By Adam Hoge-
MOBILE, Ala. (CBS) — I’ll be spending the early part of this week in Mobile, Ala. where top seniors around the country will gather to impress NFL scouts.
By now, you probably at least know what the Senior Bowl is, but you might not know what really goes on in Mobile during the week. To guide you, here are 10 things you should know about the Senior Bowl:
1. It’s not really an all-star game.
The Senior Bowl gets referred to as a college all-star game, but it’s much more than an all-star game. In fact, that label is pretty inaccurate. While the game features many of the top players in college football, it only hosts seniors, and many of the very best seniors opt not to play in the game. That’s because the Senior Bowl is really all about NFL Draft scouting, as scouts from every NFL team (as well as agents and reporters) flock to Mobile to get an up-close look at players they might want to draft in May. Some players — like Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron — feel like there’s not much to gain by playing in the game and they decline their invitation. Most players do accept their invitation and use the week as an opportunity to improve their draft stock.
2. It’s about a lot more than the game.
The actual Senior Bowl gets played Saturday (3 p.m. CT on NFL Network), but the practices leading up to the game are just as important, if not more important. The players are split up into two teams (the North and the South) and each team has a two-hour practice Monday-Thursday. That’s where scouts will closely watch player techniques. The practices are heavy on individual drills, geared to force players to show their individual skills. There’s minimal game-planning involved as winning Saturday’s game is not the priority. This is an individual showcase.
3. Players have to be invited.
So who decides who the best seniors are? Much of that is done by executive director Phil Savage, who is a former NFL coach, scout and executive. He used to be the general manager of the Cleveland Browns and also served as Director of College Scouting and Director of Player Personnel for the Baltimore Ravens. Savage evaluates the players throughout the year, but also takes input from NFL teams. A first batch of invitations go out and as players either accept or decline their invites, more players are added. A few even get “promoted” from the East-West Shrine Game, which is a second-tier all-star game for seniors played the week before the Senior Bowl.
4. These aren’t the best players in the draft.
While there will be some very talented players in Mobile this week, the very best talent is elsewhere getting ready for February’s NFL Combine. That’s mainly because underclassmen aren’t invited to the Senior Bowl and top picks in the NFL Draft tend to be the younger, more talented kids that were able to leave school early. That doesn’t mean there aren’t first-round draft picks in Mobile, though. There’s usually a few guys already projected as first-rounders (Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr is one this year) as well as a handful of players who may earn a first-round draft grade with a strong performance this week.
5. NFL teams coach the players.
Each year, two NFL coaching staffs are put in charge of running the teams during the week. These are typically teams that don’t make the playoffs, but don’t have head coaching changes either. This year, the Atlanta Falcons’ coaching staff, led by head coach Mike Smith, will coach the North team, while the Jacksonville Jaguars’ coaching staff, led by head coach Gus Bradley, will coach the South team.
6. It starts with a weigh-in.
Before practices begin Monday afternoon, players are weighed on-stage in an auditorium full of scouts, agents, executives and media. This may sound tedious, but it’s important because it establishes an official early weight that teams will watch closely. Listed heights and weights are often adjusted by college teams and change during the season, so the Senior Bowl weigh-ins are more reliable.
7. Players will face the first of many job interviews.
For some, the Senior Bowl festivities started Saturday night when players could start checking in. There were informal NFL club interviews that night, for those who were already there. Monday night, more interviews will take place and these are of the formal variety. Teams can sit down with players they are interested in and start to get to know them. Skill and measurables matter, but some players can improve their draft stock dramatically over the next few months by impressing teams in these interviews. Interviews are held Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night during Senior Bowl week.
8. Some drills matter more than others.
As mentioned before, practice drills are set up in a way to test the individual skills of these players. Some are more important than others. By this point, scouts have seen the college tape and they might have specific concerns about a player’s technique or worry about the talent they faced on a weekly basis. Senior Bowl practices create 1-on-1 match-ups that can easily make a player stand out or expose them. The best drills to watch tend to be 1-on-1 line drills (offensive linemen vs defensive linemen) and 1-on-1 wide receiver-cornerback drills.
9. Position changes happen.
Many players come to Mobile having only played one position throughout their college career. Monday, they might be moved to a new position right from the start. This is common on the offensive line, where teams might question whether or not a guy is really good enough to play tackle at the NFL level. You’ll often see players switch between tackle and guard and guard and center throughout the week during practices and even in Saturday’s game.
10. This is only the start of a long process.
While some players will impress scouts this week and others will disappoint them, Senior Bowl week is not the end-all-be-all. As mentioned before, the top underclassmen aren’t even in Mobile, so a whole new set of challenges will emerge next month at the NFL Combine. The top players from the Senior Bowl may look less impressive once they are compared to the underclassmen in Combine drills, or they might validate their Senior Bowl performance by continuing to look in Indianapolis. Once the Combine is over, there are still months of training and individual visits to NFL team facilities across the country. This is an important week, but it’s just the start of a very long job interview.
You can read all of Hoge’s Senior Bowl Coverage Here.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.