In this edition of “Cover 3” on Giants.com, we discuss what to look for at this week’s Senior Bowl:
JOHN SCHMEELK: The Senior Bowl is the last chance to see many top draft prospects on a football field, wearing pads, doing football activities with full contact. It is the only chance many of us will get to see these players practicing and interacting with coaches. It is also the only opportunity to see how these prospects operate in a NFL scheme while being coached by NFL coaches. With the many differences between the college and pro games, this is still very significant.
The practices leading up to the game are the most important part of the week.
It is a great opportunity for players from smaller programs and conferences to get live reps against the high caliber athletes from the power conferences. Many times there are doubts about whether these players can transition their production from their lower level conference to the NFL, and the Senior Bowl gives them an opportunity to allay some of those fears against bigger and faster players than evaluators have seen them compete against on tape.
Evaluators will be watching to see how the players work in practice and interact with their coaches. How quickly can they properly execute in a brand new scheme? How do they respond to a coach being tough on them? Is their effort in practice where it needs to be? These are all things you can glean from watching practice at the Senior Bowl.
Photos of Giants who played in college football's annual showcase of top seniors declaring for the draft
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 2018. Baker Mayfield was in Mobile, Alabama, for the Senior Bowl and three months later became the No. 1 overall pick.
But this week is more than just the high-profile guys; that’s what the combine is for next month. Where would the Giants have been in 2018 without their Senior Bowlers? They drafted three of them: left guard Will Hernandez, defensive tackle B.J. Hill, and quarterback Kyle Lauletta, who was the game’s MVP last year.
Hernandez played every offensive snap and was named to the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team. Hill, meanwhile, set the franchise rookie sack record. Anyone watching the week of practices at Ladd–Peebles Stadium could see Hernandez dominating defensive linemen. The former UTEP Miner did it playing up a level of competition with NFL coaches in his ear. And that’s what the week is all about as the game is almost an afterthought.
In a lot of ways, it’s like the combine. At the end of the day, it’s a job interview. Unlike the Underwear Olympics, though, this one is in pads. Behind the scenes, teams interview players and get to put a face with what they’re seeing on tape.
And on a personal note, what I found great from our first trip there last year was we got to get ahead on some features that you’ll see nationally next month in Indianapolis. For example, at the Senior Bowl, we learned all about Shaquem Griffin, who had his hand amputated as a child and eventually went on to be drafted by Seattle, where he joined his twin brother. So it’s a good chance for fans to get to know these players and their often interesting backgrounds.
It just may not be as busy as last year when Pat Shurmur was hired that week and flew to Mobile, where he joined general manager Dave Gettleman before even giving his introductory press conference as the new head coach of the Giants.
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 at last year’s 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). The Giants wound up taking three players (Will Hernandez, B.J. Hill, Kyle Lauletta), who participated in the 2018 Senior Bowl. This event can easily raise the stock of players and confirm what was already put on tape during their collegiate careers.