The annual Scouting Combine a month from now will garner endless attention from media and fans.
Perhaps they should be paying more mind to what is currently going on down in Mobile, AL at the Senior Bowl.
After all, these are real football practices and games in pads led by real NFL coaches going up against some of the best talent in the nation.
While the general public may not tune in, NFL teams certainly take note. That includes the Chargers, who have used the Senior Bowl as a significant piece of the puzzle in their evaluations. Whether it is a direct correlation or merely a coincidence, it has played a part in drafting some of the best players in franchise history.
"I can go back to many players we've drafted that made great impressions at the Senior Bowl," said President of Football Operations John Spanos. "That includes Philip Rivers, Nick Hardwick, Darren Sproles, to more recently Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney, and many in between. I remember all those guys had their moments during the week or in the game and that was certainly a piece of the overall puzzle of that player's final grade with us."
In addition to Lamp and Feeney, the Bolts also drafted two others who practiced and played in the game, Desmond King and Isaac Rochel, as well as undrafted free agent Artavis Scott.
Listening to Spanos talk, it becomes crystal clear why the team values the Senior Bowl.
"I always say the biggest piece of a player's final grade puzzle is what he does in pads on the field," he said. "How productive is he as a player? There's a lot of value from the combine and other workouts, and those are important pieces of the puzzle, too. But our game is played in pads, thus the biggest piece of the puzzle for me is what a guy does between the lines. So we allocate a lot of resources to the Senior Bowl. We have a huge group make the trip down to Mobile every year, and spend a lot of time evaluating the practices and the game. We also interact with the players face-to face.
While not every prospect invited chooses to participate, Spanos offers a compelling case as to why they absolutely should attend.
"First of all, it's an opportunity to go against the very best of the best of the senior class of college players. Secondly, you have all 32 teams in attendance paying close attention. And not just a couple people from each team. Rather, it's all the decision makers, including entire scouting staffs and often coaching staffs. You also get to go through practices coached by NFL teams, and show what you can do in game situations. It really is an opportunity for a player to improve his draft stock. And, I do think it says something about a player's competitiveness to want to come down here and participate."
So, who has stood out thus far this week?
"Well, a lot of attention has been paid to the quarterback group this year, and I will say when looking at that group as a whole, you see a lot of impressive traits and physical tools for the position," Spanos said. "We've seen strong flashes by both lines – the O-line and D-line. Those guys are really competing. But I don't see it as a dominant year for one position group. Really, there are a bunch of impressive players at this year's game, including some at just about each position group."