Much of the early speculation from a college football perspective when it comes to the NFL draft is which underclassmen will take their talents to the professional ranks and which will opt for another year of hitting the books in between practices.
Now that all the young kids have made up their minds one way or the other, it’s time for the seniors to take center stage.
The 2014 Senior Bowl will take place at 4 p.m. ET on NFL Network Saturday, Jan. 25 in Mobile, Ala. In theory, it’s supposed to be a chance for the game’s best college seniors to showcase their impressive talents in front of NFL general managers, but as Chase Goodbread of NFL.com points out, this year’s talent pool is a bit diluted:
A combination of factors contributed to the absence of more potential first-round picks at the Senior Bowl this year. Along with roughly 20 players who declined invitations because of injuries, and another nine healthy scratches who simply didn't believe they had much to gain by participating, the pool of seniors was further diluted by last year's record 73 underclassmen entering the draft early. That record was shattered 12 months later, with 98 underclassmen declaring for 2014.
While this year’s version may be lacking a bit in quality compared to past seasons, that doesn’t mean there won’t be players boosting their stock with impressive performances. Let’s talk about a few of them who will do just that.
Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech
As the NFL continues to make life more and more difficult for cornerbacks and safeties with various rule changes, the pass rush has become more important than ever.
Teams know that and will put even more value on dangerous pass-rushers in the upcoming draft. When Clemson’s Vic Beasley decided to return to school, he opened the door for other defensive ends to move up the draft board, including Georgia Tech’s Jeremiah Attaochu.
Attaochu was an absolute force for the Yellow Jackets and posted multiple-sack games against Virginia, Pittsburgh, Clemson and Georgia. In fact, against the archrival Bulldogs, Attaochu tallied an incredible four sacks.
A solid performance at the Senior Bowl will only solidify Attaochu’s chances of being an early-round pick.
Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
In the history of the storied SEC, no single player has ever totaled more catches and receiving yards than Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews.
That’s right, a Vanderbilt player has more catches and yards than any wide receiver who ever played at Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee or LSU.
Matthews will shoot up draft boards at the Senior Bowl because scouts will finally get a chance to study him closely. It’s not much of a stretch to say the Commodores weren’t given the national exposure that their SEC brethren were this year, so Matthews may not be on everyone’s radar at the moment.
Just wait until he has even more talented quarterbacks throwing him the ball in Mobile.
He has already impressed during practices, as Jamie Newberg of Scout.com points out:
The wide receiver position is crowded in the upcoming draft, with Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, USC’s Marqise Lee, Texas A&M’s Mike Evans and Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks all being possible first-round picks.
If Matthews puts up the type of numbers he has all season long at the Senior Bowl, he could be joining those pass-catchers as an early pick.
Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois
Jimmy Garoppolo was the most impressive quarterback at the East-West Shrine Game and will look to continue his momentum at the Senior Bowl.
The Eastern Illinois product has a quick release and impressive pocket presence. He also has athleticism to match his strong arm, but the only real question mark is whether he can put up gaudy stats against the elite defenses he will face in the NFL, seeing as he is from Eastern Illinois.
That is why the Senior Bowl (and his great performance at the East-West Shrine Game) is so important to Garoppolo’s draft stock.
He will be going against a collection of collegiate all-stars, most of whom played in BCS conferences, and has a golden opportunity to prove himself against improved competition. Look for him to do just that after a solid week of practice.