NFL's Future Stars Can Be Found At The Senior Bowl

Posted Jan 19, 2014

Dolphins have discovered some key players in Mobile.

One month before the NFL Scouting Combine, representatives of all 32 teams descend on Mobile, Alabama to take a closer look at some of the nation’s most talented seniors entering the draft. The Senior Bowl has helped kick start many promising careers.

The Miami Dolphins have the 19th overall pick in the first round of May’s NFL Draft, so starting tomorrow there will be some serious notes being taken by the personnel staff. The hope is to find the equivalent of a Mike Gillislee, who was taken in the fifth round last year by Miami out of the University of Florida and worked his way onto the active roster as a rookie, while also identifying some depth.

“It meant a lot to me to be invited to the Senior Bowl, especially my senior year doing what I did and getting the invitation to be here,” said Gillislee at the time. “It was a great feeling. It was great to show all the scouts and coaches what we could do.”

Two more players from last year’s game made it into training camp with Miami – cornerbacks Will Davis and Jamar Taylor. Taylor was drafted in the second round out of Boise State and Davis went in the third round out of Utah State and both managed to get on the field at different times in the secondary.

Any player that was fortunate enough to be invited to the Senior Bowl quickly realized how much of a factor it had on the advancement of his NFL career. No matter how experienced the player, that experience resonates to this day.

“The Senior Bowl was good. It was the first time that we were able to work with NFL coaches and meet with NFL coaches,” said fifth-year linebacker Koa Misi, who was selected in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft. “It was also the first time I had really been on my own with something, just having to go to a different state. But after being there and practicing with the guys and with the coaches, it ended up being a good experience for me.”

As it turned out, the experiences Misi had that week in Alabama helped him make the transition to the NFL at an unfamiliar position because he had played exclusively at defensive end for Utah. At 6-foot-3 and 257 pounds, the NFL scouts saw his body as a better fit at linebacker.

During his first two seasons with the Dolphins, Misi struggled as a 3-4 outside linebacker going up against bigger offensive tackles. But the past two years under defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle he has flourished in the 4-3 scheme and realized how far he had come from that Senior Bowl.

“It was the first time I had played linebacker,” Misi recalled. “They had me playing linebacker at the Senior Bowl and they also threw me in there a couple times at defensive end. That was an experience to play linebacker – it was just different than anything I had done before. But it was a good experience overall.”

Getting a chance to practice for a week with NFL coaches and learn a new position aren’t the only benefits of participating in the Senior Bowl. Players invited to the prestigious all-star game also get to meet with coaches, scouts and general managers and feel out the interview process before going through it again in Indianapolis in February.

Tight end Charles Clay looks back at that aspect of his week in Alabama three years ago as more valuable to him in the end. He wound up being drafted by the Dolphins in the sixth round out of Tulsa and caught three touchdown passes as a rookie in 2011 before exploding last year for career-highs in receptions (69), yards (759) and touchdowns (a team-leading six).

“It actually made the Combine process a lot easier,” said Clay of his Senior Bowl experience. “A lot of the interviews I would have had there I did at the Senior Bowl. But it was fun just getting to meet a bunch of guys. It’s funny because I play against a lot of the guys on Sundays. The friendships that we have are a good thing.”

Come May when the Dolphins are on the clock, they will surely look back to this week in Mobile and possibly add more unsung players to the roster.

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