MOBILE — Prior to this week, Jared Mayden hadn’t played much cornerback since the beginning stages in his Alabama career.
Yet, with hundreds of NFL personnel watching on, the 21-year-old former Alabama free safety was getting some serious work squaring up across from some of the best receivers in this year’s draft class during Wednesday’s South Team practice in preparation for Saturday’s Senior Bowl game in Mobile.
“It’s just getting back comfortable, mostly. I took a lot more reps at corner today than yesterday (like) I planned on to,” Mayden said Wednesday.
“Then when we did the releases, I really felt more comfortable than at first. Like yesterday when I was in the slot pressing, it felt (like I was) a little rusty. But today I got back to kind of the basics (of the position) and the more I repped it the more I felt comfortable. It’s starting to come together.”
And much like fellow Crimson Tide senior outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings’ in-practice move inside this week, it’s all in an effort to further promote themselves to NFL teams seeking invaluable versatility when evaluating potential prospects for this year’s NFL Draft.
Jennings and Mayden are among the three former Alabama defenders participating in this week’s Senior Bowl festivities, along with redshirt junior outside linebacker Terrell Lewis. It would’ve been four but senior defensive end Raekwon Davis pulled out of participating in the event at the last minute citing a lingering ankle injury he’s still recovering from this past season.
“I’m just trying to show my versatility,” Jennings said. “I can pretty much do (everything), rush the passer, drop into coverage, set the edge. I just want to show (NFL teams) how versatile I am and that I’m a competitor.”
Mayden said one of the most consistent questions he’s received during the too-numerous-to-count meetings with teams down in Mobile is what position he sees himself playing at the next level.
And for the former 4-star cornerback from Sachse, Texas, the answer is always the same.
“I tell them I see myself playing corner or slot corner my first couple of years in the league and as I get older I (might) move to the back end,” Mayden said. “I see myself as a corner who can play safety.”
That’s certainly interesting given that it took three years and a move to safety to even crack Alabama’s two-deep lineup, eventually landing a starting role as the Crimson Tide’s last line of defense ahead of his senior season in Tuscaloosa.
It’s because of that experience that Mayden is grateful for every chance he’s being given to demonstrate his abilities in a premier pre-draft showcase like the Senior Bowl.
“It’s a real humbling experience,” Mayden said Wednesday. “I put nothing by me at this point because, if you would’ve told me at the beginning of my senior year that I’d be invited to the Reese’s Senior Bowl with an opportunity to play (against) the best players, scouts everywhere, really under a magnifying glass, I would’ve told you you were lying.
“Right now I’m just trying to win a spot and get better every day just so I can win a spot (in the NFL).”
The 6-foot-0 and 201-pound Mayden certainly showed off corner-like speed when he was clocked running 20.9 mph during Tuesday’s practice, the fourth fastest time of the day among both Senior Bowl squads according to Zebra Technologies.
It’ll be worth watching how Mayden’s performance this week in Mobile helps improve his draft stock, which currently projects him to be a middle of Day 3 selection as the 21st-ranked safety in this year’s class, according to NFLDraftNetwork.com’s positional rankings.
Meanwhile, the 6-foot-2 and 252-pound Jennings is widely believed to be a Top-100 prospect and the 12th-ranked edge rusher in this year’s class, per NFLDraftNetwork.com.
Providing the versatility to do multiple things on the field is often invaluable for teams that must weed through thousands of draft prospects to determine how particular players may fit onto their individual roster, with those that can play more than one position diversifying their potential in the NFL.
“When you show your versatility, you make it so teams (are thinking) ‘maybe I don’t have to go out and get two corners or two safeties,’” Mayden said, “‘Maybe I can get one corner and one guy who can play corner and safety so now I save myself money and … go fill a need somewhere else?’”
Of course, he wasn’t alone in that challenge, as Jennings tries his hand at inside linebacker this week in Mobile, working some at the Mike during Wednesday’s practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
“It was good, it was fun. I had a great time and I enjoyed being out there and learning more about (the position),” said Jennings, who was Alabama’s top pass rusher this past season with a team-leading eight sacks and 12 ½ tackles for loss.
Like Mayden, Jennings said one of the most challenging parts of making a mid-week position change was “just not (having played there) a lot and getting used to it, getting comfortable.”
Still, the opportunity to work under the direction of the Cincinnati Bengals’ coaching staff has been especially beneficial, even while taking on the challenge of a potential position change.
“It was fun, exciting, getting to dive in their playbook and how they do things in their organization,” Jennings said. “It’s just another opportunity.”
And it’s an opportunity both feel better equipped to handle thanks in large part to what they went through at Alabama under head coach Nick Saban, who utilizes some of the very same complex defensive schemes featured throughout the NFL.
“It prepared me a lot,” Jennings said of his time in Tuscaloosa. “A lot of the same sort of concepts they run on defense we run at Alabama. Just the terminology is a little different. But I’m picking it up and look forward to coming out here tomorrow.”
And as both Jennings and Mayden continue to do their best to impress, each understands the importance of proving they can handle whatever is thrown their way this week, be it a particular coverage concept or the challenge of completely changing positions in the midst of one of the most important job interviews of their careers.