The Senior Bowl, whose 2012 installment kicks off later today, has gotten a bad rap in recent years as a second-class event. The tendency for underclassmen to dominate the opening rounds of the draft has meant that a lack of top prospects turns fans away from even the best of the postseason showcase games.
The obvious alternative for draftniks is next month’s scouting combine, which is a safe bet to feature junior superstars such as Alabama’s Trent Richardson and Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon. Despite the impressive talent on display, though, the combine has a lot of disadvantages when compared to the Senior Bowl.
The most obvious and biggest, is that many football skills simply can’t be measured efficiently under any conditions other than in an actual game. A defensive lineman may put up jaw-dropping numbers in the weight room, but if he can’t translate that strength into an ability to tackle opposing runners then it won’t do him much good in the NFL (see Mamula, Mike).
Another issue with the combine, most often cited with wide receivers, is that speed on a track doesn’t always equal speed on the football field. Players whose so-called “football speed” is much better than their 40-yard dash time (and there are some in every draft class) will inevitably be shortchanged by the combine results, but will make a bigger—and more accurate—impression in a game such as the Senior Bowl.
For quarterbacks in particular, the Senior Bowl offers another vital opportunity that won’t come across in a combine situation: the chance to prove that they can learn a new offense quickly. Even as simplified as the playbooks necessarily are in an all-star situation, a QB who can adapt to the new terminology and new personnel quickly will gain a valuable advantage over his draft classmates.
The most accurate read on a draft prospect, of course, comes from the amalgamation of all the available data: the combine, the Senior Bowl, actual college performance, etc. However, as an individual component of that portfolio, the Senior Bowl shouldn’t be underrated as a chance to see prospects in game action against draft-caliber competition.