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NFL executives name standout draft prospects from Senior Bowl practices

Wisconsin’s Keeanu Benton was one of the more popular players in Mobile this year.

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

During the all-star game circuit leading up to the NFL draft, the practices during the week — including the one-on-one drills — are much more important than the actual game. It’s not uncommon for teams to send out their coaches and scouts to the Senior Bowl and Shrine Bowl for practices and have them return back to the facility by the time teams take the field for their final walkthrough.

According to the Senior Bowl’s Jim Nagy, the executive director of the event, 12 players received multiple “practice player of the week” votes from NFL executives who were at the practices in Mobile last week. Let’s look at those players and how they could fit in with the Green Bay Packers in 2023.

Tyjae Spears, RB, Tulane

Spears (5’10”, 204 pounds) was everyone’s favorite player in practice. Beyond winning the practice player of the week honor, Spears was a two-year starter for the Green Wave team that was able to beat USC in the Cotton Bowl to finish their season 12-2. The AAC offensive player of the year is ranked 164th on the consensus draft board.

Michael Wilson, WR, Stanford

Here’s a practice standout that Packers fans should get to know. At 6’2” and 216 pounds, Stanford’s Wilson fits Green Bay’s profile at the receiver position. Despite being a team captain, Wilson only was able to record 26 receptions for 418 yards and four touchdowns in 2022 due to an October injury that ended his season early. He has seemingly rebounded with a great week in Mobile, though, and is ranked 269th on the consensus draft board.

Nathaniel “Tank” Dell, WR, Houston

If Wilson is the perfect fit for the Packers, Houston’s Tank Dell is a receiver who probably won’t make their draft board due to his 163 weight. The Alabama A&M, Independence Community College and Houston product registered 292 receptions for 4,285 yards and 43 touchdowns in his college career and was able to earn back-to-back All-AAC honors. He’s currently ranked 88th on the consensus draft board and would more than likely be considered a gadget player and return specialist for Green Bay.

Darnell Wright, T, Tennessee

Wright is a former five-star recruit who was able to start 42 games for Tennessee, including 40 at the tackle position. In 2021, he was the Volunteers’ left tackle but moved over to right tackle last season, where he was named a First-Team All-SEC lineman. At 6’5” and 342 pounds, Wright is listed as 60th on the consensus draft board.

Cody Mauch, T/G, North Dakota State

First of all, that’s an elite headshot. Mauch is a former high school quarterback and tight end who measured in at 6’5” and 305 pounds down in Mobile. He was a three-year starter for North Dakota State as a left tackle but is considered a guard prospect at the professional level. The super senior is 48th on the consensus draft board. General manager Brian Gutekunst has only taken two non-FBS players in the draft since he took over the Packers front office in 2018: Kendall Donnerson (seventh-round pick, Southeast Missouri State, 2018) and Christian Watson (second-round pick, North Dakota State, 2022.)

John Michael Schmitz, C, Minnesota

Few prospects have made more of the extra season of eligibility provided by the Covid season of 2020 than Minnesota center John Michael Schmitz. The sixth-year senior was a two-year starter for the Gophers and earned First-Team All-American honors last season. At 6’3” and 306 pounds, he is 52nd on the consensus draft board.

Keeanu Benton, DL, Wisconsin

Here’s a name that most Packers fans are going to be aware of. Wisconsin’s two-year starter at nose tackle showed that he has the juice to win one-on-one pass-rushing battles last week. Some are starting to think that his best position at the next level might be a penetrating three-technique, rather than as a true nose tackle after his performance in Mobile. Coming in at 6’4” and 312 pounds, he’s ranked the 90th player in the class per the consensus draft board.

Keion White, DL, Georgia Tech

The standout base end at the Senior Bowl was White, who weighed in at 6’5” and 280 pounds. Originally a tight end for Old Dominion, White transferred to Georgia Tech in 2021 but missed most of his first season in Atlanta due to injury. He rebounded with 14 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks in 2022. Currently, he’s listed as the 52nd player on the consensus draft board.

Will McDonald, EDGE, Iowa State

McDonald is a little light at 6’4” and 241 pounds, especially considering the fact that the Packers have played with heavier 3-4 outside linebackers in Rashan Gary, Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith during Matt LaFleur’s time as the team’s head coach. The true pass-rusher has earned three-straight First-Team All-Big 12 honors, though, and was named the defensive lineman of the year in the conference back in 2021. Over the course of his college career, he’s posted a total of 40.5 tackles for loss and 34 sacks with the Cyclones. He’s ranked as the 89th draft prospect per the consensus draft board.

Derick Hall, EDGE, Auburn

Auburn has been disappointing as of late, at least by their standards, but one player who has looked the part is their pass-rusher Hall. Playing with both his hand in the dirt and in a two-point stance, Hall has recorded 24 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks over the last two years with the Tigers. He was a three-year starter for Auburn and was a team captain for the 2022 season. The 6’3”, 252-pound pass-rusher is the 47th player on the consensus draft board.

Daiyan Henley, LB, Washington State

Henley could very well be the Rich Bisaccia special of the draft class if Bisaccia doesn’t end up landing the Indianapolis Colts’ head coaching job. Henley was not only named First-Team All-Pac 12 as a linebacker but was also named Second-Team All-Pac 12 as a non-returning special teamer. The 6’1”, 230 off-ball linebacker was a high school quarterback who started his college career off as a receiver for the Nevada Wolfpack before transferring to Wazzu as a Covid super senior. He’s listed as the 108th player on the consensus draft board.

Sydney Brown, S, Illinois

Brown and his twin brother (Chase) are both expected to be top-100 picks in this upcoming draft class. The 5’10”, 213-pound safety was a track star in Florida as a prep, which translated into a five-year career as a starter for the Illini. Last season, Brown was named a team captain and a First-Team All-Big Ten defender by the conference’s coaches. At the moment, he’s ranked the 87th player in the class per the consensus draft board.