Senior Bowl 2014: What We Learned From The Practices

Checking out the talent in Mobile. - John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

The game itself has not been played, but for the Senior Bowl, the game is not the thing. Here is what I think I have learned from the much more important practice sessions in Mobile.

It is one of the landmarks on the way to the NFL's Christmas, the draft. Arguably, the Senior Bowl is the second biggest event for teams trying to put together their draft boards, next to the NFL Combine. That is bolstered by the number of NFL head coaches, GMs, scouts, and assistants that come to Mobile to attend the practices, watch the players in drills, and speak to prospects they are interested in. Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett headed a large contingent of Cowboys staff to look for players that could be targets when the draft rolled around.

There was a lot I absorbed from watching the coverage of the Senior Bowl practices this year. Here are some things, about a variety of different topics.

Twitter now rules sports news. This was the first year I was on Twitter for the Senior Bowl, and this just reinforced what I have discovered since I got my account. I mention this just because much of what I garnered this year came from tweets as things were happening, as will be obvious later.

If you want to keep up with the absolute latest breaking news, you need a Twitter account and a carefully selected list of follows. You can start with @BloggingtheBoys, @KDP10for10, @BTB_Macelli, @OCC44, @JIckesBTB, @rabblerousr, @cotysaxmanBTB, and of course @TomRyleBTB. OK, getting some more follows might be another reason I mention this.

The Senior Bowl ain't about the first round. It is a growing trend. More and more, the players who come to Mobile are those who feel a need to showcase their abilities and try to improve their draft status. Two things contribute. One is that a lot of the top seniors who are invited decline, either citing injury (some of which may be a bit made up), and others just deciding they have nothing to gain, or even fear having their flaws exposed. This year, there were twenty-nine who declined to participate, and one name was talked about a lot because he did not attend.

He was hardly the only one, but there was a lot of speculation about whether he was hurting his draft chances or not. Of course, given that several players were injured in practice, caution may be wise for the best players out there.

Contributing even more to the lack of substantial first-round talent is the ever-increasing number of underclassmen declaring for the draft, who are not eligible to participate in the "all-star" games under current rules.

Even given that a third or more of the players who declared early may wind up not being picked, based on recent history, that is still nearly two rounds worth of players who aren't able to be invited. A quick look at any of the current draft "big boards" like the one at CBS Sports or the one by our own Dawn Macelli shows that perhaps 60% of the leading prospects are those coming out early. And when you add in the players who did not show for other reasons, there are likely to be only a handful of players who were in Mobile that go in the first round.

While there was some feeling that this year's Senior Bowl group was weaker than in 2013, the view of the overall class seems strong.

The Cowboys have some good history with the Senior Bowl. When you have success with something, you want to keep it up. And Dallas has found some players on the roster in Mobile in recent years.

Last year, the Cowboys drafted three players: Terrance Williams (third round), J.J. Wilcox (third round) and B.W. Webb (fourth round) who participated in the game.

In 2007, the Cowboys drafted Anthony Spencer in the first round and he played in the Senior Bowl and two years prior to that, DeMarcus Ware and Marcus Spears, former first-round picks, also played in the game.

You may not like all the names there, but some have clearly paid off and a couple still may do so.

Early indications are that this year may be a target rich environment for Dallas. The general consensus is that the biggest need for the Cowboys is the defensive line. While the Senior Bowl may not be full of first round talent, there did appear to be a lot of names that would draw interest in the later rounds. And the team was looking.

The full names involved here are Aaron Donald, Ra'Shede Hageman, Kareem Martin, and Trent Murphy. Of the group, Donald was the star throughout practices. Broaddus put him at the top of his list of 10 standouts from the practices, and added Dee Ford and Michael Sam from the South squad as other players who had a good showing. But Donald was possibly the most talked about player of the week, and one name that may have broken through to first round consideration.

This could be very good news for Dallas. Except, of course, that the other 31 teams saw the same things out there. It will all come down to where everyone places him on their draft boards. He certainly is one name to watch.

Those other names, however, may be later round targets for Dallas. It was good that several players on the D line showed up in Mobile.

And Dallas has other needs than just DL, despite the sometimes obsessive focus many have on that unit. Safety, wide receiver, offensive line and quarterback are all positions the Cowboys have some level of need at. The quarterbacks were a bit disappointing, with only Derek Carr and KD Drummond's favorite Jimmy Garoppolo having what were seen to be strong showings. Here, the same issues apply: Everyone who was there got the same look at them. And Dallas has not drafted a quarterback since Stephen McGee of the accursed 2009 class. But that may change.

"You always have to be open to that," (executive vice president Stephen) Jones said. "Yeah, and whether it's a guy ultimately one day, your future, even if its at some point it enables you to not have a better (more expensive) backup, that saves you money if you're able to get on a guy like that, so we're always open to it."

The good news is that 2014 looks to be a much stronger quarterback class than last year. Although Dallas is certainly out of the running for the top quarterbacks, there are several other possibilities that the team may be interested in. Garoppolo is the most intriguing, but not the only one who may be worth looking at.

There were several other players in Mobile that are worth a look, but it is a long way to go to the draft. And there will be many other opportunities to discuss them. So stay tuned to BTB.

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