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Inside the Senior Bowl Week 7 scouting notebook: Eight 2024 NFL draft prospects generating buzz

Matt Zenitzby:Matt Zenitz10/19/23


Each week during the season, On3 catches up with Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy to identify 2024 NFL draft prospects whose draft stock is on the rise.

Here are eight seniors generating buzz among Nagy and the Senior Bowl staff coming out of Week 7 (listed alphabetically):

Marshall OL Ethan Driskell

“Off-the-radar prospect for most draft followers,” Nagy said. “Former high school hoops player that walked on at Marshall. Has good feet and excellent length for the position. Originally got our attention last year watching Marshall’s game against Notre Dame. Still has some ‘developmental’ to his game but has upside to be, at minimum, a backup swing tackle. Reminds us of former North Dakota offensive tackle and 2022 Senior Bowl alum Matt Waletzko, who wound up being a fifth round pick of the Dallas Cowboys. Best football is clearly way ahead of him.”

Penn State TE Theo Johnson

“We’ve been on the record saying Johnson was the Senior Bowl’s top-graded returning tight end this year based off his 2022 tape,” Nagy said. “He’s been somewhat quiet statistically this year (12 catches for 101 yards before last week) but had a breakout game last Saturday with four receptions for 66 yards and two TDs. Aside from one bad focus drop, Johnson caught the ball well on a sloppy wet day in Beaver Stadium. Big, fluid athlete that can get down the seam. Expected to test very well at the Combine.

“Not an exact player-for-player comp, but the high-end tools and frame remind me of 2023 Senior Bowler and Green Bay Packers second-rounder Luke Musgrave. Johnson is another player that could be a riser once we get to the spring.”

Michigan OL Drake Nugent, Zak Zinter

“Had a chance to review Michigan’s offensive line tape from last Saturday’s Indiana game and both Zinter and Nugent are guys that looked like eventual NFL starters,” Nagy said. “We’ve seen a lot of Zinter over his three years as a starter and he looks quicker and overall more athletic playing on the move this year than in the past. He plays with the calm demeanor of a 10-year vet and just has an overall good feel in both the run game and pass protection.

“Nugent has ended up being a big-time portal get from Stanford. Michigan lost 2023 Senior Bowler and Seahawks fifth-round pick Olu Oluwatimi in the offseason and tabbed Nugent to replace him. Nugent is clearly undersized on tape but he compensates with strong hands and good balance. I’ve evaluated a number of smaller college centers that have become solid NFL starters and most have the ability to latch on to defenders and ‘stay in the block.’ Nugent does that at a high rate consistently.  

“Staffers rave about the professionalism he brings to the building every day and the type of intelligence he’s added to their offensive line room. There are definitely similarities between Nugent and a guy like longtime Patriots starter David Andrews.”

Washington QB Michael Penix

“There’s been plenty of talk about Penix since Saturday and he’s earned all the Heisman talk,” Nagy said. “Up until last Saturday, there really hadn’t been many throws that NFL evaluators could lean into as apples-to-apples comparisons because mostly it was clean pocket pitch-and-catch throws (with him being the fifth-least pressured QB in the FBS before Oregon). He handled pressure and the environment and moment very well, especially the final two-play drive where he threw two daggers downfield. Most accurate deep ball thrower we’ve seen on tape this year.

“His supporting cast, the wide receiver trio of Odunze, McMillan, and Polk, is one of best in the country but Penix deserves credit for having the aggressive mindset to take shots and the ball placement for them to make plays. NFL offensive coordinators are going to like the fact that he makes defenses defend the whole field.”

Rutgers LB Tyreem Powell

“Not seeing or hearing anything about him in draft media but buzz is starting to build about Powell on the road with NFL scouts,” Nagy said. “The Senior Bowl had a scout at his Michigan State game last Saturday and there was plenty to like before he got ejected for a bogus targeting call.

“Big off-the-ball linebacker that looks the part. Doubt there will be many linebackers in this year’s draft that look as pretty as Powell does. Closing speed and sideline-to-sideline range jump off the tape. Effective blitzer and chase player. Fits the prototype mold of long and fast new age NFL linebacker. Liked him off tape right away and could see him ascending quickly during pre-draft process.”

Ohio State TE Cade Stover

“Has steadily improved over past three years of tape study,” Nagy said. “Began noticing him three years ago when we were studying current New York Jets tight end (and Senior Bowl alum) Jeremy Ruckert. Sneaky athlete and looks quicker this year. Was a very good high school basketball player and it shows up in his body control and ball skills. Ohio State is using the tight end more this year and he’s made most of his increased role. Lacks big frame to be ideal Y-type in-line blocker but he’s tough enough to play with his hand in the dirt on backside in run game.

“His background on defense (six career starts at defensive end and outside linebacker, including the Rose Bowl a couple years ago) helps the special teams projection and could provide some emergency two-way tight end/outside linebacker position flex for open-minded teams. Has logged over 500 special teams snaps over his career with significant time on all four core units.”

North Carolina WR Tez Walker

“Had a monster three TD performance against Miami to earn Senior Bowl ‘Stock Up’ Prospect (coming out of Week 7) in just his second game back from his NCAA ban,” Nagy said. “Offensive Coordinator Chip Lindsey and passing game coordinator Lonnie Galloway did a great job moving him around and manufacturing touches for him. NFL scouts’ takeaway from his varied usage will be that Walker is smart enough to handle a full load mentally. Scouts are always worried about how long it will take for receivers to learn multiple spots when they get to the next level and Walker, in his first year at UNC after transferring in from Kent State, seems like a guy that should transition quickly.

“Smooth easy strider with deceptive speed.  Type of long strider that seems to get on cornerbacks faster than they anticipate and then he just runs by them. Not just a vertical one-trick pony because he’s tough enough to work inside, as he did numerous times last Saturday on slants and deep dig routes. Total difference-maker for UNC’s offense and should continue to put of big numbers with Heisman hopeful and projected first-round QB Drake Maye. It’s still way early but Walker looks like a Top-100 player right now.”