How the Senior Bowl Benefits Teams With Draft Evaluation

The Reese’s Senior Bowl is 2 weeks away and if previous years are any indication, expect to see quite a few players from the All-Star Game on both the Lions and Bengals rosters in 2020.

Coach Leslie is currently the Linebackers coach at Chavez High School in Texas. He has over 4 years of coaching experience in defense and special teams. He is a Scouting Academy Alumni and attends NFL and NCAA coaching clinics in the off-season.

Reese’s Senior Bowl gives scouts for all NFL teams a chance to measure the arm length, hand size, height and weight of the athletes. You also get an early chance to see if this prospect will fit your minimum baseline measurables.

The players will be divided into two teams. These selections aren’t based on region as much as making for a competitive game. The coaches and scouts get to interview all the participating players, and give their psych evaluations which makes the combine experience go by a bit smoother.

The interview process plays a critical role in determining whether the athlete will be a “culture fit” and whether or not he meets the criteria you are looking for in your program. 

To most of the coaches, the most important evaluation takes place on the practice field, in the meetings, and all the way up to the Senior Bowl game. 

Senior Bowl: The Practice Field

Coaches for both the Lions and Bengals will put the players through their individual drills that they do in their specific scheme.  This is where positional coaches play a vital role in the overall evaluation process.

For example, although we don’t yet know who the defensive coordinator is for the Lions, we can expect them to continue running a base 3-4 defense. Their defensive line coach will put his assigned group through some drills that will allow him to see if the linemen can two-gap or not.  (By two-gap, we mean that the defender is responsible for two gaps along the offensive line rather than one.)

He will look to see if the defender can “stab and lock” with the offensive lineman and peek to his gap, shed a block and make a tackle. This is not an easy skill and some players will struggle as they like to pick one-gap and go upfield.

He will also be looking to see how well the linemen get their hands inside the offensive linemen. In this case, the coach must determine over the course of a week whether this is a skill the player can learn quickly or not. If the answer is no, you may cross him off your board or lower his original grade.  

Senior Bowl: The Meetings

In the NFL, practice time is at a premium. NFL teams are only allowed 14 padded practices in a season! That is less than one a week on average! This means that the importance of meeting time in the NFL is at an all-time high.

In a short amount of time, coaches need to know if you can process the information shared with you in the meeting, and apply it effectively on the practice field. What kind of a learner is the player? Does he pay attention in the meetings or rely on his “natural ability” to take over on the field?

The coaches usually will install some things that they do on offense, defense, and special teams and see if you can handle your responsibilities on the practice field and then later in the game. Do you remember your blocking assignment against this front? Do you line up properly and embrace the coaching or fall back to your old habits?

Senior Bowl: The Game

The coaches have put the players through their individual drills, interviewed players from both teams and installed basic packages to see if the players can handle the responsibilities given to them.  Many people may think the game doesn’t matter to the players, it better matter!

One of the key evaluation tools you get is to see how the players interact with their teammates if something doesn’t go right in the game. Do they overcome adversity? Are they a leader to their teammates? After each series, are they trying to fix what isn’t working and are they refining their assignment?

Or are they looking for cameras and trying to get some more time on TV, so they can have more followers on social media?

Competitive toughness is a critical trait in the evaluation process. And while we can see you try on film and see if you encourage teammates, the Senior Bowl gives coaches the chance to be on the sideline with their potential draft picks and see if this is a guy they can win with on Sundays.

Stats Don’t Lie

Last year the Raiders and the 49ers hosted the Senior Bowl. The Raiders benefited the most from the process and drafted four players from the Senior Bowl and signed three as undrafted free agents. In total, six of those players ended the season on the 53-man active roster.  Of those six players, Hunter Renfrow, Foster Moreau, and Alec Ingold played critical roles on the team.

The 49ers drafted three players from the Senior Bowl including, Deebo Samuel, who finished with over 800 yards in his rookie season.

Expect the Lions and Bengals to draft several of the Senior Bowl players, so they can help turn their culture into a winning one.

The best part for you as a fan: The practices and game will all be televised and you can get a glimpse at which players are standing out to your team and NFL evaluators. 

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