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Lunchbreak: Gophers DE Included Among 'Biggest Sleepers' in ESPN's Senior Bowl Preview

Coaches, scouts and front-office executives will get a look at more than 100 draft prospects this week in Mobile, Alabama, for the 2022 Senior Bowl.

The New York Jets coaching staff will work with the National team, while the Detroit Lions staff will have the American team.

ESPN rolled out a Senior Bowl Preview this morning that included breakdowns of the six quarterbacks who will be participating in the collegiate all-star game, top prospects to keep an eye on, "biggest sleepers" to watch this week and "big predictions." The six QBs are as follows:

National Team

Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh

Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati

Carson Strong, Nevada

American Team

Malik Willis, Liberty

Sam Howell, UNC

Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky

ESPN listed other top prospects, topping the respective list with Northern Iowa tackle Trevor Penning. ESPN Media analyst Mel Kiper wrote:

Penning flat out dominated against inferior competition at the FCS level, so this is going to be a great test for him to compete against potential top-50 prospects. His performance in the one-on-one pass-rush drills will have a major bearing on whether he's still regarded as a big-time left tackle prospect or will have to shift to right tackle at the pro level. The 6-foot-7, 321-pound Penning has a fiery and aggressive mentality, and he'll need that in pass-rush drills. I put him at No. 25 in my debut mock draft; let's see if he can live up to that spot in practices.

Perhaps most intriguing are the "draft sleepers who could rise," according to ESPN. Among that grouping is Minnesota Gophers defensive end Esezi Otomewo, who was evaluated by Jordan Reid.

While studying teammate Boye Mafe, Otomewo continued to stand out for me on tape. His 6-foot-6 and 285-pound frame is NFL-ready and is likely better suited for a 3-4 scheme. As a 4-technique, the Minnesota edge rusher has the length and strength necessary to be an early contributor during his rookie season. Someone within the program told me, "The production wasn't always there, but he's a dependable player" – and that shows up on tape. The Gophers season-opener against Ohio State was one of his best performances, and he finished strong with two sacks in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl against West Virginia. Otomewo is a mid-round prospect.

ESPN asked its analysts two questions, the first being "who – or what – are you most excited to see at the Senior Bowl?"

Todd McShay said he'll give plenty of attention to the group of pass rushers in this year's class.

This is a tremendous defensive line class at the Senior Bowl, with probably eight or nine edge rushers – including Penn State's Arnold Ebiketie and San Diego State's Cameron Thomas – who could go in the top 64 picks in April. It's usually pretty obvious who belongs by the end of Wednesday's practice, so who will stand out? Who has the body control in the loop drills, and who shows the most explosion when working with the bags? Who has the best footwork in the ropes? And of course, who proves dominant in the one-on-one drills with offensive linemen?

To read ESPN's full preview, click here. And keep an eye on and the Vikings app for more Senior Bowl content all week.

View photos of new Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah during his introductory press conference with the media on Jan. 27 at the TCO Performance Center. highlights 5 standouts from 1st HBCU Combine

Let's stick with a pre-draft theme today, shall we?

On Saturday, the NFL held its first Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Combine. The event was held in partnership with the Senior Bowl.'s Cameron Wolfe wrote:

All 32 teams were represented on an unusually cold weekend in Mobile, with evaluators spending Friday interviewing and measuring 39 prospects from 22 different HBCUs. On Saturday, a large group of scouts spent several hours testing and working out the NFL hopefuls at the University of South Alabama Jaguar Training Center.

Several league executives, including Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent and Director of Football Development Kevin Boothe, helped lead the effort to make Saturday's event a reality. There will be ongoing conversations in the weeks to come about how to make it even better for players and scouts, but this was an important start.

Wolfe tabbed five players who stood out at the event: Virginia State DB Will Adams, Alabama State RB Ezra Gray, North Carolina A&T RB Jah-Maine Martin, Florida A&M G Keenan Forbes and Southern WR Marquis McClain. Wolfe had plenty to say about Gray, who shined in a number of drills.

Gray had some of the most eye-popping numbers among offensive players with a 10-foot-3 broad jump that tied Adams for the best of the day. He also posted a 38.5-inch vertical jump. He didn't run the 40-yard dash, as he's recovering from a slight hamstring tweak, but he looked impressive catching passes and running routes during positional drills.

A speedy, undersized running back, Gray mentioned scouts most wanted to see if he could catch the ball out of the backfield and from the slot. He also stressed to teams that he could contribute on special teams as a kick returner, punt returner or coverage player.

Gray said he expects to post a time in the 4.2 or 4.3 range when he does run the 40-yard dash.