The player who will ultimately be selected with No. 25 overall pick belonging to the San Diego Chargers may be preparing himself in Mobile, Ala. this week at the 2014 Reese's Senior Bowl.
D.J. Fluker participated in last year's installment of the Senior Bowl as a member of the South team, and he ended up going No. 11 overall to the Chargers. On top of starting 15 games for San Diego as a rookie, the University of Alabama product was named to the PFWA All-Rookie Team and established himself as a cornerstone on the offensive line.
With a week's worth of practices and interviews leading up to the actual game on Saturday, San Diego's representatives will have plenty of time to scout and get to know the players participating in this year's game. Like the rest of the league, the Chargers will be looking for the next crop of pro-ready talent to come out of the Senior Bowl, which has a rich history of featuring some of the NFL's future stars.
In preparation for Saturday's contest, here's a look at some of the things San Diego should be keeping an eye on in terms of player buzz and practice notes.
With how loosely player comparisons are tossed around these days, its not surprising to hear a new one being put on the table at the Senior Bowl.
We've moved on from the Wes Welker slot receiver (somewhat) and have been introduced to the newest scout creation—the Richard Sherman cornerback. Long, athletic corners are the new fad in the NFL thanks to the star-like qualities of the Seattle Seahawks defender.
Finding a player with Sherman's lock-down capability and 6'3" stature won't come easy, though. There are at least four Senior Bowl corners pushing 6'2" and above, but there's plenty of work ahead of them before they start matching up with the likes of Calvin Johnson on Sundays.
The Chargers are in need of help in the secondary, and a lengthy corner wouldn't hurt. Derek Cox and Crezdon Butler are the tallest corners on the San Diego roster at 6'1", but neither managed to play much in 2013.
Some of the top corners the draft has to offer are not in Mobile this week, but getting a look at some possible Day 2 and 3 prospects can only be a plus.
Auburn's Dee Ford has been one of the most talked about prospects during the week and is one of the few players having consistent practices.
Ford wowed the crowd in Mobile with an explosive pass rush and speed off the edge. NFL.com's Bucky Brooks noted that Ford has done so well in practice that he could easily be considered among this year's class of top pass-rushers:
Ford has been one of the stars of the week, according to several scouts I spoke with on the practice field. Evaluators have been impressed with his first-step quickness and burst in pass-rush drills.
Pass-rusher is just one of the lingering needs for San Diego heading into next season. The Chargers had one of the worst passing defenses, thanks in large part to a front seven that couldn't generate pressure in the backfield. Dwight Freeney was supposed to fill that need, but he suffered a season-ending injury, and Melvin Ingram was gone for almost the entire year hwile dealing with his own major injury.
Around this time last year, San Diego was in search of its franchise offensive tackle, which they presumably found in D.J. Fluker.
The offensive line made big strides in 2013, but there were still issues along the interior. Chad Rinehart succumbed to injury early last season and ended up starting just 10 games, while Jeromey Clary followed suit with his own injuries in the latter part of the year, including the Chargers divisional-round matchup with the Denver Broncos.
An upgrade inside at the guard position would be a welcomed addition, whether or not Rinehart and Clary are still Chargers in 2014. The Senior Bowl features some ready-made starters as well as developmental prospects that could be waiting in the wings.
Keenan Allen had himself quite the rookie year with the Chargers—and to think he was just a third-round pick is unreal.
With so much attention being paid to the secondary in this year's draft, people tend to forget that Allen is the lone receiver on the Chargers roster who is guaranteed to make plays next season. Danario Alexander's future is still in limbo after undergoing his fifth knee surgery, and per Dan Hanzus of NFL.com, Malcom Floyd's career may be over after sustaining a severe neck injury last season.
Those injuries could potentially make Allen and Vincent Brown San Diego's starting receivers next season. Mobile is hosting some very talented receivers this week, though, and one of them could very well be the next breakout star to come from Day 2 or 3 of the draft.
Names to keep an eye on include Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews, who had one of the most productive seasons in college football among wideouts, and Wyoming's Robert Herron, who has impressed scouts in practice this week, per Mike Vorel of the Wyoming Star-Tribune.
One of the most entertaining drills on display during this week's practices has been the one-on-ones with the offensive and defensive linemen.
The hard-nosed, gritty battles featured on the NFL Network's broadcast are a joy to watch from a viewer's standpoint, but the players are benefiting from the spotlight as well.
Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald has been arguably the most hyped-up prospect during the week, and for good reason. Along with his punishing one-on-one work, Donald has even been compared by NFL.com's Bucky Brooks to Geno Atkins, the Cincinnati Bengals' perennial Pro Bowl defensive tackle. The word on Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman has also been positive.
The defensive line may not be at the top of the list for San Diego in regards to draft needs, but the level of talent at the defensive line in Mobile is hard to pass up. Sean Lissemore and Kwame Geathers are the only defensive tackles returning for John Pagano in 2014, and the verdict is still out on unrestricted free agent Cam Thomas.