A look ahead to the Senior Bowl – Increased importance with NFL Combine gone

Najee Harris of the Alabama Crimson Tide
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Ricky Dimon

NFL· 8 months ago

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Since graduating from Davidson (The College That Stephen Curry Built), I have been writing about sports--just about any and all you can think of!--and coaching tennis in Atlanta, Ga. Beyond the four major sports, I am an avid tennis fan and cover the ATP Tour on a daily basis. If I'm not busy writing, you can generally find me on a tennis court or traveling the world wherever a sporting event takes me.

The Senior Bowl—the annual showcase for college football seniors who are preparing for life in the NFL—rarely moves the needle in the world of sports.

That could change in 2021.

A lot of things are different these days, and the importance of the Senior Bowl is one of them. The much more prestigious NFL Combine is temporarily gone, a casualty of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. That means the Senior Bowl is really the best opportunity for soon-to-be college graduates to make an impression on NFL teams. In past years, they could make up for poor performances in Mobile, Ala. by picking up the pace at the combine. This time around, there is no combine safety net. Yes, pro days are still going to happen—but without the combine, the Senior Bowl will be much more of a game-changer than usual.

First-hand look for Dolphins, Panthers

Seniors always want to put their best foot forward at this event, and that will be true to an even greater extent in 2021. Two NFL teams who could benefit from a sneak peek at what these future pros have to offer are the Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers. Miami’s coaching staff is in charge of the National team at the Senior Bowl, while Carolina’s coaches will lead the American squad. The opportunity to coach at this showcase is generally given to NFL teams in order of draft pick, but the worst teams in the league (the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets) declined and therefore left the spoils to the Dolphins (owners to the No. 3 overall pick) and Panthers (owners of the No. 8 overall pick).

Miami has four picks in the top 50 of the upcoming draft, so in all likelihood it will be selecting at least one senior if not more. Head coach Brian Flores will be laser-focused on everyone in Mobile—and nobody more than Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith. A whole host of mock drafts currently have Smith going to the Dolphins at No. 3 to be reunited with former Crimson Tide teammate Tua Tagovailoa. Heck, they weren’t just teammates; Tagovailoa connected with Smith for the national championship-winning touchdown in overtime against Georgia three years ago.

Devonta Smith of the Alabama Crimson Tide

Carolina could be in the market for a quarterback at No. 8. Most of the top QBs in this class are underclassmen, but some seniors will be in the mix in round two and beyond. Among them are Kyle Trask, Kellen Mond, Jamie Newman, and Feleipe Franks. If the Panthers address the defensive side of the ball or perhaps go with an offensive lineman in the first round, they could take a senior signal-caller later in the draft.

Smith and others just there for interviews

Smith won’t be playing in the game or even working out; he is just there for face-to-face interviews that won’t happen later in the spring because of Covid health and safety protocols. NFL teams know what he can do on the field, anyway. Interviews may tell them more. The same goes for Trask and Alabama running back Najee Harris, who are not partaking in football activities this weekend.

No one is going to talk their way into being the No. 1 pick; Clemson junior QB Trevor Lawrence is an overwhelming -5000 favorite. But they could cement their places near the top of the first round.

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