The ballroom is filled with hundreds of people. To my right, I see Jerry Jones. To my left, there’s Jon Gruden, and then on my walk to the escalator, I see Dan Marino and John Elway — each with a large Starbucks cup in his hand. My first Senior Bowl experience was an eye-opening event that I will never forget. There are lots of things that I learned, people that I met, and prospects that I had the pleasure of talking to.
Day 1: Tuesday
The first ‘official’ day of the Senior Bowl consisted of the weigh-in, then followed by prospect interviews with the media prior to taking the field for the first practice of the event. In a large convention center with every notable executive and team scout present, the lights were shining bright and center. Prospects walk on stage in front of a large screen with their headshots, hand sizes, and arm lengths for everyone to see. Their heights and weights were recorded and announced live for all of us in attendance to see and hear.
Between the stage and the first row of seats, you saw John Dorsey walking around in his signature khaki shorts, air monarchs, large tan-brimmed Cleveland Browns cap, and a big-lettered sweatshirt to match. The Browns’ general manager was having a quick chat with John Lynch prior to the start of the event. On the opposite end, Rick Spielman, George Paton, and the entire Vikings contingent filled up the last row of floor seating with their legs crossed and binders sitting atop their laps.
This portion of the day was very important because it was the first opportunity for teams to find out the true measurements of prospects in attendance. For example, former Alabama defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs was listed as 6’5″ and 286 lbs on the team’s roster on their official website, but he measured at 6’2 1/2″ and 295 pounds during the weigh-in. These are the types of factors that teams want to see with their own eyes.
Whether it was good, bad, or completely unexpected, when a prospect generated buzz, all you saw was everyone in the room leaning over to the person directly beside them and whispering comments in their ear. It looked like the childhood game of ‘telephone’, where the first person in line says a phrase to their counterpart to see if that same exact message makes it to the last person in the group. Buffalo quarterback Tyree Jackson was the most apparent example of this. Many already knew that he was tall, but measuring at 6’7″ and 249 lbs created a lot of chatter in the room. There were some others that received that type of reaction, as well.
The next session was the media interview portion. There were a select few prospects who were chosen to give their interviews on the podium with the media surrounding them. Others were allowed to freelance and walk around to meet and greet.This is where I got to interview Deebo Samuel, Michael Deiter, Charles Omenihu, and Garrett Bradbury, among many others, but my favorite was former Kansas State offensive lineman Dalton Risner.
Risner was very thorough, energetic, and transparent with his answers. Constantly repeating that he wanted teams to remember his name and be a player that a team could build a culture around.
Dalton Risner is awesome. Asked him which position up-front he’s most comfortable playing and what he needs to improve upon most this week. pic.twitter.com/DqxEJc2Hkd— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) January 22, 2019
Once those interviews concluded, it was time to finally head to the field for practice. The first day at Ladd-Peebles stadium was a gloomy and windy one. Jammed into a car with my fellow members from the Cover 1 team, as we pull up to the stadium parking lot, we’re in a spot sandwiched by Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace. Saying a quick hello to both, we all were in a hurry to get to the field to watch some of the best seniors in the country compete.
Full of media, scouts and NFL personnel, the first practice consisted of the San Francisco 49ers’ (South) coaching staff, while the second session was orchestrated by the Oakland Raiders (North). A first glimpse at how both were operated, there were plenty of “oohs and ahhs” throughout each practice.
My favorite part was Jon Gruden giving Drew Lock some choice words. He yelled, “C’mon Lock. you’re too quiet with the cadence and with the call in the huddle. They should be able to hear you in the parking lot. Show me what you got.” Quick moments like that are what make this experience enjoyable because you get to see just how coaches are wired and the competitive nature of prospects, as well as their interactions with teammates.
As I jotted down notes in my notebook filled with my thoughts from practices and after watching this event on television for years, it was surreal just how much I was enjoying this moment.
Day 2: Wednesday
This was easily the most disappointing day, as the weather resulted in practices being moved to the indoor facilities at South Alabama, I found myself looking for things to do. I stumbled across what was called the XOS film room. Located in the official hotel of the event, it was a large, dark room full of projector screens with crystal clear camera angles from practice. I was in heaven as I sat down to dissect every player and moment from practice.
It’s impossible to watch every position and player at practice, and that’s why having access to the film is a huge advantage. Those angles give you confirmation of your initial impressions with the naked eye, and they also gave you new thoughts about a prospect that you may have not paid much attention to while at the practice field.
With practice closed to the media, there was no other choice but to lounge around Mobile — searching for the best restaurants, among other things. I stumbled across some of the people behind many of my favorite social media accounts. It was fun to finally put faces to names and talk about our reactions from the weigh-ins and initial thoughts from the first days of practice.
Day 3: Thursday
A brisk but sunny day at the stadium, we all again packed into Ladd-Peebles stadium for the final practice of the week. This was the last structured setting for prospects to prove their worth and add another piece of evidence to their draft résumés.
Many missed out on the second day because of the weather, and this resulted in the third day being heavily attended. There were multiple representatives from every team, as well as big media names. You glance at the near sideline and there’s Todd McShay, while on the far sideline there’s Louis Riddick, both with their eyes glued on the action while talking into their ESPN microphones.
With a little bit of luck, I was fortunate enough to remain on the field for both practices. Getting a closer glimpse at some of the prospects during a two-minute drill, I found myself in the middle of a conversation between Jarrett Stidham and Tyree Jackson. They were having a casual debate about who was the best quarterback in the NFL. With how high pressure and tedious the draft process can be, simple moments like that can be overlooked.
Two of the more notable-name throwers in the draft were in the middle of practice, and yet they were relaxed, debating back and forth about Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Patrick Mahomes.
The third day was by far my favorite because it was the most laid back of all the days. The best comparison for the Senior Bowl is to a country club atmosphere, not just for me, but for everyone involved.
No matter how big the names were, they all casually walked around no worries. There weren’t any worries of being bombarded with picture or autograph requests. Rather, it was like a huge convention where you were meeting some of your favorite friends and family members from years past.
My biggest takeaway from the Senior Bowl is that it’s one of the best experiences of my life. Being around the game of football and evaluating prospects are two things that I love. Being able to do that for a week was memorable. I never would’ve anticipated the trip going this well, and it definitely has been better than I expected.
It is an event that I will be attending yearly from here on.
For more NFL Draft news and analysis, follow Jordan on Twitter @JReidNFL
*Mandatory Photo Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports