Mobile, a city of rich football tradition, lays host to the LendingTree Bowl where it has since 1999. Mobile is full of NFL talent playing at the high school level, inspired by the annual Senior Bowl where the top seniors in the country come to bolster their NFL Draft status. Traditionally, the game matches two opponents between the Mid American Conference and the Sun Belt Conference. However, this season, they will host the MAC’s Eastern Michigan Eagles and an independent at-large school, the Liberty Flames.

Eastern Michigan (7-5, 4-4 vs MAC) fought into Bowl eligibility with a strong 5-2 run during the middle of the season to cement their chances at competing for a Bowl game. The Eagles only out of conference loss was to Wisconsin (34-7), but easily handled business against St. Francis, UMass, and Texas State. In conference, the Eagles struggled with consistency.

Liberty (7-5, 0-2 vs AP Top 25) came off of an incredibly impressive 2020 season, but couldn’t keep up with the higher caliber schedule in 2021. They were overwhelmed by Ole Miss, Louisiana, and Army at the end of the season, losing their last 3 after a 7-2 start. Led by their potential first round quarterback, Malik Willis, the Flames are looking to finish the season strong.

LendingTree Bowl – The Marquee Attraction: QB Malik Willis, Liberty

Malik Willis (6’0″ 215 lbs) is the big name entering this game. An expected first round pick, Willis has huge playmaking traits that pop every time you turn on tape and will perform in Mobile again at the Senior Bowl. Willis has a huge arm and electric athleticism. His suddenness and running ability is the best in the class at the quarterback position.

The issue with Willis is that his accuracy isn’t as consistent as it should be. Because of the level of football he’s played at, there will be an adjustment period that Willis will have to get used to the speed of the NFL game. Regardless, he is a strong quarterback prospect and could fit in a pampered scheme.

Eastern Michigan players to watch

  1. G Sidy Sow
  2. S Alvinoski LaFleur

Sidy Sow (6’5″ 334 lbs) is a massive run mauler playing at left guard for Eastern Michigan. Sow looks massively oversized but has power oozing from his every step. An impressive run blocker, Sow struggles while dropping into pass protection and with setting his feet. There’s upside, but a lot of work to be done with Sow if he makes it professionally.

Alvinoski LeFleur (5’11” 195 lbs) is a deep safety who had a lot of SEC interest late in his recruiting process coming out of Junior College. However, he chose Eastern Michigan over everyone else. He was the key deep defender on this defense, showing decent tackling and coverage ability. However, LeFleur doesn’t have great speed or athletic ability which will limit him tremendously.

Liberty players to watch

Durrell Johnson (6’3″ 235 lbs) isn’t the most natural pass rusher, and still needs to put some muscle on his frame, but he flashes some ability as a speed rusher to impact the backfield. He rushes with intensity and flashed some bend that worked against stronger offensive tackles in college football. However, after an 8.5 sack season in 2020, Johnson didn’t produce any hits on the quarterback in a more limited role.

Johnny Huntley (6’2″ 235 lbs) is a long shot, but his ability as an H-Back and potentially a fullback at the next level should keep him in consideration. A strong receiver out of the backfield, Huntley was used in a variety of different ways in the Liberty scheme. His versatility helped the offense tremendously, especially with his blocking ability. He will be an intriguing project that the NFL will keep an eye on.

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By John Vogel

NFL Draft Analyst. Dad.

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