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Senior Bowl makes strides in drawing top college talent

MOBILE, Ala. – With the advent of juniors flooding the NFL Draft each year, there was a theory among some scouts that the Senior Bowl was losing some of its luster as a showcase for top prospects.

That has changed in recent years.

Under the leadership of executive director Phil Savage, the Senior Bowl has upped its game as far as attracting some of the top talent that player-personnel evaluators around the league want to see.

Savage worked in the NFL as a general manager, with the Cleveland Browns, and as a scout. He understands the needs of teams when it comes to assessing draft prospects and is far more selective about the players he invites to the Senior Bowl.

They don’t all accept and the junior crop still overshadows many seniors, but this year, for instance, Savage believes he has the deepest talent in his four years in charge of the all-star game among the 110 players here this week.

There’s a potential top-10 quarterback in Carson Wentz, from tiny North Dakota State. There are big-time stars, such as linebacker Reggie Ragland and defensive end Jarron Reed from the recently crowned national-champion Alabama Crimson Tide. And there are other players who figure to have prominent places on draft boards throughout the league: Eastern Kentucky defensive end Noah Spence, Penn State defensive tackle Austin Johnson, and Kansas State offensive guard Cody Whitehair.

None of the other college all-star games – the East-West Shrine Game and the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl among the more notable of them – can compare to the Senior Bowl’s magnitude or reputation for drawing players worthy of entry into the NFL.

In 2015, the Senior Bowl included the 12th overall pick of the draft, former University of Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton, who joined the Browns. In 2013, according to Senior Bowl officials, 94 players who participated in the game joined the NFL, including top overall choice Eric Fisher, a former Central Michigan offensive tackle selected by the Kansas City Chiefs.

The average number of Senior Bowl participants who land in the NFL each year hovers above 80. According to CBSSports.com draft analyst Rob Rang, that’s more than double all of the other college all-star games combined.

The main reason seniors – and juniors who have satisfied academic requirements for graduation – are attracted to the Senior Bowl is to get noticed by NFL teams and have the chance to be coached by an active NFL staff. This year, the Dallas Cowboys’ coaches will guide the North team while the Jacksonville Jaguars’ staff will lead the South.

But Savage has added other services for players, such as media training and financial advice, that can benefit them as professionals.

Each year, Savage also has done more to cater to the needs of NFL clubs. One example is setting up private areas where scouts can conduct interviews with Senior Bowl players as opposed to previous years when they would take place randomly in the lobby of the hotel serving as the all-star game’s headquarters.

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