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March 2, 2024

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Senior Bowl, NFL draft class loaded with transfers from Penix to Nix to Schrader

Washington, Oregon QBs have raised draft stock

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National quarterback Michael Penix Jr. of Washington runs through drills during practice for the Senior Bowl NCAA college football game, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024, in Mobile, Ala.
National quarterback Michael Penix Jr. of Washington runs through drills during practice for the Senior Bowl NCAA college football game, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024, in Mobile, Ala. (AP Photo/ Butch Dill) Photo Gallery

MOBILE, Ala. — Quarterbacks Michael Penix Jr. and Bo Nix became Heisman finalists after heading to other schools. Cody Schrader went from Division II to Southeastern Conference stardom.

They’re far from alone at the Senior Bowl, where a number of NFL prospects transferred at least once to enhance their situation and/or draft stock. That includes five of the seven quarterbacks on the roster.

None have more experience mastering new offenses than Nix, who became a star passer and potential first-round NFL draft pick after transferring from Auburn to Oregon.

“With five offenses in five years, five different play callers, I’ve been around the block,” Nix said ahead of Saturday’s game. “I’ve been able to learn from a lot of different people.

“I think just along the way, I picked up a lot from each individual and grew each time and got a lot of experience.”

Penix had each of his four seasons at Indiana cut short by injuries: torn ACLs in 2018 and 2020 and shoulder injuries in 2019 and 2021.

He led the nation in passing in both of his seasons at Washington. Penix guided the Huskies to the national championship game and finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting behind another transfer quarterback, LSU’s Jayden Daniels, and one spot ahead of Nix.

In the process, Penix elevated his draft stock to a potential first- or second-rounder.

“All he’s been through has prepared him mentally for this type of scenario,” former Washington coach Kalen DeBoer, who left for Alabama after the championship game, said Wednesday. “The pressure is the pressure, but he has the confidence that he’s going to be just fine if he just does what he’s capable of each and every day.”

Penix agreed that he grew from those experiences.

“It was tough at times, but I do feel like it all prepared me and built me into the player and person I am today,” Penix said. “Being through that much adversity, especially at such a young age, it taught me a lot.

“It taught me patience. It taught me how much I loved the game.”

While some players transferred for better NIL or playing time opportunities, Schrader wanted to prove he could play bigtime college football. He did that and more.

The 5-foot-8, 207-pound Schrader went from Division II Truman State to Missouri walk-on to All-American running back to NFL prospect. Having not received any Division I scholarship offers out of high school, Schrader proved he can play in the SEC.

Now, he’s trying to do the same with the NFL.

“That’s why these opportunities mean so much to me, because I know that I’ve earned it,” said Schrader, who ran for 1,627 yards and 14 touchdowns last season.

The Senior Bowl roster is full of players who have played for multiple schools, with their own reasons and stories. That doesn’t even include UCLA defensive end Laiatu Latu, who landed with the Bruins after a neck injury left him medically retired for two seasons at Washington.

Quarterbacks Sam Hartman (Wake Forest/Notre Dame), Spencer Rattler (Oklahoma/South Carolina) and Joe Milton III (Michigan/Tennessee) have all moved around as well.

Three players who transferred from Alabama are in the Senior Bowl: UCF wide receiver Javon Baker, Miami offensive lineman Javion Cohen and Oregon defensive back Khyree Jackson.

There are some potential benefits for NFL teams from players who didn’t stay put their entire college careers.

“You see guys in more schemes on the field and now off the field, too, you’re exposed to basically two buildings worth of people that know your players,” Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy said. “And that’s what you’re trying to do, is figure these guys out.

“When you have sometimes two, three, sometimes four buildings worth of staff members you can go to and try to learn (about) players, that’s a great thing from an NFL perspective.”

Kentucky running back Ray Davis spent two seasons at Temple and two at Vanderbilt before switching SEC East schools for his final season. He wound up with his second straight 1,000-yard season.

“I just knew it was a match made in heaven to go there,” Davis said.

That’s what all the transfers were hoping to find.

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