John Schmeelk: This will be my third season at the Senior Bowl and I think I have a better feel for what to look for than the last couple of years I've been there. As someone who isn't able to watch much college football during the season, let alone see players in person, this is my first exposure to the players I haven't found the time to watch on tape before making it out to Mobile.
The first thing I use is the eye test. I have a pretty good feel for what NFL players at certain positions look like on the field. This includes what they look like in terms of physical stature, how they move, their technique and the type of ferocity they play with. A player like Will Hernandez immediately jumped out to me two years ago as someone that looked like a NFL player.
The competition is the other part I look at. One on one drills are designed to give the advantage to the receivers against the cornerback. If cornerbacks are able to hang with receivers and shut them down in practice, it is a huge checkmark in their column. Likewise, if a wide receiver is constantly able to create separation and get open in one on ones they will probably be hard to cover one on one in the NFL. When I look at receivers it is all about separation created by quickness, speed and precise route running.
For one on ones between defensive and offensive linemen, the advantage is with the pass rusher. If offensive tackles are able to hold their own against the top edge rushers in attendance, it is a noticeable. For the pass rushers, it's easy to see what guys have the traits and explosion of NFL pass rushers. They can win with speed, bend, power or violent hands.
It's also fun to watch the small-school guys get to go up against power conference players. Playing in their smaller conferences and programs, they are often the best athlete on the field but that isn't the case in Mobile.
The final lesson I learned is to not judge the quarterbacks on how they do the first day of practice. If I only saw Daniel Jones on the first day of practice on Mobile last year, I would have thought he was a day three player. It takes quarterbacks time to learn their wide receivers and the offenses the NFL coaching staffs are having them learn in a short period of time. By the end of the week Jones looked much more like himself. The first day I always focus on the big people and then attack the skill position players on the next couple of days.
Dan Salomone: College football is not like basketball where if you stay longer than a year, people will ask, "What is wrong with him?" Just look at the talent. Last year, the Senior Bowl tallied 10 first-round draft picks, starting with some Duke quarterback named Daniel Jones, who was named the all-star game's MVP. He went on to set every Giants rookie passing record and came up just three touchdowns short of Baker Mayfield's league record. And guess what? Mayfield was also a Senior Bowler.
So it's safe to say this week is pretty important. General managers, coaches and their staffs wouldn't travel to Mobile, Alabama, in the middle of winter if it was not. What I look for down here is just getting a feel for the this year's class. This is when the draft season really begins. You get to know the prospects and their stories, and that's just from media day. Clubs get to dive much deeper into them with formal interviews and psychological testing this week.
The Giants once again have a potential franchise-changing pick in the draft. They currently hold the fourth overall selection, and even if that player is not here this week because he is an underclassmen, there is a good chance they will fill other key holes with Senior Bowlers. You can find the lifeblood of your roster down here.
Lance Medow: The two biggest events leading up to the NFL Draft are the Senior Bowl and the Scouting Combine and they can't be more different. While the latter is overhyped because of measurements, the former provides so much more substance in terms of evaluating talent, especially since you actually see players in pads competing in football drills.
The most appealing aspect of the Senior Bowl is that it's a great way to evaluate talent in as close to a professional setting as possible. The game itself may be fun to watch, but the buildup to the game is far more important because it's similar to a typical NFL week of practice. Yes, you're looking for players who will deliver on the field during games, but it's also important to observe practice habits and get a better sense of a prospect's work ethic. Those are the elements that are difficult to judge at the Scouting Combine given players are running around in shirts and shorts. During the course of the week, the players are also being guided by NFL coaching staffs, which is beneficial not just for the players but also scouts and front office members observing the process.
The Senior Bowl showcases the most experienced players in college football, so this is another way to tell how much the collegiate resume compares to others across the landscape. It's also a great way to find some players from smaller programs who may have fallen under the radar. Case in point, linebacker Darius Leonard out of South Carolina State shined in the 2018 Senior Bowl and was named First-Team All-Pro after an impressive rookie campaign with the Colts. Same can be said for Saints wide receiver Tre-Quan Smith (Central Florida), New Orleans defensive end Marcus Davenport (UTSA), Niners linebacker Fred Warner (BYU) and Cowboys wideout Michael Gallup (Colorado State). Last year, Cardinals wide receiver Andy Isabella (UMass) comes to mind.
Over the last two drafts, the Giants have selected five players that took part in the Senior Bowl. In 2018, it was Will Hernandez, B.J. Hill and Kyle Lauletta) and last year Daniel Jones and Oshane Ximines. Jones wasn't the only standout from the 2019 Senior Bowl. Jaguars signal caller Gardner Minshew, Broncos quarterback Drew Lock and Niners wide receiver Deebo Samuel all helped their causes and translated that success to the NFL. This event can easily raise the stock of players and confirm what was already put on tape during their collegiate careers.