Senior Bowl preview: 5 players to watch from Michigan schools

Detroit News

The annual Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama is one last chance for the NFL Draft’s elder statesmen to have their day in the sun.

And speaking of statesmen, there will be five players representing Michigan schools at next week’s practices and game, all of whom could use the boost in draft stock for one reason or another.

The event provides an intimate environment for players projected as Day 2 or Day 3 picks to impress teams before the craziness of the combine, where most of the Senior Bowl participants will then play second fiddle. Here are the local players looking to pick up some momentum in Mobile.

American Team

Bryce Baringer, Michigan State, P

Baringer’s career in East Lansing was full of accolades. The 2022 Big Ten Punter of the Year and Ray Guy Award finalist was also a consensus first-team All-America selection in his final season. He finished first among qualified NCAA punters in both yards per punt (49.0) and net yardage (45.7).

Typically, only one or two punters get drafted every year. When you combine Baringer’s production with the opportunity he has to put his name on the map in Mobile, there’s plenty of reason to believe that he could be one of them.

National Team

▶ Ronnie Bell, Michigan, WR

Bell is the first of two local receivers who stand a lot to gain from a week spent with NFL coaches. In 2021, he was projected to have a breakout year, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the team’s opener. In 2022, he was good — but not the true No. 1 receiver that many had hoped he would be at the start of last season.

Bell was still reasonably productive in a second straight conference-winning season for the Wolverines, hauling in 62 catches for 889 yards (14.3 average) and four touchdowns. But the bin of mid-to-low-tier receivers in the draft is vast, as always, and Bell’s performance amongst the Senior Bowl participants could be the difference between going in the fourth round or signing as an undrafted free agent.

▶ Ryan Hayes, Michigan, OL

Hayes started 29 games at left tackle for a Michigan offensive line that won back-to-back Joe Moore Awards (most outstanding offensive-line unit), churning out a run game that ranked third in yards per rush (5.6) last season. Hayes is currently projected as a later-round pick, but with the reputation of Michigan’s offensive line preceding him, his stock could rise in a hurry if he shows the right things.

▶ Thomas Incoom, Central Michigan, DL 

You’ll probably hear Incoom’s name a lot over the coming months, as he’s a prospect whose buzz doesn’t quite match his production. He had 11.5 sacks in 2022, and yet, has fallen into the shuffle as a mid-round prospect. The talent and production are clearly there, so his week at the Senior Bowl will likely go a long way in teams giving him a second look.

▶ Olu Oluwatimi, Michigan, OL

ESPN has Oluwatimi as the No. 2 available center in the draft behind Minnesota’s John Michael Schmitz — another Senior Bowl participant — although there doesn’t appear to be a wide gap between the two. Oluwatimi is certainly the more decorated, having earned the Rimington Award (nation’s best center), Outland Award (nation’s best interior offensive lineman) and consensus All-America honors in his final season at Michigan. It should be interesting to see which center gains the pole position.

▶ Jayden Reed, Michigan State, WR 

Reed — somewhat surprisingly — decided to return for his senior year at Michigan State, a decision that may have cost him some money, as he prepares to go through the draft process this time around. Besides his total number of catches — Reed had 55 as a senior and 59 as a junior — his production was pretty much halved. His touchdowns dropped from 10 to five, yards from 1,026 to 636, and his yards per catch fell from 17.4 to 11.6.

But Reed is still clearly a very gifted athlete, and it’s probably fair to say that some of that is in part to Michigan State’s offensive regression on the whole, which is why one good week from Reed here can make a big difference come April.

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