Lack of QB Star Power Won’t Bother Steelers at Senior Bowl
MOBILE, Ala. — In this day and age, not much is staying the same in college football, a sport that has been completely overhauled by recent changes, most notably the introduction of the transfer portal and allowing compensation for name, image and likeness.
What does that mean for the Senior Bowl, the premier college football all-star game that bills itself as the start of the annual draft process here in Mobile?
Despite a number of high-profile defections for the 2023 game, director Jim Nagy said the changes to the college football landscape will be a good thing for the game.
With senior right there in its name, the Senior Bowl notably does not take players that leave college early. The NIL changes will let players that might have taken a chance on the league before they were ready in order to alleviate financial pressure stay and make their decisions at their own pace, Nagy said.
“You look at the number of juniors that are coming out, it’s way down,” Nagy said. “It’s a great thing for the players. A lot of guys were jumping in, making bad decisions, because they had a tough family decision they had to address. I’ve seen that for 25 years since I’ve been doing this. Guys have to take care of their families, they have to do what they have to do.”
Nagy’s explanation makes sense on many levels, but it doesn’t give cause for a somewhat underwhelming 2023 class, especially at the quarterback position. The top two players in the draft pool — Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud — are underclassmen and ineligible. So is projected first-round Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson.
Kentucky’s Will Levis, considered by many to be the third-best quarterback in the class, and Georgia’s Stetson Bennett IV, both declined invites. Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker is dealing with an ACL injury and will attend but not participate.
The six quarterbacks participating in Mobile: BYU’s Jaren Hall, Fresno State’s Jake Haener, Louisville’s Malik Cunningham, Houston’s Clayton Tune, Shepherd’s Tyson Agent and TCU’s Max Duggan, are not expected to be drafted before Day Three of the 2023 NFL Draft this April.
So what gives? It’s a combination of injuries, unexplained opt outs, and a draft class that might be underwhelming in some areas. There is also some competition from the East-West Shrine Bowl, which pushed back its schedule in 2022 to compete more directly with the Shrine Bowl. Its practices started over the weekend and that game will take place Thursday.
Nagy said on Tuesday that two players that received Senior Bowl invites are in Las Vegas instead. Those two are likely Penn State safety Ji’ayir Brown and Boston College wide receiver Zay Flowers, both of which are players to watch for the Steelers.
The relative lack of star power in Mobile is probably not an issue for the Steelers, who are probably looking at offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers, defensive backs and wide receivers more than anything else after landing first-round Senior Bowl participants Najee Harris and Kenny Pickett in each of the last two seasons.