A wild Senior Bowl is in the books after the nation's best four-year players convened in Mobile, Ala., for the start of a lengthy process that serves as the biggest job interview of their lives.
While most scouts make the trip to see the prospects compete against each other in practice, the game itself holds some value, too.
Like every year, the bowl will produce a few names who were previously known but not locks to go high in the draft. Unfortunately, the new collective bargaining agreement that locks rookies into contracts has resulted in more underclassmen declaring than ever, so the talent pool at the annual spectacle has dwindled.
The amount of players who can sneak into the first round is significantly lower than in recent years, but a few players still managed to put together strong performances that will move them up boards.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt standout wide receiver Jordan Matthews had himself quite the week at the Senior Bowl, a process he entered as a fringe first-round pick in the minds of many.
Go ahead and scratch a first-round grade next to Matthews' name—in permanent marker.
Things started great for Matthews as he stood out above most according to NFL Network's Charles Davis, via NFL.com's Chase Goodbread:
He will go into the briar patch, take his hits and keep on ticking. I never worry about that part with him. Obviously, people are going to want to know what he runs (at the combine). All in all, I think he's a big-time prospect. Let's face it: How many quarterbacks threw to him at Vanderbilt? Try to name them all. Yet everyone knew he was coming each week in the SEC.
Matthews followed this strong showing up with two catches for 38 yards in the big game, which was a sound tally considering eight different receivers caught a pass.
What scouts saw in Matthews is a big-bodied wideout at 6'3" and 206 pounds who has a game that translates well to the pro level right off the bat. He did not need the help, but Matthews' stock got a boost.
David Fales, QB, San Jose State
After a year in which he threw for 4,189 yards, 33 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, David Fales still finds himself in a battle to keep up with names such as Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel, not to mention his South teammate at the Senior Bowl, Derek Carr.
Fales outclassed Carr for a second time in the past few months, as he threw for 104 yards and a touchdown, while Carr only managed 45 yards and a score.
Note this is the second time because Fales also threw for a whopping 547 yards and six touchdowns to lead San Jose State over Carr's then-No. 16 Fresno State 62-52 at the end of the collegiate season.
As Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel points out, Fales impressed many with his outing:
And for the record, I left the Senior Bowl impressed the most with San Jose State QB David Fales. But the South QBs are all good.— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) January 24, 2014
Fales is back in the discussion as a potential first-round pick and has established a degree of momentum he can parlay into bigger performances to further boost his stock in the coming months.
Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
Let's allow Auburn's Dee Ford to do the talking after his week at the Senior Bowl, per NFL.com on Twitter:
The star defensive end is being quite modest in his personal stock assessment.
Ford made millions in hard cash at the Senior Bowl. He was a big name in practices all week, but Ford exploded in the game itself with two sacks and a pass deflection.
The performance earned Ford the MVP award, but the praise did not end there. CBS Sports' Rob Rang listed him as No. 1 in players who most helped themselves:
Ford impressed with a chiseled build at 6-foot-2, 243 pounds during the weigh-in and was virtually unstoppable off the edge during the practices, showing burst, bend and closing speed. He was the most dynamic player on the field during the game, recording two sacks and timing a leap to knock down a pass to earn MVP honors. Ford's dominant week boosted his stock at least a full round and could result in a top 32 selection.
Pass-rushers are a big commodity at the pro level thanks to an offensive-minded league, and Ford is versatile enough to put his hand in the dirt or stand up and rush.
Ford just majorly helped himself stand out in a stacked class.
Note: All statistics courtesy of the bowl's official website.