Making The Most Out Of Mobile
The Jacksonville Jaguars are in a great spot.
(Now there's a sentence that didn't get typed too often during the 2013 season).
Nonetheless, having the chance to coach at the Senior Bowl is an annual opportunity for two NFL teams to glean some insight into two rosterfuls of prospects. The staffs of the Jaguars and Falcons are running practices, meeting with these players, assessing their coachability, taking through gameplans and basically interact with them in ways that aren't afforded other coaches during interviews at the Combine or Pro Days.
This doesn't necessarily mean coaches from Jacksonville or Atlanta are going to find a first-round sleeper that those scouts and coaches and GMs watching from the sidelines would miss. Detroit likely would have had Ziggy Ansah on its radar as a candidate for the fifth pick in the draft even if Jim Schwartz hadn't coached him at the Senior Bowl.
But it does create a sort of insider's informational edge in a process that demands as much data as can be collected.
At the very least, it's access. And what coaches can learn during this week-long opportunity to spend quality football time with guys they'll be considering in the draft can become a tiebreaker when they're on the clock in May.
Often, coaches will see something during Senior Bowl week that will shape a mid- or late-round decision. Jack Del Rio might have seen something he liked in Mobile that helped him decide to spend a seventh round pick in 2009 on a running back from Liberty named Rashad Jennings.
Or think back to 2011. Coaching in the Senior Bowl didn't infuence Mike Shanahan's pursuit of Robert Griffin III -- who left Baylor as junior and was nowhere near Mobile. But he might have noticed something in the opposing squad's quarterback that enticed him to take Kirk Cousins in the third round.
And surely Shanahan must have picked up on something in the week he shared with a fullback from Florida Atlantic that suggested he could play running back in the NFL. Which might explain why he spent a sixth round pick that year on Alfred Morris.
Of course, coaching a team in the Senior Bowl by no means guarantees a evaluatory advantage. Del Rio did come away with Jennings and receiver Mike Thomas off his 2009 Senior Bowl roster, but he didn't wind up with any of the other guys he coached in Mobile. Not Mike Wallace or Michael Oher. Not Brian Cushing or Clay Matthews or Rey Maualuga or Robert Ayers. Or a guy who passed through the entire draft unpicked, Arian Foster.
Still, you have think that coaching in this game -- more importantly, in the week leading up to this game -- can be an opportunity to learn a little more about prospects. It may turn out to be a huge advantage for Jacksonville, which needs a quarterback and will be in position to pick one at No. 3.
What better way for Gus Bradley to shape such a decision than to spend this kind of time with Derek Carr, David Fales and Jimmy Garoppolo -- the three quarterbacks on his Senior Bowl roster. Does he leave Mobile thinking he's found his man, and now can shape his draft strategy accordingly? Or does he head home to Jacksonville having ruled them out as candidates, freeing himself to turn his full attention to Teddy Bridgewater and Zach Mettenberger and Johnny Manziel? Either way, it has to benefit his process.
Atlanta is in a similarly fortuitous situation. The Falcons need a tight end. They're not going to take one with the sixth overall pick, but on Day Two or Three, could Mike Smith's exposure to C.J. Fiedorowicz and Jacob Pedersen tip the scales one way or another? He needs a tackle, and he'll have enough time with Zach Martin and Jack Mewhort and Seantrel Henderson for his board to take shape at that position.
Let's say Jacksonville is looking to add depth at running back, with an eye toward eventually replacing Maurice Jones-Drew. In Mobile, Bradley gets time around three guys most coaches won't know as much about: Antonio Andrews (Western Kentucky), Lorenzo Taliaferro (Coastal Carolina) and Jerick McKinnor (Georgia Southern). If you see one of those guys going to Jacksonville on Day Three, you can bet that first impression made in Mobile had something to do with it.