The Senior Bowl is the biggest interview most of the players in attendance will have in their entire lives. Getting a chance to play alongside their peers, one play after another, against neutral and NFL-level talent is both a testing experience as well as a fantastic opportunity to separate oneself from the pack.
While NFL teams focus on the week of practice as they make their Senior Bowl evaluations, they all still watch the game live and then again on All-22 tape.
Last year, Ezekiel Ansah followed a mediocre week with a remarkably strong game, which helped pave the way for his selection at fifth overall.
Here's a recap of the biggest winners and losers of the 2014 Senior Bowl and what it means for their NFL futures.
Dee Ford said it best in his postgame interview with NFL Network, via Chase Goodbread of NFL.com: "I made a little money."
Ford earned the game's MVP award with two sacks and a pass breakup, routinely forcing the South quarterbacks off balance in the pocket. His game performance shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone who watched practice live or on NFL Network during the week.
Ford was easily the best outside pass-rusher throughout practices, consistently beating offensive tackles around the edge in one-on-one drills with remarkable speed, quickness and bend around the corner and then the counter rush inside to further frustrate his opposition.
Ford is still a 6'2", 240-pound edge-rusher who may not be an ideal fit for many 4-3 teams and may need some work in holding the edge in the run game. But if he can build on a very strong week in Mobile with impressive numbers during the Senior Bowl, he could hear his name called in the first round in the 2014 draft.
Logan Thomas is the ultimate frustration as a quarterback prospect. He possesses the ideal body type at 6'5", 250 pounds, with almost 11-inch hands (per Optimum Scouting's weigh-in results), a rocket arm and flashes of vertical and outside-the-hash throws that few quarterbacks can make as easily as he can.
But he's proved to be a poor decision-maker, inconsistent in his ball placement across the field and hasn't developed fundamentally the way many expected he would since his sophomore year in college.
Many NFL scouts were likely hoping he'd jump out during the game after a very hot-and-cold week, but he did just the opposite. Finishing 4-of-5 passing with just 17 yards and taking five sacks, Thomas showed that he's still a project with remarkable upside, not a quarterback with short-term benefit for an NFL team.
Still, don't expect him to fall much on draft day. It'd be a surprise if he didn't end up in the top 100 picks overall.
The Senior Bowl was ready and willing to embrace the NFL's recent interest in small-school players, with the official roster tally of non-FBS players in the game landing at 13. The best of the bunch during the game was Princeton product Caraun Reid.
Reid has had NFL interest the past two seasons, playing alongside 2013 seventh-rounder Mike Catapano as a junior, but he flew a bit under the radar during his senior campaign as teams keyed in and routinely double-teamed him this year.
Getting the chance to work as a one-on-one rusher in the week of practice and during the game quickly reminded evaluators what piqued their interest two seasons ago. Ending the game with two sacks and providing the pressure to force an interception, Reid made his case for a Day 2 pick in Mobile.
Entering the Senior Bowl, it seemed that a strong week could push Cyril Richardson into the first-round discussion.
Richardson had nothing of the sort.
Struggling against nearly every interior rusher he faced, Richardson's lack of lateral quickness was the main culprit of his one-on-one drill struggles, including being dominated by Aaron Donald twice in a row on Day 1.
He didn't do much to recover his value during the game, getting beat by quicker interior rushers more than once.
Richardson's issues stem from his lack of lateral footwork after initial contact. He's a tremendously powerful blocker, but he can't seem to exchange his feet after showing his hands off the snap. It's a concerning problem as an interior lineman, and teams will need to decide if it's coachable (making him a second-round option) or simply an issue with him athletically (likely pushing him to Day 3).
If Fresno State's Marcel Jensen didn't go down with an injury on the first day of Senior Bowl practice, Crockett Gillmore would've never received an invite to Mobile. After flashing during the Shrine Game practices the week before, Gillmore received the coveted call-up to the Senior Bowl, and he certainly maximized his opportunity.
After dominating as a blocker all week during practice, which is the best part of his game, Gillmore made the most of the game itself, ending as the South's leading receiving with five catches for 61 yards and a touchdown.
Gillmore doesn't have the vertical speed to threaten in the seam in the NFL and is a bit of a slow mover to be a run-after-catch pass-catcher, but when you combine his length, blocking ability and red-zone catching ability, it's clear there's a home for him in the NFL.
Stephen Morris is the epitome of a gun-slinging quarterback, and he fits the stereotype for all the wrong reasons. Possessing a tremendous arm regardless of his foot platform, Morris can almost literally throw the ball anywhere on the field.
The problem is, he's rarely on target with his receivers and, at times, is just as likely to throw an interception as he is to complete his pass. During the week of practice, Morris was erratic throughout the receiver route tree, tossing a handful of beautiful vertical throws and following them up with multiple off-target passes.
On game day, Morris followed through with his week-long struggles, completing 10 of 18 passes with two interceptions. Despite his impressive arm talent, he will struggle to get drafted. Morris needs to hope a team is willing to spend a late-round "flier" on him to make it in the league.
Chris Borland simply makes plays.
I hate to be general and cliche, but despite being undersized, showing on film that he struggles to get off blocks and lacking the elite athleticism to overcome those concerns, Borland manages to consistently be around the ball and force turnovers.
Borland was one of my "winners" each day in Mobile, and he finished a consistently impressive week with eight tackles and a forced fumble on game day.
Thanks to his size, Borland is likely best suited for a 3-4 defense, as he'll need big bodies in front of him and a bulkier linebacker next to him on the inside. But in that role, there's no reason the co-leader in career forced fumbles in FBS history can't continue his turnover-causing role in the NFL.
Entering the 2013 season, expectations were that Tajh Boyd would take the perceived "next step" as a passer and assume a first-round grade from evaluators. However, Boyd never really emerged during his senior season, and his ball placement and velocity didn't rise to the level needed to be an early-round pick.
During the week of practice, he was the most consistent of the North passers, but that's not saying much compared to his competition. His lack of velocity was clearly on display, and measuring in under 6'1" leads to some immediate question marks as to whether he can be an NFL starter.
In the game, Boyd finished 7-of-16 with an interception and didn't help his Senior Bowl evaluation at all. He'll still be drafted, and he'll likely win over teams as a leader and at the whiteboard. But he'll be a tough sell to coaches and general managers in the top 100 picks.
Get to know cornerback Pierre Desir.
Hailing from Division II Lindenwood, Desir is understandably not a household name yet. But after a strong Shrine Game performance followed by his tremendous efforts this week as a press cornerback, Desir ended his two-week breakout performance with two tackles and an interception, with only two passes thrown his way all game.
Desir is still a raw cornerback, needing ample work in his footwork in off coverage, the subtle hand use when working down the field and overall body positioning work vertically. But he's a plus athlete with the physicality and length to win as a press cornerback, and teams will look strongly into taking him on Day 2 of the draft. If he can build on these two weeks and run a sub-4.55 40-yard dash at the combine, the mid-second round isn't out of the question.
Jerick McKinnon was a surprise invite, as the Georgia Southern product comes from an option-based team that didn't allow him to show off normal read steps/burst from the backfield the rest of the top senior running backs showed on film.
While he flashed during the practice week at times, he didn't show the patience as a runner or the cutback confidence to be an immediate starter in the NFL. In the game, he was less than stellar, ending with five carries for 11 yards, most coming on a single seven-yard run, and a fumble.