Senior Bowl Primer: What Is It And How Does It Affect The NFL Draft?

STATE COLLEGE, PA - NOVEMBER 12: Devon Still #71 of the Penn State Nittany Lions celebrates after sacking Taylor Martinez #3 (not pictured) of the Nebraska Cornhuskers during the game on November 12, 2011 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Senior Bowl week is starting up and NFL teams will descend upon Mobile, Alabama to begin their preparation for the 2012 NFL draft.

The NFL is taking the week off, sort of, to get ready for the Super Bowl. As you would expect, the off week for the New England Patriots and New York Giants features a nice little sideshow in Mobile, Alabama. To help keep your mind on football and start thinking about the 2012 NFL Draft, we have the Senior Bowl this week.

Practices start on Monday and run through the week leading up to the actual game itself on Saturday, Jan. 28. Over the next five days, the internet will buzz about prospects rising and falling with their time in Mobile. Our Senior Bowl primer is here to get you ready for the week ahead and enlist you into the ranks of crowdsourced scouting.

What is the Senior Bowl?

It is exactly what the name implies, an all-star game for the nation's top prospects who have played out their NCAA eligibility, which is almost like being a senior in college football. The event itself started in 1950. The Senior Bowl used to be more of an exclusive event for NFL coaches, scouts and other insiders, but that's changed as the NFL Draft snowballed in popularity. The teams are coached by NFL coaching staffs. This year, the North and South squads are coached by the Vikings and Redskins' coaching staffs.

What is so special about the Senior Bowl?

This week in Mobile is one of the first chances that scouting departments get to look at prospects up close and personal, through a week of practices and Saturday's game. Going beyond their college game tape, coaches put players in situations they have yet to experience, linebackers with their hands in the dirt, spread quarterbacks taking snaps under center and things like that. Players even get tried out in new positions in order to determine their best fit at the next level.

Why should I care about the Senior Bowl?

You know that mock draft you found when you got here? Well, it's going to look much different next week, after the Senior Bowl. Players get another chance to impress in Mobile. Draft stock rises and falls with each day's practice.

Last year, Florida quarterback Christian Ponder played his way into the first round of the draft. The draft board beyond the obvious players at the very top, i.e. Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and a handful of others, is pretty unsettled. This week's events will give us a clearer picture of who belongs where on the draft board.

It's also worth noting that this year's Senior Bowl rosters are pretty loaded with top tier talent. For instance, everyone knows Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw is a first-round pick, but this week he could establish himself as the best pass rusher in the draft, certainly among outside linebackers. A few of the other prospect situations worth paying attention to this week include:

  • Wide receivers: There's a big question about the receivers beyond Justin Blackmon. Kendall Wright and Michael Floyd both pulled out of the Senior Bowl because of minor injuries. Now, guys like Dwight Jones and Juron Criner can make their case to be first-round picks.
  • Quarterbacks: Beyond the two obvious choices, the 2012 quarterback class got a lot thinner when Landry Jones and Matt Barkley decided to stay in school. Nick Foles from Arizona and Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State will look to do what Ponder did last year.
  • Pass rushers: I mentioned Upshaw above, but there are also some questions about defensive linemen. Devon Still, Quinton Coples and Melvin Ingram will try to cement themselves as the top defensive line prospects.

Is there anything special about it besides the prospects?

That's obviously the big one, but there's another sideshow taking place this week. Coaches, scouts, front office types and the media all get thrown together in a small southern city. It's a recipe for an active rumor mill. Whispers about free agent plans and insight into what teams are thinking for the draft will flow out of Mobile this week, so keep your ear on the rails.

How can I watch the game?

It will be broadcast live on the NFL Network this Saturday at 3 p.m. ET. You can follow all the news and rumors at SB Nation's NFL Draft page, Mocking the Draft and our network of team sites.

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