The Senior Bowl isn’t the only pre-draft event that matters, but it certainly makes a huge difference for a large number of NFL hopefuls.
A total of 82 Senior Bowl players were selected in the 2012 NFL draft, including eight first-round picks. Since 1999, 152 first-rounders and 1,212 total players that have been drafted previously attended the Senior Bowl (via SeniorBowl.com).
Scouts and other personnel from every NFL team travel to Mobile, Alabama every year to get an up-close look at some of the top college seniors in the country. The week of interviews and practices gives them an opportunity to get a feel for the players they may want to draft in April.
As with any pre-draft event, there are players at the Senior Bowl who will undoubtedly stand out from the crowd. Some of the already have.
Thursday is the final day of practice before Friday’s walk-through and the Under Armour Senior Bowl game on Saturday. With three full days of practices in the books, we’ll take a look at some of the top players who have shown first-round potential this week in Mobile.
Eric Fisher: OT, Central Michigan
This year’s offensive tackle class was supposed to be loaded with talent from top to bottom. Potential first-rounders Taylor Lewan and Jake Matthews decided to return to school, though, shaking up the top of the offensive tackle rankings.
Fisher stands to gain the most from the lack of sure-fire offensive tackles this year, and he’s done everything he can this week to prove he is worthy of a high selection in the draft.
Bleacher Report’s own Matt Miller was impressed with what he saw from Fisher in practice this week:
Eric Fisher is owning people. I'm sold.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 22, 2013
Fisher has prototypical size for the left tackle position, and he also possesses a great blend of athleticism and strength. Miller believes Fisher has solidified himself as a high first-round selection:
Starting to think it goes Luke Joeckel at 1, Eric Fisher at 7, Lane Johnson at 12. Left tackles are going to go fast. #NFLDraft— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 24, 2013
Lane Johnson: OT, Oklahoma
Another impressive NFL left tackle candidate, Johnson has shown he has the ability and exceptional footwork to be a quality lineman at the next level. Miller feels he has shown enough this week to be a top-20 pick in April:
Lane Johnson looks like a top 20 tackle to me. Athletic. Room to grow. Elite feet.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 23, 2013
Johnson’s athleticism partially stems from the fact that he came to college as a tight end. He made the move to offensive tackle and added some weight, but he didn’t lose his quickness and athleticism.
There are several teams that will be looking for a franchise left tackle in the draft this year. That lost could include the Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals and San Diego Chargers—all teams selecting in the first 11 picks of the draft.
Johnson will probably be the third offensive tackle off the board, and it’s due in large part to his impressive showing during practice this week.
Ezekiel Ansah: DE, BYU
Ansah is the type of hybrid edge-rusher NFL teams covet. He has quickness, athleticism and an innate ability to get into the backfield.
NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks stated at the beginning of the week that if Ansah could perform well during Senior Bowl week, he could cement himself as a first-round pick. According to Brooks, “comparisons to Jason Pierre-Paul have been flying off the tongues of evaluators.”
That’s a flattering comparison for any young player, and Ansah certainly looks to part. The former track star is athletic and explosive, and he’ll likely be a first-round selection this year.
Tyler Wilson: QB, Arkansas
The top of the quarterback class is a logjam. Geno Smith and Matt Barkley declined their invitations to the Senior Bowl, leaving a handful of NFL hopefuls with a lot to gain.
None have particularly stood out, but Dave Richard of NFLDraftScout.com feels that Wilson is leading the group of signal-callers in Mobile. He also believes Wilson has been the most consistent of all quarterbacks in practice, and has the best mechanics of the group as well.
There is never a shortage of NFL teams in need of a quarterback, and Wilson may have done enough this week to secure a first-round grade when all is said and done.
Alex Okafor: DE, Texas
Okafor put up terrific numbers during his senior season at Texas, yet he came to Mobile somewhat under the radar. He really stood out in practice, though.
According to NFLDraftScout.com’s Rob Rang, Okafor has shown good quickness and initial burst, and consistently beat the North’s offensive linemen during practice.
Rang also quote Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer as saying:
"I like the size and athletic ability of the North defensive line. A couple of the outside pass rushers have played particularly well."
Okafor has looked good, and he may have already done enough to prove to NFL scouts he is worthy of a high selection in April’s draft.