Senior Bowl to Super Bowl LIV

As the San Francisco 49ers celebrated in the locker room after defeating the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship, GM John Lynch appeared in the locker room with a t-shirt emblazoned with three short words. Mobile to Miami. Maybe it should have read Senior Bowl to Super Bowl.

The Mobile to Miami mantra was born in January 2019. Just a year ago, after a dismal 4-12 season, the 49ers coached the South Team at the Senior Bowl. Although they weren’t victorious in Mobile, losing out to the Raiders coached North Team, it began a process that sees them take on the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV.

However, it isn’t just the 49ers that have made the transition from Senior Bowl to Super Bowl.

One year ago, the Chiefs were licking their wounds from a narrow defeat to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship. They may not have been coaching at the Senior Bowl in 2019, but several players caught their eye that weekend in Mobile.

In fact, between the two teams contesting Super Bowl LIV, they have five players that played in the Senior Bowl just one year ago. It shows the incredible opportunity that the Senior Bowl gives to players to improve their draft stock.

Here’s their journey from Senior Bowl to Super Bowl. 

2020 senior bowl
Super Bowl LIV

Dre Greenlaw - OLB - San Francisco 49ers

senior bowl super bowl
Photo Credit: Whole Hog Sports
Photo Credit: San Francisco 49ers

Dre Greenlaw was a four year starter at Arkansas, tallying 100+ tackles in his junior year before leaping off the stats page in his senior year with 6.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks and 2 interceptions.

At the Senior Bowl, Greenlaw impressed with a tackle on the opening kick of the game. He contributed three total tackles, and caught the eye for his special teams ability. Many scouts saw him as a career backup, and a probable sixth round selection.

The 49ers selected Greenlaw in the fifth round, 148th overall. After the NFL Draft, a story surfaced of Greenlaw selflessly aiding a girl after she’d had her drink spiked at a party, enhancing his reputation around the football world.

On the field, Greenlaw has defied the projections, starting 11 games for the 49ers in 2019, playing 71% of the teams defensive snaps. He made his first career interception in the Week 10 loss to Seattle, and forced a fumble in the Playoff win over the Minnesota Vikings. In the regular season finale he had a game winning tackle to stop Jacob Hollister short of the goal line.

It was a play that ensure the 49ers route to the Super Bowl was as the number 1 seed in the NFC.

Khalen Saunders - DT - Kansas City Chiefs

senior bowl super bowl
Photo Credit: Butch Dill
Photo Credit: KC Chiefs

Is there a better Senior Bowl to Super Bowl story than that of Khalen Saunders?

The defensive tackle was playing FCS football for Western Illinois in 2018. He’d had multiple sacks in his four years at WIU, and had flashed athleticism for a man of his size with five pass break ups.

He became the first player from WIU to receive an invite to the Senior Bowl.

Saunders continued to flash his athleticism at the Senior Bowl. A video of him performing back flips at 318lbs went viral. So did the story of him missing the birth of his daughter to make the most of the opportunity the Senior Bowl presented. 

In the game Saunders sacked Will Grier and added three tackles to help the north team to victory. 

Saunders went from the FCS to the NFL when the Kansas City Chiefs made him their third round, 84th overall, selection in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Although Saunders has only made four NFL starts, he’s appeared in 12 games for a rejuvenated Chiefs rush defense. He has 22 career tackles, including two QB hits and notched up his first career sack taking down Aaron Rodgers in Week 8.

From the FCS to the NFL. From the Senior Bowl to the Super Bowl. Khalen Saunders is quite the story.

Mitch Wishnowsky - P - San Francsico 49ers

senior bowl super bowl
Photo Credit: Butch Dill
Photo Credit: Bay Area News Group

The punter from Perth, was a celebrated and decorated athlete at Utah. He was a three time All-American, three time All-PAC 12, and a three time Ray Guy Award finalist. Mitch Wishnowsky finished his college career with a better punting average than NFL stand outs like Michael Dickson and All-Pro Shane Lechler.

His stock continued to rise in the Senior Bowl. 

After impressing as much as kickers can do in practice, Wishnowsky had two punts for an average of 59.5 yards, with a long of 62 yards, in the game itself.

The 49ers were clearly impressed by the guy punting against them in the Senior Bowl and drafted him in the fourth round, 110th overall. 

Although the selection was met with some derision, Wishnowsky has impressed, winning the Week 9 NFC Special Teams Player of the Week award. That game was one of three with 200+ yards for the Australian.

Against a rampant Chiefs offense, field position will be critical. Wishnowsky ‘s selection wouldn’t seem so strange with a Lombardi Trophy in the trophy cabinet.

Juan Thornhill - S - Kansas City Chiefs

Photo Credit: Inside The Star
Photo Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Although Chiefs safety Juan Thornhill will miss Sunday’s big game, his journey from the Senior Bowl to Super Bowl is as impressive as any other.

Thornhill was a highly rated prospect coming out of the University of Virginia. He’d made 13 interceptions and over 200 tackles as a Cavalier.

However, Thornhill didn’t actually help his draft stock at the Senior Bowl. With an indifferent performance in practice, and an easy interception from Daniel Jones dropped in the game, people began to raise questions about his ability at the next level.

The rise of his draft stock actually began at the NFL Combine. Thornhill blew scouts and analysts away with a near record breaking perfomance. 

The Chiefs selected Thornhill with the 63rd overall pick and he has been repaying them ever since.

He’s played 89% of the teams snaps as a 16 game rookie starter. He has three interceptions, five pass break ups, and has allowed just a 46.4% completion percentage and a passer rating of just 43. 

Alongside Tyran Mathieu, Thornhill has formed the most impressive safety duo in the NFL. 

After suffering a torn ACL in the season finale against the Los Angeles Chargers, Thornhill was placed on IR by the Chiefs.

He won’t play this Super Bowl Sunday, but you can be sure it won’t be his last opportunity.

Deebo Samuel - WR - San Francsico 49ers

senior bowl super bowl
Photo Credit: Butch Dill
Photo Credit: NBC Sports

Remarkably, of the three San Francisco 49ers players that have gone from Senior Bowl to Super Bowl in a year, Deebo Samuel is the only one that the 49ers coached at the Senior Bowl. 

Samuel’s college career at South Carolina was defined by the highs of his production, and the lows of two seasons lost to injury. When he was healthy, he was a monster whether receiving or returning kicks. He still holds the record for kickoff return touchdowns in the SEC with 4.

Although he only had one reception for 15 yards in the Senior Bowl, his reputation had soared during the week of practice where he was consistently making plays. 

The 49ers reunited him his Senior Bowl coaching staff early in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

A fumble in the season opener against Tampa Bay wasn’t the ideal way to start the season, but since then Samuel has been as golden as the 49ers pants that they’ll wear in Super Bowl LIV.

Samuel leads all rookie wide receivers in catch completion percentage, and ranks fourth in rookie wide receivers by receiving yards. However of those 802 yards, he has created 473 of those after the catch. He’s also added 159 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns, proving his versatility in the offense.

Samuel is the only player that has made it from Mobile to Miami with the 49ers. Can he help turn that Senior Bowl loss in to a Super Bowl win on Sunday night?

Intrigued to know who could be next season’s Senior Bowl to Super Bowl stars? Find out right here.

Mock Draft