The first major spectacle on the path to the 2014 NFL draft is the Senior Bowl, where the nation's top talents travel to Mobile, Ala., to compete against each other in practices the week before the actual game itself.
So far, a select few prospects have potentially made millions for themselves through strong showings in practice.
It is important to keep the week in context—it is but a small blip on the radar for NFL teams that are set to put these prospects through a barrage of events on the way to the draft.
That said, a prospect's ability to stand out against the best in Mobile is a great start. Several names have drastically increased their stock so far and can ride the momentum to a high selection in the upcoming draft.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska
In a high-profile class that includes names such as Darqueze Dennard, Justin Gilbert, Jason Verrett and others, it will be difficult for another cornerback to break through into the early rounds.
Nebraska's Stanley Jean-Baptiste is a candidate to do just that based on his strong performance in practices so far.
As Bleacher Report's Matt Miller details, Jean-Baptiste has had a strong enough week to warrant first-round consideration:
Liked Stanley Jean-Baptiste's film quite a bit. Issue was how athletic/fluid he was. This week he's shown well. Rd 1 pick wouldn't surprise— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 22, 2014
That is quite a jump for the 6'3", 220-pound defensive back, who is pegged as a third-round prospect over at CBS Sports.
There is no question Jean-Baptiste has the size and ability to succeed at the next level, so keep a close eye on him as he continues his breakout month.
Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame
Zack Martin has seen his stock steadily rise now that evaluators have had time to go back and watch his film, but what he is doing for himself at the Senior Bowl speaks for itself.
By all accounts, Martin has been nothing short of dominant. He is the best player at the event in the eyes of CBS Sports' Dane Brugler:
Zack Martin lining up at OG in some drills today and performing well. He's the best player here IMO #SeniorBowl— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) January 21, 2014
Offensive tackle is another ridiculously deep position in 2014, so it helps that big names such as NFL Network's Mike Mayock see Martin as a fit at all five spots on the offensive line:
While lofty praise, Martin is in the midst of a monster offseason thus far and is clearly a first-round talent. His current path only helps to solidify that notion.
Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
Dee Ford is not necessarily a household name at this point despite his 10.5 sacks and 17 hurries as the top defender on Auburn's BCS runner-up team last year, but that is changing quickly at the Senior Bowl.
Ford now has national attention thanks to his elite speed off the edge. Since the bowl prohibits blitzes, Ford has put his hand in the dirt and blown offensive tackles away. Mayock is one of many who have praised Ford's performance so far, via NFL.com's Chase Goodbread:
[Ford] has had about as good a week as any edge rusher could expect to have. I think the 3-4 outside linebacker teams are salivating over him. He's not as long as you would like, but his quickness off the edge is exquisite. I'd love to see an offensive lineman finally get up and block him this week.
Miller was another name to point out Ford's big practices:
Dee Ford is crazy fast, but he's a lot more than that too. Love his awareness and how he uses his arms to frustrate the QB— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 22, 2014
Ford has put together a few outings now that, if he can keep this level of play throughout the path to the draft, will firmly plant him in the first round.
Charles Sims, RB, West Virginia
Running back continues to fade from the NFL draft spotlight as its overall importance at the pro level deteriorates. Late-round picks consistently find success in the committee approach that has swept the league, so underrated prospects breaking out at the Senior Bowl are becoming rarer.
Don't tell that to Charles Sims, though.
The West Virginia product has exploded onto the scene with strong practices. While only the recipient of a third-round grade at CBS Sports, Sims has put together a few days that have instantly boosted his stock.
Bleacher Report's Matt Bowen believes Sims stands out the most thanks to his versatility:
The first thing that jumps out with Sims is his route-running ability. He is smooth at the top of the stem and showed some speed coming out of his cuts to work away from the defender’s leverage. Think of the basic option route out of the backfield, angle, quick flat, etc. to set up linebackers and safeties at the next level.
ESPN's Cecil Lammey, another spectator in Mobile, compares what he sees from Sims to that of Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte:
Love what I saw from Charles Sims 2day, good receiver, high knees runner, foot frequency, text from NFL executive says "reminds me of Forte"— Cecil Lammey (@cecillammey) January 20, 2014
With no running back truly leading the pack in draft circles, Sims now has momentum to be the first back off the board if he can stay healthy and keep up this level of play.