2022 Senior Bowl preview: Clemson’s Henry, South Carolina’s Pickens headline locals

With 28 teams no longer in NFL playoff contention, the majority of the league is focused on the offseason.

Teams are looking to upgrade their rosters through free agency and the draft, and the annual Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, will provide an up-close look at some of the best prospects in this year’s talent pool.

This year’s all-star event features 15 players with ties to the Carolinas. Along with those locals, several notable names will be able to show off their talent in front of reps from all 32 teams — including the Carolina Panthers.

Bobby Maffei, a Panthers defensive assistant, will coach the National Team safeties during the week.

From the Carolinas

KJ Henry, EDGE, Clemson (Winston-Salem, NC)

Henry projects as a rotational pass rusher at the next level, but a strong showing in Mobile could boost his stock. The Draft Network projects Henry as a third-round pick heading into the all-star game. He produced 27 tackles (six for loss) and 3.5 sacks last season for the Tigers.

Keion White, EDGE, Georgia Tech (Garner, NC)

White spent his first four college seasons at Old Dominion before transferring to Georgia Tech in 2021. After a breakout campaign this past season, White is looking to latch onto an NFL franchise as an early round pick. The Draft Network has White rated as a second-round pick heading into Senior Bowl week.

Nick Hampton, EDGE, Appalachian State (Anderson, SC)

Like White and Henry, Hampton is an accomplished college pass rusher. He produced seven sacks and eight quarterback hits last season, and is likely to be a rotational pass rusher early in his career. A strong performance during the week could boost Hampton’s stock.

Zacch Pickens, DT, South Carolina (Anderson, SC)

A former five-star recruit — who chose to stay close to home — Pickens is looking to showcase his talent on another major platform. While the local crew is mostly made up of pass rushers, Pickens is a huge presence in the middle of the defensive line. At 6-foot-4 and 305-pounds, Pickens looks the part of a pro already.

Byron Young, EDGE, Tennessee (Georgetown, SC)

Young started his college career as a JUCO standout, but quickly garnered national attention as a pass rusher for the Volunteers. At 6-foot-3 and 243 pounds, Young is likely to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 system. He produced 22 tackles (nine for loss) and seven sacks this past season.

Eku Leota, EDGE, Auburn (Asheville, NC)

Leota started his college career at Northwestern before transferring to Auburn. While his last season at Auburn was cut short due to a pectoral injury, Leota was still able to produce nine sacks in 18 games with the Tigers. He will be competing with Young, White, Hampton and Henry for praise during Senior Bowl week.

Dorian Williams, LB, Tulane (Indian Land, SC)

Williams is an interesting prospect who played four years at Tulane. During that time, he collected 306 tackles (27 for loss), 9.5 sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and 14 pass breakups. Listed as 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, Williams could profile as a weak-side linebacker in a 4-3 defense or an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense in the pros.

Nick Saldiveri, OT, Old Dominion (Waxhaw, NC)

Listed as 6-foot-6 and 316 pounds, Saldivieri was a three-year starter at right tackle for the Monarchs. He also showed some versatility by moving inside to right guard for a game this past season. The Parkwood High alum was a team captain to close out his college career.

Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee (Greensboro, NC)

Hooker started his college career at Virginia Tech before transferring to Tennessee in 2021. During his two seasons with the Vols, Hooker threw for 6,080 yards, 58 touchdowns and only five interceptions. However, he tore his ACL in November and won’t take part in Senior Bowl practices or the game.

Darius Rush, DB, South Carolina (Kingstree, SC)

Rush, listed as 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, has the size that the NFL has fallen in love with at cornerback. Over the past two seasons, Rush has produced 18 pass breakups and three interceptions. Like Panthers’ cornerback Jaycee Horn, Rush is a long, lean playmaker in the secondary.

Carolina connections

Grant DuBose, WR, Charlotte

DuBose was a late addition to the roster last week. The 6-foot-3 and 200 pound wideout caught 126 passes for 1,684 yards and 15 touchdown over the past two years for the 49ers.

“Grant was in a weird spot,” said Jim Nagy, the Executive Director of the Senior Bowl told The Observer on Wednesday. “We took him off our Senior Bowl board when he jumped in the (transfer) portal. A couple weeks ago, agents started hitting me up about him entering the draft and at that point our roster was full.

“Luckily for Grant, one of our wideouts got injured during training and it opened up a spot. Our staff has had our eyes on Grant for a couple years, going back to that 2021 opener against Duke. He plays big, has very natural hands and does some cool stuff with his balance and body control after the catch. We excited to add a player of Grant’s talent this close to our game.”

Jerrod Clark, DT, Coastal Carolina

A towering nose tackle, Clark is listed as 6-foot-4 and 340 pounds. He will look to impress scouts with his ability to clog the line of scrimmage.

Asim Richards, OT, UNC

The 6-foot-4, 315-pound offensive tackle was a two-year starter for the Tar Heels. Richards, a versatile athlete, played tight end and defensive line during his high school career before moving to the offensive line. He will look to push up his stock with a strong performance against the all-star game’s talented edge group.

Camerun Peoples, RB, Appalachian State

Peoples spent five seasons carrying the ball for App State. He produced 2,830 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns during his college career, and will look to show off his versatility out of the backfield in Mobile.

Davis Allen, TE, Clemson

The 6-foot-6, 240-pound tight end is entering the league at the right time. All modern NFL offensive coordinators are looking for versatile starting tight ends and Allen could be a hot commodity come draft weekend. Allen caught 88 passes for 951 yards and 12 touchdowns during his four-year college career.

Panthers should keep an eye on these top talents

Will McDonald IV, EDGE, Iowa State

The Panthers are in a need of a pass-rushing partner for Brian Burns. McDonald produced 40.5 sacks during a special five-year college career with the Cyclones. Look for McDonald to have first-round draft buzz during Senior Bowl week. He was selected 20th overall in NFL draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah’s latest mock draft.

Isaiah Foskey, EDGE, Notre Dame

Like McDonald, Foskey has some first-round buzz heading into the Senior Bowl. Pro Football Network ranks him as their 20th overall prospect, while The Draft Network has him as the 21st overall player. Foskey is coming off back-to-back 10-sack seasons at Notre Dame.

Derick Hall, EDGE, Auburn

Outside of quarterback, pass rusher is the Panthers’ biggest need, and Hall can fill that void. Over the past three seasons, Hall has produced 19.5 sacks. The 6-foot-3, 251-pound pass rusher profiles similarly to Burns on the edge.

Henry To’o To’o, LB, Alabama

With Shaq Thompson’s future up in the air, the off-the-ball linebacker spots are in flux. To’o To’o is a rangy player who would be a logical mid-round replacement for Thompson. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound linebacker produced 205 tackles (15.5 for loss), 6.5 sacks and a forced fumble over the past two years at Alabama.

Will Mallory, TE, Miami

The Panthers desperately need a pass-catching complement to Ian Thomas at tight end. Mallory caught 115 passes for 1,544 yards and 14 touchdowns during his five-year college career. Mallory’s performance during the Senior Bowl could open eyes.

Rashee Rice, WR, SMU

Rice has the size-speed combination that NFL teams want at wide receiver. The 6-foot-1, 189-pound pass-catcher was very productive at SMU and is coming off a season where he caught 96 passes for 1,355 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Draft Network projects Rice as a second-round pick heading into Mobile. He could be an excellent complement to DJ Moore and Terrace Marshall Jr.