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Five players to watch at the 2024 Senior Bowl

Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. passes against Michigan during the first half of the national championship NCAA College Football Playoff game Monday, Jan. 8, 2024, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. passes against Michigan during the first half of the national championship NCAA College Football Playoff game Monday, Jan. 8, 2024, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of the team unless referenced by a direct quote.

The Senior Bowl is just a few days away, meaning some of the best college prospects in the country will be in Mobile, Alabama, to make a good first impression on NFL scouts. Here are five players to watch when practice starts.

Michael Penix Jr., QB, Washington

None of the three quarterbacks considered to be the top prospects -- Caleb Williams, Drake Maye and Jayden Daniels -- will be at the Senior Bowl next week, but there will still be signal-callers worthy of some first-round consideration.

Washington's Michael Penix Jr. should be at or near the top of everyone's list. Penix, who spent four seasons at Indiana before transferring to Washington in 2022, certainly looks the part with his 6-foot-3, 213-pound frame. The stats over the last two seasons also pass the eye test; he led all FBS schools in 2023 with 4,903 yards, and he completed at least 65% of his passes in both years with the Huskies.

The biggest draw for Penix is his arm strength, and he used that to help Washington build the second-best passing offense in college football last year. He had 16 touchdowns on passes of at least 20 yards, tying for third in the category, and he had one of the lowest turnover worthy play rates among college quarterbacks (3.7%). He also had the most deep passes resulting in first downs by a wide margin. He led the NCAA with 51, and Maye was second with 39.

Penix still has to work through some of his throwing mechanics, which is part of the reason why he's ranked lower than Williams, May and Daniels. Like many quarterbacks with big arms, he tends to rely on that too much, which leads to him lacking in footwork. He also tends to struggle under pressure with his PFF grade of 64.4 in such situations ranking 46th among quarterbacks.

Like many quarterbacks, Penix will have some questions to answer, but the upside, plus a solid week of practice in Mobile, should help alleviate some of the concerns.

Arizona offensive lineman Jordan Morgan (77) in the first half during an NCAA college football game against Arizona State, Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Jordan Morgan, T, Arizona

Whether you believe Washington needs a complete reset at offensive line or just some retooling, the consensus is that the team's offensive line could use some work after a disappointing 2023 season. Luckily, the Commanders have five picks in the top 100, so they could find at least an eventual starter on Day 2.

Enter Arizona tack Jordan Morgan, ranked as the ninth-best tackle by CBS sports. Morgan, who came to Arizona out Marana High School, has been a start for the program for the last two seasons, starting 22 games during that span. He's a two-time First Team All-Pac-12 recipient, and he's earned a PFF grade of 83.1 in each of the last two seasons.

Morgan is not considered a top prospect like Joe Alt or Olumuyiwa Fashanu, but he does have some similar numbers. PFF gave him a pass blocking grade of 86.2, which is not far from Alt (91.2) and Fashanu (88.4). He did allow 16 pressures -- more than Alt and Fashanu combined -- but he was placed in significantly more pass blocking situations (477 snaps) than either player.

This shouldn't be considered a direct comparison between Alt, Fashanu and Morgan. The former two are considered the top tackles for a reason and will likely be taken in the top 10 picks. However, the fact that Morgan isn't far off from either player shows how deep the position is in 2024.

Alabama defensive back Caleb Downs (2) and linebacker Chris Braswell (41) celebrate a fumble recovery during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Kentucky in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Michelle Haas Hutchins)

Chris Braswell, EDGE, Alabama

Defensive end/EDGE is a thin position in this year's draft class. And before we go any further, yes, Laiatu Latu, one of the top players at the position, is going to be at the Senior Bowl. He's obviously going to demand attention, but unless the Commanders trade out of the No. 2 overall pick, the likelihood of them being able to get Latu is slim.

Instead, we're going to focus on pass-rushers who could be available for Washington on Day 2 like Alabama's Chris Braswell. A five-star prospect out of Baltimore, had to wait until the 2022 season to take on a role outside of special teams. The patience paid off for Braswell, who earned Second Team All-SEC honors in 2023 for recording eight sacks and three forced fumbles to go with an interception returned for a touchdown.

Braswell was one of the best pass-rushers in the SEC in 2023, generating the most pressures (56) of any edge defender. His pass-rush win rate (18.2%) isn't far behind Turner's (19.6%), either.

Braswell isn't much of a run-stopper at this point in his career, so he's going to enter the NFL as a situational pass-rusher. That would suit the Commanders just fine, however, since their success at creating pressure fell off tremendously once Chase Young and Montez Sweat were traded. Also, putting him primarily in passing situations would allow him to focus on what he does best.

Ohio State linebacker Tommy Eichenberg plays against Penn State during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Tommy Eichenberg, LB, Ohio State

The Commanders will need help at linebacker soon. Five of the seven currently on the roster are set to hit free agency, and regardless of whether the team decides to exercise Jamin Davis' fifth-year option, the group will need to add more bodies to the position.

Ohio State's Tommy Eichenberg looked better in 2022 than he did last season. Two seasons ago, he was one of the best run-stopping linebackers in the country with 120 tackles and a run defense grade of 90.1 -- the second best for the position in the Big Ten.

Eichenberg's numbers weren't as impressive in 2023, but they were still enough for him to earn the Butkus-Fitzgerald Big Ten Linebacker of the Year award and First Team All-Big Ten honors along with a Second Team All-American nod. At 6-foot-2 and 239 pounds, he's a strong, physical player who knows how to get downhill and clog up running lanes.

Coverage play is Eichenberg's biggest weakness. He has two interceptions in his career, but he lacks quickness in man coverage. He was targeted 37 times in 2023 and allowed 32 receptions for 287 yards with two touchdowns. He was targeted six times in man coverage and allowed all six passes to be caught.

Eichenberg, considered the No. 2 linebacker on the board by CBS Sports, is going to come into the league as a developmental prospect because of his struggles in coverage. But with the Commanders having one of the worst run defenses in the NFL, allowing 126.8 yards per game in 2023, Eichenberg's ability as a tackler would be a welcomed addition.

South Carolina wide receiver Xavier Legette (17) runs with the ball during an NCAA college football game against Charlotte on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina won 56-20. (AP Photo/Artie Walker Jr.)

Xavier Legette, WR, South Carolina

Xavier Legette had a breakout season in 2023, catching more passes (71), getting more yards (1,255) and hauling in more touchdowns (7) than he did in the previous four years of his college career. This year's receiver class is talented, so he's likely going to get pushed down to the second or third round. That shouldn't be a knock on his talent, however, because he might be one of the most exciting prospects at the position.

Legette possesses several qualities that teams like Washington don't have on their roster. At 6-foot-3 and 227 pounds, he's a big, physical receiver that was Spencer Rattler's favorite target last season, getting nearly twice as many receptions as the next player on the roster. He also knows how to use that size, too. He caught 64.3% of contested passes of at least 20 yards, which was tied for seventh among all receivers.

Legette was at his best against man coverage, as he caught 75.9% of his targets in one-on-one situations. His route-running does need some work, but he excels on go routes, where he can use his size and hands to bully defenders.

Legette is not going to be an instant No. 1 receiver as a rookie, but he could still help an offense as a third option. His size, straightaway speed and hands are enough to take a chance on, and with the right development, he could turn into something more in a few years.

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