Senior Bowl remains valuable to draft prospects

Associated Press photo by G.M. ANDREWSSouth Squad quarterback David Fales of San Jose State catches a ball during Senior Bowl practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on Thursday in Mobile, Ala.
Associated Press photo by G.M. ANDREWSSouth Squad quarterback David Fales of San Jose State catches a ball during Senior Bowl practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on Thursday in Mobile, Ala.

MOBILE, Ala. — Whether at the hotel headquarters or the practice fields, people at the Senior Bowl couldn’t walk far without hearing the complaint emanate from the mouths of fans, sportswriters and others milling around.

This college football all-star game would be much more prestigious if some of the record 102 underclassmen entering the NFL draft in May had been invited, they said, in effect.

Yet that kind of talk didn’t at all drag down the members of the Senior Bowl’s North and South teams, the NFL coaching staffs in charge of them for the game, or the plethora of pro scouts and executives interviewing the players.

There were draft stocks to be boosted leading up to and during the Senior Bowl, which kicks off at 3 p.m. at Ladd-Peebles Stadium and will be televised on the NFL Network. There were gems for NFL teams to find and vie for.

“We’re getting an opportunity that 30 other teams do not get, and that’s to interact with these players in different settings,” said Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith, whose staff prepared the seniors of the North team to face those from the South squad, under the tutelage of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“The media setting, watching tape, practice, riding the bus — you get a lot of information when you spend a lot of time together.”

A lot of time together: That’s what the seniors who agreed to play in the Senior Bowl also got, practicing in the daytime with and in front of coaches from all 32 NFL teams; and interviewing with those coaches’ most-trusted talent evaluators in the evening.

The Senior Bowl’s players valued that much more than the perceived prestige of the event that brought them to Mobile starting Sunday.

“Putting a face to all of the teams and getting to know them as well is a huge experience,” said San Jose State and South team quarterback David Fales, projected as a fourth-round pick by the website NFL Draft Scout. “It really makes it easy going into the rest of the (pre-draft) process.”

Following one practice at Ladd-Peebles this week, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Fales told a group of reporters that the NFL quarterback he most tries to emulate is the Saints’ Drew Brees. New Orleans General Manager Mickey Loomis, Director of Player Personnel Ryan Pace and a number of their colleagues had all attended that practice.

“It’s cool being able to showcase my abilities under that spotlight,” Fales said. “It’s an honor to be here.”

The week of the Senior Bowl didn’t end without serving up at least one sobering reminder about why some draft hopefuls opt out of participating in offseason all-star games. On Tuesday, Oklahoma defensive back Aaron Colvin — projected to be chosen in the first three rounds of the draft — tore an anterior cruciate ligament at practice, at the very minimum depriving him of the chance to improve his promising standing.

“No, I don’t know why it happened to me but it did and I know there’s a special reason for it,” the South squad’s Colvin wrote in a statement published on his Twitter account. “I can sit here and cry about it or I can move forward and work my butt off to still make it happen, which I will!”

But to those young men who assume the risk of playing in games such as the Senior Bowl and manage to avoid Colvin’s misfortune, the experience is unlike anything they were exposed to in their college careers, said Virginia tackle Morgan Moses, a first- or second-round prospect on the South team.

“It’s just learning different terminologies and a whole new offense in three or four days and coming out here and performing it on the ... field,” the 6-foot-6, 325-pound Moses said. “It’s been great being able to perform in front of all 32 teams and really showcase your talents and get better every day.”