Senior Bowl About Finding Depth

Because the Senior Bowl doesn't invite underclassmen and some of the top prospects decline invitations, the college all-star week is more about scouting the second round and lower prospects than finding blue-chip talent.

With two weeks off between the NFL's conference championship games and the Super Bowl, the hype of the week – especially for teams desperate to rebuild through April's draft – surrounds the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

The reality, however, likely won't transcend the hype or even come close to equaling it because of a lack of top prospects participating. This year, an NFL-record 65 underclassmen declared their eligibility for the NFL draft, and juniors and sophomores typically enter the draft when they are highly acclaimed and looking to avoid a decline in value by returning for a subpar senior season. They want to start their earning potential early.

Only one of the top-10 talents, according to, is a senior, and seventh-ranked Devon Still, a defensive tackle from Penn State, made the decision not to attend the week of practices in front of NFL coaches and scouts.

Alabama's Mark Barron, considered the top strong safety in the early portion of the scouting process, also decided not to attend the Senior Bowl, leaving only one-fourth of's top 32 picks working out in Mobile this week.

Why? Some of those seniors that declined invitations did so because of an existing injury or the fear of being injured during the week. Others, especially those rated as first-round prospects, are sometimes concerned that all they will do is devalue their draft stock if they have a bad week of practice in front of the hundreds of NFL scouts and coaches that descend on Mobile during the week.

"I think the best way that we position that is a Tim Tebow. He came here and, let's be honest, he didn't have a great week. He was sick, lost a bunch of weight, didn't throw the ball well. It didn't hurt him. He was a (first-round) draft pick," said Kevin McDermond, the public relations director for the Senior Bowl. "Credit to him for what he did leaving the Senior Bowl to draft day, he really helped himself out there."

Last year, Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller came in as a potential top-10 pick, but he only helped his draft stock with a big week of practice and his performance during the Saturday game. He was selected No. 2 overall by the Denver Broncos three months later.

"I don't know if he was the No. 2 pick before he got here, but he certainly helped himself. You use those instances," McDermond said. "Look, you're a Von Miller, you're a Jake Locker or Christian Ponder. All guys that you can absolutely help yourself. And we're told all the time by these NFL personnel people, by the scouts and the GMs, they'll never knock a guy if he comes out here and stinks it up. They love the fact that they choose to compete and put more stuff out there on tape."

The percentage of participants this week goes up in the middle and later rounds. On a grander scale, about 40 percent of the prospects ranked highly enough to be in the first three rounds are at the Senior Bowl.

More than half of the draft's first round could be made up of juniors and sophomores, but almost half of the prospects ranked highly enough to be considered first- or second-round picks are participating in the Senior Bowl, with an even mix of those players on offense and defense.

Good scouting of the Senior Bowl participants can pay dividends in the middle and later rounds of the draft.

"I really believe that you have to excel in those later rounds because that's really the bread and butter of your football team – that fifth-, sixth-, seventh-round pick, that's the majority of your team," said Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, whose staff is coaching the North squad in Mobile this week. "You should do pretty good on first-rounders – you'd like to think – especially where we're drafting at this year. The advantage that we have when it comes to later rounds, to be where we are with these guys, we have to replenish our roster."

On offense, wide receiver and guard are particularly well-represented positions in Mobile this week. The top two receivers might be missing, but Appalachian State's Brian Quick and North Carolina's Dwight Jones are both tall receivers (6-foot-3 and over) who could get second-round looks.

Guards aren't typically highly valued in the draft, but there are a number of them expected to be drafted either late in the first round or sometime in the second round that will be plying position at the Senior Bowl, including Georgia's Cordy Glenn, Iowa State's Kelechi Osemele and Wisconsin's Kevin Zeitler.

North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples is the top-rated defensive player with Still bowing out, but outside linebacker appears to be the defensive position of strength at the Senior Bowl.

South Carolina's Melvin Ingram started only 13 games for the Gamecocks, but he still had 21? sacks and should be a first-round selection. Alabama's Courtney Upshaw is right there with Ingram and has more experience in a starting role.

Other linebackers participating this week that could be late first-round or second-round selections are North Carolina's Zach Brown, Nebraska's Lavonte David, Utah State's Bobby Wagner and Miami's Sean Spence.

The week of practice certainly isn't a who's-who of top-10 picks, but it is a collection of who's coming up behind those blue-chip prospects.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update.

Packer Report Top Stories