A handful of postseason all-star games already have been played, including the East-West Shrine Game and the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl this past weekend, but the Senior Bowl stands out as the one that brings out the best senior prospects.
“We have an affiliation with the NFL, so we have two real live NFL (coaching) staffs, so that sets up apart from the other all-star games,” said Phil Savage, the executive director of the Senior Bowl and a former general manager for the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns. “And then the second thing is just the fact that there’s been stability here in Mobile. It’s the 67th annual game. The first one was actually in Jacksonville. The last 65 have been here. The local support, we’ll have anywhere from 38, 39, 40,000 people there next Saturday; there’s not another community in the country that would support a college all-star game like this one.”
The Dolphins contingent at the Senior Bowl this year will be led by Executive Vice President of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum and new general manager Chris Grier. Ironically, Tannenbaum represented Savage when he worked as an agent before joining the Dolphins as a consultant in August 2014.
The Dolphins and the other teams in the NFL will be evaluating a 2016 Senior Bowl talent pool that Savage described as “solid.”
“I think this senior class is actually deeper than maybe last year’s group,” Savage said. “In last year’s practice week, we struggled at times to fill out the roster in terms of what we thought would be quality players. This year our rosters have held pretty firm. We did have several guys that decided not to play. A couple obviously had injuries coming out of the season and they’re just not quite 100 percent, but by and large I really am interested to see this quarterback group, I think our defensive line position group is really strong. I think there’s a lot of first- and second-rounders in this defensive tackle and defensive end position group.”
Among the eight quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl will be those who won the 2015 national championship at the FBS and FCS levels, Jake Coker of the University of Alabama and Carson Wentz from North Dakota State.
The list of highly touted defensive line prospects at the Senior Bowl, according to Savage, will be headlined by Jarran Reed from Alabama, Noah Spence from Eastern Kentucky, Sheldon Rankins from Louisville and Jihad Ward from Illinois.
The list of players who accepted invitations to the Senior Bowl includes 10 players from smaller schools, FCS ranks or lower. Among those who stand out are Wentz and William & Mary cornerback DeAndre Houston-Carson.
“What a stage for them to showcase what they can do,” Savage said. “I actually went and saw (Houston-Carson) this fall, I think he’s going to have a really good week. Last year we had Ali Marpet, he was a Division III player from Hobart. He came to the Senior Bowl as probably a fifth- or sixth-round consideration; by the time he left Mobile he was probably a third or fourth; by the time he left the combine, he was in the second. He got drafted by Tampa Bay and started virtually every game all year for the Bucs. It’s a real opportunity to up your stock and up your visibility to more people across the NFL.”
The 2106 Senior Bowl players began arriving in Mobile on Sunday and the rest will come in Monday. Weigh-ins will take place Tuesday morning before the North and South teams begin three days of practice that afternoon. There will be a walk-through for each team Friday.
For the first time since 2006, ESPN will be televising the North and South practices on Wednesday and Thursday on ESPNU. Senior Bowl practices also will be shown on NFL Network, which will televise the game live Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET.
Two of the Dolphins’ 2015 draft picks participated in the Senior Bowl last year, guard