Rice’s McCaffrey showcasing talents at Senior Bowl
As the 2024 NFL Draft inches closer, junior wide receiver Luke McCaffrey has earned an opportunity to showcase himself on one of the biggest stages.
Last Sunday, the Rice football star arrived in Mobile, Ala., for the 2024 Reese’s Senior Bowl. The event gives draft prospects a chance to showcase their skills in front of NFL scouts and general managers through a series of events, including meetings, practices and a game.
“Pretty much every [general manager] in the National Football League will be there,” head coach Mike Bloomgren told the Thresher. “All these scouts will be there. It’ll be a chance for him to go against literally the best [defensive backs] because this is the top All-Star Game in America.”
Very few Rice prospects have earned the opportunity to participate in the Senior Bowl. McCaffrey is the first Owl to attend since kicker Chris Boswell in 2014 and the program’s first wide receiver since Bert Emanuel in 1994.
McCaffrey has been placed on the National Team and will be coached by Callie Brownson, the Cleveland Browns’ wide receivers coach. Brownson was the first full-time female NCAA Division I football coach and the first woman to coach an NFL position group in a regular-season game.
McCaffrey will catch passes from a pair of potential first-round quarterbacks in the University of Oregon’s Bo Nix and Washington University’s Michael Penix Jr., as well as Sam Hartman from the University of Notre Dame.
Senior Bowl practices began on Tuesday, Jan. 30, and will continue through Thursday, Feb. 1. Players will then participate in a variety of activities, including the Mardi Gras Player Parade and the Path to the Draft Team Walk, before the game kicks off on Saturday afternoon.
There will be plenty of pressure and fanfare, but McCaffrey hopes to ignore the noise and be present.
“It’s a long week, you have a lot of meetings, a lot of practice,” McCaffrey said. “The biggest thing is just enjoy the moment. So much happens that it’s easy to get hurried up or get rushed.”
McCaffrey originally transferred to Rice in 2021 following two seasons at the University of Nebraska. He credits Rice for allowing him to learn more about himself, especially off the field.
“When I first got here, I was looking for my identity and who I was that I could be confident in, what I could be proud [of],” McCaffrey said. “The Rice community and the atmosphere surrounding campus kind of allowed me to figure that out to an extent, just from a level of freedom and a level of patience.”
After his first season with the Owls, McCaffrey changed from quarterback to wide receiver. He caught 68 passes for 963 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2023, helping Rice reach the First Responder Bowl. He believes his experience under center has allowed him to excel at wide receiver.
“I learned so much from playing quarterback because you kind of have to know everything that’s going on,” McCaffrey said. “Ever since I switched, I’ve been lucky I’ve had some smart quarterbacks to go through Rice and be throwing balls to me. I think through that, I’ve learned a lot, too.”
Bloomgren said he’s been impressed with McCaffrey’s development since transferring to Rice.
“He has gotten better and better at route running, his consistency with his hands, making those contested catches,” Bloomgren said. “Those are all things that he was pretty naturally good at but he’s certainly improved year over year.”
After completing the Senior Bowl festivities, McCaffrey will train in Florida. His next few months will consist of more major events, including the NFL’s Scouting Combine and Rice’s Pro Day. These programs will allow McCaffrey to showcase himself in hopes of being selected in April’s NFL Draft.
Amidst McCaffrey’s busy schedule, he wants to find time for a trip to Las Vegas so that he can watch his brother, Christian, play for the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII.
The bond between the two brothers is strong. Christian previously told reporters that playing with his brother in San Francisco would be “the coolest thing ever.” Meanwhile, Luke told the Thresher that while he’d be excited to play for any of the 32 NFL teams, joining the 49ers would make him “the happiest kid in the world.”
“That’s something you always dream about in the backyard, playing with your brothers or your siblings,” McCaffrey added. “I think that’d be amazing.”
McCaffrey is well on his way to being an NFL draft pick, and that process continues this week in Mobile. Of the 16 wide receivers who participated in last year’s Senior Bowl, all but one were drafted by NFL teams. As to when he might be picked, recent mock drafts are torn on McCaffrey, who has been projected anywhere between the fourth and seventh rounds.
When asked how an NFL general manager would describe his potential contributions, McCaffrey cited his playmaking ability and mental strength.
“I have all the qualities needed to have success at the next level while also displaying a level of passion and toughness it takes to have success,” McCaffrey said.
Bloomgren echoed McCaffrey’s evaluation, adding that the talented wide receiver is a selfless teammate. He explained that although McCaffrey made several highlight reel plays this year, he was just as excited to move downfield and set blocks that created big plays for his teammates.
“He’s always a shining light of everything good, enjoying coming to the building,” Bloomgren said. “Today is always the best day of his life, and tomorrow’s going to be even better.”
The Luke McCaffrey that Bloomgren has enjoyed watching over the years now has a prime opportunity to showcase himself to the pro football circuit, from stopwatch-wielding executives to the most passionate fans.
The Senior Bowl kicks off Saturday, Feb. 3 at 12 p.m. and will air live on NFL Network.
More from The Rice Thresher
Over the weekend, Rice Baseball secured a series win on the road against the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, capturing victories on Feb. 23 and Feb. 24 with scores of 2-1 and 6-1, respectively. However, their quest for a sweep fell short as they suffered a 3-0 loss on Sunday afternoon.
The Rice women’s basketball team, which spent much of this season soaring near the top of the American Athletic Conference standings, extended their losing streak to a season-high three games on Sunday afternoon. In a battle of the Owls, Rice fell to Temple University, 75-66.