With the 2012 Senior Bowl getting ready to kick off, let's take a look at 15 prospects to watch particularly closely in this game.
There are a number of reasons to watch these players. The 2012 NFL draft is coming up fast, and the Senior Bowl will be one of the first opportunities for these seniors to impress NFL scouts. Beyond that, some players are exciting enough that they are worth keeping a close eye on any time.
But which prospects will stand out? Keep your eye on these guys.
Vinny Curry is a 6'4", 260 pound defensive end that racked up 77 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, 11 sacks and seven forced fumbles for the Thundering Herd as a senior. Based on his size and numbers, he'll likely end up at outside linebacker in a 3-4 system in the NFL.
Curry was by far the best player on a mediocre team in an unimpressive conference, but his production is impressive nonetheless. He could really improve his draft stock by standing out at the Senior Bowl, as it would show scouts that he can still produce against the NCAA's best players.
Lavonte David was a tackling machine during his two years at Nebraska, racking up 285 of them and breaking Nebraska's single season tackles record as a junior with 152. He was also an outstanding blitzer, and proved to be adept at forcing turnovers.
At just 6'1" and 225 pounds, David's size is the biggest thing hindering him from being a first-rounder. However, he makes up for it with outstanding instincts and impressive speed.
David could work his way into early-second round consideration with a great performance at the Senior Bowl. Either way, he's a treat to watch.
Kellen Moore had an illustrious career with the Boise State Broncos and holds the NCAA record for career wins at an unprecedented 50-3.
Moore's small size, however, really hinders his chances in the NFL. Though his 6'0" height is small, the bigger concern is his weight. At just 191 pounds, he may not be able to withstand the heavier beating he will be subjected to in the NFL.
With that being said, Moore's stats (3,800 passing yards, 43 touchdowns, nine interceptions as a senior) speak for themselves, and with a great performance at the Senior Bowl, there could be someone who will want to take an early-round shot on him.
Kelechi Osemele has gotten some publicity in the past and even made Sports Illustrated's first-team All-America team, but since he plays for Iowa State, he doesn't get much time on television. The Senior Bowl will be a great chance for him to showcase his skills.
Osemele will likely be a Day 2 prospect no matter what, but with a good showing, he might be able to hike his stock up to the top of the second round.
Chris Polk had an outstanding year for the Huskies, recording 1,488 yards and 12 touchdowns on 293 carries, and he has gotten some love from analysts.
However, when first-round backs are mentioned, most people will talk about Trent Richardson, Lamar Miller and David Wilson. I think Polk is flying under the radar right now, and if he turns heads at the Senior Bowl, he might rocket up to No. 2 behind Richardson in many people's eyes.
DeVier Posey had a couple of solid seasons for the Buckeyes, but his senior season was marred by scandal and he never lived up to his 5-star billing out of high school.
He caught just 12 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns in five games this past season, but everyone knows of his potential from his strong junior season, so with a great showing at the Senior Bowl, he could move up fast on draft boards.
Besides, Posey is an explosive player and can be fun to watch when he's getting the ball thrown his way.
After being released from NC State to pursue a baseball career and then deciding to play his final year of eligibility at Wisconsin, Wilson threw for 3,175 yards, 33 touchdowns and four interceptions, and led the Badgers to the Rose Bowl.
The biggest knock on Wilson is his size. Though he is listed at just 5'11", some have said he's not even that tall.
However, he never seemed to have much trouble throwing over Wisconsin's huge offensive line, so with a good showing at the Senior Bowl he could move up boards very quickly. I, for one, would take Wilson over some of the second-tier quarterback prospects behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin.
Jake Bequette is a 6'5", 270-pound defensive end that recorded 28 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and five forced fumbles for the Razorbacks as a senior. He doesn't have elite athleticism, but he makes up for it with toughness and a high motor.
Bequette got some publicity towards the end of last year, but I haven't heard his name much this season. If he can stand out at the Senior Bowl, he could get some more attention and really help his draft stock out.
Quinton Coples came into this season with a ton of hype as a top 5 overall prospect, and though he didn't produce as highly as some thought he would, he will still be a first-round draft pick.
Coples is a 6'6", 285 pound monster that collected 55 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks as a senior, which followed a 10-sack junior performance.
Coples is one of this year's elite prospects and should be fun to watch no matter what, but a dominating performance could elevate him into top 5 consideration once again.
Juron Criner is a 6'4", 215-pound receiver that was one of the top receiver prospects in the nation coming into this season, but despite catching 75 passes for 956 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior, he seems to have been forgotten or overlooked by many as a high draft pick.
Part of that has had to do with a little bit of a drop-off in production between his junior and senior seasons, but a head-turning performance at the Senior Bowl could quickly change the popular sentiment on his draft range.
Another one of this year's elite prospects, Melvin Ingram is a mid-first round prospect that could end up going in the top 12 with a great Senior Bowl.
The 6'2", 275-pounder had 48 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 10 sacks as a senior and anchored what was one of the best defensive lines in the nation as a senior. Ingram is definitely worth keeping an eye on today.
Janoris Jenkins is a supremely talented player who started his career with the Florida Gators before getting kicked off the team for three arrests in less than a two-year period.
Jenkins finished his career at North Alabama, and with a great Senior Bowl showing, he could solidify his status as a first-rounder.
It's worth watching how well he does against top competition since he is now used to playing North Alabama's level of opponents rather than Florida's.
Zebrie Sanders is a fringe first-round prospect that has had a nice year for Florida State despite the Seminoles' disappointing finish.
Sanders could get late first-round consideration with a solid performance.
Brandon Taylor recorded 71 tackles, two picks and 7.5 tackles for loss for the nation's best secondary in 2011, but whether Taylor can maintain that production without all that talent surrounding him remains to be seen.
The Senior Bowl may not be the best event to determine that, but it will be interesting to see how he performs with players that he's not used to playing with. If he does well, his stock will should improve significantly.
Courtney Upshaw had a great season for college football's best defense this past season, totaling 52 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. He even returned an interception for a touchdown.
Upshaw is definitely a first-round prospect, but there's a lot of debate about what range he belongs in. His Senior Bowl performance might go a long way in determining whether he's a top 15 prospect or just a top 32 prospect.