roster switch because one all-star squad was short on interior defensive linemen. It didn’t matter which jersey he wore or who he lined up across from, nothing stopped Fiske from dominating as the kingpin of the trenches. He finished with four total tackles including 1.5 for a loss, half a sack, and a quarterback hit. Fiske barely came off the field yet was able to still consistently show off impressive lateral movement, a high motor, relentless pursuit and powerful hands.

One of the Ravens’ top pending free agents this offseason is 2023 breakout star Justin Madubuike, who led the team and all interior defensive linemen in the league with 13 sacks. Even if they are able to retain him by using the franchise tag or signing him to a long-term extension, having multiple pass rushers that can collapse the pocket up the middle will only make their defense even more dangerous.

CB Chau Smith-Wade, Washington State

Reese’s Senior Bowl Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

The former Cougar was one of three defensive backs to record an interception but was the only one to do so more than once. Both plays displayed his strong skills to track and make plays on the ball with the first nearly resulting in a pick-six on an 84-yard return. His second came on the last play of the game, a Hail Mary attempt from former Tulane quarterback Michael Pratt.

Smith-Wade didn’t wait until Saturday to showcase his impressive ability to be sticky in coverage as well as come away with the ball. He was turning heads during the week of practice in one-on-one reps as well.

The Ravens don’t have a glaring need at cornerback at the moment with the emergence of Brandon Stephens in 2023 and three-time Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey still under contract for the foreseeable future. However, high-quality corners and pass rushers are assets that a team can never have too many off, and a lack of depth at either can sink an otherwise dominant unit at almost every other position. Two other cornerbacks that stood out in the game were Notre Dame’s Cam Hart who recorded a tackle for loss on a third down that led to a punt and Louisville’s Jarvis Brownlee Jr. who was voted Defensive Back of the Week for the American team and recorded an interception on Saturday.

RB Emani Bailey, TCU

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: FEB 03 Reese’s Senior Bowl Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The former Horned Frog made the best impression of any player at his position on Saturday with his performance and effort level. He helped jumpstart the first drive of the game by touching the ball on its first four plays and picking up two first downs in the process. Bailey finished with 87 yards from scrimmage after racking up 53 yards on 10 carries and catching four passes for 34 receiving yards. He showed nice contact balance for someone who measures in at just 5-foot-7, 208 and displayed some shiftiness in the open field.

As noteworthy as his contributions as a dynamic weapon of offense were, Bailey’s most memorable play came when he caught up to Smith-Wade and prevented him from crossing the goal line for a touchdown. Despite having to cover nearly three-fourths of the field before he got a chance to bring him down, he never gave up and that kind of hustle and determination definitely raised his standing in the eyes of evaluators around the league. A few other running back prospects that made some plays were South Dakota State’s Isaiah Davis and Troy’s Kimani Vidal who each ripped off a run of 20-plus yards and Missouri’s Cody Schrader who ran hard and caught five passes for 54 yards.

The Ravens only have two running backs on the roster that are signed through the 2024 season and Keaton Mitchell is coming off a torn ACL he suffered in mid-December. Even if they bring back Gus Edwards or J.K. Dobbins, DeCosta will still likely address the position in the draft at some point.

DB Evan Williams, Oregon

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

The former Duck followed a strong week of practice where he looked good in one-on-one coverage against tight ends, and aided in run support by showing off his range and ball skills in the all-star game itself. He displayed both alluring traits on the first turnover of the game in which he made up ground to undercut what initially looked like a touchdown pass from former Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton for a diving interception in the end zone.

The only downside of the otherwise fabulous play was that he forgot that he was no longer in college and didn’t pop up and try to run with the ball sooner. He will get the hang of it eventually and even reminded Smith-Wade not to make the same mistake he did on his first interception. Williams nearly had a second interception off a deflection that would’ve tied him for the game-high.

While the Ravens are set at their two starting safety spots, the odds of them being able to bring back four-year veteran Geno Stone are slim after his breakout 2023 season in which he led the AFC with a career-high seven interceptions. The Ravens’ defense is at its best when Pro Bowl and First-Team All-Pro Kyle Hamilton isn’t limited to playing one role so having another playmaker in the backend that can help veteran Marcus Williams keep a lid on opposing offenses when they deploy three-safety sets is paramount.

WR Luke McCaffery

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Practice Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

The son of a three-time Super Bowl champion Ed McCaffery and the brother of a three-time First-Team All-Pro Christian McCaffery followed a strong week of practice with a nice showing in the game as well. He made a handful of nice plays on offense and stood out on special teams. He ripped off a 20-yard punt return and had catches of 13 and 15 yards including a sweet one-handed snag.

The converted quarterback stood out just as much in the days of practice leading up to the game as he did on Saturday. He consistently gained separation no matter who he was lined up across from in one-on-ones and even when tightly covered, he was able to make nice adjustments to haul in a pass.

The Ravens could be in the market for a new starting punt returner who can also contribute on offense with two-time Pro Bowler Devin Duvernay among their long list of pending unrestricted free agents. At 6-foot-2 and just under 200 pounds, he is not exactly a big-bodied receiver but could be a solid chain-moving possession target for Lamar Jackson who can work inside and out. During the week of practice, some evaluators went as far as to say that McCaffery could be this year’s Puka Nacua who didn’t get drafted until the fifth round last year and proceeded to rewrite NFL rookie receiving records.

EDGE Darius Robinson, Missouri

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: FEB 01 Reese’s Senior Bowl Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The former Tiger didn’t take over the game like Fiske did but he did his best work when it mattered the most and when the right eyeballs were on him, which was during the week of practice where he dominated. On Friday, he was named “Overall Practice Player of Week” by a panel of NFL scouts and front-office executives, one of which might’ve just been DeCosta before he returned to Baltimore to take part in the Ravens’ end-of-season press conference.

Robinson is beginning to generate first-round buzz following his strong week competing against many of the nation’s best including a trio of offensive tackles projected to be first-round picks. He fits the mold of several versatile edge defenders who have attended this event and went on to be drafted by the Ravens such as Pernell McPhee, Za’Darius Smith, and Tavius Robinson last year. He has the ability to rush the passer and looked dominant doing so lined up over guards (three-technique), to the outside shoulder of tackles (five-technique) as well as off the edge in a wide nine or as a traditional 3-4 RUSH linebacker.

WR Brenden Rice, USC

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Practice Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

The son of a Pro Football Hall of Famer and former Trojan didn’t play in the game because he was one of a handful of wideouts who showed everything they needed during the week of practice. Rice showed off more refined route running and the ability to be sudden and create separation. He went up and made plays against some of the top competition at the event and was tough to cover throughout.

The Ravens have been in need of a big-bodied receiver that fits the traditional mold of a true X and at 6-foot-3 and over 210-plus pounds, Rice looks and plays the part. How he performs at the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine will go a long way in determining his draft stock after a strong week down in Mobile. If the Ravens used a second or third-round pick on the 21-year-old who averaged 17.6 yards per catch and hauled in 12 touchdowns this past season, he could be a potential steal.