By: Michael Hanich | Sports Editor
This semester, college football is going as planned for multiple teams including the South Alabama Jaguars. This season will be a big season for the Jaguars as a team but there it is a big opportunity for two individuals in their final season. Long-time starters in wide receiver Kawaan Baker and outside linebacker Riley Cole were named by the Senior Bowl as the top 250 seniors going into the 2020 season.
The Senior Bowl is an annual postseason event in Mobile, Alabama of three practices and a game played over one week by some of the best collegiate seniors. The players are coached by NFL coaches and then evaluated by NFL scouts and coaches. The purpose is to find out how the players could potentially transition into the NFL. The South Alabama Jaguars have several former players that performed throughout the week.
Baker enters into his third full season as a starter for the Jaguars as a slot receiver. Baker has played in 34 games for the Jaguars while starting in 23 of them. He has been one of the most talented receivers in the past two seasons of the Jaguars’ underwhelming seasons. Last season, Baker caught a team-high 35 receptions for 574 yards and three touchdowns as the number one receiver. In 2018, he caught 33 receptions for 494 yards and four touchdowns. That season, Baker also rushed for 251 yards and nine touchdowns on 59 rushing attempts.
While he is a slot receiver, he possesses the skill-setting to be called upon to catch the most receptions for the offense. Baker is one of the fastest players on the team to go along with his hands but he also can make efficient cuts and turns. He can line up anywhere as an outside or slot receiver and run versatile routes. The ability to make distinctive cuts and turns while running routes makes him a tough receiver to stay in coverage against or beat for the contested ball.
Cole is one of the most experienced defensive players for the Jaguars this season. Since his first season in 2016, Cole has appeared in 30 games with 20 starts. Despite experiencing two season-ending injuries (2016 & 2018), Cole accounted for 59 total tackles, 37 solo tackles, nine tackles for loss, and three sacks this past season. In the 2017 season, Cole accounted for 55 total tackles, 29 solo tackles, and 2.5 tackles for loss.
Inserted as a “Sam” linebacker where he plays on the strong side of the defense, Cole is a well-balanced chaser of the ball carrier and crash the line of scrimmage. Cole is a speedy defender with quick bursts of agility, he continues to build speed to catch the ball carrier, able to make quick changes in direction to make pursuit angles. He has great athleticism and has just enough moves to beat slower offensive tackles on their outside shoulder.
Both players have key attributes that NFL scouts and coaches love to have for their teams. These are attributes that coaches look for to help their main starters develop against to become more efficient. Both Baker and Cole were selected by Athlon Sports as preseason third-team all-conference. Both players have talent and experience to be considered for the Senior Bowl. If they have a highly productive season in 2020, they will likely be selected for the 2021 Senior Bowl.
There has been a total of five former South Alabama Jaguars that have played in the Senior Bowl. There were two Jaguars that played in the 2013 Senior Bowl in defensive back B.J. Scott and linebacker Jake Johnson. Baker and Cole could be the latest pair of Jaguars to participate in the 2021 Senior Bowl in Hancock Whitney Stadium.